3 Big Mistakes First-Time Accounting and Finance Managers Make

Management is a tough job to pick up on-the-fly. Here are some of the common mistakes first-time accounting managers make when they start their new positions.

Everybody makes mistakes — that’s why pencils have erasers, after all. As John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, once said, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” (And don’t think it’s a stretch to quote the wisdom of a basketball coach; you can learn a lot of things about business in general, and recruiting in particular, from the hardcourt.)

But when you’re a newly hired or promoted accounting manager, you don’t have a whole lot of room for error. Making a killer first impression in a new accounting job is always important, but it’s doubly essential for managers. With everyone watching you, from your superiors to your subordinates, to see whether you’re up to the job of managing other people’s jobs, even the slightest misstep can cast doubt on your competency in a leadership role.

Fortunately, others before you have tread the same path, so as to spare you the growing pains of being a rookie supervisor. Here are some of the most common mistakes first-time managers make, and how you can avoid them.

Quick-winning at all costs

It’s well-known that new finance managers need to go after “quick wins” early in their tenure: the small, but not insignificant, kinds of results (e.g., increasing the turnaround on reporting, reducing costs by 5%) that help to demonstrate your value to the organization and win the confidence of upper management. As a manager, you should always be managing up — that is, with a view to the kinds of things your boss, and their boss, care about — but it’s especially important to do so in your first 90 days on the job. Anything that delivers a measurable boost in the business’ performance, no matter how modest, will put you in their good graces and make them all the comfortable with your promotion/hire.

But not all wins are created equal. In their rush to secure a speedy victory, many first-time managers make the mistake of sidestepping, or else steamrolling over, their new team in pursuit of a quick win over which they can claim sole, exclusive ownership. But getting a win that immediately loses you the hearts and minds of your staff is a pyrrhic victory, at best. Remember: the measure of your success will be determined not by your personal output or productivity, but by those of your team. It’s no longer about how well you get your work done — it’s how well you’re able to help others get their work done.

With everyone watching you, from your superiors to your subordinates, to see whether you’re up to the job of managing other people’s jobs, even the slightest misstep can cast doubt on your competency in a leadership role.

The types of wins you want to score, then, are the ones that you can share with the rest of your team, so that their fingerprints are as much all over the final result as your own. Achievements that everyone can participate in are ideal for establishing the trust and confidence of your subordinates. Victories scored at the expense of your new team have the exact reverse effect; any glory you might enjoy will be short-lived.

Not establishing boundaries

If you were promoted to your job, and you now find yourself in a position of authority over people who were recently your co-workers and colleagues, don’t be surprised if things are a little awkward early on, and the dynamics between you and your team are a little strained. After all, you used to be in the trenches with these folks. And now you’re the one calling the shots.

It’s important for you, as a supervisor, to address the situation and set up clear boundaries with your subordinates, so that your prior relationships with them don’t interfere with your managerial duties and responsibilities. You don’t want either lingering feelings and resentment and envy, or expectations of favouritism and preferential treatment. None of this is to say you have to discontinue any friendships or start giving people the cold shoulder; suddenly acting aloof and distant can do just as much damage to your standing as behaving too chummy and close with your staff. On the contrary, a certain amount of schmoozing with employees outside of the office environment can be good for team-building.

But being a manager means having to make the tough calls — for example, whether someone deserves that raise they’ve been angling for, or whether the company needs to let someone go. Decisions about performance, salary, and the like will be hard enough to take without them being complicated by a too cozy relationship with the people who will have to accept them. The beginning of your tenure is the best time to define (or redefine) the parameters of your interactions with your old deskmates and office pals. Have a frank conversation with each one of your former colleagues, to explain that you value your relationship with them, but now that you’re manager, that relationship may have to change somewhat. It might be awkward at first, but in the long term this will make everyone’s jobs easier — both yours and your former colleagues.

Looking to make changes right away

Only fools rush in. We’re not talking about love — we’re talking about management. Eager to make their mark, some rookie managers come into the job already swinging for the fences. Right off the bat, they introduce bold or sweeping changes, in order to shake up the status quo and immediately put their stamp on the organization.

It’s no longer about how well you get your work done — it’s how well you’re able to help others get their work done.

But unless you were hired with a specific mandate for radical change, you’re better off taking it slow, and figuring out who’s who in your office or organization and how they work, before you start coming up with strategies to improve things. Determine the work flow in your department, as well as its relationships with other departments, clients, and vendors. Talk to your bosses and other managers to understand the light in which they see your team or division. Try to find strengths as well as weaknesses.

And don’t be afraid to involve your staff. Reviewing your staff’s personnel files and performance history is only a start. Set up one-on-one meetings with your reports, so that you can solicit their input. Bounce your ideas off of them. Not only will they provide valuable information about how the team currently works — and how it might improve itself — but including them will earn you points and open up lines of communication between your staff and yourself that will pay dividends in the future.

When you’re managing a team for the first time, it’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes. But if you can avoid these urgent howlers, you’ll be poised to bounce back from any stumbles you might experience.

Are you a rookie manager? Or have you already made it out alive of your first managerial position? What kind of mistakes have you made, and how did you remedy or rebound from them, either in that job or in a future one? Leave us a comment below.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!