Posted by caitlin.krumdieck
Introduction from Will Critchlow:
I want to introduce the post that follows for two reasons. First, it’s a little different to the majority of posts we write for the SEOmoz blog, and second, it’s Caitlin’s first post here. Caitlin Krumdieck is our Director of Client Development at Distilled. Until she joined the company (as a sales executive), I had sold every piece of work that Distilled had done. She (supposedly) joined the company to assist me in responding to leads and putting together proposals. When she out-sold me in her third month, it became clear that I should be making way for her to do her thing and her growth at Distilled has continued from there. Along the way, she’s learned some interesting things about herself and the various roles she’s held in the company. I hope you enjoy reading about Caitlin’s growth and development and take away something useful for your own career and company.
Throwing myself in the deep end (aka learning how to be a manager)
I always thought I wanted to be a manager. Growing up naturally bossy and bit of a control freak, it just seemed like the natural spot for me to end up. So when I stepped into my first management position at Distilled, I was surprised at how hard the transition was. Moving from consultant to manager of a team required a complete change of mindset and challenged me in ways I never expected. Today, I'll be sharing the four things I believe are worth thinking about if you are looking to make the move into management.
Gut check: make sure you actually want to be a manager
About three months after my transition from London Sales Exec into the Head of Sales role, I had a very frank conversation with Will Critchlow (Distilled's Co-Founder) about my role. He then asked me point blank if I actually wanted to be a manager.
For me, this was a career-changing question. At the time, I was having a tough time letting go of my old responsibilities and moving forward into management responsibilities. I had been working in sales for over six years. I loved the buzz of talking to clients and closing deals. I liked the fact that I was personally responsible for bringing in revenue for Distilled, and I still valued my contribution to the company by the amount of money I could generate. So instead of focusing all my time and energy on how to make my team awesome, I was still spending at least 70% of my time trying to bring in new business. This meant I was essentially doing two jobs, over working myself, and not giving my team the management support they needed.
My answer to Will was, “Let me think about it.” I surprised myself by not going right back to him with a, “Hell yeah, I want to be a manager” response. I spent a few days really thinking about the changes I would need to make if I really wanted to step into a management position. To help me evaluate both opportunities, I made a list of the responsibilities for each. I thought about what it would mean to my day-to-day work, and I asked myself quite frankly, “Will I be happy as a manager?”
I think a lot of people make the mistake of skipping this step. They think that, because management seems like a step up, it is the natural progression they should strive for. But the truth is that management isn’t for everyone. It is a somewhat thankless job that requires a lot of patience, focus, determination, and self-motivation. It isn’t just a progression from a consulting role; it’s a complete job change.
In the end, I decided to challenge myself and devote myself fully to becoming a great manager. I would love to say that from the moment I made that decision everything changed, but to be honest, it took about another nine months before I made the full transition.
So before you eagerly put yourself forward for that management position, ask yourself, “Do I really want to be a manager?” If you are currently a consultant and love working on accounts, would you be happy if your daily responsibilities shifted from being at the heart of the action to becoming the person setting team targets, having line manager meetings, and generally solving problems? Would you miss the thrill of the discovery that only comes from day-in, day-out work with clients? These aren't easy questions, and it is well worth taking the time out to really think about what a move into management means. Rand wrote a great post covering the management vs contributor conundrum, highlighting how management isn't everything and shouldn't be the only growth path within a company.
Transitioning: re-learning how to be a team player
When I was in high school, I was the goalie for my school’s water polo team. This role requires a lot of the same characteristics of a great manager. While everyone knows that it is the goalie’s job to stop the ball from going in the net, it is also the goalie’s responsibility to set plays into motion. However, once the ball is in play, they need to get their ass back to the goal and provide support. From the vantage point in the goal, you can see the whole pool, so it is your job to let the other members of the team know what's going on, but you can’t actually get involved. A goalie is the ultimate support position. Sure, you get credit for any major saves, but you never get credit for the goals your offense scores.
Management is very similar. At Distilled, we subscribe to the belief that good management means being the support for the whole rest of the team, not the other way around. We are avid believers of Joel Spolsky’s support function approach to management.
As a manager, you have to be constantly aware of everything happening and make yourself available to help, but you need to let your team score their own goals. A good manager doesn’t take all the great leads/clients; they share their experience and knowledge so their team is able to step up and perform on their own.
Another big mind shift for me in going from a consultant to a manager, was learning to see my team’s success as my success. While I wasn’t out there directly making clients happy, I was supporting a team that was getting results. That is the management win.
Learning to lead: don’t dictate, start a flywheel
We talk about the power of flywheels a lot at Distilled. Building a great team should be approached with the same ideology and methodology as starting a flywheel. The goal is the same: ideally, when you push hard in a consistent direction for a length of time, it seems to get easier and easier to build momentum. With a small team and big targets, it was essential for me to think about how, as the manager, I could push my team to get the best possible results and continued growth for Distilled.
It’s easy to assume that you know what all the right answers are and that your team should do things your way. This was a mistake I made when I first started managing my team. As the first sales person at Distilled, I created a lot of our original sales material. I thought the most successful approach would be to get my team to just use what I built and go out and sell the way I would sell things. That approach worked OK for a while, but it was short-sighted and didn’t allow us to leverage the talent within our team. It also meant I had to be involved with every major deal we did, which limited our ability to speak with a larger number of clients.
So I took a step back. I stopped telling people how I thought they should approach working with a new client, and I started asking them what they thought they should do. I forced myself to stop getting involved in every conversation, and gave my team the space and responsibility to own all the client relationships, only bringing me in when they really need me. Instead of bulldozing in when trying to solve problems, I started to refuse to give my team advice until they told me what they thought a solution looked like.
The results have been amazing. My team has grown in confidence and the work they are doing now is more than twice as good as it was when I was forcing my approach on them. We are talking to more clients than ever before, and were able to double business last year without growing the size of our team.
Getting results: make sure your team knows what is expected of them
As a sales team, it was easy to focus target setting on revenue, but that only looks at part of the picture. If you only focus on the money coming in, you might miss some crucial areas of personal development that need to also be addressed as a manager. While I could use our sales reporting system to see how my team was performing, I couldn’t see if they were happy or achieving what they wanted to in their roles.
The first step I took was to redefine the roles within our team and to set out clear responsibilities of the roles my team currently filled and what progression into more senior roles would look like. I made sure to focus not just on their sales targets, but also team development responsibilities within the role. I put in more ownership-based responsibilities so the team could see how they were a part of the big picture and not just a cog. This helped my team to see exactly what is expected of them and what they can start working on to progress to the next level within the team. It also allowed me to open up conversations with my team on what sideways steps might look like, should someone on the team choose to move in a new direction.
Once I had the roles clearly defined, I sent out a happiness survey to each member of my team. Here are the questions I asked my team.
- On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best, how happy are you in your roll at the moment? On a scale from 1-5 with 5 being the best, how do you feel you are performing in your role?
- Do you feel like you know what is expected of you in your role?
- On a scale from 1-5 with 5 being the best, do you feel that you are well supported in your roll?
- On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best, do you feel you get the support you need from Caitlin?
- What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment in the past 12 months?
- Where do you think you have failed or would like to improve?
- What do you think of the targets set for 2012/2013 (this past year)?
- What are areas you feel like you could use more support in?
- What is one thing Caitlin can do for you to support you in your role?
- Do you understand what Caitlin's role is?
- What is one thing you would like to see improve/change/grow for the Client Development team for the New Year?
- How would you rank the general quality of leads you have received in the past 3 months?
My line manager Duncan Morris (Distilled CEO) had used a similar tactic with me in our line manager meetings and I found it was a great way to open up conversations about happiness and personal development. In the past when asking my team, “How are you doing?” I tended to get half thought-out answers. Giving them the space to write at length about it and asking them to assign a number to how they felt about how things were going, meant I got much more critical responses. It also allowed me to ask them what I needed to do as their manager to get them to the next level, which forced them to give me critical feedback. This really opened up conversations and has led to better personal development, increased team happiness, and improvements in openness across the team.
Every company is going to demand different things from its management team, but I found getting the team management side of things right is one of the most important steps I took. It wasn’t until I got that right that I really started to feel like a manager. There have been a lot of lessons along the way and I could probably write another whole post on the challenges of setting targets, managing difficult consultants and clients, and the importance of communication. However, I felt these three things really sum up the major lessons I learned as a person when moving into a management role and are the most transferable, regardless of the type of manager you are looking to be.
If you would like some more references, I found these resources very helpful:
- Good to Great
- Anything from Dale Carnegie – especially How To Enjoy Your Life and Your Job
- Bob Nelson’s 1001 Ways to Energize and Empower Employees
One of the great things about being a manager is that you are always learning and there is always more to think about when trying to help your team grow. I hope sharing my own learning experinces has helped and I would love to hear from others who have advice on how to manage a team effectively.
I'll leave you with an aswer I had to give recently, when someone I was interviewing asked me what I love about my job: For the past four years, I have found my self doing something brand new and challanging every day. No week is the same. Finally, while a manager may not get a lot of credit for all the behind the scenes work you do supporting the team, seeing your team be successful can be supremely rewarding and fulfilling.
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