July 8, 2016 | Have you ever asked past employees you’ve managed what they REALLY thought about you back in the day?
I decided to reach out and ask my direct reports in the past (that I have current contact information for) what they thought about my management practices.
A little bit scary, but I did it because I’ve been reflecting A LOT on my career as a manager/leader. I’ve been managing employees in different capacities for over 17 years with teams as small as one employee and as large as twenty-one. I’d like to think that I’ve been relatively successful at it, but I know I haven’t been perfect – in fact, far from it. I’ve let people down. I’ve let teams down. But at the end of the day I’d like to think that the positives outweigh the negatives based on previous feedback and successes of the teams and companies I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of.
So as much as I reflect on outcomes, I am also very interested in approach.
And when I asked past employees about my management practices, I found out that some of them were “weird.” Or my favourite quote: “I thought you were nuts!!!”
I asked for more details and want to share them with the leadership community. These approaches aren’t groundbreaking and I didn’t invent them, but they work for me and I still do most of them today… as ‘weird’ as they may seem to employees.
- Brutal Facts – This concept comes from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great and gathers the whole team to identify what are brutal facts from the previous quarter that are causing issues. They are identified anonymously and then prioritized collectively as a team. We take the top three to five issues (of a larger list – I’ve seen it as long as 15) and clarify them, discuss what would improve things, who’s accountable for making the changes, and by when. Next quarter we update on the previous brutal facts and do it again.
Why I do it? – It allows me to ‘air out the dirty laundry’ and understand what the real problems are. Most people think this is a bitch-session. Call it what you want, but I’d rather they bitch to me so I know about it than being in the dark. But it’s not ONLY a bitch-session… it’s also the ability to identify, prioritize, and let the team understand that I genuinely want to make things better for the team and will listen and act.
Don’t hesitate to ask your team where things suck or where you suck – avoiding that is easy, but leaving it alone only gets worse. As Jim Collins says: “confront the brutal facts.” Feedback makes us all more qualified for our next jobs.
“Brutal Facts was such a great outlet. I’ve never had that type of anonymous submission and then discussion. It wasn’t just an outlet but something that was always followed up on. Brutal Facts was exactly what the team needed to come back together.”
- Painted Picture – I’m a big believer in defining what success looks like in order to get there. Cameron Herold is a CEO Mentor and Coach and taught me the concept of a Painted Picture that really helped drive it home for me. It is a document that identifies what your world would look like at a certain date in the future.
Companies use it for strategic direction several years down the road. I use it to define what success will look like for our team as part of annual planning. Each team member writes a document identifying what their vision is relating to their expertise or focus – basically what the end the year will look like including successes, metrics, initiatives, make-up of the team… everything. I amalgamate it all into one painted picture for the team. It is our roadmap for the future.
Why I do it? – It allows everyone to contribute to defining the focus and future of the team’s success. Not many people love planning, but coming together to create this document gets people enthused and able to leave their footprint. It allows the whole team to be forward thinking about improving their individual world. I receive so many great ideas I would never have thought about myself. It is the definition of success we all create together and what we all will work towards.
Tip: don’t worry about the HOW – just focus on the WHAT. The team can figure out ‘how’ later.
- Daily Team Meetings and Weekly 1-on-1’s – not a new concept given today’s agile workplace environment, but I have a daily meeting with my team and weekly 1-on-1’s with each of my direct reports. Rarely missed.
Why I do it? – Bringing the team together for a quick meeting each day offers insight into what is happening within the team, allows us to prioritize the day, and deal with any roadblocks immediately. It allows for frequent celebration and communication.
These are structured conversations that have their own separate agendas, but each meeting I run has two important elements: Priorities and Recognition.
Priorities are important to make sure employees are focused on short-term commitments they make towards their larger goals. I use the concept of “Top 1’s” which is the most important thing that will be focused on that day or week. And don’t be confused about this being micro-management, it is a conscious attempt to reflect on working on the most important things and giving me the opportunity to support employees where I can.
Recognition requires each employee to recognize a colleague during our team meetings. It is an agenda item in our 1-on-1’s as well. As a manager, it’s tough to know what the team is doing all the time and it offers me the opportunity to know who’s killing it on the team and add a level of recognition that helps engage and motivate them.
Thinking of conducting 1-on-1’s with your team or want some pointers? Check out a mini-guide to 1-on-1 meetings I’ve posted in the past. Also, don’t make them status updates. Focus on team and personal growth.
“You asked how we were doing and opened it up for the person to speak about their professional or private life. I think understanding context behind some of the actions people make is crucial to helping/guiding them in the future.”
- I “incessantly discussed metrics” and department/company goals – self-explanatory, but in team meetings and on dashboards in the office our major KPI’s were always there and top of mind.
Why I do it? – It’s important to have our eye on the metrics because in many teams, very few employees are actually accountable for the numbers, and the rest have tasks and goals that roll up to impacting those metrics. Every employee needs to understand how their individual role impacts the overall success of the team. It’s the purpose of not only how they contribute to the mission of the company, but how they impact the team winning. I want every team member thinking about and knowing how they impact company goals.
- Hire slow. Fire fast. – Pretty clear… hire based on the matched passions of the employee and team, fit for the purpose of your team and the role, and ensure new employees embrace the current culture. More importantly, when it doesn’t work out, end it quick.
Why I do it? – If you don’t end a disruptive or unproductive employee quickly it only gets worse. I have learned this the hard way and was terrible at this early in my career. There are many excuses to not cut ties: not having additional resources or adding more work to the team, but if it’s not going to work, move on quickly. It rarely gets better.
- Stay out of their way – not completely out of the way, but if employees are passionate about something that isn’t completely off message/track, isn’t illegal, and offers value to the company or customer – go do it and don’t ask. The additional advice I offer the team is ‘if you can defend it, do it.’ Which means that you’ll eventually have to explain why you did it and you need sound reasoning.
Why I do it? – If you haven’t seen it, watch Dan Pink’s video about the three factors that drive employee success: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If employees can have autonomy to offer value to your company, why stand in the way. This is similar to Google offering 10% of time to all employees to work on anything they want. The freedom translates into creativity and ownership.
“Your strong ability to TRUST in us and our capabilities. You weren’t afraid to let us run with crazy ideas.”
As a manager/leader, I’m always tinkering with approaches but these apparently stood out as different than what employees have seen in the past. I’ve stayed true to these approaches, but have definitely faltered through experimenting and altering things throughout the years.
So why am I sharing this feedback?
It is because managing direct reports in the workplace can be a tough job and I want to (hopefully) offer a new perspective on approaches for new and tenured managers out there. Also, I want to offer an outlet and place to share… Please don’t hesitate to message me or add comments with your ‘weird’ approaches too!
But as tough as it is, management can also be VERY rewarding. It’s an awesome feeling seeing someone on your team accomplish a goal, overcome a challenge, do something great personally, or just see the impact they make. It’s like being a coach of a sports team – nothing feels better when your team wins.
I’ve been thinking about all of this lately especially with co-founding WorkTango and am hoping that sharing this feedback helps managers be better leaders and stars in their own companies. After all, this is why I co-founded ‘WorkTango’ in the first place: to improve managers and everyone around them to ultimately improve (work) lives.