Moving into a management position, especially in an in-house agency with inherent operational and organizational complexity, can be challenging and a bit overwhelming. Most likely you were not properly prepped for a role that had you swapping out Adobe Creative Cloud for Microsoft Office. Add to your new left-brain responsibilities the fact that you may very well be managing team members who were your peers just a few weeks or months ago, and you could be fast approaching panic mode.

Fear not, we've been there too, and we have some hard-earned pearls of leadership wisdom to share in this easily digestible form of DOs and DON'Ts.

First and foremost DO pause and realize that you've been recognized! Appreciate the moment.
Now get to work!

A quick caveat: Getting to work doesn't mean turning things upside down.

DO meet with every member of your team 1-on-1 as soon as possible yourself. There's no need to behave differently just because you have a new title. YOU are the reason you were selected for this role. In your meetings:

Listen more than you talk, ask thoughtful questions and pay close attention to the answers. Each of your former peers is going to share information with you differently.
Identify their skills and opportunities for growth. Have they assessed their capabilities accurately?
Uncover their passions, and learn something new about each of your team members.
Ask them what they would change about the team if they could and why.

All of this is a personable way to demonstrate your commitment to supporting them. You get to know them professionally and they get to know your leadership style. By setting the precedent that you're approachable, you create the opportunity for further developmental conversations. This interaction will set the stage for more discussions. Talks about what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them, become much more fluid.

DON'T assume anything. Ask lots of questions and carefully observe each member of your group. While in theory you are managing a team, you are really leading individuals, and you'll have to adapt your style to motivate each one. What got you jazzed about work may not excite any one person on your team. Dig in and find out what will.

DO define and articulate your expectations. First do a little research with your boss, other management and your clients to uncover their expectations so that you can align yours with theirs. Being able to true up to an overall company strategy - one that will connect your team vision to the larger organization - is a good way to make you and your team feel empowered.

Then do your research and some soul searching to craft a personal vision for the group. Finally, write out that personal vision, map expectations to it, add in the aligned expectations and start to socialize with your supervisors and team leaders. Their support and buy-in are critical so they can help sell it across your new team with commitment.

DON'T put off or avoid your newly acquired left-brain responsibilities. If you're now responsible for your budget, operational infrastructure and org structure, get training from others in your organization that work in, for example, Finance and HR. Also look to outside resources - books, conferences, workshops, blogs, etc., - to get yourself schooled up. Then jump into those tasks, seeking assistance from internal mentors along the way.

DO introduce yourself to top clients - like immediately. Let them know that the buck stops with you, but also that you're proud of your team and will appropriately protect them when need be. Try to uncover any and all good and bad collaborative practices they engage in, and be ready to help them course-correct when their projects are underway. Find out their pain points and look for ways to address them. Let them know that you are committed to excellent client service and that you care about their businesses and you will demonstrate that through communication, collaboration and accountability.

DON'T unilaterally make changes to your team's processes, policies or structure. Identify individuals who have the needed expertise and influence on your team and engage them in helping you with your improvement initiatives.

DO an extensive audit of the work that comes into your team. Categorize it by project type and tier, as well as who worked on the job and for how long (if you have that information available to you). Then look at your team and their skills and map the work to your team. You may discover gaps in skills or capacity. Or you may find out that the opposite is true, and you have more team members or skills than you actually need.

In addition to a work audit, assess your infrastructure to ensure your team has the tools they need to do their jobs. If they don't, lobby hard for needed equipment, software and IT services.

Some more quick operational DOs...

  • Track time
  • Create reports
  • Establish Key Performance Indicators - aka KPIs
  • Craft Standard Operating Procedures aka SOPs

Finally, DO consider attending Cella's Creative Manager Boot Camp for an opportunity to really dig into these DOs and DON'Ts with your peers and us. You'll walk away with actionable insights and strategies that will move the needle for you personally as well as for your team.

This article was co-authored by Andy Epstein, Director of Studio Operations.