Advice to First Time Manager

Rachel Jennings
Rachel Jennings Member Posts: 10 Contributor
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edited August 2023 in CS Conversations
Hey Everyone, 

I would love to hear what your advice or wise words would be for a first time people manager and Head of Customer Success?


  • Ashna Patel
    Ashna Patel Member Posts: 13 Thought Leader
    edited May 2021
    Hello Rachel, 

    Great question!!

    I recently transitioned into a CS Leadership role & have a team that I manage now! I am sure there are many more advises that others can give you but here is my experience based on what I've learned so far! 
    • Similar to how you would take time to understand your customers when a NEW customer is handed over to you in your IC role, do the same with your team. Take time to understand & learn about them
    • Remember-- > They are NOT you! 
    • Practice Time management skills--> It's important you have enough time in your day to help, coach, assist & motivate your team throughout the day. 
    • Thier success = Your success. So, aim to figure out processes & strategies that can bring success for your team
    • Be the LEADER among other leaders in the company. The best part about CS or even being a CS Leader is the fact that you truly are the glue that connects different departments to one another. Be proactive in reaching out to other team leaders & executives when needed. 
    • It's okay if you don't know everything that is asked of you by your executives or by your team. Just learn to find out HOW & WHERE to get the answers! 
    • Continue working on your own training & development. As Nils Vinje said in his 30 Days Leadership book- You are the CEO of your career & great leadership starts from being a leader of your own career & figuring out how to continue advancing & learning on your own! 
    • Last but not least which I feel like a lot of people talk about-- Manage people the way you want to be managed. I validate that this is 110% true, it will help you create a better relationship with your team. 
    Some Metrics related tips:
    • Rely on Data where you can. Create reports, dashboards, or metrics that show your team's performance. 
    • Create fun activities or even internal contests to help motivate & boost up your team's morale. 
    • If there are specific metrics that your executives are keeping an eye on, make sure you have access to those or something similar & stays on top of your communication with your team & your executives. 
    Happy to chat more about this over a call & I would love to learn about your new role as well :) 

  • Sunil Kumar
    Sunil Kumar Member Posts: 3 Seeker
    edited May 2021
    Great question there Rachel. It's always amazing but also a bit tough when one transition's from 'doing the work' to 'motivating others to do the work', and the hidden challenges that come along. As a people manager, there's an element of power/authority that needs to be understood, accepted and strategized to be flown in the right manner - something that shouldn't convert into a power play. Once you understand this and take on the role of being someone available at any point of time when the team requires expertise, or to back them when things go downhill, and be a strong pillar they can lean on and trust, all whilst increasing knowledge - then you have started off in the right direction. My personal people manager philosophy includes a healthy mix of Servant + Transformational + Democratic leadership traits. 

    As for the Customer Success skills when moving into a leadership role, it becomes broader than what you were doing earlier. However, there was a reason you have been moved higher up since your skills were noticed. Hence, these will grow over time, and what I strongly believe is that your whole career is a learning journey.
  • Ashton Liu
    Ashton Liu Member Posts: 29 Expert
    First Comment First Anniversary
    edited May 2021
    Hi Rachel, This is a great question and one I certainly grappled with. By no means am I the expert but my thoughts stem from a similar experience as yours. 

    When you become the boss, it changes the dynamic so that people stop coming to you with certain things like office gossip, interpersonal relationships, unfiltered feedback on what's working/what's not. This is not to say that office gossip is good, but it often serves as an indicator of the team dynamic, and as the manager you definitely want to have a strong understand of that. A good example is if a team member is not performing, people are going to be talking about it long before it comes to you, and this is definitely something you want to know and address immediately. While I don't think there's a perfect solution, you'll want to be a good observer of body language and the unspoken dynamic on your team, as well as foster trusting relationships and ask good questions in your 1:1s. As a result it can be a bit lonely, and you will want to reach out to other team leads in your company for support. It's also a good way to test out ideas, get advice, and in general see what works.
  • Brian Hansen
    Brian Hansen Member Posts: 75 Expert
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    edited May 2021
    This is exciting, Rachel. Congratulations! Moving to a people manager role can definitely be intimidating, so I'm glad to see you're seeking out thoughts on best practices from those who have been there. I personally have been in a people manager role for almost my entire 15+ year career, so I feel pretty solid in my knowledge base.

    I will echo the points already in responses here, in the main sentiment of a good manager is that YOU WORK FOR YOU TEAM, THEY DON'T WORK FOR YOU. Now, of course, technically they report to you, and you set the strategy, so there is that dynamic, but what I'm talking about is more the feeling that you're putting out there. If they are successful, you are successful, and the best way to ensure that success is to listen to them, analyze where their time is getting sucked up into inefficiency, identify what gives each person energy/takes energy away, and take action to clear as many of those obstacles as possible. If you can do that with humility, you'll be in great shape to start as a leader. 

    When I talk about humility, I mostly mean being open that you don't have all the answers and for you to feel comfortable with that. Sometimes there is a tendency to feel like, "Shoot, I'm the manager. I must know all." You don't and you won't, so as long as you're clear with your team that you will figure things out with them, you'll be in a good spot. The ability to show both strength and vulnerability will start you off right. 

    Glad to offer more thoughts, should they be helpful. 

  • Anna Alley
    Anna Alley Member, CS Leader Posts: 70 Expert
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    edited May 2021
    I agree with what everyone else has said and would add a few additional thoughts.
    • Transparency and honesty are key to building trust with your team. If you show them (responsible) vulnerability, then they are more likely to be vulnerable and transparent with you.
    • Ensure you have clearly communicated your goals and expectations as a new leader. Now is the time to articulate what you expect both in concrete goals and behavior.
    • If you have multiple tiers below you, ensure you make time for skip levels at least twice a year if possible. For your direct reports, ensure you have a regular cadence of 1:1s and take time in those to spend a few minutes on just getting to know them, rather than always jumping straight to work.
    • Make time for tough conversations (things like D&I can often be challenging to navigate as a leader but are so important in making sure all teammates feel included)
    • Make sure there is room for innovation. Are teammates coming to you with challenges they've identified, and are you encouraging them to think of solutions to test themselves - are teammates feeling empowered?
    • Team building activities are key for morale
    • And it's been said, but listen to what your team wants and needs - do they feel recognized, appreciated, etc. If your company doesn't already do them, you can implement pulse surveys for your team to better gauge the areas they feel could use improvement. And then ensure you actively talk about those results and how you plan to address as their leader.
    Hope this helps! Very excited for your next chapter!
  • Jung Kim
    Jung Kim Member Posts: 20 Thought Leader
    edited May 2021
    Hi Rachel, 

    Exciting! Thanks for posting - responses to your question also helped me to recalbrate and ensure that I'm consistently learning as well. 
    A few thoughts (I also have background as a yoga teacher/teacher trainer, so my style of management has blended together). 

    1. structure your 1:1s so that there's a framework. I don't think those are done as effectively as they could be, and that isn't always the time for the individual contributors to get more work. Carve out time for what bugs them, as usually that's indicative of a larger business problem. I'll oftentimes also ask certain questions to everyone on my team, like "what's the hardest part of working with me?" for smaller organizations. 

    2. find a way to make feedback safe and structured. After meetings and role-plays/trainings, etc. -- we'll structure these the way that we do in yoga, in KEEP/STOP/START format. This gives the employee knowledge of what they're doing well as well as what they can be aware of/start to work on. 

    3. Ensure roles/responsibilities with metrics and the WHY behind their initiatives. One of the most valuable skillsets that I've found is the ability to say no and prioritize -- challenging to do when you don't at least have guardrails. 

    Hope this helped - happy to always chat further!

  • Jeremy Mulder
    Jeremy Mulder Member Posts: 26 Expert
    First Anniversary
    edited May 2021
    Hi Rachel - 

    People manager advice: make a roadmap for each person on your team. (The product has a roadmap, customers have a roadmap/journey, the same should be true for the people on your team.) Know where they are, where they are headed, and what you can do to support helping them become their best future selves.  

    Keep the desired destination of each person in mind when discussing the current goals and needs of your company and customers. This helps provide clarity around why we come to work everyday and how focusing on our roles and responsibilities is likely to lead us to our desired and improved future selves.

    Best wishes!
  • Andreas Knoefel
    Andreas Knoefel Member Posts: 73 Expert
    First Comment
    edited May 2021
    Hi Rachel,

    I am currently mentoring a first-time manager and here are the tips which were most appreciated:
    1. Title is not equal to authority: Earn it by building trust with your team
    2. Give your team freedom to succeed (and fail)
    3. Be their wing man/woman/person and their lightning rod when things get contentious
    4. Don't copy your manager. Most of them suck - Seek example from a mentor or book (The Leadership Challenge or The Effective Manager)
    5. manage up (your manager), across (your peers), and down (your team)