Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Everyone Has a Superpower – What’s Yours?

If you’re a good manager, you probably already think about your team in terms of strength and diversity.  Each person brings a different set of experiences, characteristics and perspective to the team that can positively (and perhaps negatively) affect the overall dynamic and success of the team.

I like to extend this a little though, and talk about Superpowers.

Several years ago, my work team took one of the personality-type tests that exist out there: StrengthsFinder  I completed it and was unsurprised to see empathy at the top of my list.  What was more interesting to me though, was who else on the team had empathy anywhere near the top of their list…I can tell you now, that there were VERY few.

This got me thinking.  How many times at work had I sat in meetings watching people’s reactions to the speaker, thinking ‘boy this is going down badly, why aren’t they adjusting’?  How many times had I looked at a draft email from leadership and gone ‘'ooooh, that’s going to drop like a lead balloon, why did they write it like that’?  I guess I had always assumed that everyone thought this way, that everyone else naturally sensed how people would (and were) reacting to the information flow.  This changed my life.

I think it’s a common mistake to think that we are more alike than we really are – we assume that everyone else sees things as we do, but they don’t. 

So I encourage you to determine what your own unique personal selling point is – what natural skills do you have?  What can you bring to your team?  What is your Superpower?  And equally important – what are the Superpowers of the individuals on your team…..’cause what better way to be happy and successful, than to focus on and utilize what you are naturally good at?  

Now that’s Super Smart.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I love to deliver reviews...yes, really

So I've just completed my team's performance reviews for another year.   This is where I really get to earn my money.  I had a definite mix of performers, but I'm delighted to say that everyone walked away postive, thankful and excited to move forwards. 

It's the best feeling in the world to deliver a tough message, knowing that it's absolutely the right thing for the individual - and then have them turn around and say a genuine 'thank you'.  I love to explain how their behavior or actions could just be tweaked just a little to drastically improve other's perception of them.  And it's even better to be able to prove that to them as they learn, grow and become more succesful as a result.

This is one of those days I *love* being a manager.

The question every employee should ask and every manager should be able to answer

Over the years as both an employee and a manager, I’ve determined that the answer to this very question is crucial to the success of both sides of this the relationship…the answer? 

“What does success and excellence look like for me in this role?”

It’s obvious. A large part of your manager’s responsibility is to assess your performance – and let’s face it, that’s the bit that leads to the important stuff you probably care about: money, rewards and new opportunities. Any manager will naturally be looking for a realm of specific actions, behaviors and deliverables that they’ll use to see if your performing at your best. Most obviously they will be based on company values or targets, and you should at least make sure that you are aware of these.

But there is more. Remember that each manager is an individual, a real person, so they have their own personal preferences. Some love people with get-up-and-go - that ‘va-va-voom’ that shows drive for results. Some look for people to simply deliver on time. Some look for leaders. Some look for peace-makers. Some look for people to shake up the status quo, etc.

The key is to ASK what they are looking for. Every good manager worth his/ her salt will be able to answer this – and if they can’t straight off, then ask them to have a think and get back to you. When they tell you, make sure you write it down. Hey, why not even print it out and stick it on your wall right in front of your desk. They owe it to you to tell you what you need to aim for.
For managers, it’s an excellent exercise – what are you looking for? What do you value? How does it relate to the culture you’d like to build in your team? And then the important question….have you communicated this in words of one syllable to your team? If not….then go do it.

So for all you employees…once you’ve got the answer, it’s all up to you to live it, breathe it and succeed!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Promote a culture of transparency

There are two sides to every story. 

How many times do you hear that leadership and managers just don’t understand? That they have made decisions without thinking things through and without the right information. Yes, okay, of course that is sometimes true, but many times that isn’t really the full story.  To some degree, I think it’s a natural response though – it speaks to the questioning mind and the age old mantra of ‘I know I’d do better if I were in that position. I’d do it differently’.

One way of mitigating this type of reaction is to explain the journey, explain the thinking.  What factors played into the decision?  Who participated & Why?  Even explaining the obvious points about ‘not being able to include everyone’, needing to ‘take a stand and make progress’, ‘but the course can be corrected if necessary’ can help. These are all obvious and necessary points about managing any project (from re-decorating a house, to rolling out a new organizational structure).  The good thing about this is that the majority of people have been in the position of having to make tough decisions and face opposition and questions from family or colleagues themselves.  Remember this the next time you have to roll out a communication.

Instead of explaining the What, try explaining the Why and the How.  People may still not like the path you took, they may not agree with the outcome, but they are much more likely to understand where you are coming from, even empathize with you. I know it’s not always possible to tell everything, but see how open you can be.

Be open and clear about looking for feedback and input too.  You want to encourage questions, you want to hear the concerns.  If you can listen to these calmly and respond appropriately, you will slowly begin to build trust. 

And don’t simply forget the feedback you hear, do something about it.  One tip is to keep the most interesting opinions in your back-pocket and address them again the next time you speak with the person 1:1 – it shows you have taken it seriously.   The more you do it, people will be encouraged to open up to you.

And let’s face it, there is much that we can all learn, so open up and encourage the feedback

Try it and tell me!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don’t forget to reward teamwork

This is something that constantly raises it’s ugly head – especially when it comes to review time.

‘Teamwork’ and ‘Collaboration’ are words that many managers like to throw around during the year. After all, what manager wouldn’t want to know that his team are able to work well together and can problem solve to come up with the right plan?  What teammate wouldn’t want to know that if they needed help, their peers would be there to help them out?

So then why do managers find it so difficult to recognize that they need to reward this type of behavior?  The processes we put in place for measuring performance year over year are so often targeted at the success of the individual.  Did they meet their goals?  Did they ship the right features?  Did they manage their work cleanly and deliver their project on time?  When you measure this kind of activity, you often miss the most important piece - their behavior.  How did they do it?  Did they step over everyone else to get it done?  Did they ignore helping teammates for fear the peer might leapfrog and get that top position?

I encourage you that next time you start building out commitments and goals for your team….think about just that.  The goals for your team.   What behaviors do you want to encourage?   I firmly believe that it is still possible to encourage great performance and competitive spirit, while still encouraging and rewarding collaboration…after all, isn’t that what great sport teams do?

They communicate fluently, assist each other, encourage each other and most importantly learn from their mistakes so that they can improve the game the next time around.  Yes, there will still be Beckhams and Shaquilles, and you’ll still need to make the tough decisions as a manager when it comes to ranking.  Just don’t forget that if you value and encourage teamwork, you must reward it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Set people up for success…give them context!

I guess I’ve always tried to be as transparent with my team as makes sense.  If you’re hiring the right people, they are constantly questioning – and often consider the decisions they would make if they were in a leadership position.  If a manager holds information back from them (deliberately or not), it’s often harder for them to accept why the decision was made.

I was in my office last week and had a fly-by from a new project manager (PM) on the team.  In true Microsoft style, her manager had given her the bare essentials to getting started on the project – talk to this person, look at this site, this is the timeline, GO! The PM had ramped up on the deliverables, figured out who she was dealing with and began to send out clear communication mails following a similar pattern to the last release.  Her mission had started and she was pleased with progress.  That was when the emails started.  ‘Why are we doing it like this?’  ‘What do you mean by X?’  ‘My team doesn’t have time for Y.’ ‘We should have known this weeks ago‘

My response? ‘If you have a few minutes, shut the door and have a seat’. 

What her manager had failed to do, was give her context.   The pieces of the puzzle that meant people had been burned by the previous project, the process hadn’t worked and there had been resource changes. In short, there were a lot of open wounds.  

As I explained the story (leaving out specific individuals and the drama), the PM began to visibly relax in her chair.  It wasn’t her!  She realized that the situation she was going into called for a different approach, that in this case if she followed process and took things at face-value, success would not follow.  She has now reset the project, spoken to individuals, gained feedback and things are on track. 

By telling the background story, I wasn’t gossiping. I wasn’t giving her a negative opinion of the team.  I was giving her much needed context to help her understand people’s reactions and make better decisions.

I encourage you to do the same wherever possible – it makes a big difference.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blow the dust of that phone...

Something I do on a regular basis, is exercise restraint in email conversations.   

How many times have you written an email response to a touchy subject thinking 'Ha, let's see what you make of this!'?  It's so tempting (and of course fun) to hide behind the written word, so easy to throw a comment and watch everyone else clamor to respond.  But does it help?  Does it encourage resolution and quicken action? 

At first, sure. If the emails are thoughtfully written and clearly state the POVs, then that's a good start.  But I encourage you to act as the Whistle Blower.  Try being the first one to suggest a quick conference call.  How about a brief powwow in the atrium/ coffee area/ kitchen/ conference?

If there are multiple people on the mail thread, but you seem to be clashing with one person in particular, try this.  Pick up the phone.  Yup, blow the dust off it and dial their number.  First of all, you'll probably surprise them, so there is a good chance that you'll be able to begin with the upper hand.  Second, it means you can just have the conversation - and often that means figuring out together the next steps.

Whether you pull everyone together, or grab someone individually, make sure that you finish the loop.   When you're done, THEN you send the email to everyone - outline the discussion, explain the next steps and thank they key folks for making the time to talk.

People will thank you for stopping another ludicrously long email thread and see your leadership qualities.  Try it and let me know.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perceptions matter, so give & receive feedback on the difficult stuff

How many times have you received some feedback from your Manager, and you’ve thought ‘Really?’ or more likely ‘WTF?’?

Well, first you should turn right around and thank your lucky stars (and your Manager) that you actually received some feedback! Statistics show that many managers avoid giving feedback like the plague – sometimes for fear of retribution, sometimes because they just can’t quite find the right words, sometimes because the most important feedback is about ‘softer skills’.

Let me explain.  It’s easy to give feedback about missing a deadline:
 - Manager Millie: why didn’t you get that report to me on Friday?
 - Charlie: There was too much on my plate, I thought I’d get to it, but I didn’t
 - Manager Millie: It’s all about prioritization, you should have set expectations earlier that you were struggling. We could have worked together to figure out the best approach. Perhaps we can do that next time, yes?
 - Charlie: I guess that makes sense

But how about this one:
 - Manager Millie: you know when you walked into the meeting yesterday?
 - Charlie: Erm….yeah
 - Manager Millie: well, you didn’t seem very happy from the get-go
 - Charlie: Erm….
 - Manager Millie: was there anything wrong?
 - Charlie: Erm…no. What do you mean, “I didn’t seem very happy”?
Ok, so I've chosen simple cases to make the point, but you can hopefully see where I’m coming from.  No matter the reason behiind your action (personal or work-related, intentional or unintentional) it makes an impact.  And if it’s feedback around a BEHAVIOR, it’s often much more difficult to pinpoint. But, that’s exactly what the good managers watch for, and manage to address.

The key is that behavior often influences people’s perceptions of you more than deliverables and the work that you achieve. It’s the WAY you work, the WAY you show up and participate in meetings, the WAY you interact with others. And the tricky part of this is that sometimes it’s easy to naturally do things that ‘give-off’… do I say this? Less than positive vibes, without even realizing it.
Ever been sitting at your desk, reading a really frustrating email thread, when someone appears behind your desk and brightly says ‘Hey! Got 5mins!?’? Your sour face says it all as you turn around and see their smiles drain. Ever been waiting for a meeting to start and someone walks in with a face like thunder, slumps into a chair and says no more than a word or two the whole meeting? Ever read an email response from someone and gone ‘wow, hope I never meet him/her, he sounds like a ****!’?
Some people are more perceptive or more empathic than others – many of you may not even notice these types of things, but many do. Formal review processes (such as the laborious Annual Review at Microsoft) are designed to remove judgment calls and put in place commitments against which people’s performance can be measured, but they are not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination.

The bottom line is that it’s human nature to judge, and at work judgment is related to performance and ultimately determines success. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be you. I’m not saying that you should dance around with a silly grin on your face, slapping everyone on the back every five minutes, but do take care to see the way that you come across. Everyone has off days and that’s expected, but what if it’s that off day when the CEO or Director is the one who’s watching? I’m just saying.

So for Managers, if you have a direct who has quirky ways and you suspect other’s opinions may be negatively influenced by them….tell them. Tell them with concrete examples. Tell them what IMPACT it has. Tell them that you’re telling them ‘cause the soft-skills are the things that matter and you’re keen to make sure they are successful.

And for Individuals, if your Manager, or anyone else for that matter, calls you on something, gives you feedback on the way you came across in a meeting.  Take a deep breath, thank them and think about it. 

Because whether or not you agree.....the perception is there.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Microsoft Managers get a bad wrap...

....and rightly so in my opinion.

Stacking up ten years at Microsoft, with almost a manager for every year, it's no wonder we're in trouble.  Business is all about relationships - finding them, nurturing them and using them to the best of your ability so that both sides get a good deal.

Management is no different.  Really.

In my opinion, this is the number one reason that managers fail.  They feel the power, the control and the responsibility to get the job done - and forget that they were once in that position.  With only a number of exceptions, people want to enjoy their working day.   What leads to enjoyment is not only what they are doing, but who they are doing it with - and their manager is a key player in that mix.

If you are smart, you will understand that it's down to your manager whether or not you succeed or fail (especially in the corporate world).   This is true, and as someone doing pretty well in the management discipline I'd love to explain how I do it.  But there is a flip's also about how YOU build your relationship with your manager. 

It's about the good stuff, the often intangible stuff - how to communicate successfully, how to understand the impact of perception and let's face it, how to ultimately play the game.

So this is it, my first blog post.  I hope that I can impart pearls of wisdom, hear and learn from others who can share their experiences and help people understand that it is possible to have a positive and rewarding experience working with your manager - and being one.