How to Build a Management Process for First-Time Managers

Andy Cook
March 9, 2020
How to Build a Management Process

Congratulations — you’re a manager now. After working your way up the career ladder, you get to run a team, groom your colleagues into managers, and set yourself up for even more success.

However, with all the excitement that comes from becoming a manager, there’s just as much anxiety. Managing a team or a project is daunting, especially if you’re a first-time manager. 

Even worse, almost half of all managers go in blind when they accept new leadership roles. Not only is there a rugged mountain to climb, but for a lot of us, there’s also no climbing gear available. 

Fortunately, we’ve created a guide to help you build a management process that will enable your team produce consistent, high-quality work. Read on to learn how to lead a high-octane team from the get-go.

What Is a Management Process? 

A management process is a series of steps for planning, organizing, and leading projects. It’s best to document your management process in an internal wiki so you can reference it whenever you start working on a new project. It also makes it easier for other managers and colleagues to follow your process when you’re sick or on vacation. 

For example, for the head of a blogging team, their management process could look something like this:

  • Plan — Set traffic and lead goals and devise content strategy.
  • Organize — Assign topics to writers.
  • Lead — Provide writers with all the resources they need.

Why Do You Need a Management Process?

A management process provides a repeatable set of steps that you can rely on to execute your work. These processes ensure that you can complete tasks in a consistent manner, making it easier to streamline your current operations and tackle new, challenging projects.

Management processes also give your employees more autonomy, which is a basic psychological need and the leading contributor to happiness. On the flip side, defaulting to procedures and policies that dictate the way your employees can or can’t do their work plummets innovation and employee engagement. 

Use the following steps to create and implement a management process for your current and upcoming projects.

How Do You Build a Management Process?

Planning

In the first stage of the management process, your job is to set challenging yet attainable goals and choose the optimal strategy to achieve them. To help make the planning stage easier to execute, we divided it into three steps.

1. Determine why and how you’ll achieve a goal, not just the goal itself.

Too often in business, we conflate the measurement of a goal with the goal itself. This can incentivize you to focus too much on the results instead of the thing that produces the results — the process.

To open up this common bottleneck, make sure you determine why you want to accomplish your goals and how you’re going to accomplish them — not just what you’re going to accomplish.  

For instance, in our objectives and key results (OKR) template, we recommend setting objectives, which are inspirational goals rather than numeric ones, such as “become the knowledge management tool of choice for every small-to-medium sized tech company.” Then, we recommend setting key results, which are the numeric goals that measure your progress toward attaining your objectives.

However, before you start working toward your goals, we also recommend setting an expectation for how often you’ll actually hit your goals. Because if you’re hitting your goals 100% of the time, they might just be easy wins. And if you’re never hitting your goals, they could just be impossible to reach.

Luckily, Christina Wodtke, a seasoned tech veteran and computer science lecturer at Stanford University, wrote a book about achieving your most important goals called Radical Focus. Shesuggests you aim to hit your goals 50% of the time because it prevents you from setting goals that are too attainable or too ambitious, enabling you to grow at a healthy pace. 

2. Brainstorm (the right way).

The typical brainstorming session might seem like the most collaborative and effective way to generate creative ideas, but according to psychologists, it’s actually one of the worst.

When a team congregates to devise a new strategy, a handful of cognitive biases can rear their ugly heads and suck all the creativity out of the room. First, there’s groupthink, where people don’t want to ruffle anybody’s feathers, so they agree to run with the most accepted idea — but not necessarily the most creative one.

Next, there’s evaluation apprehension, where introverts are less likely to share their ideas than extroverts, enabling one personality type to dominate the discussion. And finally, there’s production blocking. This is a cognitive bias where the number of people participating in the brainstorm limits the number of ideas each person can pitch and, in turn, the quantity of ideas that each session produces. 

To avoid falling victim to these stifling cognitive biases, consider asking all your team members to brainstorm ideas on their own and privately submit them to you — they’ll think of a larger amount of better ideas. In fact, according to a study of over 800 teams, brainstorming alone, instead of in a group, allows teams to generate a higher quantity and quality of ideas. Additionally, employees of a publicly traded corporation who were able to take part in the decision-making process were rated more creative by their supervisors. 

From there, you can conduct an anonymous poll to see which idea your team thinks is most intriguing. This way, none of the social influences mentioned above can sway anyone’s decision.

3. Chop up your project into small yet challenging tasks.

When you slice your project into chunks, you give your team more opportunities to feel accomplished at work. And since crossing a challenging task off your to-do list triggers the release of dopamine in your brain, chopping up your project into smaller (but still challenging) tasks can motivate your team to keep getting things done. 

For example, when Wistia decided to focus on growing as much as possible, they set ambitious goals to meet their revenue target. However, these goals were actually overly ambitious and encouraged short-term thinking, plummeted their workforce’s creativity, and killed their motivation. 

Once Wistia set more realistic goals, though, they noticed that their employees were more creative and motivated. These goals were actually attainable, so they could take their time and think of innovative ways to achieve them. As a result, they were able to hit and even exceed these goals on a regular basis. And it also motivated their employees to constantly improve their work, which led to a 40% annual growth rate and a return to profitability.

Organizing

In the next stage of the management process, define each role on your team and delegate responsibilities accordingly. Since everyone on your team will know exactly what their job is, completing the organizing stage will boost your team’s efficiency and effectiveness.

When defining every role on your team, each member of your team will know how much decision-making power they have, what exactly they’re responsible for,  and what’s on their colleagues’ plates. This will help them stay in their lane and work with each other — not against each other. 

To designate the amount of decision-making power each role on your team has, consider using the DACI framework, which was originally developed by a titan in the finance software space, Intuit

DACI stands for Driver, Approver, Contributor, and Informed, which are all the different roles on a team. 

In a nutshell, the Driver makes sure the decision-making process stays on track. The Approver green-lights the final decision. The Contributor is a subject matter expert who provides counsel to the Driver but doesn’t have a say in the decision. And the Informed are the people who will get notified about the decision but also don’t have a say in the decision. 

After you define the responsibilities for each role on your team, the next step in the organizing stage is matching your team members’ skills to the appropriate role. Remember: The better suited each of your team members is for their role, the more satisfied they’ll feel doing their jobs, and the better they’ll perform. 

Leading

During the final stage of the management process, you’ll steer your team toward the finish line. Here are three management best practices to help you do so. 

1. Make sure your team has a purpose and meaningful work to do.

According to renowned author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, the most primal part of your brain, the limbic system, is in charge of all your emotions and decision-making. That’s why emotions drive action.

To motivate your team to do their best work possible, be sure to emphasize the deeper meaning behind their jobs. Your team should deeply care about the work they do. Because if your mission doesn’t resonate with them, what’s the point of doing the work?

2. Focus on the process, not the results.

The goals hanging over your head can pressure you to solely focus on achieving them, but don’t succumb to this type of short-term thinking. Ironically, homing in on the process, rather than the results, is how teams produce better results.

In his stimulating article about prioritizing systems instead of goals, James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, reveals an interesting insight about winners and losers. He says that both have the same goals and how setting ambitious goals isn’t what actually leads to exceptional results. 

“Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers,” says Clear. “It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British cyclists to the top of the sport. Presumably, they had wanted to win the race every year before — just like every other professional team. The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome. ”

Your process is your team’s differentiator. In fact, psychologists even suggest that people who are intrinsically motivated produce higher quality work than people who are extrinsically motivated. 

3. Foster psychological safety.

If you develop a work culture where your colleagues aren’t afraid to fail, you’re tapping into their primal desire to feel safe. This creates trust and loyalty towards you as their leader and motivates them to work harder for you. People who have feel more psychologically safe also tend to generate more creative ideas — they’re not afraid to get shamed or punished for bringing them up. 

To foster psychological safety on your team, be sure to create a judgment-free environment where challenging the status quo is encouraged, every idea is heard, and failure is considered an opportunity to learn and improve your process.

Building Your First Management Process

Being a first-time manager is like being a first-time anything. You might feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. You might even feel like a complete impostor at times.

But don’t fret. Armed with this guide to building a management process, you can develop one that will help you lead a team that consistently delivers high-quality work, regardless of the project at hand.