New Challenges for First-Time Managers

Congratulations! You’ve been promoted. Now what?

In your previous role you were a rockstar. They saw something in you and you’ve been asked to lead the next generation of leaders.

As a new manager you will make mistakes and face new challenges, no doubt about it. However, a little preparation can help you through these common, new challenges.

1. It’s Lonely At The Top

lonely-tallYou used to hang out with everyone after work, at the pub or at the weekend BBQ, but now the phone no longer rings. This can be shocking and depressing for new managers, especially if your team used to be your coworkers. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you. They just need time to blow off steam after work and they’d prefer not to do it with their boss. They might also be afraid of saying the wrong thing after a few pints and have it affect their career.

Instead find new peers to hang out with. You’ll want to find fellow managers or others in your line of work or industry leaders. These can be great new relationships, as they can mentor you to become an effective manager.

2. No More Gossip

Be honest, you enjoyed those times of bad-mouthing the company, coworkers or management. Well, no more. You are now the ambassador of the company and its mission. You cannot afford to partake in those gripe sessions any longer. You will lose your teams respect and create an atmosphere of complainers. You need to speak positivity into your teams life and work environment. They need to have a belief that the leaders of the company have things figured out and will fix any issues that cause these gripes. If you participate, you identify yourself as not being part of the solution.

This does not mean that if one of your team members begins to complain, you walk away. This means that you listen and don’t join in. They need to feel they are heard and that you have a solution, or at least understand their issue and frustration. If you do come up short on identifying a solution, ask them to provide one. They may have some great ideas.

3. Gaining Respect

In order to lead effectively, you need your team’s respect. Whether you are inheriting a new team or managing your previous peers, each has it’s own challenges. This is a much bigger topic, but there are a few quick ways to gain respect as a new leader.

First, never get too attached to your title. Just because you are a manager doesn’t mean you don’t need to roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches with your team.

Second, be open and honest. Your team can tell when you’re holding back or not being truthful. You’re not that good of an actor. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up. Tell them you’ll work with them to find the answer. If you made a bad decision, fess up. Own your mistakes and learn from them.

Finally, be decisive. You may come to a fork in the road where a decision needs to be made to go left or right. New leaders often freeze if they don’t know which way to go or don’t have all the information. Be decisive and pick a path – go with your gut. If it turns out to be wrong, own it and double back and take the right path.

4. Fear

management-fearThis is probably the most common challenge and even comes up from time to time for long-time managers. Previously, your KPIs were completely under your control. But now your KPIs are often centered around your report’s success. And their success hinges on your success as a manager. This can be scary and overwhelming. Now, not only do your failures hurt you, they hurt your team.

When you have a team that is motivated and self-starting, this can be an easy transition. But if they need that extra push or special direction, this can be downright terrifying. Just remember, you used to be in their position. You know what you needed from your manager. Start there.

As you get more comfortable you can learn their strengths and learning style to help you lead them better.

Finally, the biggest remedy for any of the challenges you will face is to constantly be learning. Find a mentor. Read books. Watch training videos. But most importantly, never assume you’ve got it all figured out.

Patterns of Effective Teams

“Some teams are orders of magnitude more effective than others, turning around business solutions in days or even hours. Their secret is a combination of smart technology choices, great development habits and a powerful team dynamic. In this talk Dan describes a number of patterns of behaviour that he’s identified working with some great teams, beyond the basics of co-location, stand-ups and pair rotation. You’ll gain a new appreciation for old techniques like code reviews, and even working in silos won’t seem so bad!”

Dan North @ New Developers Conference in London

How to Develop an Employee Career Path

  • Developing an employee across a predefined path can take talented employees out of a role they are good at and fill it with a less talented employee. Instead, develop multiple paths and let the employee decide what path they want to take (role expert vs. trainer vs. manager).
  • Establish a model of specific tasks employees can specialized in, while maintaining a general knowledge of others to retaining a loose integration between team silos.
  • If an employee wants to transfer from one silo to another, develop a clear path to do so.
  • Expecting the employee to be a “Jack of all trades” prevents them from mastering specific roles and inhibits their growth.
  • An “earned autonomy” path can be more engaging and motivating for some employees than a management career path.
  • Each new step in the path should come with either a perk (ie. earned autonomy, ) or increased responsibility with compensation.
  • Identify early what path employees want to take and mentor them across this path.
  • Having a clear and defined career path will increase employee engagement.
  • Engaged employees call in sick 33% fewer times a year than disengaged employee.

Top 5 Tips for Self-Mastery

In Robert Greene’s book Mastery he describes 3 steps in your journey to becoming a master of your craft: learning, practicing and mastering. Each step must be done intensively and deliberately. Along your journey, no matter the step, you will need to exercise these 5 tips to fully achieve mastery of both self and your craft.

1. Adjust Your Focus

You need to adjust your mind-set to one of taking full and complete responsibility for whatever is happening in your life. Once you accept your current state at this very moment you can begin the necessary work of moving yourself forward. If you have a mind-set that circumstances are out of your control or that it is someone else’s fault, you will be destined to repeat your past mistakes. Your battle for mastery will be won or lost in your mind before you even begin.


2. Gather Feedback

In order to truly assess your strengths and weaknesses you must elicit feedback from your peers. This can be uncomfortable, or painful, but you must begin the journey by assessing what tools you need to bring with you and what tools to leave behind, as they will only serve to slow you down. Every opinion counts whether you agree with it or not. Own the responses. If you discount any response you may miss a great opportunity to refine yourself and become the best you can be.

Do this often. This will ensure you continue to refine and polish your strengths, while leaving your weakness behind.

3. Self-Reflection

It is important to end every day with self-reflection. Set aside specific time to assess the day. How did you contribute to your success throughout the day? Did you make mistakes? How did you handle it? What are the circumstances surrounding your peak performance?

Understanding oneself is the key to unlocking self-mastery. Do not make excuses. Be honest.

4. Commit to Self-Improvement

Although Robert Greene states the first step is intense learning, often through mentorship, learning shouldn’t stop once you get to the second step. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Read blogs. Explore all avenues of learning. Do not stop once you think you’ve know all there is to know.

“I know that I know nothing” – The Socratic Paradox

This means that you must never cease in you journey to know more, both about yourself and the world around you.

Commitment to self-improvement is not done through hoping time allows for you to spend 10 minutes learning. It is a conscious effort to set aside time for such activities. Your level of commitment to self-mastery will be evidenced by your commitment to this step.

5. Develop Your EQ

Emotional Intelligence is key to mastering yourself and your future. To effectively control you destiny you must be in control of your emotions and impulses. All your effort of self-improvement, self-reflection and adjusting your focus can be lost in a moment of impulsive behavior.

emotionsDo not let your emotions guide you. Control them through understanding what environments you excel and what environments drain your virtue.

If you add these 5 tips to self-mastery to your daily life, along with Robert Greene’s book Mastery you will be guaranteed success. Remember, you are in control of you journey, and it all begins with 1 step.

7 Habits of Unsuccessful People

No one ever sets out to be unsuccessful, it just seems to happen along the way. You may think it was just bad luck or the economy or a series of random events, but it’s not.

If you truly want to be successful stop doing the following behaviors of unsuccessful people.

1. Blame Others for Your Failures

Whenever we fail our initial reaction is to look for others to blame. It’s natural.

“It couldn’t possibly be my fault. I’m so dang smart and good looking.”

Whether it’s your boss, coworker, the media, the wifi or the guy who cut you off driving the big SUV, we all look to others as the reason for our problems. When we constantly point fingers away from us, we miss the lesson to be learned.

By missing the lesson we miss an opportunity to grow and become a better version of ourselves. It may be painful or uncomfortable to realize that the lesson to be learned is actually that we might have caused the problem. But this will help you prevent this in the future and allow for greater success.

2. Look Down On Others Who Succeed

If I’m honest with you, this is one I personally struggle with. When I see someone get a promotion or praise, Instead of congratulate them, I make it about me.

“Why did they get a promotion, and not me? I’m smarter than them. I work just as hard, if not harder.”

But we don’t always see the work they do. More often than not, they deserve the success they received. Congratulate them. Admire them. Look for ways you can improve to achieve the same success.

3. Complain

Complaining without action is probably my biggest pet peeve. Life isn’t always peaches and roses. Stuff happens. And sometimes that stuff sucks.

It doesn’t do you any good to dwell on it. If you are going to complain about an issue or circumstance make sure you follow it up with a solution.

Try to identify ways you can fix the problem or help lead others to fix the problem. Complaining for complaining sake will get you nowhere and breed an attitude of ungratefulness that no one will want to be around.

4. Fear Change

“For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

Change happens everyday. It is inevitable. Whether it’s a new boss, process or an update to your favorite app, it will happen. How you react is key to your success.

With every change there is new opportunities for success.

5. Seek Praise

We all want it, but we don’t always get it. If you are constantly looking for that pat on the back or trying to puff yourself up to ensure you get recognized over others, you will surely be disappointed.

You will also miss great opportunities to serve. Service to others is the greatest fulfillment one can have. Sure praise and recognition will be sparse, but you have the opportunity to create the longest lasting change by lifting others up instead of seeking the praise only for yourself.

6. Hope Others Fail

There’s a reason why “FAIL” videos are so popular on the YouTubes. We take pleasure in seeing other’s failure. I don’t know why, but we do.

What I realized as I lazily watched a video of a skateboarder missing the rail and landing with legs squarely on either side of the rail, is that this skateboarder is “trying”. Which is more than I could say for myself at the time.

He may have missed and he may be in excruciating pain, but he tried. And guess what, it probably wasn’t the first time he attempted the trick and it certainly won’t be his last.

At some point he’ll land the trick and it will be one of the best moments of his life.

Instead of wishing failure on others, be inspired by their attempt.

7. Always Think About Yourself

“What’s in it for me?”

Most highly successful people started with identifying ways they could help others be successful. When you help others be successful, you create a support team that is loyal to you and will inevitably lift you up.

Great leaders will always look for ways to help their team and lift them up to success. This builds loyalty and trust.

I see this with brands as well. Awesome brands start off by offering a free service (facebook, twitter, wordpress). Initially they are not worried about monetizing their business, but are focused on providing something people love.

The same is true for you. If you look to help others, you will eventually find your greatest success and fulfillment in life.

Designing with Your CMS Team in Mind

When designing a new site or app, you may begin to pen down all the great, revolutionary new features you are going to add in. As you begin user research you might notice them looking for information that is just not there on your current site or app. This is a great opportunity to build in that content into your designs.

However, adding these new elements into your site can have a significant impact for the CMS team who manages the data.

Take for example you’re working on an eCommerce site that sells t-shirts and you learn that users really want to know what the cotton/polyester blend is on said t-shirts. So you build in an awesome new widget that allows the user to filter out t-shirts within a given ratio. You also determine that t-shirt color is important and create a little swatch grid for users to select their desired color without navigating to the product page. These are both great ideas and should be implemented, but at what expense?

dont-forget-about-meToo frequently we design and develop with little thought towards who’s going to be managing this content going forward. And who is going to add these new data points to thousands of SKUs within the CMS or commerce platform?

The previous t-shirt example happened to me. I was managing the CMS team at the time of this new feature roll out. The designer built a beautiful new page design, got these new features to the developer and the developer started work immediately. I got called into the discussion 3 weeks before launch to approve the new feature roll out plan.

I asked the designer and developer, “How we were going about getting the swatch image for each SKU. Was it going to be automatically calculated based on the SKU image?” Nope.

“You’ll need enter in the hex code for each SKU”, they told me. “Oh, and we will launch in 3 weeks and we didn’t build in a fallback plan if a SKU doesn’t have a swatch.”


My team spent the next few weeks scrambling, reaching out to t-shirt vendors, seeing if they had the hex code handy. We also added plugins to our browsers to capture the hex code with a color picker. Fortunately, for everyone involved in this project we filled in every last hex code just days before the launch (we did have to spend some time post launch cleaning up some colors that were “off”). During this time of adding this new data point into our CMS, I had to pull valuable resources previously allocated to other projects, putting those projects behind schedule.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way we won’t have to worry about hex codes any more, right? Wrong. It’s now a new data point that we have to capture on each of the almost 100 new clothing SKU we add every week. Let’s say that this one new data point only takes us 1 extra minute to gather and input into our CMS. That is 100 minutes (2.75 hours) every week dedicated to this singular data point. By the way, we rolled out 15 new features and 6 new data points with that build. We later had to hire a new editor just to support the reduction in bandwidth on the team. All of which we had not planned on.

All this pain could have been significantly reduced, if not prevented altogether had the conversation started much earlier in the process. Often the CMS team can be the missing puzzle piece to help unify the final project and ensure a smooth launch and ongoing management.

So when you start your next design project, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who’s going to manage this new feature?
  • Is the ROI for the new feature worth the management impact?
  • Should we loop the managing team into the design discussion?

After all, you want that new feature to be rolled out and managed correctly, right?

Are You Emotionally Intelligent?

As business leaders we often talk about the characteristics of what makes a great leader, like: passionate, driven, charismatic, honest, etc., but we seldom talk about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to sense in yourself, and others, emotions as they rise up, in order to use them effectively and not let them control you. Put in basic terms, it’s not acting like a child when things don’t go your way.

Continue reading Are You Emotionally Intelligent?

Developing a Better UX Organization

Inspired by a Peter Merholz lecture at IA Summit 2015:

To deliver great user experiences, it’s not just about getting the best design out the door. It starts with getting the organization right.

There are different organizational models to deliver great UX. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

The most common organization model is a decentralized and embedded model. This allows each team (commerce, social, marketing, etc) to have a designer and developer and allows the designer to be included throughout the entire lifecycle. They are involved in decisions and part of the team. However, this causes a fractured user experience throughout the site and can be lonely for a designer to not be with other designers/developers.

Continue reading Developing a Better UX Organization