Learning & Development
9 min read

From individual contributor to manager: A transition checklist

Sarah Lessire

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Getting your first manager role is an accomplishment to be proud of, so cheers to you!

It’s likely that you were promoted because you showcased excellent performance and great potential for leadership skills. But you might have found yourself thrown into the deep end, with a lot of new projects, people to manage and a lot of new skills to acquire, while still being accountable for individual contributor tasks.

Depending on your company’s L&D initiatives, you may or may not have access to management training. So we compiled a checklist of tips and skills to help you stay grounded while you take on this exciting and demanding transition. 

New manager transition tip #1: Managing your time

Accepting and declining meetings

After just a few days in your new role, it’s likely that your agenda would be packed with meetings. Even if you love attending meetings, you’ll need to cut through the noise and only attend the vital ones.

If you don’t do this, chances are you’ll find yourself putting in late hours to catch up on the individual contributor tasks you are still accountable for. So it’s important to become comfortable saying no and turning down invitations.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get involved in projects or provide value to initiatives you care about. Rather, it means learning how to communicate about your needs and boundaries around your time. 

For example, if someone invites you to the kickoff meeting for a project you aren’t essential to (especially if lots of other people are also invited) you could respond saying something like:

“Thank you for including me in this project! I will not be able to join this one but am happy to have a look at the meeting notes and provide any insights or context I might have. Feel free to ping me with any specific questions you might have.

This will allow you to share your expertise without spending hours on calls where your presence is absolutely required.

Managing your schedule and notifications

As you become more comfortable with turning down meetings, it’s also a good idea to block off windows of time on your calendar and dedicate them to your individual contributor tasks or general admin tasks like answering emails or checking in with colleagues.

Make sure to plan a little more than you think you’ll need, as emergencies tend to come up, even when your calendar clearly says “Do not book”. 

To reduce the time you have to book in for admin, consider updating processes that could be automated. Do you still schedule meetings manually? Get an online scheduling tool such as Calendly, or share your Google calendar with people and ask them to find an open slot. Do you receive notifications about the same information in multiple places? Instead of receiving an email, a Slack notification, and a mobile ping every time someone leaves a comment on Asana or Google docs, choose one place to receive all your notifications. Then be sure to change your settings for the other channels. 

New manager transition tip #2 Managing your emotions

While mindfulness and resilience training can do wonders to improve our experience at work, not everyone has access to them. And chances are that if you just stepped into a new role as a manager, learning to meditate might not be your number one priority.

Luckily, there is one first step you can take: Remember that this is not supposed to be easy.

Being a manager is known for being a stressful job, as you have to be accountable to many different people and objectives. You’re meant to look after their team’s engagement, performance and well-being, develop psychologically safe relationships with each of your direct reports. You’re accountable to targets and objectives set by your leaders. And you must come up with strategies to meet those targets, report on progress, and problem-solve every day.

You will feel the pressure coming at you from many different angles, and in the midst of this responsibility, self-compassion is often inaccessible. But self-compassion can have a direct effect on our ability to develop more emotional resilience.

To take small steps toward self-compassion, start by taking a deep breath and compassionately observing any feelings that arise. Then, instead of feeling like you shouldn’t feel those things, or that you wouldn’t if only you were [insert your idea of better], tell yourself: it makes sense and it’s ok for me to feel this way.

Once you’ve identified some of your feelings, go back to your calendar and proactively plan micro-breaks throughout your day to check in on how you’re feeling. 

Though it’s an important part of managing your emotions at work, self-compassion can’t be the solution to everything. Sometimes, there’s an overwhelming amount of pressure and too many things to do. This is where the next tip comes in.

New manager transition tip #3: Prioritizing and letting go of legos

With new manager tasks on your plate, you need to avoid becoming a bottleneck. 

Start with identifying your top three priorities for the week and rank your tasks per order of priority. Some project management tools such as Asana let you add both priority and estimated time requirements to tasks. This will help you get a clear picture of why things feel chaotic and allow for you to better navigate the chaos. 

Once your priorities have been identified, and you’ve found solutions to remedy the chaos, it’s time to delegate. 

One way to identify those tasks is by looking at any recurring items your checklist and asking yourself: Can someone else do this? Or could someone else be trained to do this? 

This is where the concept of giving away legos comes into play. If you are unfamiliar with Molly Graham’s article ‘Give Away Your Legos’ and Other Commandments for Scaling Startups, we highly recommend giving it a read. This idea is central to our understanding of what being culture first means, so much so that we ended up interviewing Molly on scaling culture in this episode of the Culture First podcast.

Generally, if something can be delegated, it probably should be. You don’t want to be a middle-person unless absolutely necessary. At times, this could be an emotional process, as some things can be hard to let go of. But it can also be an opportunity for you to empower your direct reports – or in some cases your peers – to take on more responsibility in areas that offer them growth opportunities. 

New manager transition tip #4: Finding a mentor

Other people have stood in your shoes before. And believe it or not, most people are happy to help when they can sympathize with your struggle. 

Whether inside or outside your company, we encourage you to identify a couple of people from whose expertise or leadership skills you are eager to learn and just ask them!

If you’re not sure how to go about this, a good bet is to ask your potential mentor for an initial 15 or 30-minute conversation.

In this meeting, you can describe the kind of coaching or guidance you’re looking for. They might also possess knowledge that you are unaware of, so you could ask them some open questions to get to know them a little better. The most important thing is for you to demonstrate your willingness to learn and follow-through on commitments. Let them know that you respect their time, and will not be taking it for granted.

After this meeting, if they agree to start a mentor-mentee relationship with you, then offer a frequency and duration of meetings, as well as some initial challenges you’d like their help with.

Mentors can be sought-out for a variety of technical and leadership skills. To get you ahead on the latter, we’ve compiled some ideas in the next tip.

New manager transition tip #5: Learning soft skills

You’ll need more than the top coding/writing/sales/you-name-it hard skills to ensure a good workflow between you and your team or peers. This is where soft skills come in.
At times referred to as “leadership skills” or even “life skills”, soft skills are defined as the “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” They enable individuals to develop as leaders, as professionals, and as human beings. Not only do they directly impact daily performance, but they significantly improve the lived experience we‘re having at work.

They include abilities such as:

  • Fostering psychological safety
  • Active listening
  • Assertive communication
  • Stress management
  • Critical thinking

Listen to “The death and rebirth of soft skills” from Culture First podcast.

Hear from experts Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at Vayner Media, and Dara Blumenthal, Ph.D. and adult development coach.

Listen here

New manager transition tip #6: Giving and receiving feedback

The best way to keep growing and improving as a new manager is to get a pulse on your progress and areas of growth. Similarly, one of the best ways to encourage growth and development in your direct reports is to give them both positive and critical feedback and to do so regularly. So both giving and receiving feedback can be important processes to work into your management style.

Giving feedback regularly and explaining why you are doing so shows your people that you care about them personally. And while not every action requires feedback, it’s important to make feedback a regular process. When positive feedback is given often, it prevents occasional critical or corrective feedback from becoming an ordeal. 

Obviously, the hierarchal divide between you and your direct reports can make receiving candid feedback more difficult. This is why we have developed our 360° review template, which allows managers to receive specific feedback on areas of their choosing, from direct reports, peers and leaders.

While the thought of asking for this kind of feedback can be daunting, knowing where you stand, how your efforts are being perceived, and how your coworkers are eager to see you grow will give you a framework for your development. And this, in turn, could offer you a great deal of peace of mind while you navigate the ups and downs of your new role. 

Were you recently promoted to be manager of a diverse team?

Check out this guide for new managers on how to empower diverse teams.

Read here