April 21, 2016

5 Ways to Succeed as an ‘Accidental Manager’


It’s easy to believe that the typical manager is completely comfortable in their role, but that’s actually not true. In fact, studies suggest that about 6 in 10 managers have had no formal management training. These people see themselves as “accidental managers” – people who just kind of fell into management without necessarily meaning to.

This does not have to be a bad thing: The kind of person who can roll up their sleeves and take on greater responsibility on short notice will go far – especially in startup environments, where change and growth are rapid and unpredictable.

That being said, a can-do attitude will only take you so far as an accidental manager. If you want to be truly effective in your role, you’ll need a little know-how.

To help you with that, I offer these five tips on how to become a great manager – even if you ended up in your role accidentally.

1. Draw a Clear Line Between the Old You and the New You

If you’ve been muddling along as an accidental manager, acting as a sort of half-worker/half-boss, then it’s time to pick a side.

You don’t have to deliver an emotionally distancing “I’m the boss now” speech; you can still be friends with your colleagues, but you’ll need to balance those friendships with your new commitment to management. Start by setting linked goals for each of your team members, rather than just letting them carry on as always. Setting goals is the best way to motivate your staff and solidify the new power dynamic between you and them.

2. Learn the Power of ‘Thank You’

You don’t need thorough management training to learn how to wield the most powerful motivation tool in existence. You just need to learn to say “Thank you.”

As it turns out, this little phrase can drive incredible results. According to one study, employees in a fundraising call center increased their call rates by 50 percent after receiving a personal expression of thanks from the call center’s director.

So, if you’re struggling with motivating your team members, all you need to do is start thanking them. It’s sure to pay off.

3. Make Sure You Say ‘Thank You’ in the Right Way

PageHave you been thanking your staff members to no avail? Does it seem like your gratitude isn’t driving results?

That could be because you’re not giving thanks in the right way. A specific and individualized “Thank you” is far more powerful than a generic “Thanks everyone!”

When saying “Thank you” to an employee, follow this template for maximum results:

– Refer to a specific task, achievement, or personal quality of the employee.

– Outline the impact this task, achievement, or quality has had on the business.

– Praise the employee for their work and thank them for what they have done.

3. Recognize Good Work Regularly

Don’t save all your thanks for the end of the quarter. According to research from Gallup, employees are most motivated when they have received praise and recognition within the last seven days. So, be sure to recognize good work every chance you get. That will keep the “gratitude high” going and drive consistently higher levels of employee performance.

4. Find a Mentor

Your resource-stretched startup might not be able to buy you some flashy management training, but there are plenty of free mentors out there. Look for a more experienced manager – perhaps within the business or outside of it – with whom you can form a strong, supportive relationship. Meet with them on a regular basis to receive guidance – especially when you’re having difficulty.

5. Manage Up

Middle managers are in that awkward position of having responsibility without power. They are expected to deliver, but they don’t have the ability to get more resources or increase their budgets without first getting senior leaders on board.

One effective way that you can can influence your boss is by bring them compelling business cases. Rather than saying, “We are struggling,” ground your requests in quantifiable facts: “Staff are working at 110 percent and many are taking more and more sick days. The project is running six days late, meaning we will miss our monthly revenue targets. Can you approve some temporary workers to help us get back on track and meet our goals?”

To be an an effective middle manager, you need to manage not only your direct reports, but also your own superiors. This can be tricky, but as long as you approach them on the right terms, you should be okay.

Don’t mistake this post for a condensed version of Management 101. It’s simply meant as a lifeline for those accidental managers who find themselves up the creek without a paddle, so to speak. By following some or all of these steps, the accidental manager can steady themselves, get some room to breathe, and start preparing for the next stage of their career.

Read more in Management Styles

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.