Actions to take: Avoid computer time on your first day. Spend the whole day getting to know your team instead. Take a few notes here and there to remind yourself of what you learned.
My first major managerial position was head of a branch library for a multibranch system. I had held a sort of shift supervisor position before that, but this was the first time I was clearly "part of management." On my first day, my supervisor spent three hours in my office with me explaining various systems and software, checking things off the list that HR had provided her. Then she left. I distinctly remember the feeling of near-paralysis that came next. What now? Eventually, I had to go out and speak with my new employees because my computer had locked itself and no one had told me the phone number for IT. My state of mind during my first interactions with my new team was embarrassment at not knowing what to do and fear of looking like a fool.
That pain and awkwardness could have been avoided with just a few minutes of coaching. It is no challenge to impress everyone on your first day as a new manager once you know what to do. Follow these three simple pieces of advice: 1) stay off of your computer, 2) talk to your staff, 3) take breaks to take notes.
- Stay off your computer: Do not be the boss who shows up on the job, has a conversation with their supervisor, then disappears into their office for the rest of the day after a brief round of introductions. What impression does that make to your new team? At best, no impression at all. More likely, they will conclude that you are just like most other bosses, that you will only interact with them if there is some kind of fire to put out. You will spend 6 to 10 hours on that computer every day for the rest of your time in that position. Take your first day off while you have the chance. This advice stands even if you've got some HR forms or training that you were told to complete. As a manager, you get to pick what trouble you are in. I'd rather get in trouble for missing some run of the mill safety training than miss out on setting a good impression with my new team. The paperwork will wait.
- Talk to your team: Instead of spending time on your computer, spend the whole day getting to know your new employees. Your supervisor or their proxy will probably walk you around for 5 minute introductions. During that time, ask each person if you can come back around later and learn more about them and their jobs. Then, do it. Their first impression will be, "the boss said they were going to do something, then made good on it." Fill your day with it. If you've got 10 employees, plan to spend about 35 minutes; if you've got 20 employees, spend a little less than 20 minutes (roughly 6 hours total in each case). Have a series of questions ready, both basic personal information and questions about their work. Have information about yourself ready. Make it a conversation by encouraging a lot of back-and-forth and asking follow-up questions on their answers. Avoid making it feel like an interrogation. Do everything you can to be casual. Feel free to be totally transparent about what you're doing. You can say, "I know that I'll be stuck in my office most of the time most days. The first day is like a hall pass. I intend to use it to get to know you guys a little bit before the routine sets in."
- Take breaks to take notes: Periodically return to your office to jot down a few notes on each person. Don't worry about getting all the details right now. You can ask again in the future. No one expects you to remember the stuff you've learned. That said, they will be impressed with the details you do remember. Do not do this note-taking in front of everyone while you talk. That would come off as bizarrely formal. Take notes on paper rather than you computer. It will help you avoid the temptation of doing other things that first day. Once you have the computer running, you'll feel compelled to check your email "just in case something important came through." In the last hour of the day, you can go back to your computer and transcribe your notes if you like.
Your employees will be seriously impressed if you do this. Their thoughts about you will filter up to your boss, who will hear that you "seem really engaged" and "are one of the most approachable bosses they've ever had." It speaks volumes about the lack of managerial training in the world that this is all you have to do to stand out. But it's true. Average bosses assume that they need to learn systems and get training knocked out right away, because that's the first thing that comes up in the HR orientation. Better bosses know that they will be set up for success by spending that first day talking to the team.