On Friday I heard a couple words from my manager that really helped a lot. The gist of it all was “thank you”. Boy did that make a difference. I don’t consider myself a needy person when it comes to affirmation at work. That said, having started a job recently after nearly a year of unemployment has made me a whole lot more self conscious.
I knew going into this that my new manager was pretty hands off. Personally I like it that way. I have had managers that were in my back pocket and quite frankly I find it irritating. Leave me alone, I know what I am doing. I will get done what you need me to do, just make it clear what my priorities are (and if you don’t, I will – so don’t be surprised if I don’t do what you think is the most important thing first). I’ll come to you if I run into problems that I can’t solve by myself. If I don’t ask for help, please stay out of my way. I’ll tell you what you need to know so that you don’t get caught unaware.
I guess what I am trying to say is that even if you have very independent people working for you remember to acknowledge what they are doing. They may not need guidance to get their job done, but an occasional pat on the back to let them know that they are on target is invaluable. Some of the folks that report to me have been working some crazy hours lately. It was pretty obvious based on what was accomplished over the last week. I’m hoping that my couple of words (thank you) meant as much to them as my manager’s meant to me this week.
Today I’m going to defer to a terrific paper I found on organizational trust from the DDI group.
“How do you promote open communication with employees to gain trust? Here are five easily adaptable behaviors:
- Be positive.
- Seek others’ ideas.
- Don’t shoot the messenger.
Each of these behaviors helps to build bonds of trust between leaders and employees.”
Click to see the full monograph.
See you on the other side in 2010 – Happy New Year!
I thought that a great way to finish out the year would be to talk about my top 10 really important things in more detail. Today I’m going to hit on transparency. Some of the key concepts required to be a transparent leadership team include the following:
- Regular, consistent dissemination of information. Create a schedule of all hands or team meetings and stick to it! This needs to be done in good times as well as in bad. One of the worst things a management team can do is disappear when times get tough.
- Share the good news as well as the bad. It’s ok, people can take it, especially if you hire “grownups” and treat them that way. Don’t overhype the good news and don’t spin or omit the bad news. People are smart and they will see right through your attempt to obfuscate the truth.
- Clearly articulate what is confidential. There’s two points here. The first is to make sure people know what part of the information that you are sharing must not be repeated outside the walls of the company. The second is to trust the team enough to actually share that confidential information with them. Giving people your trust in a straightforward manner almost guarantees that they will not break it.
- Be willing to address less than positive feedback. There are times when leaders do things that don’t seem to make sense to the rank and file. Sometimes these things make everyone’s job tougher and can hurt morale. Make sure to address why painful decisions have been made. Talk about the alternatives and how the leadership team came to the decision. Just understanding why a decision was made will lead to a much greater acceptance of it.
- Let people share their accomplishments. It is wonderful to have a team member be able to demonstrate or talk about a significant achievement that has occurred. This is a morale booster across the entire organization. For example – demo new product capabilities, talk about a new marketing campaign, share a story about closing a major customer. Knowing that the company recognizes and appreciates these milestones is key.
For more reading about transparency see Transparency and Open Communication by Beth Steinberg on Rypple. Beth and I worked together a few years back and she’s got some great thoughts on leadership.
Wow, has it been close to a month since I’ve posted something? As usual, the job search has been pretty consuming. I’ve done a lot of company and technology research, I’ve kept up my networking and my online job hunting, and I spent close to a week out of town, first for an interview and then to visit with some dear friends.
Do you have an old friend that no matter how long you’ve been apart, the second you see each other you pick right back up where you left off? My friend and I have known each other since we were 12. We’ve been best friends ever since. It doesn’t matter that we only see each other every 5+ years or so and that we haven’t lived in the same state in 17 years. We’ve had years (yes, plural) where we didn’t even talk on the phone and barely sent Christmas cards. Doesn’t matter. She’s the one person that no matter what happens she’ll be there if I need her, and vice versa.
The interesting thing is that we’re night and day, black and white, solar and lunar…. however you want to describe it – we’re opposites except for the really important things. That is part of the reason we get along so famously. When I talk to her, I always get a different perspective. Since we’ve had so much history we both can take that difference in perspective at face value and not read any ulterior motives into it. It is invaluable.
What I find to be really sad is when people with different perspectives square off at work. It seems to happen more so than not. It’s a matter of trust – or lack thereof. Both people are there in their own little worlds building walls around their ideas, shoring them up. Heaven forbid they listen to one another and figure out ways to incorporate diverse input.
This single mindedness can also occur in the hiring process. When was the last time you looked at someone’s different experience and instead of saying “they haven’t done exactly what we are doing so the learning curve will be too big” have you said “this person has a lot of experiences that are different yet complimentary to the rest of the team, they will provide a fresh perspective”? Seriously. One of the biggest traps that people fall into is hiring people that are just like themselves. Same ideals, same kind of experiences. Same blind spots. Just because someone hasn’t done exactly what you will need them to do doesn’t mean that they don’t have the facilities to do it. Heck, they might even do it *better* than someone else in your company because they have seen something in the past that either worked really well, or failed spectacularly.
Different isn’t bad. If you take advantage of it, it will make your team and your company stronger.
“The key to building trust in both good and bad times is to realize that none of us is as smart as all of us. There are companies that have embraced this simple truth and used it to maintain trust before, during and, we’re sure, after this economic downturn. All these companies seem to have two characteristics in common.”
In the last two weeks I had two of my direct reports say some things to me that took a lot of courage. One of them told me that there were things that I could do better to improve the way I was running my organization. The other told me that I was steamrolling them with my experience and not listening to their ideas. (albeit in a more tactful way) Neither one of them felt all that comfortable doing these things, but I am really proud that they showed the courage to do so. I know that I thanked one of them. The other, I talked through why I was doing what I was doing and I think we got to an understanding, though I regret not saying thank you. In any event I didn’t get mad. I didn’t stonewall. I really tried my best to understand and empathize with their positions. I put my feelings on the back burner and listened.
Looking back, I recognized a few things. I never would have said what they said to me to a manager that I didn’t respect. There wouldn’t have been any point to it. I also wouldn’t have said what they said to me to a manager that I didn’t trust to take the comments as a desire to work together better. There have only been a few managers in my career that I would have felt comfortable enough to talk to frankly. Most of my managers didn’t really make constructive feedback feel like a welcome experience. I probably should have stepped into that uncomfortable place more often and tried it out. Who knows – it might have really improved our relationship.
Do you trust your manager? Would you sit them down and tell them exactly what you are feeling and how they are impacting you or how they could improve? Do you think that your direct reports would do the same for you? If not, what can you do to change that?
I guess I should come clean. Reviews are on my mind right now because I need to write the performance reviews of my team over the next week. I am procrastinating a little bit this year. Only one of my direct reports has been with me for the whole year – the rest are fairly new, less than 6 months. This first review is critical. I want to address things that I’ve seen, but I also am still gaining their trust. I’m not completely sure how anyone is going to react. I guess that I just need to do what has worked for me in the past.
One of the key things I have learned is that you have to put some work into these things to make them worthwhile. There’s nothing that I hated more than having a manager who would skimp on my review. I didn’t care if it was generally positive. What I cared about was content. If you aren’t spending the time on these things it is immediately obvious. There is nothing that tells an employee that you couldn’t care less about them than a vague review. Be specific. Be very specific. Examples are terrific. Using your intuition can also be rewarding.
You’ll know when you did a really outstanding job – when a crusty old veteran says “That was the best review I ever had. It was obvious that you put a lot of thought into it. I even agree with what you think I need to work on… thank you.”