It is a difficult time to be a manager whether one is managing a tiny team or a large global organization.
Several challenges from a) business model disruption caused by technological shifts which also makes managers question their own relevance b) distributed and unbundled work, c) the expectations and sensitivities of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, d) the rapid pace of change, e) a multi-generational and multi-ethnic workforce and f) the need to balance multiple stakeholder objectives from markets to purpose and values are causing stress, burn-out and self-doubt among many.
Management and leadership remain important in organizations of most sizes and the utopian belief of holacracy (self-management), or a hive mind form of distributed management has not yet taken the world by storm. Many of these theories collapse and crumble in the rough and tough world of people and market competition.
Managers and management are not going away.
Rather the best managers grow themselves and adapt to new challenges via a threefold path:
a) A focus on deliverables.
b) Optimizing via feedback.
c) Growing leadership and not just management skills.
A focus on deliverables.
Organizations exist to satisfy a customers stated or un-stated needs with some combination of product (hardware or software) and service.
Across all industries around the world, one sees the same eight customer/client needs.
Four of these expectations are focused on the what which is the quality of the product or service and four of them focus on the how which are about excellence of delivery.
The What/Outputs: 1) Quality product whether it be a piece of hardware, a tube of toothpaste or an advertising campaign is job one, 2) Insights about the customer or the client’s customer that makes them see things differently and identify new markets and opportunities, 3) Inspirational Design/ Ideas because differentiation usually happens here and 4) Value which is not just about price competitiveness, but the quality of output and outcome given the level of input.
The How/Process: 1) Collaboration with the customer’s other suppliers as every firm works in a world that is both connected and businesses need to match and mix the best of breed partners with minimum friction and drama, 2) Continuous improvement to keep up with new changes, trends and consumer needs, 3) Operating discipline in making deliveries on time and on budget, and 4) Values of the company including purpose, DEI and other quality of culture variables.
Amidst the tidal waves of changes and pressures confronting managers these customer/client needs are stars to steer and manage by.
Without customers and clients everything else is moot.
And since increasingly customers care about how talent is treated and the purpose of the company many of the key planks of purpose, values and DEI gain greater traction through this lens.
Optimizing via feedback.
To grow one needs to continuously improve.
A key ingredient to improvement is feedback.
Feedback however is both difficult to give and receive.
Feedback challenges are even more pronounced these days due to three factors:
a) Covid: an increasingly sensitive workforce emerging from a year of Covid-19 driven challenges with heightened emotions and changed mindsets.
b) DEI: a concern that criticism may be taken as a form of insensitivity or discrimination as companies rightly focus on ensuring Diversity, Inclusion and Equality.
c) Polarization: a polarized social and political environment.
The six steps to giving better feedback.
Best practices suggest that there are six approaches that can help people give and accept feedback in ways that recognize these and other realities.
1.Focus on how the task or the process could have been improved rather than criticize the person: By focusing on how an assignment could be done better the emphasis is in on the product and not the person.
2. Compare the shortfalls to a higher standard that might have been met on another project or another time: By recalling assignments or times where the individual or team did a great job, one re-enforces to the person or team that they are capable of having done better. The emphasis is on what was less than ideal on this occasion versus rather than believing the individual or team is incapable of doing a good job.
3. Make yourself sensitive and aware of extenuating circumstances: We all have bad days and many times these are a result of something else distracting us or worrying us in our lives. It may be illness, family issues or other challenges. By empathizing with an individual via wondering if there is a reason quality has slipped indicates both concern and humanity.
4. Provide input as specific as possible as to what could be done better: Pointing out what went wrong or was less than optimal is only one half of feedback. The more important half is showing or teaching or guiding on how one can improve. Identify either steps or training or changes that need to be made.
5. Identify the next opportunity or project for a do-over or try another take: By showing both how one can improve and then identifying an upcoming opportunity to put the feedback to work concentrates the mind and channels emotions to action and the possibility of correcting the shortfall.
6. Provide personal help and perspective: If feedback is provided in the context of what others have struggled with over the years or what you may have learned and improved it lets people know that mistakes, mess-ups, and other shortfalls are par for the course in career growth. By also asking how you can help re-enforces that you are on the persons side and are committed to try to make them improve.
In addition to giving feedback, it is important for managers to get feedback.
Three ways of ensuring one is getting feedback
1. Scan for signals: People are constantly providing feedback even if they are not vocalizing it. In some instances, you may gauge it in numerical signals from how well your writing is read, reacted to, or shared or whether you are invited to key meetings. Other times it is to watch facial and body language. You learn a lot by reading a room or a Zoom gallery.
2. Ask for feedback on a regular basis: One can do this with three simple questions which by the way they are framed ensure people are comfortable helping you since they are positive in tone:
a. What worked well?
b. If/when I do this next time what could be better?
c. Who do you think does what I need to do well and where can I learn more?
3. End of Day or Week Self Review: Most people know in their gut what worked or went well and what did not. Many successful individuals end the day or week with some variation of a quick review:
a. The Work: What went well with my work product that I feel proud signing it and what could have gone better?
b. The Team: What felt good and productive in the way I interacted with people and where could I have been better in some ways in handling my or someone else’s emotions?
c. The Improvement: What little improvement did I manage to make today or this week? A new habit. Learning a new approach. Strengthening a relationship.
Growing leadership and not just management skills.
A manager is not the same as a leader.
Every single person can be a leader.
Leader is not a title that is bestowed but a role that is lived.
Leader does not mean boss.
One can be a leader with zero minions or reporting staff.
People are assigned to bosses.
They follow leaders.
The six traits of leaders.
Everyone can learn and build the traits of a leader if they wish to and are disciplined about it.
Becoming a leader does not entail anyone else allowing it, awarding it or being able to take it away.
The six traits are 1) Competence, 2) Time Management, 3) Integrity, 4) Empathy, 5) Vulnerability and 6) Inspiration.
They are all internally driven and with discipline and time can be honed and sculpted.
1) Competence: If one’s skills are not current or up to date it is very hard to manage or lead other people. This is a key reason why every manager must set time aside to learn and keep current.
2) Time Management: Great managers do not waste their time or other people’s time by calling for useless check-ins and meetings. They also learn to balance the urgent and the important by allocating their own and other peoples time to projects that are key to operating today while also remaining competitive tomorrow.
3) Integrity: Trust is speed.
Trusted people rarely have the need to pull out multi-paged power point decks to convince their teammates, bosses, and clients about what they are recommending.
If one is not trusted, it is hard to be a leader.
Trust can be earned by placing a primacy on facts, being clear about one’s intentions and transparent about how one is making decisions.
4) Empathy: Leaders bring about change and achieve goals by bringing other people along with them.
To do so it is key to understand where people are coming from. What their fears, concerns, challenges as well as hopes, desires and dreams are.
5) Vulnerability: Vulnerability is strength and not a weakness.
By speaking about things, one worries about, one reveals humanity and comes off as believable.
It makes other people step up to try to help and offset your concerns or lack of competence with their or other people’s complimentary skills.
But as importantly it gives people the room to also speak up and point out other weaknesses that may exist not just with you but on projects that you are working on.
6) Inspiration: As Blaise Pascal wrote “We choose with our hearts, and we use numbers to justify what we did”.
After the facts and the data, after the PowerPoints and the spreadsheets we often remain unconvinced, dis-believing, and hesitant.
Yes, we are living in a data driven, silicon based, computing world but all of us are story driven, carbon based, feeling individuals!
Joan Didion wrote “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” and thus storytelling and examples bring a vivid reality to get people to rise to another level.
Learn to communicate through words, stories, art, and example.
Illustrations by Rob Hodgson.
Rishad Tobaccowala is an author, advisor, speaker, and educator who distills four decades of experience to helps people see, think, and feel differently so they can help grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More about Rishad’s advisory services, best-selling book, and the range of topics of the 10 popular workshops can be found here…https://rishadtobaccowala.com/