New Managers and the Dreaded Firsts


by Richard Sykora
January 25, 2016

On a recent Monday morning, as I was checking in with members of my team, I asked one of my team managers how his weekend was. “It was horrible,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep at all. I have to deliver a final warning to one of my team members today, and I'm really nervous. It’s the first time I've had to deliver a final warning, and I am not sure how this will go.”

I took a (long) sip of my morning coffee, and invited him back to my office. This was a career-coaching moment, and I wasn't going to waste it. It was clear that my team manager had become aware of the effect he, as a manager, could have on the lives of his team members. The realization had sunk in that with management responsibilities come accountability, far beyond just making sure people are answering the phones and providing great service.

As I took a second (long) sip of my morning coffee, I did a quick inventory of my team manager and my options. I knew he was a fair, understanding, and compassionate manager, one who provided his team members with timely, accurate, and actionable feedback. I also knew that I could bail him out of this situation by taking control and conducting the meeting with the team member.

The team manager was anxious to hear what I had to say. I leaned over and said, “For everything, there is a first, so said Spock. You're nervous because you've never done one of these before. You're nervous because you care. You're nervous because you respect the boundaries of your duty to the team member, the organization, and our customers. In the end, they either get it, or they don’t, no matter how much coaching and retraining we provide. At some point, there is an end. As long as you did everything you could do help the team member succeed, be proud of what you've accomplished, and be strong in your decision.”

This is a story about firsts. When you progress from an individual contributor role to a manager role, you'll experience a lot of firsts. You'll hire people for the first time. You'll fire people for the first time. You'll set schedules, determining who works late shifts, early shifts, and weekends. You'll also be in the position, probably for the first time, to give input to the organization as it pertains to providing the best possible support. You'll go from being an expert in a product or process, to being a generalist in many different areas.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from some of the best managers and mentors during my transition from individual contributor to manager. Along the way, I also ran into a few bosses that really didn’t belong in the manager role. I kept track of the tools and skills that seemed to work, and I filtered out those things that had no business being in the workplace. Over time, I noticed there was a lack of material to help first-time managers in the support industry: What do you do first? How do you get the job done right the first time? What part of the operation should you concentrate on first?

I'm excited to be leading a discussion on this very topic at HDI 2016. I plan to provide you with enough information and strategy that you can go back to your operation and build a successful service delivery model that will take you and your organization to the next level. I'll also provide some tips for handling sensitive HR issues. Let’s unite and triumph!

(Oh, and as for that final warning: The meeting went very well. Only time will tell if the team member still has the passion to work on the team.)


Richard Sykora has been in customer service management for more than eighteen years. Taking best practices from one organization and applying them to the next organization, Richard has developed successful models that are relevant to any organization, in any industry. Experienced in a wide range of service delivery models, including national and global operations, Richard currently manages internet product support teams at Blackbaud and is a keynote speaker in the customer service arena.


Tag(s): hdi conference, human resources, leadership, workforce enablement, people

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