How Can I Be Successful As A New Office Manager?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about office manager role:

I recently became front office manager,after working side-by-side with these girls since they started. I think they are having a hard time as seeing me as their manager, and it is very stressful. There are things that need to get done that aren’t and I am in desperate need of some consequences/encouragement (not at the expense of my wallet!) that will encourage them to do their job the way they need to. Please help!

Signed, New And Needing Some Ideas

Dear New And Needing Some Ideas:

This response will probably be much longer and more comprehensive than you anticipated so I’ll warn you about it up front! It’s at least five pages of word processed material. However, I’m hoping its presence in our archive file will be of assistance to other new managers and supervisors.I hope you’ll have the time to let us know how things work out over time, so we can share that as well.

It’s always a challenge to become the new manager; but especially when you were one of the coworkers recently. Consider these thoughts, perspectives and suggestions as you develop a plan of action that is right for your specific workplace.

1. Keep everyone’s focus on the good work that builds the business and assists clients and customers–both internal and external. A common trait of offices with problems is that employees have lost their sense of caring for the business and for the clients or customers. Even if they say they still care, they tend to use everything as a weapon against coworkers or managers.However, it’s very useful to get outside ourselves and reflect on what keeps the paychecks coming: A successful business, created from highly satisfied clients and customers, resulting from a workplace that is focused on good work.

2. Link everything you request or direct to effectiveness in doing the work rather than solely on your personal preferences. Occasionally mention how something someone has done helps the business, benefits a client or makes work easier for the employee and others.Think of everything that isn’t being done as you want it to be. What is the work need for those things to be done? Even if you have a personal preference about how work should be done, there likely is a reason for it.For example, you want all files to be handled a particular way. You wouldn’t have that preference if you didn’t think there was a reason for it. (One reason is that consistency ensures that it’s easy to check for accuracy and completeness since each one should look the same.) Whatever the examples are, think of how they help the business, clients or coworkers.If you are concerned about the behavior of an employee, focus your concern on how it has an effect on work. If someone is unsmiling to you or a coworker or doesn’t respond with immediate courtesy when there is a slight disagreement, it makes others uneasy and they aren’t as able to be helpful over the phone or smiling and friendly when a client walks in.If employees procrastinate about work or don’t do it to the highest standards, you should be very concerned, because the time may come when everyone is very busy or you are shorthanded for some reason. You need work caught up all the time and there needs to be a habit of doing it well automatically.

Those examples are what I mean about linking everything to work. A link I often use is this:”If we can’t depend upon you to act and talk pleasant to me and others, even though you don’t feel like it at the time, how can I depend upon you to act pleasant to clients or others who are important if you’re frustrated, not feeling well or irritated? We have to know that you can overcome your feelings and act highly professional.”

3. Think of why you were selected to be the office manager. What were the qualities that made you their choice? Use those qualities. Set up a meeting with your manager, perhaps weekly for awhile, to discuss what he or she sees as problem or good points.Avoid making that a time to vent or gripe. Instead look for a mix of things to discuss and put most of the time into what the manager needs or wants from you and the others.What do you think the owner of the business and the overall manager wants from you? Likely they want clients and customers to be handled appropriately and to return repeatedly and talk positively about the office to others. They want employees to work together in a way that gets work done without conflict that is disruptive. They want to save money, time and materials, without sacrificing customer satisfaction. That all is a lot to accomplish and it will take you and the others, all working together to make that happen.They probably have some specific needs, in addition to those general needs. Maybe there has been a problem with using a new machine. Maybe your manager wants you to emphasize client retention. Whatever it is, you’ll want to know about it.Keep track mentally and in your own personal computer file, of how well those things are being achieved. Make notes about compliments or complaints, improvements, and problems that have been identified and solved. It’s not only a good way to evaluate yourself, the documentation might come in handy to show your good work and the work of others.

4. Communicate briefly but frequently with employees and never let a barrier develop. Try using what I refer to as Instant Impact communication. That is, brief gestures (like a thumbs up) and brief words or phrases to reach out to each employee often. The key is to make it personal and usually about work. (“Great job.” “I heard you talking to Mr. Smith, you really were effective I thought.” “I loved your approach to that!”) Sometimes just a personal smile communicates a lot.You can also use Instant Impact communications for correction or direction: A headshake, a slight frown, a smile but a correction (“Hey, Maura, pick that up, OK?” “Come on Jan, I need your support on this.” ) Those shorter conversations and gestures often prevent longer “manager to employee” conversations. Even positive comments can be resented if they are made in a more formal tone or in a way that sounds rehearsed, especially if you don’t have much more experience than they do. Sometimes there is a tendency to leave someone alone if they seem upset with you or others. That’s the time to use your Instant Impact communications. You don’t have to hassle them with excessive talk, but don’t let them build a wall.Your goal is to make sure that those who are doing good work and being cooperative feel valued for it and the others know they are still part of the group, even though they have issues that need to change.5. Intervene early about concerns or problems. By saying something immediately you avoid having to have long conversations I mentioned above.There are some things that should be corrected immediately (blatant discourtesy or a serious error) and other things that you might accept as a well-intentioned mistake. But even a one-time, apparently off-mood should at least be mentioned. “What’s going on? You seem upset.” “Carol! That wasn’t like you at all. What’s the matter? “The files were put in the Will Call basket last night instead of in the main files. Was there some reason for doing it the other way?” You may need to be much more firm, “Kelly, stop.” “Those are expensive, Maura, place them on the counter carefully so you don’t scratch them.”Don’t worry excessively about wording these comments just the right way. The important thing is to be civil and model the way you want others to act to each other. And, don’t be apologetic about doing it. “I hate to say anything Chris, because I know you’ve been busy, but really, I did ask you to take care of that and I needed it done. So, could you please do it?”

Your own manager may need to correct you too. Do you think she should apologize for doing it? I’m sure you don’t. So, don’t feel that you must slide up to being a manager, Just do it and get it over with. That will save time and be less painful for everyone!Here are the things that every employee needs to know all the time: 1.) What they should keep doing and why. 2.) What they should do more of, and why that would be a good thing. 3.) What they should do less of and the fact that it’s a requirement, not a suggestion. 4.) What they should never do again and what will happen if they do.

Most of the time you’ll only need to let people know about #1. Occasionally you’ll have to talk to them about #2 and #3. If you feel you need to discuss #4 you’ll want to talk to your own manager first to ensure you’re on the right track from their viewpoint.One thing to avoid: Do not manage the office “around” the moods, styles and problems of individual employees. The others will lose respect for you and your boss will wonder why you allowed a problem to develop. Stop bad behavior, disruptive behavior or irritating behavior (even if it’s not mean-spirited) just as you would stop dangerous actions. It all is harmful to the business.6. You asked about consequences and rewards. Usually, a well-organized, pleasant workplace provides enough rewards that special treats, programs and merit formulas aren’t needed. Often those are dreaded and resented anyway.

I received a letter the other day from someone who said, “Great! We’re so messed up it’s miserable and our supervisor has decided to bring in a pizza once a month!” One of the best rewards is input into work and the feeling that someone cares about your work. You can get ideas in meetings or one-on-one. I prefer one-on-one, with a comment about it at meetings, but the important thing is let your team identify problems and suggest solutions. The suggestions may not be able to be used exactly, but can be options.If there is only going to be one acceptable way to do something, don’t get suggestions. Tell them the one way and get ideas for how they can make it work, if that would be effective.

Something good to get input about: What can we do here at the front, to make clients feel really special while they’re waiting? What can we do as a client leaves to make him or her feel good about coming back, if that is needed? What can we do to make it easier and quicker to wrap up at the end of the day? What will make this work area be better organized, without spending money on it? How could we save money on supplies? Those keep the focus on work and also allow for input by everyone.As far as consequences go, talk to your manager about what the consequences should be for varying degrees of problems.

One of the best sanctions is to require the employee to either read about some aspect of the problem and report back to you, or to retrain them. Or, you can require them to present some ideas to you about how they could have handled a situation differently. Most employees dislike that more than being sanctioned in some other way!Many managers never require an employee to say what he or she will do differently. By not doing that, they allow the employee to scoot out from under the weight of the problems they’ve caused. Anyone can sit and listen to someone tell them what to do and say, “OK.” But, it takes much more humility to say, “Next time I get frustrated I’ll stop for second and remind myself to stay courteous to Gina.”

And if you’re wondering, there are no laws, regulations or requirements about what you can or can’t do in that way, as long as you are appropriate, legal, in compliance with employee contracts or company requirements–and your manager approves.Your goal is to ensure it doesn’t get to that point. But, sometimes an employee is so harmful to the business or the team that they must be removed from the workplace permanently. If you think that is going to happen, document what you have, present it to your manager and press for quick action rather than letting things drag on. That’s not fair to anyone.

A common practice is to send someone home for the rest of a day to think about whether or not they want to continue working there. That would require approval from your own manager, I’m sure.If the employee comes back ready to work, move forward and be glad you were able to make a difference. If not, you’ll need to talk to your manager.Don’t feel pressured to know the right response to something an employee says or does, immediately after it happens. It doesn’t hurt to say, “Mary, I’m so taken aback at what you just said, that I don’t know how to respond right now. I’m going to talk to Ms. Howard about it and see where to go from there. I’ll talk to you later.”Often managers who are dealing with employees who intimidate them slightly will feel the need to do something…anything…..right away. Give yourself the extra time.

I once said, “OK. We’re obviously not communicating well. I’m going to go to the bathroom and when I get back I hope we can start again on the right track.” And we did!7. This last point involves developing yourself as a manager. Look for opportunities to be the one who brings the group together. You must attend to each person as an individual, but there is also the need for solidifying the group, especially the one or two who may feel less positive.

Consider these things:

*Huddles: Gather people around you now and then, instead of just going up to the area and giving them information. For example, “Hey everybody, can you gather over here for a minute please?”That also ensures that people aren’t standing where clients can hear. Huddles are a great visual tool for showing that you are bringing people together…and that they are gathered around you.

*Give less unasked-for-advice than you might be tempted to give. You must provide direction, but avoid the temptation to have a solution or better idea for everything.Unfortunately, many managers are happiest when they sit at their desk or in their cubicle and people come to them for wise advice; so they make it necessary for people to come to them. Employees may or may not resent it, but it’s not necessary and slows work down.

*As much as possible, avoid showing favoritism. It’s a natural reaction when some people are easier to deal with than others, but work to be everyone’s resource, not such some.

*Work to gain influence, which is always better than only authority. The components are: Be credible, be valuable and communicate personally and effectively.*Be the one who makes it fun to be there. Bring a camera and take photos of people with each other, with your boss, next to their cars (they’ll love those one day!) at meetings, with their computers and work items (those change a lot). Send them the files and also share them with your boss if that would be appropriate. Feel like you’re lucky to work there and share that feeling with the others.

*Read, reflect, talk to other managers. Consider talking to the front office manager in businesses like yours. You would be surprised at how similar all businesses of the same category are! Consider even forming a casual lunch network of other office managers in your role.

*Expect there will be stress now and then; probably now, many times! But keep it in perspective for yourself and others. It’s probably a bump in the road rather than a mountain that can’t be overcome. All of this brings us back to where we started: Keep the focus of everyone on behaving and performing correctly for the good of the business, clients, coworkers and their own sense of personal pride. And, you do the same!Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.