Congratulations, You're a Manager. Now What?

A 100-day roadmap to success

Becoming an IT manager can be traumatic for systems administrators and developers. The skills for which you used to be valued suddenly aren't as useful, your peer group changes, and everyone is looking to you for answers. In such a situation, it's easy to feel unsuccessful—and fast. A natural reaction for many people in this position is to focus on what they're comfortable with— for example, managing servers or writing code. Unfortunately, what can emerge from doing so is the most feared kind of corporate monster: the Micromanager.

Beginning with Napoleon's reign, the accomplishments of a new leader's first 100 days on the job have been used as a barometer to assess the ability of politicians and corporate executives to push their agendas. Although the relative significance of the first 100 days within a long term is debatable, as a new IT manager, you can give yourself time to adjust to your new role by adopting a 100-days plan. Here's a roadmap to the most important four things you can do in your first 100 days as an IT manager, presented in order of their value.

#1 Define Your Relationship with Your Employees
Unlike being an individual contributor, where success is largely assessed on individual accomplishments, a manager's success is assessed primarily on his or her team's ability to deliver on its goals. The better able you are to align, empower, and motivate your team, the more successful your tenure as a manager will be. Consequently, the first thing you should do as a new manager is define your relationship with your employees. This is particularly important if you were formerly a peer because you'll need to redefine your existing relationships. Here are three tasks to accomplish in your first 2 weeks.

Create a structure for decision-making. Getting a new manager can be worrisome because of the unknown. Creating a basic, transparent structure for how decisions will be made will resolve much of this worry for your employees. One successful manager I know holds two meetings a week: one on Wednesday, when issues are debated (and which anyone can attend), and another on Friday, when all decisions are made and when he also explains why he made the decisions. His employees, although they might not agree with every decision, have a tremendous amount of respect for the openness and predictability of his process.

Get to know the people who work for you. Take some time to meet individually with each of the people who report to you. Listen to their concerns, listen to what motivates them, and listen to what they expect from a manager.

Build morale. Hold at least one event during work hours to boost morale and focus on team building. Choose an event that is appealing to all members of your team, whether it's go-karts, golf, or cocktails. Such events help not only with motivating employees but also generate goodwill that you'll likely need later in your first 100 days.

#2 Define Your Relationship with Your Boss
Becoming a new manager usually means that you'll have a new manager, most likely one much more experienced then you are. As a manager, your relationship with your own manager suddenly means much more that it did previously. Now, this relationship will affect an entire team of people, not just you. During your first month on the job, meet with your manager as often as possible and achieve agreement in the following three areas:

Engagement expectations. There is no one right level of engagement between a manager and an employee. Determine early on how you will engage with your manager. Some second-level managers (i.e., managers of managers) expect their employees to shield them from problems, others want to be informed of all problems, and many (at least initially) will want to help guide you through important decisions.

Goals. Although, as a new manager, you might be permitted to develop new goals for your team, goals set by the previous manager will still exist. Tackle these goals first. As a new manager, you want to impress your own manager. The most powerful way to do this is to drive existing efforts to completion.

Critical success factors. With your manager, define three to five factors that are crucial to the success of your organization. These critical success factors could be anything from cost efficacy to measurement of continuous improvement. In the long run, as a manager you'll be assessed on your ability to accomplish these higher-level goals in addition to completing regular duties and projects successfully. Furthermore, the successful achievement of critical goals is the kind of thing that your manager is likely assessed on. Few work habits bode success more than making your boss more successful.

#3 Understand the IT Budget and Budget Process
If you don't have a background in financial accounting or budgeting, this aspect of IT management will be particularly challenging. Never underestimate the importance of being a good financial steward and an effective fund-raiser. Your team will rely on you to secure the budgetary and other resources that it needs to deliver on its goals. IT spending is very often a zero-sum game, meaning that your project will be funded at the expense of someone else's (or vice versa). In your first 2 months as a manager:

Study the IT budget. Dedicate time to studying both the overall IT budget and your team's part of it. Pay careful attention to historical funding and variances. Variance is an accounting term for the difference between planned spending and actual spending. Knowing which activities (in particular, underbudgeting) caused variances and why will help you produce more realistic and accurate budget forecasts.

Become familiar with the budget process. Except in very small companies, budgets are constructed over time and are the result of debate and compromise. Become familiar with the budget process and how you participate in it as quickly as possible. One key to successful budgeting is to start early—beginning the process late will not only cause undue stress and long hours but also mistakes and omissions.

#4 Set Priorities
Resist the temptation to "fix" or change things right away. Rather, use your first 100 days to assess your team, your team's goals, and the processes and technology you are responsible for. Near the completion of your first 100 days, create a strategic action plan for the next 24 months (or longer, if appropriate). After receiving buy-in from your manager and your key employees, hold an upbeat event to announce the plan. Your action plan should contain:

Vision. Capture your fundamental expectation for the team in a single thought. See "What's IT All About" (April 2005, InstantDoc ID 45601) for details on creating a unifying vision.

Measurable goals. Define your team's goals and criteria for success. Explain how you'll measure progress toward those goals.

A timeline. Orient the team to the time lines within which you expect the team's goals to be completed. Differentiate between time lines and deadlines: Time lines can be flexible; deadlines are fixed.

Doing Napoleon One Better
Making the transition to manager is one of the most difficult shifts that many systems administrators and developers make during their career. If you're feeling uneasy about making the change, you're not alone. Following this four-step plan during your first 100 days on the job will help ease the transition and create a basis for long-term success.

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