Remember: creativity is not a passive process. If you've lost your spark, there are ways to reignite it. Start with these six practical tips.
“Managing people is scary AF. And if you aren’t scared, then I’m not sure you’re paying attention.” Wise words from founder and creative director of Know Scrubs, Inge Wulff. “Most of us see our colleagues more than we see our friends or some family. Whether you intend to or not, you will have an effect on your team,” she says.
Inge is passionate about leading authentically and with great care. She shares 10 things you need to know when managing people for the first time…
1/ Know yourself
More than simply doing your personal SWOT analysis (analysing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), you need to know whether you prefer to work mornings or evenings, when to do “data work”, when is best for creative work, what distracts you, what calms you, whether you need WFH days, how effective you are at planning and where your team needs to come in to support you. “Knowing yourself better will help you to know what you need from your team and [how best to manage them] for results,” says Inge.
2/ Be genuine and, dare I say, vulnerable
Dare to Lead author Brene Brown has made a career out of telling us to open up and she’s right – even in the workplace. “While we should be cautious about who we’re vulnerable with,” says Inge, “I have found this to really aid my management skills. Showing up authentically for teammates enables them to do the same. Tell teammates what work you’re struggling with, what concerns you, and what motivates you – help them to see your context,” she says.
3/ Lead with clarity
Set clear expectations and goals for each role in your team. “Figure out what success looks like to you and design the expectations around that,” says Inge. Be specific and include all the items that add to your team’s success. Think: email turnaround time, communication etiquette and relationships with stakeholders. Being specific from the onset will reduce the need to micromanage later on because your direct report has clarity on the expectations.
4/ Model the behaviour you want to see
Actions speak louder than words. The number one way teammates pick up habits, good or bad, is through watching what their manager displays. “Think about showing up on time, emailing after hours, forgetfulness, bad language, conflict with other teams. You do, they do,” says Inge.
5/ What is your meeting and deliverables flow?
Structuring a meeting flow (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) along with the desired outcomes for each meeting will help categorise projects in your mind and reduce teammate stress.
“I recommend weekly one-on-one meetings that cover the basics (progress on projects, weekly to do’s, etc) and monthly meetings that talk about the big picture, focusing on how your teammate is developing, their goals, the progress they’re making towards their development as well as the organisation’s overall progress,” says Inge.
6/ Take interest in your direct report’s life
“If you really want to develop your direct report and encourage them to bring their full, authentic self to work, ask them questions about things outside of work and really work at understanding their motivations,” says Inge. This is especially important if your teammate is from a different background from you as it will help you understand their context and what’s important to them.
7/ Bring your team along for the exciting, strategic parts of your job
Want your teammates to do the mundane admin and unsexy parts of their job with ease – even… joy? “Talk to them about the bigger strategic projects you’re working on. Show them how what they do fits into that. This will help them see their work for the perfect puzzle piece it is,” says Inge.
8/ Feedback should be bite-sized
“The smaller and more practical the feedback, the easier it is to implement. And the more often you have this kind of feedback, the easier the robust growth and performance-based feedback will be,” says Inge. Encourage upward feedback. Whether you’re new to managing people or have been doing it for years, there are always blind spots.
“I was recently called out for ‘rapping’,” admits Inge. “That is talking too fast when explaining complex processes. It has ensured I focus on slowing down when explaining new processes to the team. Now I also record each session for teammates to refer to. Feedback is a gift,” she says.
9/ Celebrate wins, acknowledge effort
Take time during one-on-one meetings, bigger team meetings, via email or your team WhatsApp group to celebrate wins and acknowledge effort. “People thrive in different ways, but you want to create the kind of team culture that supports good work, encourages camaraderie and models good behaviour. Be as formal or casual as works for you, but make sure you name the effort a teammate has made,” says Inge.
Managing people when they’re your peers/former colleagues
If you were promoted from within a company, chances are you’ve had to manage your peers. This can be tough because you want to deliver excellence, but you also don’t want to isolate yourself.
Inge offers the following tips:
– Be open about the fact that it’s awkward or challenging. Be vulnerable to those feelings while you adjust.
– Have a clean slate setting where you share your goals and discuss what works for you and your team.
– The role of a manager is to remove obstacles from a teammate’s path so that they can better perform on the deliverables. Be cautious of micromanaging – trust that your team have been doing a solid job so far and they know the daily realities of the job.
– A new broom sweeps clean, but try to assess before changing anything too fast. “I understand the desire to hit those quick wins, but to effect long-lasting change, spend time observing things from your new position, then share the possible change with your team and get their input,” says Inge.
About Inge Wulff, in her own words…
“By day I manage the South African brand and admissions team at a growing network of affordable private schools on the African continent. I’m also involved in leading culture initiatives for the broader South African team of this same network. By night/weekend/available time I’m the founder and creative director of Know Scrubs – for medical professionals who don’t want no ordinary scrubs.”