Why new managers should always start by managing freelancers
Learning how to manage is difficult. Overnight, you’re given responsibility for a bunch of people and somehow you need to deliver a result. It’s stressful, scary and can end in failure – for the manager, the project or both.
I don’t think the process needs to be this difficult. There’s only a few skills – though I admit some will want to differ – that you need to be an effective manager of people. And all of these skills can be learnt and honed very effectively through managing small-scale projects with freelancers. With more freelancers in the economy than ever before, there’s plenty of opportunity.
What is the role of a manager?
At the core of a manager’s responsibilities is helping their employees to learn.
Employee learning is critical, because fundamentally every business result happens as a consequence of employees learning and refining their behaviour over time. Happy customers, financial results and high performance are all consequences of successful managers facilitating employee learning.
Put simply, you cannot be an effective manager if you can’t help your employees learn. (Or, if you can’t facilitate learning, you will be an ineffective manager).
As a result, the critical success factor for a new manager is how quickly they can build the skills to help their team learn effectively.
How do you help others learn?
Facilitating learning doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to ‘teach’. But it does mean that you must partner with employees to foster, and even drive their learning. Doing this requires two things:
- Setting expectations, and
- Giving feedback
When you break it down, this two-part ‘expectations / feedback’ process (repeated frequently over time) sits at the heart of all employee learning.
So in terms of skills, the first two things that a new manager needs to learn are:
- How to set good expectations, that are easily understood and actioned; and
- How to give good feedback, to make sure that expectations (and relative performance) are understood
In my view, an A1, gold-medal way to learn these two skills is through managing freelancers on small projects.
Why freelancing is such an effective tool for teaching managers how to drive learning
In order to deliver a successful outcome with a freelancer, you must set clear expectations and provide frequent feedback. Because there’s no broader context, the success of the entire project is contingent on the manager’s ability to communicate expectations that can be well-understood, and feedback on the project deliverables. Put another way:
If the project manager fails to set good expectations (that are easily understood and actioned) – then the project will fail.
If the project manager fails to provides good feedback (that make clear actual performance versus set expectations) – then the project will fail.
The success or failure of the freelance project provides an immediate feedback mechanism for the new manager. In a relatively safe and quarantined learning environment, the new manager can see the consequences of feedback and expectation setting for learning and project delivery.
At the simplest level, to manage means you must be able to bring out the best performance in others, and drive learning in those around you to do so. In teaching someone how to manage, you must first teach them how to facilitate learning.
As I’ve mentioned in this article, teaching emerging managers how to drive learning is extremely effective when they are managing freelancers on small projects. To deliver the project, new managers must learn how to drive learning through the expectations / feedback loop. It’s an investment that you’ll see pay off for the rest of their management career.
Have you used freelance projects to teach new managers how to drive learning? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Jump into the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter (@cognology).
Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.