Book club concept

Making a strong first impression is important for any new employee at a company — but for a manager in particular, earning the respect of one's team is paramount. There's always the possibility, however, of getting off on the wrong foot and failing to earn the much needed respect of one's team. Often times, these new managers may not realize they're even doing anything wrong. To help new managers get off to a strong start, our latest CleanLink Book Club installment, with assistance from Shortform insight, features The First 90 Days, written by Michael Watkins.

Watkins covers several essential topics that will ultimately define a manager’s first 3 months on the job, including the process of information gathering, matching one’s role to the company’s needs, and building strong relationships. 

Gathering Critical Information

While it can be overwhelming to decipher what information can be considered critical or not, Watkins recommends crafting a list of questions focused on the past, present and future of the company. By focusing on the past and present in particular, a manager can get a better feel for a company’s culture and what types of leadership or business strategies that could be receptive. From there, questions about the future of the company can have a stronger foundation behind them. Examples of resources that help gain information on a company’s past and present include press and financial reports. Direct insight from end users can also provide harsh truths that perhaps fellow employees aren’t aware of or don’t want to acknowledge. 

When it comes to how that information is gathered, managers can’t be afraid of direct interactions, even if the conversations become uncomfortable Examples include one-on-one interviews or focus groups. Additionally, employee surveys with an anonymity option can reveal opinions or problems that a conventional chat may not reveal for fear of reprimanding. 

Matching Your Role to Your Company’s Needs

One adequate information is gathered, Watkins says a manager’s approach should then be dictated by what stage the business is in. Most businesses fit into five distinct categories:

• New Companies: The primary focus is setting the template, which includes accurately assessing how many employees are needed for departments, what tasks fall under which teams, and if the company’s office or resources match the goals for how much growth is anticipated. If any of these facets are off, things can spiral quickly. 

• Struggling Companies: The manager must embrace the idea of bold decisions and risk taking. When the employees themselves are aware of the struggles, managers may be surprised by how receptive a team is to conducting business a completely different way, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. 

• Rapidly Expanding Companies: When the strategy is sound, these scenarios require an acute attention to detail when hiring new staff. If a manager becomes lax in its standards for who comes on board, it can lead to drops in team chemistry and the production was breeding. 

• Once-Dominant Companies in Need of a Reboot: Similar to struggling companies, the main difference here is that an overhaul in strategy may receive more pushback from employees because they’re still stuck in the glory days when everything was clicking on all cylinders. These managers need to be not only brave to enact change, but firm in their belief — not being afraid of pushback and following through. 

• Flourishing Companies: In these circumstances, more often than not ‘less is more’. While it may be tempting for a manager to enter a good situation and want to show their ability to craft new ideas, trying to take on too much too soon can be detrimental to both performance and morale. Innovation is still encouraged, but it shouldn’t involve ideas that run the risk of shifting away from what customers have been craving. 

Building Strong Relationships

Once the stage of the company is correctly identified, the relationship building process comes into play. Watkins notes that relationship building is divided into two distinct parts: relationship with one’s boss, and relationship with one’s team. 

Relationship with Your Boss: Since one’s boss is one of the most direct paths toward personal growth both personally and in the company, it’s critical for both sides to be on the same page when it comes to expectations and having a clear understanding of each other. In the first few weeks in a job, this can be accomplished by explicitly laying out goals, and setting parameters for when tasks should be accomplished by and how to do them. Manager’s shouldn’t be afraid to ask for resources or examples of how tasks have been done in the past to make sure no confusion occurs. 

Relationship with Your Team: When it comes to one’s own team, the first step should be an employee-by-employee evaluation of what each worker’s responsibilities are, if their workload is appropriate, and if their qualities are best matched for the tasks they are doing. If an employee is underperforming, it may not be because they don’t care or have the motivation, but perhaps they are simply tasked with the wrong objectives. If a member of a distributor sales team is introverted, they may not be the right person to make a direct pitch to an end user. Yet at the same time, they may be very strong an identifying what a customer needs and which resources could be best for them. Be reallocating that worker into an analytical role and shifting someone else that’s more confident with sales pitches to do the actual interacting, success can improve and the team as a whole feels more confident. 

These steps are just a sampling of all Watkins has to offer in his book to guide new employees or managers at companies. To check out the entire book, click here. For a previous book club installment, check out our summary on Lou Adler’s Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Outstanding Diverse Teams, published by Wiley.