Be A Leader Not A People Pleaser

When you look around you can divide managers into several categories. You find some who truly adhere to the definition of leaders, have the vision for the team, are business people, with clear understanding of what needs to be done and doing it even when it is unpopular. Then you have those who abuse the management position, the jerks, who go after their personal goals regardless the costs. Finally, you have the people pleasers. Managers and leaders who subscribe to the notion that their main task is to make their teams happy because that will produce results, and make the manager popular.

What’s wrong with pleasing people

Happy people are productive people. That is probably true. Various studies has shown that happy people are more likely to be more productive than unhappy people. However, happiness is not the only path to strong company culture and high performing teams. In fact, I would argue that there are better ways to achieve great results than focusing on keeping people happy.

Happy people won’t leave. That is to some extent also true. Until the moment they stop being happy. The problem is with keeping people in the company by trying to make them happy with various perks, fancy office space, or not telling them the hard truth. This approach leads to creating a culture of entitlement. You are building no resiliency. The moment business doesn’t go as planned, and you need to do something that will make people unhappy (being it cutting the perks, giving no bonuses, or even reducing number of employees) you are pretty much done. These things are difficult even in cultures with resilient people and they will destroy the productivity of the team and atmosphere in culture of entitlement for months or even years to come.

I’m not advocating that you should keep your team miserable. Far from it. Numerous studies has shown that positive emotions invigorate people and lead to higher productivity. What I’m questioning is how you elicit these positive emotions. It is not by trying to please people. With pleasing people and the culture of entitlement, you are only a step away from doing something that will displease them, elicit negative emotions, and the productivity plummets.

How to be a leader and not a people pleaser

So if trying to please your team is not the right strategy to leadership, what is? Well, it is not about keeping your team happy, it is about making them feel valuable, respected, engaged and energized. How do you do that? How do you build a high-performing team of resilient people who don’t need to be constantly pleased by the world around them? By following couple of simple practices:

  1. Show direction – one of the key expectations from any leader is providing a vision. You need to be able to clearly state where is the organization heading and outline steps how you expect that it gets there. The best way of showing direction is not just by talking, but by leading the way. Leading by example is a must if you expect others to follow.
  2. Explain “why” – not only you need to explain direction, you also need to be constantly reminding people “why”. Only if the team understands where you want to go and why, they can help you to get there. Only by understanding “why” people can make sound decisions, and if they run into obstacles, they can overcome them the right way that gets the organization closer to fulfilling the vision.
  3. Keep the focus – help the team to keep focused on what matters. Too often managers instead of focusing their team on the top goals, create more and more distractions just for the sake of doing something. Yes, you could do these twenty things, but your job as a manager is to distil it down to just a couple with the highest impact, and then guard it with your life.
  4. Say “no” – learn to say “no” to things that are either not aligned with the ultimate goal, the business model, the organizational culture, or that maybe are aligned, but are not a priority. Saying and owning the “no” is one of the most important things you as a manager can do since it builds your credibility, it grows your influence, and it helps your team to be focused on the right things.
  5. Build ownership – you don’t need to give people equity in the company to create a sense of ownership. In fact, chances are that won’t work anyway since the stake in the company will be negligible for each individual. What you can give them is psychological ownership. They need to “feel” they “own” something, regardless whether it is true in the legal sense of the word. You can increase psychological ownership in couple of ways. Invest time and effort in training your team so they have the capability to own a piece of work, explain how their work contributes to the vision, state who owns what so you create clear responsibility and accountability lines, and finally don’t direct people but rather provide guidance and suggestions without enforcing your way of doing things.
  6. Treat them like adults – way too often we tend to treat our people like 5 years old kids. We spend lots of effort hiring the best and the brightest and then micromanage them in every single thing they do, or try to shield them from unpleasant truths. Treating people with respect is one of the key skills you need to have as a leader.
  7. Provide feedback – provide a clear, candid, well-meant feedback. You as a manager have a moral responsibility to make sure your team knows where they stand. Every single individual on your team should understand when he is doing well, when not, and what they need to work on to get better and grow.
  8. Help them grow – and I don’t mean giving your team some professional training. The one thing you can do is to identify what skills your team needs to develop to be better at their current and more importantly at their next job. By providing feedback, stretch goals, and building up their confidence and interest in learning you are not only helping them to do a better job but you are helping them to be a better human beings as a side effect.
  9. Promote hardship – nothing worthwhile doing is easy. This might be a cliché but it still rings true. If you want your team to feel great, they need to work on something hard. Setting the bar high, giving the team challenges that stretch their skills and abilities, and expecting hard work will ultimately lead to huge feeling of accomplishment and pride once the work is done. If someone on the team is underutilized, either by not tapping their abilities or by not using all their time, these people will be dissatisfied, will focus on the nonsense, complain about every small unimportant thing, work on stuff that is not important and ultimately leave the company at best, or destroy the team morale at worst.
  10. Make them proud – celebrating successes is a great way to show to the team that their work has a meaning. I don’t necessarily mean giving a big party. It is much more important to stop regularly, look back at what was accomplished, what the results of the hardship are, and make it clear that it is the team that made it happen. It is the team that changed lives of other people through delivering a product or providing a service. By doing this you make your team proud, they will feel a sense of purpose and ultimately increase a sense of ownership and focus on continuing to do a great job.

That’s it. It says nothing about making the team happy, pleasing them, or fulfilling all their wishes. Simple right? Simple, but obviously not easy. It is much easier to please than to lead. A good manager and a leader is able to build a culture where happiness is a by-product of doing a great work. You don’t need fancy office space, you don’t need free meals, cars, or other perks. The only thing you need so to make your team feel valued, respected and proud of their accomplishments.

 

What is your take on the topic? Do you feel that keeping people happy is important for them to deliver great results? Or do you feel there is a more powerful state in which people perform.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

The Most Difficult Thing In Management

What is the most difficult thing when you decide to get into management? I was recently having a mentoring conversation with one junior manager and we got talking about some of the pitfalls in management. Ultimately, I was asked, “What is the most difficult thing in management?” This gave me a pause. Where do you start with a question like this? So I decided to analyze it a bit and at the end I will share with you the answer I gave to him.

Completely new career path

One of the biggest challenges when getting into management is the realization that this is simply a different career path. The popular view is that you get promoted to management and that it is sort of a natural evolution of your previous technical job. It is not. When you got to management, you just started a new career from scratch and you need to learn totally new set of skills and even change your mindset. I talked about this topic more in this article.

Leaving your old job behind

Another daunting aspect of moving to management is to learn the skill of letting go of your previous job. Very often new managers tend to keep themselves involved in the old job since it is a familiar ground and they can more easily get a sense of job satisfaction. Management is new, confusing, and it takes time to get your head around it. You do things, but you may not immediately identify results of your work. Being able to leave your old job behind and fully commit to your new career is important for fast and successful transition. There is a huge amount of things to learn and you can’t be distracted by your old job. I talked about this aspect in The Art Of Letting Go.

Changing relationship with the team

If you were promoted to lead your old team chances are that there are relationships you have with your former team mates, there is a certain team dynamics, and obviously all this changes. It would be wrong to deny that things are different now. It is equally wrong to start suddenly acting like a big boss. It is important to find the right balance for a smooth transition so you keep good relationship with the team, while being respected as a good manager and a leader.

People are not boxes

I was recently interviewing a person for HR position and when we talked about the mission of his life and what drives him he started talking about his previous career in logistics. “In logistics you put a bar code on a box and you can be 99.9% sure it reaches the proper destination. With people, you advice them to do something and you can be 99.9% sure they will do something different. That’s what is so exciting about working with people. It is never boring.”

I find this a great summary of another difficult aspect of people management. People are not things. In reality you can’t really manage them. The approaches you used to manage things are no longer working and that may lead to frustration. You need to learn completely different strategies on how to get your job done. This article can give you some ideas where to start.

Continuous education

Your education is never done. Every person is different, every situation is different and that means you need to constantly learn new tricks on how to do your job. What makes it even more complicated is that the world and society evolves and so the expectations of people and management practices. We know more about how our brains work, there is more and more research in the area of psychology, sociology, and human behavior and it is good to keep in touch to expand the toolset available to you as a manager. What you must never allow is to believe you know everything about managing people or to try to use one management approach to any situation regardless whether it fits.

The answer

So what is the most difficult thing in people management? One of the key aspects of being a good people manager is the inherent need to care about people. You are in management because you want to do good, you want to help others, you want to impact their lives in a positive way. Like a doctor, your first priority should be “do no harm”. So unless you are a psychopath, the most difficult thing in management is the fact that you are basically experimenting on people. You might have gone through some theoretical education, but nothing replaces the hands-on experience.

The lessons you are learning, are on backs of people you manage. Unfortunately, the best and most memorable lessons are usually learned when you hurt someone in the process. You know, after the fact, that you should have done something differently, you learn the lesson, but it is often too late to fix the situation for the one individual that was the unwilling participant in your education.

“The most difficult thing in management is the realization that others suffer so you can get better.”

The typical example that illustrates this point is not providing enough feedback to your team members. Only when they don’t perform and are on a verge of getting fired you talk to them about their performance and they are surprised and confused, “but you never said anything, I thought I was doing a great job!” This is the moment, when you know you screwed up and they are paying the price.

Sometimes you can salvage the situation and turn things around, but sometimes the reputation of the individual or the relationships he has with others are so damaged that there is nothing to do but to apologize to the person you hurt with your inaction and start over with someone else and this time learn from the mistakes you made previously.

So what does it mean for you? Being humble and able to acknowledge that this is going on is the first step to make sure you minimize the negative impact your learning has on lives of other people.

 

What do you think? What is the most difficult thing in management? How would you answer this question when you started your management path and how would you answer the question after couple of years or even decades of experience?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

7 Ways To Deal With Abusive Boss

Over the last couple of weeks, I talked about How To Manage Your Manager, Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers, and What Excuses Turn Us Into Jerks. What remains, is to talk about what you can do when your manager really is an abusive jerk and difficult to work for. As with anything in management, there are no easy answers but let me outline couple of options and what their pros and cons are. It is up to you to figure out what fits your specific circumstances, and what the best course of action is.

1.  Suck it up – doing nothing is the easiest thing you can do. However, you need to be aware that it won’t change anything and you will continue to feel unnecessary stressed, have a low job satisfaction, experience depressions, and at the end will feel miserable about your life. The psychology behind this is that you will continue to feel like a victim of your bad boss. Chances are that in time, it will show up on your performance that will degrade and ultimately you may end up being the one who gets fired. I guess, not the best strategy.

2.  Fight back – this tactics really depends on your personality and whether you can pull it off. For those who are generally outspoken and don’t avoid conflicts this may do a lot of good to their stress levels. Just yell back at the boss, when he is yelling at you. Ok, maybe don’t yell, but definitely speak up and stay your ground. Give him taste of his own medicine and you will feel good. The positive side is that you won’t feel like a victim. You will feel like equal partner in the argument. The negative side is, that with some exceptions, this is not a strategy that will lead to career success and can make situation even worse and ultimately get you fired.

The fact that you may get admiration of your co-workers who won’t speak up may help you feeling good about yourself but may not save your job. In my time in corporate environment I’ve seen couple of instances where this worked and when the boss realized he has over-reached and started to treat the employee who stood up to him as equal. Sounds good, but probability of this happening is not that great.

3.  Passive-aggressive play – it is a particularly nasty way to fight back. You do it by ignoring your boss, talking behind his back, badmouthing, not giving your full efforts to the job, or even sabotaging his efforts. Curiously enough, according to a study carried out by Bennett Tepper, a professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, it seems that being passive aggressive with your bad boss will work just fine for you personally. It will remove the stress and you will feel like you are doing something about the situation.

However, it will have a negative impact on effectiveness of the team and ultimately it will wear you down. In other words, you may survive, you may feel well, and even enjoy what you do, but there will be lots of collateral damage. The toxic environment this will create may lead to other people losing respect for you, for the boss, and for the organization. They will either perform on lower levels or leave altogether.

4.  Accept – this option is very similar to the first one with one significant change. You can’t change your boss and how he acts but you can change the way you react and feel about it. It is very difficult thing to do, especially if you are already feeling as a victim and have been it that position for a very long time. However, if you have generally positive view of life you can accept the boss for who he is, limit your interactions, and look at it as an opportunity to learn.

What will you learn? For starters, how to deal with difficult people, how to keep cool under pressure, or how to remove your emotions from conversations. You may even start coaching and mentoring other people on the team and essentially become the team leader instead of the boss. If you love your job and the team, and the only thing you hate is the boss, this may be pretty viable strategy. Remember, bosses come and go. It would be shame to ruin your life only because a jerk boss who may leave in couple of months anyway.

5.  Speak up – having a face to face conversation as two adults is the right thing to do in most cultures. You need to realize that you won’t be able to change who the boss is, but it can be a good idea to let him know what impact his actions have on you and the team. Don’t attack his character (or lack of thereof) but rather describe impact of his actions.

I would suggest that this is the best first step you should take. Unless the boss is total psychopath, he will listen and may even hear it for the first time in his life. As long as you keep your emotions in check, focus on hard facts and not feelings, don’t attack him, don’t threaten in any way, and you may get good result. There is a chance that you will be able to build a good professional relationship with your boss. You may still not like him, but you will feel good about yourself for pulling it off, you will be more confident in future interactions, you can even get more respect from the rest of the team. And if it doesn’t work you can always take the second step on this particular journey and escalate.

6.  Escalate – there are very few organizations that embrace abusive behavior. Chances are that the boss is abusive because he can. Simply, no one in power slapped his hand yet. Chances also are, that no one in power knows what’s going on or takes it seriously until it gets escalated. Too often organizations learn about bad apples on their management teams only when multiple people leave the company. Being able to escalate abusive behavior to your HR department in a professional manner is a sign of mature adult who cares about the success of the organization.

You shouldn’t worry about being marked as the troublemaker. We are all adult human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. It is important to realize that the moment you set in this direction it will make you an enemy of your boss. Any jerk would immediately take this personally and would fight back by trying to smear your reputation. At the end only one of you keeps standing. If the HR team, or the organization does nothing, or even worse, if they punish you for bringing this up, then you better get out since they don’t deserve you.

7.  Get out – realizing that life is too short to work for a jerk boss can be a very liberating experience. Yes, you may need to find another job, but it may be the best thing for your mental health and for getting more balanced, happy life. If you work for a boss who is a jerk, you need to see that you are getting something in return. It might be a great career opportunity, a huge paycheck you won’t get elsewhere (assuming money is more important than peace of mind to you), or just the fact that you learn how to deal with difficult people.

If there is nothing you are gaining, then you shouldn’t willingly submit yourself to that sort of treatment and just be elsewhere. But the same as before, even in this case, be professional. Be open with the organization on why you are leaving, keep emotions out of it, and don’t burn bridges. Sooner or later the bad boss gets fired or leaves on his own and you may be asked if you want to come back under better conditions.

So what is the magical formula to deal with a bad boss? There isn’t one. So much depends on particular personalities of you, the boss, the company culture, and your unique circumstances that no one can really tell you what to do. Only you can decide what you want to do, how you want to feel about it, and take the necessary steps. Remember, you are an adult human being, and you do have options!

 

What are your tips on how to deal with a jerk? Do you prefer a direct approach, Machiavellian machinations, or a retreat?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers

In most of the employee engagement surveys you read that one of the top reasons why people leave their companies is their manager. It is not about money, it is not about work, it is not about team, it is about the boss.

Every now and then you run into someone on the management team or in leadership position that leaves you wondering how that person could get there. These individuals are often smart, they appear to be confident, and play nice with their managers. The real issue shows up when you see how they communicate with people who they deem unworthy, people with lower status, their teams, or people who may threaten their position. I’m talking about jerks in management.

Since this can be a rather broad term let’s go to Merriam-Webster dictionary that defines jerk as “an unlikable person; especially one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded – a selfish jerk”. This is the type of boss I’m talking about.

So how do such people get into management? The question you have to ask, is about causality. Do people become jerks after being promoted? Or do they get promoted because they are jerks? Some research indicates that self-centered, narcissistic and confrontational personalities have bigger chance to become managers. Not necessarily good managers, but because of their ability to present themselves well they tend to be seen as confident and persuasive. If the company doesn’t screen carefully their management candidates it easily happens that these people get into management roles ahead of those who have more suitable qualities and actually lead people and are helpful.

The problem with a jerk is that he doesn’t know he is a jerk. These characters truly believe they are great because their egocentrism prevents self-reflection. It is only the surrounding people, the culture, the company who suffer. The only decent remedy is to limit the scope of interaction of these brilliant jerks or to remove them from the team altogether.

Aside of the ones who got to management because of their jerkiness you have a second type of management tyrants. Those who became one over time. They were completely fine individual contributors who got increasingly antisocial once they got to a management positions. The great thing is that these people are not inherently damaged. They are not jerks, they just act that way. For these people it is usually something that can be changed with feedback, training, and help from outside.

So what are the reason why good people turn bad when getting to management? And what can you do to prevent it?

Why managers become jerks:

  1. They follow a leader who is a jerk – this is leading by example at its worst. Because they work or worked for a jerk they emulate behavior that made their boss successful.
  2. They feel insecure – often because they feel they don’t have the skills to do the job. They are new to management but they want to appear strong and so they overdo it.
  3. They are part of a toxic company culture – if the company culture permits this behavior and even rewards it then very few people will have the strength to fight it. They will make decisions that goes even against their core values even without realizing it. They often end up with low ethical standards and can justify their jerkiness in the name of bigger good.
  4. They reached their state of incompetence – sometimes called as a Peter Principle as coined by Laurence J. Peter. The theory is that you are being awarded by promotions for a good work in your current role until you reach your level of incompetence and that is where you spend the rest of your life being miserable because you are way over your head and can’t succeed.
  5. They have low emotional intelligence – they never felt the need to exercise the emotional intelligence muscle. Often you see this with highly technical people who are experts in their fields and can win any dispute just by using technical knowledge itself. When they get to management they don’t understand how to communicate with others by any other means.
  6. They are managers for the status or money – they got to management for the wrong reasons. Not because they want to lead and help others. They reached the status they wanted and now will do whatever it takes to hold to it. They stopped caring about doing a good job or about other people and want to bask in the glory of being a boss.
  7. They sit on too many chairs – this is true especially for people who get promoted and still keep doing their individual contributor job. They have competing priorities, focusing on their old job, which they are good at, instead of trying to learn to be a good manager. They are bottleneck for their teams, have no time to grow and develop themselves as well as the people they are responsible for.
  8. They had no training – and thus don’t really know what to do. This is especially important in small companies and start-ups where new managers or founders have no one good to learn from. Because of that they often resort to a brute force since it seems like the easiest way to get things done if you don’t have any other tools in your management toolbox.

What can you do to change that? As you can see most of the items listed above are based on external circumstances that can be changed. You can mitigate most of them by following couple of basic rules:

  1. Understand well people’s motivation for wanting to get to management and when the reasons are not right, don’t let them. Even if it means they may leave the company.
  2. Promote people to management because they are ready, not because they are great at doing their current job.
  3. Don’t allow jerks to keep their jobs and deal with them quickly and decisively, otherwise you are implying that this sort of behavior is fine and others will imitate it.
  4. Provide enough training in how to communicate, manage, and lead before you ask people to do so.
  5. Make a clear cut between the former and new job. Don’t let them sit on too many chairs and make it easy for them to let go of the past responsibilities.

These are the very basic things that you can do to help others, especially new managers, to avoid the trap of turning from great employees to lousy bosses. But what if you are the one who just got promoted? What if you don’t want to rely on others to help you but want to make sure you don’t become a jerk? Let’s talk about this next week.

 

Do you think you can recognize when you are acting as a jerk? What are the signs in others that tell you they are being inconsiderate?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

How To Manage Your Manager

Most of us are reporting to someone. We have a boss. It might be the first line manager, director, vice president, CEO, or a board of directors. One could even say that the customer is our ultimate boss but I won’t go that far in this article. Let’s stay with the person above you in the organizational structure of a company.

The common logic is that the manager manages the team. The less common view, but as much important, is that the employee also needs to manage his or her manager. Why? We are not slaves. We are all human beings with the same basic rights. Only we ourselves are responsible for taking care of our needs. The manager may have a positional power over us but that doesn’t mean we just follow orders. In this article, I will describe what you can do to manager your manager, why it is important, and how it can help both of you to be successful.

Managing up versus sucking up

Managing up has a certain negative connotation. Often confused with sucking up to your boss. However, these two terms couldn’t be more different. Sucking up really means that you are the “yes man”. You are doing everything in your power to please the boss, to appear in the best light, and earn some plus points. Your hope is that by being favorite “pet” you will gain some privileges not available to others who don’t suck up. This means that you don’t shy away from throwing others under the buss if it helps to improve your own image.

This is obviously unhealthy behavior. It may work in short term to advance your career but it will definitely destroy your reputation, kill your long-term prospects, make the team dysfunctional and ultimately make you entirely dependent on the good graces of your boss instead of on your own skills and effort.

In contrast, managing up is an ability to talk to your boss as an equal. He or she is your partner in getting the work done and in fulfilling company’s mission. Managing up is about setting boundaries and rules on how you and your manager work together. It is about agreement how you stay in dialog, how you set priorities, how you keep each other informed and how you hold each other accountable. It is about understanding the needs of the other person and helping them to achieve their goals.

Setting boundaries

The first thing to do is to sit with your new manager and talk about how you will work together. You want to understand how your boss works, what are his general expectations in terms of updates, reports, escalations. You should clarify the level of details he wants to be involved in. You should talk about whether he wants to be informed when you need to talk to his management or to other departments. You should agree on “no surprises” rule. Nothing is more embarrassing for your boss when he is being confronted by his manager with something you have done and he has no clue. You can read more on this topic in No Surprises In Management Please.

You should also talk about how you work and whether it is compatible with your manager’s expectations. Especially in today’s hectic environment, you should clarify what level of availability and responsiveness is expected.

The boundaries conversation also needs to tackle the topic of feedback. How you give each other feedback? Being it work related or developmental. This may be tough to do on the very first meeting but it is important to indicate that you appreciate any feedback your manager is willing to give you and that you are also available to provide feedback when asked.

Setting communication rules

Agreeing on how your manager expects to communicate with you is probably the most important conversation to have. Each of us is used to different communication channels, may have different way how we receive and process information, and may be used to different way of communication from previous job or even from other colleagues.

It is important to agree with your manager on what communication channel is preferred for what information. For example, you may agree that normal updates are best over emails to read at his or her own leisure, but any escalations or concerns should be communicated face to face or over the phone. This agreement is extremely important when you have a remote boss, and hyper important when he or she sits in a different time zone. You can read more on the topic in So You’ve Got A Remote Boss. Tricky.

You can be very flexible and adjust to the needs of your boss with one big exception. Never agree to not communicate! You need to build a solid relationship and that will not happen when you or your boss are avoiding interactions. If your manager says that there is no reason to talk regularly, insist on it anyway. You can appeal to his ego by asking for help, acknowledging you can learn from him, or just state plainly that it would help you grow and you feel a regular contact will help build good relationship between two of you. If you talk with your boss only when there are problems your relationship will have a significantly negative undertone. You need to take 100% responsibility for making the relationship work.

I personally have a tendency to over-communicate with my managers so the conversation I would have with any new boss is along the lines, “I’m used to copying my boss on all emails that may be eventually brought to your attention. I don’t necessarily expect you to read them, but I want to make sure you have them available if your manager or someone from other departments asks. If I need your help I will specifically indicate that in the subject of the email. Does this work for you?”

As you see I’m not asking “How do you want me to communicate?” since it would put me in a passive role of the one who needs to adjust. By proactively describing how the communication could look like you ensure your voice is heard and needs fulfilled. The boss can always say “no”. In my case, sometimes the answer was, “works for me.” Sometimes the answer was, “no need, just include me when you need help.” Regardless of the answer, it helped manage the expectations.

Setting goals, priorities and check-points

This is not article about goals and priorities setting so I’m listing it here just for completeness. Having clearly set goals, understood priorities, and agreed upon check-points is critical for healthy, surprise free, working relationship. You may check some of my thoughts on the topic in The Puzzle Of Performance Goals and How To Make SMART Goals Smarter.

Asking for help

One of the key things your boss can do for you is to remove obstacles. In fact, you will read this in almost every book about leadership that leaders are here to show vision and then get out of the way. The only time when they should step in is to remove roadblocks so you can achieve the agreed goals.

This means that you need to have a clear understanding with your boss about what level of issues he or she can help you with. It can be a very general statement along the lines of “when you run into something you can’t figure out let me know and I will help you.” It can be also something much more specific, “once you are ready to present the proposal to the CEO let me know so we review it together and then I can help you by pushing it from my side.”

The key is to have a clearly stated agreement with your manager that it is fine to ask for help and it won’t be held against you.

Offering help

To paraphrase JFK “don’t ask what your manager can do for you, ask what you can do for him”. Why? Good relationships are all about trust. How do you build trust? There are couple of ways to do it, but the basic one is to make sure that the other person sees that you have his wellbeing on top of your mind. If you accomplish that, chances are he will reciprocate.

When your boss sees that you are willing to help him solve his problems it dramatically increases the trust he has in you. He will trust your skills, your loyalty, and ultimately will find you indispensable. The common sense says that when you are indispensable you are in much better negotiation position to get what you need. When you can easily show the value you provide, it has a direct impact on your ability to get the next interesting project, the next promotion, the raise, or the freedom to work the way you want.

You don’t need to do much. Just asking whether there is anything you can help with, will do the trick. Even better approach may be to get clues from what was discussed or what you already know your manager is working on and ask if you can help with that specific problem. In long-term, the best approach is to ask about his or her priorities. Every now and then, I would ask my boss about what his top priorities for the next couple of months are and then see if I can bring some value and solve his problems for him, or at least contribute to the solution.

The beautiful side effect of this practice is that you are getting opportunities to do parts of your manager’s job and that allows you to learn new skills and expand your job. In simple terms, it allows you grow. You don’t need to wait on anyone to give you these opportunities. It is you, who is enabling this growth for yourself!

The next time you have a conversation with your manager don’t talk only about your needs and what you need from him. Before you end the conversation just ask a simple question “is there anything I can help you with?”

 

How important do you believe is managing your manager? How do you manage your manager? What tools are you giving your team so they can manage you?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

100 Days In New Management Role

You just joined a new company in a senior management capacity. What to do? You want to make a mark. You want to show who is the boss. You want to show the team you are the right choice. You want to be seen as a decisive and fair leader. You want to show that you are bringing value. You want to justify to the other managers at the company that you being hired rather than them being promoted was the right thing. And you want to show to your boss that he made the right call hiring you.

So how do you do all of that? Have a plan! As the 6P rule goes (Perfect Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance), do your homework and have a clear plan on what you want to achieve over the first hundred days. Share this plan with your new boss and even with the team and follow through.

Day 0 (Before you even start)

The higher the position the more preparation is needed since you are expected to hit the ground running. You don’t want to show up on the first day and have no clue what the company culture looks like, what the major challenges are, what the expectations from you are, what the industry looks like, who the customers and main competitors are, and what questions you should ask. You don’t want to be seen as ignorant the very first day on the job. First impressions die hard. You don’t need to know every single detail, it would be too difficult for an outsider to discover anyway, but you need to understand the major themes. Before you even start you should:

  • Meet with your future boss to understand your mission, why you are being brought on board
  • You need to research the competitive landscape and understand the business at the level any outsider can
  • You need to know how the company is doing, what its mission is what it claims to stand for (you will have opportunity to verify these when you start)
  • If possible you should also ask around and research what the customers and former employees say about the company
  • And you need to prepare a couple of ready to deliver speeches about who you are, why you are here, what you believe in, and why people should listen to you since you need to be setting some expectations from day one

Day 1 – 40 (Listen & Understand)

The very first day is the day when your listening journey starts. The first weeks on the job needs to be for you to understand the company and the people you will work with. You already have some understanding from your previous research but now you can dig into details. So what are the key things to do in the first forty days?

  • Meet with your management team and every single team member (if the team is small enough) or at least with key employees (if you are heading a large organization), listen and understand various aspects of the company, its mission, culture, values, and who is on board
  • Meet with representatives from other departments to understand what their roles are, how your team fits the picture, and to start building relationships
  • Meet with key partners, vendors, 3rd parties and understand the relationships
  • Spend time with a person who formerly held the job, or someone who is at similar level in the company to understand the history and expected future
  • Clearly define the role with your boss and understand what are the boundaries and communication channels between various groups
  • Sit with your boss and agree on performance goals for the first year (or whatever timeframe makes sense for the company’s business model)
  • Build relationships with all key stakeholders (employees, management, partners, customers)
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses of the organization that will help you formulate your next actions

Day 41 – 100 (Strategize & Set expectations)

You have a long list of meetings behind you. You have heard the points of view of all the key stakeholders. You have an understanding of how the company operates, what are the core values, and hopefully, have a good grasp on how things are being done. Now is the time to set up a plan:

  • Review the current performance plans and formulate strategy going forward
  • Identify the biggest opportunities both in the market as well as for internal improvement
  • Develop a SWOT analysis (or whatever framework you decide to use to clearly state your views of the company or department) and compare with current thinking of the management team
  • Decide what are we going to bet on and what are we going to cut (this is always the most difficult decision since most likely you wouldn’t be able to do everything and you need to keep yourself and the team focused on what matters the most)
  • Agree on values and culture we are trying to create and point out what values you believe the company lives based on the interviews you had with the employees (more on this in You Can’t Lead Without Values And Principles)
  • Start working on plugging holes in the team (if any) to support the strategy
  • Set the tone (leadership style) and clearly articulate the expectations you have from the team
  • Establish credibility and acceptance by the organization by leading by example and generally behaving in a trustworthy manner (more on this in Trust And Credibility Beats Vision And Strategy)

Day 100+ (Execute)

Your hundred days passed. Now you should be in full execution mode. But before you get to the day to day nitty gritty work you probably want to close the onboarding loop with couple more action items:

  • Review the 100 days with your boss
  • Review organizational structure, make changes as needed and put together developmental plans for the team aligned with strategy
  • Create sense of urgency (I know it is not a popular term, so call it whatever you wish but just make sure that everyone in the organization is focused on helping the company achieve its goals) and execute on the strategy agreed

I know that the list is hardly comprehensive and is prone to change due to specific circumstances related to the role in question and the company. I have originally put the list together when asked how the first hundred days as a CEO should look like. When I look at it now, I feel it is relevant enough for most of the management roles. What will differ is the depth and details into which you will want to dive. The key takeaway is that “listen and understand” is more important than “having a quick impact” unless you are being brought in for a turnaround situation.

 

What is your approach to getting oriented in a new role? What are the priorities for the first 100 days and how does it differ with seniority? Do you believe it is more important to “have a quick impact” or to “listen and understand”?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Open Door Policy Just Doesn’t Work

As more and more companies move to modern methods of management and words like empowerment, coaching, and meaning float around there is also a popular concept of “open door policy”. Many managers and HR departments would subscribe and even advertise the notion that the company is trying to create an open and transparent environment and everyone should always feel free to raise their voice and point out issues. But does it actually work? And what steps you as a leader need to take to make sure your team really comes to you with concerns and ideas?

Open door policy

In its essence, open door policy is a way of communication in which a manager leaves his virtual “office door” open to employees. The idea is to encourage informal, open, and transparent communication between the company and the employees. Anyone can at any point approach the manager and suggest improvement, come up with concern or provide feedback. It sounds great and something one should strive for but it has its downsides. How many of your employees actually do come to you on their own? Chances are that not too many. Why? There are numerous reasons. It can be that they don’t really trust you and are afraid to provide feedback. Doing it anonymously would be preferable. Or they feel that if you want to know something you will ask. Or they believe you probably thought of the idea yourself so why to bring it up. Or they are introverted. Or they simply don’t know how to breach the subject.

There are also other aspects of the open door policy that can create a rather messy working environment. If people cannot talk to their boss, he is not around or doesn’t care they may talk to others. That is what open door policy encourages. Go and talk to HR, or do a skip level meeting with your bosses boss, and since that person does not have enough context it is a great opportunity to play some politics.

In short, open door policy does not work unless the manager puts enough effort into making it work.

Management by walking around

It is your role and responsibility to reach out and build relationships. Some time ago, I wrote an article Management By Walking And Sitting Around where I talked about the importance of being “with the team”. It is a great way to start building relationships with your employees and to remove some of the worries they may have with approaching you. So let me sum up the basics as described in the article above:

  • Walk – be on the floor with your team every single day to create opportunities for people to talk to you and for them to know you are there for them.
  • Talk – talk about them, life, hobbies, family, business, what they work on, what issues they have, reinforce the goals and acknowledge the job well done.
  • Remember – get to know your team, remember the things important to them, or even the small things you can follow up on later on to show you care.
  • Follow up – if you promised to do something during your walk then make sure you follow up, do the action items and get back to the person with results.
  • Make a habit of it – do it and do it often since there is nothing more important than leading your team.
  • Sit – sit with the team to understand their daily problems and struggles. It is a great to understand how the work is being done and what you can do to help.
  • Show – when you sit with your team, you should be at your best behavior. This is a unique opportunity to show how you expect the team to work without even talking about it.

Open floor policy

Open floor policy goes a step beyond the management by walking around. It is not only about you being visible and having good relationship with your employees. It is about regularly seeking feedback and closing loops on any open issues.

So let us expand our management by walking around by three more steps:

  • Seek – seek feedback on what can be done better by you and by the team. It does not have to be a big conversation about huge issues the company has. If done on daily basis chances are that it will be small things that can be easily adjusted to and the team can quickly see results. If they see you are listening to what they are saying it will encourage them to say more.
  • Find – ask for problems even when no proposed solutions exists. It is a corporate mantra “bring me solutions, not problems” and there are situations where it really should work that way. It always looks better when you come to your boss pointing out a problem and at the same time propose a way to fix it. This is definitely true when the solutions to the problems are within your competence and sphere of influence. However, if you create environment like this then you are also saying “if you don’t have a solution don’t come to me at all”. And that is not particularly healthy situation and can lead to people not raising their concerns. In your walk around the office make sure people understand that they can bring you problems and you will work on solutions together.
  • Close – close loops and ensure that when feedback is provided to you the employees also see what actions were taken base on this feedback. When it comes to feedback the surest way to discourage it is to ignore it. People will tell you once, twice, maybe three times and then they just stop. If they believe you will ignore what they say, then why make the effort and say anything? It is the same as with any surveys. You may fill in the survey and answer bunch of questions but if you do not see any results of this effort. If no one communicates what was done with your feedback, then chances are you will not participate the second time.

When you do these things then you pretty much eliminate any negative aspects of the open door policy and only the good is left. The team simply has enough trust in you that they will come to you with any issues they may have and you have a truly open and transparent environment. And if the team does talk to people several levels above or to HR there are no surprises. You and your team are aligned.

Keep in mind that it will not work from day one. Since it is issue of trust you first need to show to the team that you are trustworthy. You can find some thoughts on this one in You Can’t Lead Without Values And Principles. Over time with some small wins the team will be more and more open, feedback will start flowing, and the truly open and transparent communication kicks in.

 

What are your thoughts on open door policy? Does it work? And what about management by walking around? Do you practice it and what is your experience with it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.