How to become be a good new manager? Of all the management advice for new managers, embrace this one, first.
Don’t be fooled: Becoming a manager for the first time is deceptively difficult.
No matter how many leadership books you’ve read or conversations you’ve had with mentors – the transition to becoming a manager is precarious.
Talk to any leader, and they’ll affirm this. “I was a terrible manager when I first started,” most will say. Myself included!
This is because the change required to be a good new manager isn’t apparent from the outside looking in. You’re not truly aware of the change that’s needed in the role, until you’re actually in the role.
So what change do you need to make as a new manager? From 15,000+ people we’ve surveyed through Know Your Team and thousands of conversations with managers in our online community, the #1 consistent insight folks have shared is this:
Becoming a new manager isn’t merely a change in what you do – it’s a change in how you think.
When you become a manager, your responsibilities change and your daily schedule changes. But it’s your mindset that changes the most.
The biggest change in thinking, as a new manager, is that your best work is not you doing your best work. Your best work is creating an environment for others to do their best work.
You don’t think about, “Am I moving fast enough?” Instead, you now contemplate, “Am I removing obstacles so my team can move fast enough?”
You don’t consider, “Do I know the answer to this?” Instead, you ask yourself, “What am I doing to help my team become experts and find the answer?”
Becoming a good manager starts with how you think, not what you do. Shift your mindset, and the actions follow.
This shift in mindset, while seemingly obvious, is both substantial and hard to internalize. What previously indicated “success” for you as an individual contributor doesn’t indicates success anymore.
No longer do you pat yourself on the back when someone says, “Great work” or “I love what you did here”. As a manager, the small bump of validation happens when someone says: “Now I understand,” “Thank you for listening,” or “I’m excited to work on this.” The small wins change when you’re a manager.
This shift doesn’t happen overnight. We have to disregard the prior experiences of we were rewarded for as an individual contributor. We have to reconfigure our default settings of behavior that got us to where we are now.
But if you can embrace this mindset shift as quickly as possible, your ability to become a good manager exponentially increases.
You don’t have to wait til you’re in the thick of everything, as a manager, to know what you must change.
Now you know: You must change your thinking, first.
After four years, we’re launching a new product, business model, and company name. Here’s why.
We’ve always been a bit weird.
We’re a two-person company serving 15,000+ people who use our product in over 25 countries. We’ve generated almost $2MM in revenue to date, have been profitable since Month 1, and every year since. We’ve never raised money from investors, or taken out a bank loan. (And, we started out as a tiny prototype that Basecamp spun-off.)
Today, we’re doing something weird, again.
We’re launching a new product, business model, and company name.
We’re now Know Your Team — software that helps managers become better leaders. We give you educational guides, tools, and a community of support to help you avoid becoming a bad boss.
Know Your Team costs $65/month per manager (or $600/year).
If we’ve never met before, hello! I’m Claire, CEO of Know Your Team. It’s nice to meet you, albeit virtually.
Our original software, Know Your Company, used to be focused on helping business owners with 25 to 75 employees get to know their company better. We charged $100 per person, one-time, for life.
We generated $1MM in cumulative revenue in a little over two years. We helped tens of thousands of people at companies like Airbnb, Medium, Kickstarter. And not just at tech companies, but law firms, marketing agencies, retail stores, and even a few churches.
When we surveyed customers, 94% of employees said Know Your Company helped them feel more connected to their coworkers, and 85% of CEOs said Know Your Company positively impacted their company culture.
Yet as 2017 was winding down, we noticed our sales becoming flat.
I remember thinking this around this same time, last year, in December.
As I reflected on 2017, I noticed three things:
Our online community for leaders took off. We’d launched our Watercooler community in October 2017, to help managers learn from each other. More than 200 people signed up for it in the first month. (Today we have almost 1,000 members.)
Our writing about leadership took off. The writing I’d been doing on our blog increased our organic traffic by 3X in a month’s time. It would go on to increase by 20X over the next six months.
Our software sales went down. Our sales, however, did not increase. Not 20X. Not 3X. In fact, sales were fairly flat in 2017, if not dropping during some months.
Seeing the discrepancy between our audience and our sales, we scratched our heads.
Yes, Know Your Company was helpful as a piece of software. But for who?
When we got started back in 2014, we focused on selling to business owners. But by the end of 2017, our audience had evolved. After some digging, we learned that our 20X increase in traffic were mainly managers at companies of all sizes.
We had a mismatch. Our audience was managers, but our software was for business owners.
Our audience was asking the question, “How do I become a better leader?” But our software, Know Your Company, wasn’t answering that question.
In fact, no one was doing a good job of answering that question, “How do I become a better leader?”
Sure, you can read books, but they lack practical application. Trainings are expensive and one-time. And man, making mistakes and learning trial by fire is awfully painful.
I searched high and low for a good answer to, “How do I become a better leader?” I couldn’t find one. So we decided to build our own.
The best way to learn anything is to go do it. The second best way is to practice doing it. So with Know Your Team, we combined theory with practice. You can’t become a better manager by just reading books, or just by using software tools, alone. We built Know Your Team to include 3 complementary resources, to be used together:
Guides — Written guides on leadership, based on data, with 50+ chapters on topics such as one-on-one meetings, giving honest feedback, building trust, and more.
Toolbox — Dead simple software tools to help you run effective one-on-one meetings, ask for feedback, get high-level team updates, foster rapport, and more.
Community — Online support from 1,000 other managers from all over the world, where you can discuss tough situations like firing, hiring, and more.
And, we’re not done! We’ve got loads of ideas for more guides, more tools, and more resources that we’ve already started working on creating. There’s so much to be done to help people become the leaders they’ve always wanted to work for.
Changing our business model.
For new customers who sign up for Know Your Team, we chose a new business model. Know Your Team costs $65/month per manager to purchase. As a monthly subscription, this makes it easier for managers to swipe their credit card without having to ask for permission from their boss.
Previously, our one-time pricing model had been useful to get us to profitability quickly. For example if you had 19 employees, we charged $1,900 one-time. We were essentially collecting the lifetime value of the product upfront.
But over time, we noticed our one-time pricing model becoming a big barrier to sales. A business owner had to justify a $2,000 or more expense to their finance department, to their investors, and to their leadership team.
Now that we’re selling to managers, there was no way a $2,000 product was going to feel accessible to them, even if the cost was only one-time. We wanted Know Your Team to feel like a “no-brainer” purchase for folks who might not have access to the company’s budget. So we moved to a monthly subscription model.
Building Know Your Team with two people.
We spent six months building Know Your Team. This meant designing and coding new features, writing 50+ chapters on leadership for our guides, and constructing a new billing system, new onboarding system, and new marketing site… All with just two people.
Every piece of copy, code, and illustration you see is something our CTO Daniel Lopes or myself created. (We did this while maintaining our current product, doing customer support, writing blog posts and pursuing other marketing projects.)
This is a big move for us. As a bootstrapped company, we don’t have piles of cash stacked up, in case it doesn’t work. We don’t have investors to run to if we get stuck in a bind. (In fact, we have $140,000 in the bank, to be precise.)
But, the change feels right. Since I’ve been running the company in 2014, this launch, today, is the most energized I’ve felt.
Why the weirdness?
Admittedly, our approach is weird.
You might be wondering, “Why are you making things so hard on yourself, Claire? Why not raise some money to make this change? Take out a bank loan or open a line of credit? Hire more people? Buy yourself more time?”
Those are not bad ideas. We considered them. And who knows, maybe we’ll pursue them in the future.
But for right now, the short answer is: I don’t want to.
When you run your own business, you have to remember why you wanted to run it in the first place. What you want. Not what others want.
In business (and in life), we’re addicted to pattern-matching. We snuggle into where the grooves are carved, where the tracks have been laid — not necessarily because we want to — but because they’re just there.
For me, I got into this whole starting-a-business thing because I wanted to do it on my own terms: Small in headcount, big in impact, independent, profitable. Life is short. Why build a business any different from your vision for it?
Of course, you shouldn’t mindlessly listen to your own din, in isolation. You should carefully choose who to listen to. The only people I want to listen to are our customers, current and prospective: Employees, managers, leaders, CEOs.
The minute you take on investors, accept money from a bank, put people on your board — you change the people who you’re listening to.
I don’t even want to listen to Jason and David, the founders of Basecamp (and Know Your Team board members) 🙂 We’re lucky that Jason and David want us to do things our way, too. We disagreed on some of the strategy of the roll-out of Know Your Team, but they were very supportive of us choosing to ignore their advice. (I’ll write more on this perhaps another time…)
If you have the luxury to choose who to listen to, choose intentionally.
Is Know Your Team for you?
You might be one of those people I want to listen to.
If you’ve spent late nights googling things like, “how to be a good manager” or “how to run a team meeting” or “how to delegate well”…
If you’ve bought carts of leadership books on Amazon, desperate to avoid beginner manager mistakes…
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I have no idea what I’m doing as a manager”….
If there is anything else — truly anything — I can do to help you become the leader you always wished you worked for, I’m here. Feel free to email me at email@example.com or ping me on Twitter at @clairejlew.
I look forward to hearing what you think. I’ll be listening to you.
On the journey with you, -Claire
P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)