In order to be effective in any organization, you must manage relationships in all directions. First, take care of yourself. Next, ensure proper alignment with your boss and a clear understanding of his or her expectations of you and your team. Then, execute with your team – developing them into a first rate team.
US Starts with YOU
“80% of life is showing up.” – Woody Allen
In order to be effective in any organization, you must have people’s respect. We are social animals and respond much better to one another if we respect each other. How do you earn others’ respect? Help row the boat – be a positive force on the team. Maintain good personal habits. Take care of yourself. Present yourself well. Have good personal hygiene, express an interest in others, and don’t be rude. Be on time to meetings and well prepared. Do what you say you will do, and be accountable for it. Be careful not to bad-mouth your boss, or anyone else, for that matter. Even if you’re the boss, you will find it much more difficult to lead and manage others without their respect. Management by fear is only a short term tactic, and is not sustainable. Use your power wisely.
Stephen Covey wrote of the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. The better you take care of the business, the more effective you are at your job, the larger your Circle of Influence becomes. The more you worry about things you cannot control, your influence lessens.
Those who succeed in organizations, those who get things done, will receive more and more responsibilities and a bigger and bigger role. So the better you manage yourself and take care of your own business, the richer career (in every sense of the word) you will have.
The first rule of Leadership is Followership. Know the company Mission and Values, and act accordingly. Alignment of people and resources is critical to any effort. That’s the way organizations work. Know your boss’ agenda and make it yours – complete it first. If the boss completes her agenda, the team completes their agenda. If the boss looks good, their team looks good. That doesn’t mean there is no room for dissenting opinions or constructive feedback, but you have to do it carefully. Dissent can be positive – do it constructively by offering analysis and alternatives, and by communicating it in a non-threatening manner. One important note: never present a problem without first developing a possible solution. After all, the first comment out of her mouth should be “how do you suggest we handle it?”. Have a suggestion ready (preferably a good one). Ideally the solution is already in motion.
It is the employee’s responsibility to initiate and maintain the communication – your boss is busy! Establish clear structured communication with your boss with frequent updates, using what I have termed the Communication Triangle. Done right, the triangle enables good, frequent communication without excessive interruptions and becomes the basis of healthy work relationships.
The first leg is daily communication. This should be a cordial greeting – respect your manager’s time. Be sure to produce a brief daily report of key production numbers with comments if necessary. This in NOT a project update.
The next important communication is a Weekly Report. This should be brief – 1 page with bullet points. Start with a brief review of the week’s major events – including KPI’s. Then be sure to update your manager on each of her major projects – highlighting key milestones reached or variances and concerned. This is taking care of your boss’ agenda – It’s OK to attach detailed update if necessary. Now comes the good part: here is where you can include updates on projects you have initiated and are moving forward. You are setting your own agenda here, selling your projects. Your boss will rarely comment on the weekly report. The good news is no response = tacit approval for your projects. Green light – go for it! Each report becomes the template for the next update. Be sure to close out projects in this update – don’t just stop mentioning them. Do this every week, without fail, and your boss will come to rely upon them as a source of solid information, strengthening their hand with little effort. Win win.
Lastly is a 1:1 personal communication. This should be a scheduled, 20 minute conversation every week. Devote all of your attention – no interruptions. The Weekly Report can serve as the agenda, but this is an opportunity to get to know one another and is a good time to ask questions and share concerns – not to rehash the report. During the week keep notes in preparation for your daily, weekly report, or the 1:1. This allows reflection of your notes and eliminate knee-jerk response. In addition, the structured communication cuts down on interruptions for both you and your boss – leading to higher productivity. I had a boss who was very accessible to everyone in the organization, and he had trouble not being interrupted during our 1:1 conversations. Eventually, we settled on a long walk together, first through the plant and then out through the surrounding neighborhoods. Our talk was now both longer and healthy for us both. It was so successful he scheduled walks with all of his direct reports for an hour each day.
“Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way” Ronald Reagan
Great people can be a lot of things. If you are like me, you believe people are basically good and want to do the right thing. If that is the case, it is your job as a supervisor to make clear how to do a great job at “the right thing”. Perhaps the most important thing about managing down is to have clear expectations and communications – the same you would wish from your own boss. That kind of direction and alignment comes through a shared vision and clear roles and responsibilities, including Leader Standard Work.
Training, either formal or informal, for your team is crucial, but does not have to be costly nor time consuming. I love the naivete behind the saying “What if we train them and they leave?” The obvious retort is “What if we don’t train them and they stay? I ensure to include some training in every meeting with my employees, and often assign outside readings for group or individualized discussion. See my blog on training for some ideas. In addition to training, it is important to develop individualized coaching and mentoring programs to develop each of your direct reports and to closely monitor results. Establish clear Key Process Indicators (KPI’s) to track performance, and review them regularly. Ensure your people have the resources to be successful. Be mindful of Ronald Reagan’s words – give them room to grow, but also water and fertilize them.
However hard we as managers try, it is likely not everyone participates equally in the effort or produces the same results. This is in part due to the natural variation between people and their individual capabilities, and sometimes in part due to variation in their behavior. Consider the group rowing the boat in the figure below. Three are obviously rowing (perhaps at slightly different rates), one appears to folding his arms, and, finally, one appears to be playing in the water. As Supervisors and Managers, where should we spend our efforts?
Judging from most work places I have known, we try to help everyone – even the one taking advantage of the rest of the team. Somehow the one in the water gets a pass, or gets shuffled to another department like a pedophile priest. To be fair, the one on the boat might need training or proper tools to fully contribute, but it begs a few questions as well. How many workplaces are like this, where three do the work of five? Isn’t this what we so often see in the workplace? Why is that?
The way to break this chain is through accountability. We need to be clear on expectations, take away reasons to fail, and help them get going. Teach the one in the boat to row. Be clear your expectations of the bather. Measure the change – if there is no improvement, if they don’t row or choose to stay in the water, move the boat over to shark infested waters and be done with it. Swimmers are going to swim. You will never be effective if you don’t hold your team accountable to their actions and their results. The rest of the team, those who are rowing, will thank you for it. Addition by subtraction – works every time.
Managing Across the Organization
Teamwork is a relay race. It doesn’t matter who drops the baton – you all lose. So your first job is to ensure your team runs a fast leg – completes their part of projects on time and under budget. The best way to help others is to do a good job in your own work. Get your own work done, but always go the extra mile to help others. I’ve usually run operations – as such I always had the biggest team and the most resources, and we were always called on as source of muscle, regardless of the task. My team often complained to me they were overtaxed, but my response was always the same: ALWAYS help others. As you help others, your influence will grow – no need to advertise. Go the extra mile to ensure the baton does not get dropped.
What if your boss does not challenge you?
“No Problem” is a problem. If your boss does not challenge you, she may be mirroring “survivor” tactics she uses herself. It may be your manager has developed a “glass ceiling” for the department – and it may be time to look for a more challenging role elsewhere. Prolonged low-risk management leads to marginalization for a manager AND her team. Explore ways to grow your role and take on more responsibility – it is important to make waves at times in order to keep on fast track to advancement.