It’s like ancient Rome
Congratulations, you have just got your first ever junior management promotion. To get there you must have successfully jostled with the other legionaries in line to get picked by the Praetorian leadership. Finally you have managed to get yourself in to some form of position of authority. Not at the heart of power in the Senate in Rome but some far flung outpost on the edges of the Empire. It’s just going to be you and your cohort.
You have to manage this tiny little part of the vast Roman empire. Raise a few taxes, civilise the locals, bat down a few rebellions. You have been promoted and now have your hand firmly on a small lever of imperial power. It’s not much but it’s a start.
So you just got promoted?
It might just be a small bit of extra responsibility or perhaps you now even have someone reporting in to you, perhaps even two.
In the distance you may have glimpsed the marble opulence of the upper echelons of corporate life but for the moment it’s just you and Doreen in the two desks next to the vending machine. It’s a long way away but you just took one step closer to making it happen.
You feel emboldened. You finally have the chance to make some changes, to make things better. This is your chance. This is your first real promotion.
1. Don’t let it go to your head
Chances are someone older and more senior is still going to sit down and do a staff appraisal with you. You now have responsibility but no-one has given you a budget or any money to play with. There are goals and targets and whoever is looking after you is more concerned that you meet them rather than any grand ideas you have about changing the way things work.
It’s more money and you are on your way but don’t think it’s anything other than still a job. Don’t let it go to your head.
2. Learn the process
You may have been promoted from within the team to lead it or you may have been moved in to a vacant role. Either way there is a whole host of things that you have never seen before. You may have some experience of doing a role within the team and know that part intimately but you will now see other things that you didn’t know existed. Stuff your boss had to do that you had no idea they actually did.
Learn the process and how things work. You are unlikely to know it all and always be careful that you can quite easily turn over a rock and find a whole ecosystem lurking underneath it. Understand what your team does, how they do it and why they do it.
3. Stop, don’t go messing with the machine
Until you have a full grasp on where everything is then don’t go messing with the machine. All bureaucracies function on routine and it is unlikely you have to build a process from scratch. If it already works then you should not be the person to break it.
Make sure that everything is ticking over and don’t make any changes until you have some form of confidence that it will hold together. You are still playing the getting your feet under the table game but now at a much higher level.
4. Listen to your staff
Some of them will have worked there for years. It may be the case that your boss did your job before you and is also a fountain of useful knowledge. Learn how to listen to those who report in to you. Some of it may be nonsense but always pay attention.
5. Learn to delegate
You are going to have to tell people what to do. This means taking either two approaches. The person is either competent and capable of just getting on with it in which case leave them to it or you will have to specify exactly what needs to be done and when by.
In both scenarios it is critical to make an effort to understand exactly why this person has to do this, even if some of the absolute detail is not yet loaded in to your head. Good managers know when to step back and trust their staff but can only gain their respect if they can hold a good conversation about what they do and understand the issues involved. That takes knowledge.
6. When you are ready make your changes, but small ones
It’s all about the detail. It might mean implementing a better spreadsheet, getting one of your staff on a training course or using an internal system more productively. It’s about small incremental change to low level process. You are not trying to change the world or start a revolution.
7. Don’t step on toes that are bigger than yours
You may have already had to join a faction to get where you are. Make sure you don’t make enemies by getting in peoples way or forcefully fighting change, even if it doesn’t make any sense. Support your faction leaders if you have allied up but don’t be picking fights.
8. It’s a job, don’t get too attached
Not everyone sees it as a progression up the greasy pole. For most it is just a job that pays the bills. Do your job to the best of your ability but understand that at some stage you will move on. Some of the people who work for you will still be doing the same job 20 years from now. Understand that you are not one of them.
You will have to do your time but the rules are different depending on what you are doing. In finance it is usually a 2 year stint as you have to have done at least one year end. For project work it may only be a matter of months. Understand what is acceptable for holding the fort but always be prepared to move on once you have met the minimum, should the opportunity present itself.
9. Talk it up
We did this thing, and it was a lot of work, but it does seem to have had a positive effect on something. It may not have had quite the effect you expected but there is no harm in talking it up if it wasn’t a total disaster.
This also makes your boss look good so don’t forget to mention that he really helped.
10. Tread carefully
The greasy pole of corporate life can be cutthroat and ruthless. Always be prepared for a knife in the back if it saves the skin of the one wielding it. If you are good at your job and try your hardest you should not have to resort to these kinds of tactics but understand that there are always those around you who are not as innocent.
Taking on your first junior management position can be a challenge. Get the basics right in terms of understanding all the things that you are now responsible for and always think about what you are doing before you do it. It is about maintaining service and not damaging the machine, but once you know how it works then there will be opportunities to make small adjustments to make it run smoother.
You may have to now engage in a bit of corporate politics but you are a small fish in a large ocean and you should do your best to hide from the bigger predators. Don’t bang the drum too loudly or you are liable to be eaten.