Providing an Adequate System of Support for a New Manager

Vojtech Vondra

Sr Director of Engineering at Productboard



The biggest thing to realize as a new manager is that the role can be overwhelming at first.

You can really only bank on the experience that you have in your past career and it can seem like there is too much to handle if you’ve never led a team on your own before. You’re supposed to set goals for them and to make technical decisions. You need to conduct one-on-ones, evaluate performance, and hire people. It can feel like it’s all crashing on you at the same time.

Over time, a new manager develops their own way of doing all of these things and will develop templates for each of these tasks to follow. But, at the start, nobody has them. Before gaining the experience of a manager, you have no way of knowing whether something is a good approach or not.

Actions taken

Typically, in a bigger corporation, many of these templates and processes will already be established and laid out. In a start-up, however, these things can be completely chaotic. It is often up to you as a manager of managers to recognize that these things are missing and to standardize them.

If you manage somebody who is stepping into this role for the first time, you need to offer default ways of working, a basic template for them to follow, that gets them up and running, which they can then change from there as they need to.

Areas where this will be relevant may include effort breakdowns, planning, and how to set goals. What does evaluating performance look like? Giving structure for the manager’s first one-on-ones will also be important.

It might seem almost like micromanaging at the beginning, but, essentially you’re creating a space in which the manager can feel safe. Once the manager establishes themselves within this space, you can start to expand their scope of work and responsibility, adding more uncertainty. I know that a report is ready for more when I see them taking initiative and working on methods and templates of their own. They have the ability to recognize a problem, to scope it out and to take ownership of it. They are able to understand problems technically and also to organize others around that problem.

What you’re aiming for is for the person to grow out of that shell and to grow beyond the need for this support structure.

Lessons learned

  • When you notice something amiss, it’s important to not make assumptions about what’s wrong. Very often, we tend to apply our own perspectives and experiences, matching it to the patterns that we observe. That’s a mistake; the first step is to actually understand what is going on in a non-confrontational way. Don’t assume that the person is doing something wrong. Just assess the situation as best as you can.
  • From the beginning, you need to establish that trusting relationship. You need to talk often, and that makes the likelihood that they will come to you in times of trouble trouble much higher.
  • You need to create a relationship that allows for failure. You cannot make people feel too afraid to admit when they do not know what to do.
  • Essentially, what you’re aiming for is somebody who is independent and who does not require a lot of attention, somebody who you are able to trust enough to pass some of your work over to completely. This can be sensitive at the beginning because these people need support. Those who are able to disconnect from these tethers the fastest, those are the ones you’re looking for.

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Vojtech Vondra

Sr Director of Engineering at Productboard

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership TrainingPerformance ReviewsFeedback Techniques

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