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.

1 comment:

  1. Great point re: giving context. I'm a big believer in "background," in much the same way.

    Early in my career, I had a manager who would call me into her office and spend a good bit of time each day telling me about HER day -- who she was planning to speak with, how she would approach tasks and people, etc. While it was interesting, I did often find myself thinking, "Is this really helping me get MY JOB done TODAY?" The short answer was "no" -- but it took me a while to realize that the more complete answer was, "It WILL HELP me (a great deal) in doing my job TOMORROW (as I'll have a much better sense of my bosses' goals and perspectives) -- which was, of course, her purpose in sharing all of this "background" information (i.e., "context") with me.

    This helped me a great deal at the time (particularly in knowing how to maneuver effectively in a fairly political culture) -- and it has been a technique that I've tried to use regularly with all junior team members that I've had the opportunity to mentor since that time.

    Michael Brisciana
    Twitter: MBrisciana_HR