Guide to Being a New Manager — Alignment 

Career

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jotham.lim

Being recruited as a first-time manager can be both exciting yet uncomfortable.

The prospects of higher pay and benefits come at the expense of more responsibilities and an extended notice period. But the real challenge lies in managing higher expectations from your employers, new colleagues, and mainly yourself.

Externally-hired managers get called upon when there are significant problems that need solving or gaps that need filling. It’s likely that internal promotions weren’t a feasible option. Most newly hired managers are also pre-qualified, whether through recommendations by mutual friends or freelance consultants turned full-timers.

Hence, managers are treated slightly differently from executives. Even if it’s your first time, managers are expected to know what to do and how to do it from the get-go. You manage others on top of being managed; You follow company rules, but are also the one making them now.

It’s undoubtedly more freedom than being an executive. But I had jobs in the past that gave ample freedom—being a journalist and freelancer. This type of freedom is different. It feels heavier. Decisions have consequences, and they affect how my team spends eight hours of their lives every weekday.

It’s been about two years since I first became a manager, and I’ve had various wins and losses along the way. But still, it’s a fantastic job—getting thrown off into the deep end and getting paid to learn how to swim.

I’ve just entered a new firm, similarly tasked with setting up a department from scratch. In the upcoming weeks, I will be sharing what I know. Here is part one of a series and my priorities for the first month.


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Step 1: Alignment

Doing nothing is unproductive, but to do the wrong thing is counter-productive.

I had coffee chats with business owners before, and a common concern they have is a new manager’s tendency to overhaul the entire department—Like newly-elected politicians upending whatever their predecessors have established.

I understand where they’re coming from. It’s the first day at a new job; you’re brimming with enthusiasm, and there’s an urgency to turn this energy into something, or anything really. This usually comes in the form of reckless initiatives.

However, this burst of enthusiasm is also thinly veiled insecurities—the eagerness to impress others and to prove that this hiring decision wasn’t a mistake.

I had to remind myself that, although everyone expects some level of change, significant disruptions can be damaging. I need to trust that the probationary period is sufficient time to prove I am capable. Plus, setting a high bar from the get-go will only set me up for burnout down the road.

What’s the worst that could happen? It’s unlikely that the management team will fire me, even if I did a less-than-mediocre job.

Fortunately, I didn’t have a predecessor to disrupt. Both times I was hired, the marketing department was non-existent, and I needed to build from scratch. Changes are mostly met with suspicion rather than resistance.

However, I’m still new at the job after all. This high level of energy still needs to be directed somewhere. Instead of seeking to do, a new manager should first seek to understand.


🔍 Getting an Overview

The first step involves plugging up any knowledge gaps and assumptions that you have about the company. This alone should distract you for a few days. For this, I love the three main frameworks taught in the YCDP programme.

Business Model Canvas

Who are our clients and stakeholders? Where do we earn money, and how do we spend it? What exactly are the relationships that we have with the client?

Usually, we would learn aspects of the business through osmosis over a lengthy period. But when your job in the first month involves making plans for the rest of the year, we have to speed up the process, and a BMC is an excellent tool for that.

Full Guide / Download Template

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Value Proposition Canvas VPC

Without a value proposition, there will simply be no demand for your product, and the company will cease to exist. Whether you’re in marketing or product development, a VPC helps you understand what features and aspects of the business are essential to the client.

Most of all, it helps with prioritisation. Being a marketer, it’s tempting to jump straight to selling product features and benefits. But perhaps you’ll learn that it’s actually the unique pricing and license structure that drives clients to purchase.

SWOT

A VPC helps you understand how your products match a client’s needs—but your company is not the only player in the game. A SWOT analysis needs no introduction, and it’s a great way to find out how your company stands compared to the competition. This helps you understand what are the anchors of the business and where the industry might go.

Full Guide / Download Template


✅ Validating Your Understanding

Now you’ve learnt the existence of these 3 frameworks, here’s how you use them.

  1. Place the diagrams on a digital whiteboard. I personally use Miro.
  2. Fill in the framework by making educated assumptions. Research public or internal company material if needed.
  3. Schedule a meeting with relevant stakeholders, usually the boss and a few of your peers.
  4. Make a presentation of your understanding of the product, company and industry. I recommend putting this as part of an agenda rather than having a dedicated meeting.
  5. Aligning my understanding of the product, company and industry, and correct any misunderstandings.

Frankly, I really enjoyed this exercise, and so did the bosses. They are so often down in the trenches that they rarely see their company from a fresh, retrospective point of view.

Correcting any misunderstandings also opens up discussions of why they exist in the first place. Through this exercise, I’ve uncovered value propositions that were nowhere written on the company website, which is appalling.


Having these conversations also helps paint a clearer picture of my objectives—which are often unclear for new managers. For example, I learnt that large enterprises often purchase from more reputable B2B brands despite having worse value because decision-makers who bought them can avoid culpability. “If the best service provider in the world can’t get the job done—I can’t be faulted for choosing them.” Building marketing strategies around this buyer’s psychology would make my work more impactful and meaningful.

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