So, You Want to be a Manager: Managing a Business for First-Timers

Words: Neal Adams

Words: Neal Adams, Adams Masonry
Photos: MASONRY Magazine, sodafish

Managing a business or team can be a daunting and intimidating task. There are countless opinions, books, articles, videos, and posts on how to successfully run a business or team. Your job is to figure out what works for you and your unique situation. Looking around you to see what you have and don’t have to be a successful manager is key to understanding where to start. No one person can do or know everything; knowing how to filter the fat from the meat is extremely important to being successful. Things that may have worked for you in the past may not work well as a manager and vice versa. Your job is to build the team and systems around you that work for you and your business. 

We first need to take stock of ourselves to get a better understanding of how to structure our team. What are you good at, and what are your shortcomings? Time management, prioritizing, and delegation are very important skills needed to tackle everything that will come across your desk in a day. Depending upon your background up until this point, you may not have had to think of these things. Learning to maximize your limited time in the office or the field will help create a healthy work/life balance. This will help prevent burnout as you move forward. You are only good as a manager if you are taking care of yourself (in addition to your team) and leading by example. Start by analyzing your strengths and weaknesses and write them down. See what you can improve yourself and where you may need more formal training. Be honest with yourself; you may think you are good at financial analysis but struggle to understand Profit and Loss statements or wade through over and under billing. This is ok. Find someone you trust, either on your team or an accountant, and have them keep eyes on it. Delegating will allow you to review progress and outcomes but will assign the primary responsibility to a direct report who may have strength in the particular area. This applies to most everything that you will need to do. There are always going to be things that you do not need to delegate and other responsibilities that will be best handled by you as the team’s leader. 

Finding and building out the team around you will not be easy or quick and will likely involve a certain amount of trial and error. In my experience, it is not a good idea to hire friends and family. Bridging the gap between a friend or family member and an employee is not easy to do and is even harder if you must take some sort of disciplinary action. Imagine hiring a close friend and then having to lay them off due to an economic slowdown or fire them for violation of company policy. You may lose that friendship over a necessary management decision. The same applies to developing friendships with your team and employees. I limit my personal interactions with employees outside of work time to be respectful of not only their personal time but also to make it easier for both of us if I must make a decision that negatively impacts that employee or team member. This does not mean that you cannot be friendly, and your situation may be different. The key to a good team is maintaining interpersonal relationships that are supportive but professional. No two teams or companies are alike, and there is not a magic button you can push to have a great team or company. It takes constant work, support, and improvement to develop and maintain a good team, company, and systems. 

Being a manager can be lonely at times: you will have to make decisions that you do not like, you will have to handle situations that you do not enjoy, and you will be presented with challenges that are outside your expertise and experience. It is important that you find a trusted advisor who can act as a sounding board. Find a mentor or advisor that you can go to with questions or concerns about what you are doing and trying to develop. This can be another manager within your company, a trusted colleague, or someone you respect. They will help you approach your issue or situation from a different view and without the emotion that you have towards it. Over time, you will develop your own management style. It is better to develop the right habits and systems from the beginning than trying to change after you have settled into them. 

Let’s be honest, however, this is the masonry industry. A large number of companies are family enterprises. My own company was founded by my parents around the time that I was born. They poured their lives into growing and developing the business, team, systems, and reputation. The emotional attachment that multi-generational family businesses have to contend with during a leadership transition can be one of the hardest issues to work through, if not a deal breaker. If you are in this situation, understanding that this is likely your family’s life work and possibly legacy will go a long way in making this an easier transition. It would be uncommon if there were no opinions, emotional attachments, and policies from the outgoing generation that do not match up with your ideas on how to manage effectively. As a millennial, my ideas of digitizing the office, bringing in technology, being open to innovation, and getting more involved with industry associations were hard to accept for my baby boomer parents. No matter the generation, the differences between ages create a dynamic in teams that needs to be effectively managed. What worked for the previous generations may not work for future generations and vice versa. While you may get annoyed with having to convert a word document into a PDF for the fiftieth time this week for an older team member, remember that they likely get annoyed with you for something they feel is simple. 

Now that you have a better idea of where you stand in terms of being a manager, it’s time to do the same for your team and company. Take stock of where the company is at the moment and how it is doing. Be honest, ask for input from employees, and dig into any historical data your company may have, such as financial records, project records, and anything else you might think is relevant. What is successful and what isn’t? Now ask yourself why. Look at what has been successful and why and support it. Look at what has been unsuccessful and figure out ways to improve. Does the team need more training? Do we need better equipment? Do we need to keep doing these types of things if we cannot be successful? These are all questions that need to be asked as you develop your own management system. As time goes on, you will need to revisit this process throughout the year. Always know that things can improve, but knowing how to improve them is the challenge that you need to overcome. 

I find that gratitude, acknowledgment, and positive recognition give me the most bang for my buck in managing my employees. As the workforce labor shortage gets worse, quality employees are getting fewer and harder to find. I want those quality employees to have no reason to seek employment somewhere else. The question I most frequently ask myself when responding to the issues is, “If the roles were reversed, how would I want my boss to respond?”  If it makes business sense, then I frequently use the answer to that question as my response. Be available and approachable. If employees are afraid to give you bad news due to your previous reactions, then they just will avoid telling you bad news and may just outright give you wrong information to avoid a confrontation. Lashing out, being argumentative, and having a short temper will create a toxic work environment that people will leave. If something needs to be corrected, then coach that person towards the correct way. You had to learn what you are coaching at some point, and now you are in a position where you can pass on that knowledge and expertise. Explaining what to do but also explaining why we do it this way helps reinforce those positive habits in the future. 

Although management means career growth, higher income, status and other perks, it also comes with challenges and, at times, hardships. One of the hardest parts of the job is laying people off. You are having to let go of people who, through no fault of their own, are not needed anymore. Quite frankly, it is my least favorite part of my job. It doesn’t get easier, and I fret about it every time I have to do it. However, it is the nature of management and a task that cannot be avoided. The alternative of keeping these people on the payroll when they are not productive has the possibility of tanking the company and leading to the layoffs of everyone, including yourself. I find it easier to be proactive, personable, and understanding during these times. There is a very good possibility you will get yelled at and cussed. Have a thick skin, don’t let it get to you, and work toward making sure you are not in this position again. This is why finding an outlet for yourself is important to keeping yourself an effective manager. 

Management styles vary greatly based upon personality, experience, and situations. There is no right management style for every situation. Be honest, seek input, and be ready to try something new if what you are doing is not working. Set your goals and work to achieve them. It is easier to be successful as a manager if you know what you are working towards instead of just reacting to what is popping up every day. I wish you the best in your new role and hope you find it as fulfilling and rewarding as I do at the end of the day.  

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