I never thought getting into this role would be easy, but I couldn't have imagined it would be this hard!

Stepping into a management role for the first time can be daunting. But with the right preparation and perspective, you can thrive in your first year as a new leader. As a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Nayax who recently took on managing a team, I learned a lot during my initial foray into leadership. 

In this article, I'm sharing the five insights I wish I had known before starting my first year of managing others. My goal is to provide you with helpful tips and tools as you embark on your own journey in a new leadership role. 

With the lessons I gained from my experience, you can move forward with confidence and master this transition. 

  1. Don’t wait for the stars to align - ask for the role you want
  2. You’re not a colleague anymore - managing your teammates 
  3. Making the hardest call as a manager - changing the team
  4. People will always talk - managers are in the spotlight
  5. Motivate, celebrate success, and look forward - establishing your team within the organization

Don't wait for the stars to align - Ask for the role you want

It might sound basic, but I've learned the hard way that if I don't ask, no one is going to offer. And yes, there may not be an open position at the moment, and you may not see it happening anytime soon, but your manager has to know that this is what you want. They have a different view of the organization and what's ahead, as well as an impression of your abilities. 

When I told my manager I wanted to advance into a managerial position she responded with the following:

  1. Good to know. I can see you as a TL (team leader) in the future.
  2. There will be a possible position probably in the next 6-12 months.
  3. For you to be a TL in this organization, you need to work on A, B, and C.

This gave me a clear understanding of how long it would take and what I needed to do to get there.  As we moved forward, some things were easier to achieve, and some more challenging, and a TL position opened about 6 months after this conversation.

In my case, there was a reorg within our product marketing team which meant that it wasn’t the smoothest transition. I believe this may be the case for some other first-time managers, so hopefully, this can help. 

You’re not a colleague anymore - Managing your teammates

It’s official - I’m a manager! Since it was an internal promotion, and we're a small team, that meant that I was going to manage my colleagues. 

To measure our success, I had set in place 30-60-90 goals for myself and the team. Looking at skills and achievements. And, these were my key takeaways (AKA first lessons as a manager):

Your job is to lead 

Your team will be affected by your attitude. My #1 lesson was to learn how to motivate my team and part of it was to showcase my motivation, to frame tasks in their bigger picture and present their impact, and to make sure we’re enjoying the journey. 

Finding everyone’s preferred way of working 

Everyone works differently - some people will prefer to work alone, some in teams. Some like to brainstorm, some have their own visions. Here the DISC assessment helped me and provided me with tools to better work with my team.

Consult your HRBP and see which tools they can provide you with! We had a managers workshop where I learned about the DISC assessment and got a lot of other practical tools. 

Measure outcomes, not outputs 

Measuring success is a challenging KPI, especially for PMMs. It took us almost two years as a department and a year for my team to find the relevant KPIs to measure impact (i.e. outcomes) beyond the number of items we’ve created (i.e. outputs.). This helps to motivate the team to look at the results their work garnered, as well as show the team’s impact within the organization. 

While this is nice in theory, the practical challenge was to shift from conversing with my teammates, blowing off steam, and sharing my frustrations to motivating, leading, and forging the way. 

Since I’m still human, I’ve found other managers in the organization, at my level, for the “I’m only human” parts. Make sure you have your forum, otherwise it could get lonely. 

Marketing inside out: Put your team first

Think marketing is all about your customers? According to Tim Parkin, marketing advisor to a portfolio of multimillion-dollar brands, you’re thinking about it all wrong. Instead, you need to be looking inwards and focusing on marketing internally to get everyone engaged, motivated, and on brand.

Making the hardest call as a manager - Changing the team

In my first year as a manager, I’ve rebuilt the team. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made. Replacing employees comes at a high cost - you lose knowledge, relationships that have been established, and familiarity, and, of course, it also hurts morale. 

After a challenging year of trying to position the team while also firing, hiring, training, and working all along I can say that it’s definitely worth it. When you have the right people by your side you can accomplish more than you’ve ever imagined, or, at least that’s how I feel. 

Having a strong team means becoming a stronger leader. The more you can count on each other, the more room there is to grow. When I started interviewing, my manager gave me the best advice “Don’t be afraid to hire strong people. People you can learn from, and people that will challenge you are the kind of people you want on your team.” 

To be honest, this was the hardest yet most rewarding part of my job thus far. Highest cost and the greatest reward.   

People will always talk - Managers are in the spotlight 

Managing people means that everyone will have an opinion of you. This was yet another serious shift for me, someone who used to shy away from the spotlight. 

For better or worse, people will talk about who you hired, how your team presented, and even if you look tired, giddy, calm, or happier than usual. Of course, your team will talk about you, and not to you, as well. 

The takeaway here is what I would tell any human being - be open to feedback, and don’t take it personally. Some comments will just be comments without merit, and some will be substantial and things to look at and pay attention to. It is what it is. 

Be approachable, and keep an open line of communication. When you get feedback, make sure you’re not automatically defensive, even if you disagree with it. 

At this point, I’m sure I’ve made mistakes, and I’m sure I’ve hurt others. All I can do is listen, apologize, learn, and go from there. 

Motivate, celebrate success, and look forward - Establishing your team within the organization

So, you have built a team. What’s next? It’s time for the fun part - positioning the team within the organization. 

I can’t say I have this part figured out yet, but here’s what I’ve been working on: 

  1. Talk about progress - whether it’s work or professional goals, reflect to them what they’ve achieved. 
  2. Be vocal about their successes - talk them up to managers and other stakeholders. Make sure relevant stakeholders know their impact. 
  3. Relate to their career aspirations - check in and see if their day-to-day aligns with their career goals, and if not, align to create a path for them. 
  4. Make sure they’re in the room where it happens - if their impact is seen and known across the organization, this will happen organically. If not, make sure people in the organization understand the role of a PMM and why they should be there “even before we have a product.” 
  5. Keep it fun - it may be a simple offsite, holding your 1:1 at a coffee shop, or an actual OOO activity. Don’t let budgets deter you. There’s always an opportunity at a low to no cost to change the atmosphere and do something different. 

This is just the start for me on my managerial path, and although it sometimes feels like I’m making more mistakes than right decisions, I’ve already learned so much. 

I hope this helps others who are just starting or considering a managerial role. And I can’t wait to see what year two as a manager has in store.