We wish every story were that simple.
Unfortunately, not every manager can “automagically” know when an employee has earned the responsibility that comes with a higher rung up the corporate ladder. And actually, it’s tempting to promote for emotional reasons: sympathy for a hire with financial troubles; a belief that longevity at the company in itself deserves a promotion; even pressure from an employee who pushes for one.
But before you promote your underling to an overling, it’s important to consider the reasons not to promote someone first.
When You Should Not Promote
First, giving someone a promotion means giving them more responsibility, perhaps management responsibility—and not every person is right for management. If the person you are promoting has a track record of looking down on their peers, not being able to say no politely, or is either too aggressive or too passive, they may not have the temperament for management. You can be setting someone up to fail, and the failure of a new manager also can mean failure for his or her team…and even failure for the company.
Second, promoting one person on your team can cause conflicts with the rest of the staff who are “left behind.” Other staff could question your judgment, especially if you promote the wrong person for the wrong reasons. Also consider whether the person would be able to supervise their current co-workers; if they are too emotionally close, it may be difficult for the change in roles to work.
Third and finally, requesting a promotion for your staff means asking for more funding for your department, and in cases where a company isn’t rapidly expanding, that can mean another department won’t have the funds to promote their staff.
With this in mind, there are two checklists to consider when evaluating whether your report is ready for promotion. The first is a basic threshold of qualities that are necessary, but not sufficient for promotion. The second list indicates a staff member is truly ready.
If your staff member isn’t hitting the mark on the list below, don’t even consider a promotion:
- The staff member is reliable, shows up on time, and maintains a positive attitude.
- The staff member keeps up with their work and perhaps is taking on a higher volume of work than they are expected to do.
- The staff member is receiving consistently positive responses from clients or customers, handles their work well, consistently achieves their goals—and you have measurable, concrete data to prove it.
When You Should Promote
Assuming your staff member meets all of the above criteria, the more you check off this list, the more likely the staff member is to be ready for promotion:
- The staff member presents new ideas to you or proposes and implements successful new initiatives.
- They volunteer to take on projects or deliverables to take things off your plate, and they follow through and succeed in these new initiatives.
- During times of growth in the company, the staff member can actually take on new responsibilities and job functions, such as supervising new staff.
- The staff member has technical competency, but also has the potential to lead and train others to achieve success.
- You have given the staff member a plan of action for achieving their career goal, and they can show you specific achievements that are in line with that plan.
- You are aware of the person’s strengths and weaknesses, and you have given them clear feedback, mentoring, or training to improve their weaknesses and leverage their strengths. By documenting their strengths through ongoing evaluation, you create a paper trail about their achievements that will be helpful when requesting their promotion.
- You have taken the time to be objective in your assessment of the person, and have tried to set aside your biases, fears, and even your personal liking for him or her.
- You have spoken with the person about the decision to promote him or her to the next level, and potentially, you have even interviewed them as if for a new position.
Promoting the wrong person at the wrong time can cause lasting damage. Done thoughtfully, promoting from within is one of the best ways to grow a company’s talent.
If you–or your company–isn’t ready to promote consider alternatives: Create a senior specialist role, which would allow a top technical performer to progress but without management responsibilities; add new job functions to an existing staff member and provide a gradual promotion pathway without an abrupt and radical new job role; or provide a bonus or other recognition aside from a full promotion.
Even if your staff member doesn’t get the promotion, recognizing that you’re being a go-getting champion is, for some people, its own reward.
To commemorate the start of the season, we’re presenting five of our favorite holiday posts from the past to help you avoid a similar fate, and even increase your productivity:
1. The 10 Worst Holiday Party Disasters
Stories of drunken CEOs, music-less karaoke, the worst icebreaker in the world, and more. Ho ho ho!
2. 10 Funniest Workplace Gift Debacles
Don’t miss the story about the office that was pressured to fund the CEO’s family ski trip!
3. 7 Ways to Wreck Employee Morale During the Holidays
Be sure you don’t make the holiday missteps that can send employee morale plummeting at this time of year.
4. The Ethical Dilemma of Holiday Gifts
Can gifts from clients and business associates cost you?
5. How the Holiday Craziness Can Make You More Productive & Creative
Workplaces often slow down around the holidays — but here are some ways to keep your productivity high and your creativity flowing (and no, they don’t involve excessive amounts of cookies and punch).
I spoke to Ron Karr, who is the author of the CEO Bestselling Book Lead, Sell or Get Out of the Way! He specializes in building High Performing Sales Cultures. Ron also mentors select VP’s and CEO’s in the Chief Revenue Officer Mastermind Group (CRO). In the following brief interview, Karr talks about how to effectively manage a sales team, the common misconceptions about managing, recruiting the right people, incentives for sales people and more.
Dan Schawbel: What are the common misconceptions about managing a sales force?
Ron Karr: Typically, sales managers are people who are promoted after they became a top producer. When one is promoted to management, their role changes. As a top producing rep, they were soley responsible for their success and acted in a certain way. As a manager, their success now is dependent on the actions of their sales people. Often, these managers will try and make their team members act the way they did as top producers. The fact is there are many strategies one can use to achieve success. The sales manager should be more concerned about whether or not the strategies the team members are using are solid enough to succeed, not in demanding they do it the same way the manager did it when they were in sales. Their job now is not to sell, but to coach, identify gaps and help develop their team. They must also identify tools that will help their salespeople become more efficient.
Schawbel: How do you go about recruiting the right sales people that will stay with you long term?
Ron Karr: The biggest mistake people make in recruiting is they fail to benchmark the job. What does the job need in terms of behavior, skills and values in order to produce the results desired? When you benchmark the position, it must be benchmarked for the results you want produced a year from now, not based on the results you are currently achieving. New hires are brought in to deliver better results than are currently being realized. Once the benchmark is achieved you then need to use an assessment tool to gauge the talent against the benchmark. Very rarely is any candidate ever a complete fit. However, some candidates are better fits than others. Assessments should never be used as the only decision criteria. They should uncover additional areas that need to be addressed in future interviews to help the hiring officials make the right decisions.
Secondly, you are best using an outside resource to help locate existing talent currently working that might be willing to change positions. You ideally want people who have experience in your industry and/or market segments. If you are a small company with limited resources, be careful about hiring someone from a big company. Big company personnel often have trouble acclimating themselves to a small company where they have to roll up their sleeves and do more with less resources. You want to make sure the candidate is a right fit for your type of business, environment and sales cycle.
Finally, make sure you have a robust hiring process that involves multiple interviews with different decision makers. Choreograph the questions based on needs and have the same questions asked by different interviewers to compare the answers. Multiple interviews allow you to see the candidate at different times in different situations. The more you see a candidate it becomes harder for the candidate to keep a mask on. In other words, you will tend to see below the warts the more you talk with someone.
Schawbel: What incentives, aside from money, are important to sales teams?
Ron Karr: Money is not often the reason people leave a sales position. A few years ago top producers in many industries were questioned as to why they left their current employer. Money was listed as number 5 out of 10 reasons. The number one reason was a lack of appreciation. We have to stroke the top producers and make sure they are feeling fulfilled and appreciated. That does not mean you have to become a slave to them. Sometimes top producers become a cancer because they feel the world revolves around them and their attitude impedes others from succeeding. I have seen several situations and in some cases advised clients to terminate their top producers when their behavior becomes an obstacle. While the short-term results can be devastating, the long-term outcomes are far superior compared to other situations where the top producers are negatively impacting others.
Schawbel: What are some of your tips for managing an entire sales force?
Ron Karr: A leader must look at the whole sales force as an entity. They must identify the moneymakers who are going to blow through their quotas and give them the tools they need to succeed and then get out of their way. Those are the A players. The B players should provide a good return on investment (earnings, benefits, expenses). These players need to be coached and their actions managed to ensure their success. C players are marginal performers who either have to bump up their performance or leave, as they are not paying for themselves.
The biggest mistake is managers often spend too much time on the C players trying to convert them. Rather, they should be identifying the gaps, coach the C players and give them clear guidance. If improvement is not shown in a proper period of time, they should be replaced. The players management should spend their most time on are the A Players followed by the B players. They will get a greater return on their investment from the A’s and B’s.
The key to managing an entire sales force is to think and act strategically.
If you’re a new manager or team lead, you might find yourself charged with leading work that’s already well in progress. How do you jump in and learn what you need to know in order to effectively drive it forward?
Here are three keys to successfully leading a project when you come in mid-stream.
1. Make sure that you’re clear on final outcomes. Rather than getting bogged down in process, focus first on what the project’s outcomes should be. Are you clear on what success would look like? Does everyone on your team have the same vision for a successful outcome? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” focus there first.
From there, you can look at whether the project plan that’s in place looks like it will lead to those outcomes.
2. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to sit down with the people playing key roles on the project and ask questions. No one is expecting you to come in knowing all the answers, and it’s not a sign of weakness to lean on team members to bring you up to speed. (In fact, what would be a sign of weakness is jumping in and trying to lead the work without first getting really familiar with the full landscape.)
In addition to project-specific questions that you’ll likely have as you look over the project plan, you’ll also want to know:
- Are we on track to meet the deadlines associated with the project? Are we on track to meet the goal of the project itself? How do we know?
- Have we done similar work before? If so, what went well? What could have gone better?
- Who will need to buy into the project and our approach? Have they already been consulted? At what stage do others need to sign off, if relevant?
- What might go wrong? What’s in place to guard against that?
- What are the most pressing current needs of the work, and how can we address them?
- What are the most pressing needs likely to be in a week/month/three months, and how can we address them?
3. Make suggestions if you have them, but don’t feel obligated to put your stamp on the work. Sometimes when a manager or team lead comes into a project midway through, they feel obligated to prove themselves by reshaping the work, even when doing so won’t improve it. Resist this urge if you have it. The most effective leads don’t mess with things that are working well, and teams can generally see right through this behavior anyway. You’ll earn credibility with your team if you’re secure enough not to remake the project just to establish your authority.
To be clear, you should of course make suggestions if – after doing the steps above – you have input that you genuinely think will strengthen the work. But if your newly inherited team already has things running smoothly, it can be a credit to you if you simply help them continue what they’re already doing.
Boston, MA — More than 100 Intuit QuickBase customers and partners hid from the bitter Boston cold recently for a day of training and inspiration. Held in Boston’s booming Innovation District, the QuickBase Boston Roadshow featured QuickBase training for beginners and advanced app builders alike.
“This was a really successful day,” says event organizer Beth Wright, marketing manager at QuickBase. “Not only did our attendees get to learn from our in-house experts, they also had plenty of opportunities to share tips and tricks with each other and enjoy some great food and drinks.”
Just after opening remarks by Intuit VP and QuickBase General Manager Allison Mnookin, attendees got a sneak peek at QuickBase Sync, a new feature that enables QuickBase users to connect to SalesForce.com and other cloud apps with just a few clicks. Sync is currently in early access, and is slated to be released to all QuickBase customers in 2015.
Leading the training sessions were the talented builders on the QuickBase team. From diagramming apps to building robust dashboards, attendees benefited from a range of educational options.
“There was definitely good energy in the room, and a lot of excitement in the room. I talked to a few customers who said they could improve their own apps right away based on what they learned here,” says MaryKate Gass, sales engineer at QuickBase.
On social media, that good energy was palpable:
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Want to hear about upcoming QuickBase events or suggest a city near you? Let us hear it!
If you feel like you need to issue nonflammable suits to your entire team because they always seem to be fighting fires when it comes to projects, it’s time to step back and reassess why the risk is always so high.
As Tom Kendrick points out in his book, “Identifying and Managing Project Risk,” there is always risk involved in any project, and some level of uncertainty. In fact, high-tech projects are particularly risky, he points out, because of the number of variables. In addition, such projects are often pushed to move faster than others even when budget, staff and time are scarce.
But projects that succeed, Kendrick argues, do so because their leaders do two things well.
“First, leaders recognize that much of the work on any project, even a high-tech project, is not new. For this work, the notes, records and lessons learned on earlier projects can be a road map for identifying, and in many cases avoiding, many potential problems,” he explains. “Second, they plan project work thoroughly, especially the portions that require innovation, to understand the challenges ahead and to anticipate many of the risks.”
If you’re ready to retire the daily use of flame-retardant suits for your team, here are some ways to effectively manage the risk in projects:
- Embed risk management into projects. Charles Bosler, a risk management expert, says that risk is “simple” because it is “anything that requires you to make choices about the future.” While risk can never be entirely eliminated from projects, Kendrick contends, it can be reduced – often with “minor incremental effort.” Michael Taylor, an experienced project risk manager with more than 30 years of experience, suggests that the best way to manage risk is to adopt a process that systemically deals with the overall problem of uncertain events and conditions.
- Be specific. Don’t allow “fuzzy” or poorly defined deliverables, because that can lead to failure, Kendrick explains. “If you do not know enough to define everything, convert the project in a sequence of smaller efforts that you can define, one after the other, and perform reviews and testing,” he suggests. Taylor suggests using process flowcharts, work breakdown structures and even brainstorming to identify risks.
- Communicate. Bart Jutte, a business analyst and project risk management expert, explains that project managers who experienced failure “were frequently unaware of the big hammer that was about to hit them.” The unsettling reality, he adds, it that someone did see the hammer but failed to tell the project manager. That’s why risk communication must be consistent, he argues. “If you have a team meeting, make project risks part of the default agenda (and not the final item on the list!),” he explains. “This shows risks are important to the project manager and gives team members a ‘natural moment’ to discuss them and report new ones.”
- Identify bottlenecks. Kendrick explains that when reviewing past projects and problems, look for the bumps in the road likely to occur again and then develop plans to avoid them. For example, budget and staffing shortfalls can often cause problems, so negotiate a budget reserve or extra bodies.
- Analyze. Taylor explains that a qualitative analysis should look at the probability of a risk condition, along with the impact from that risk. Once that is done, then the magnitude of those risks can be assessed. This “weighted risk factor” technique is calculated as: WRF=W1*RFTECH+W2*RFSCHED+W3*RFCOST
- “RF” means Risk Factor = (P+C) – (P x C).
- The value for weight (W) is dependent upon its project priority within the triple constraint.
- W1, W2, and W3 are valued 0 through 1.0 depending on the priorities of the project, and together must sum to 1.0.
Jutte notes that when project managers are examining the entire project, they can do a simulation “to show your project sponsor how likely it is that you finish on a given date or within a certain time frame,” along with a similar exercise for project costs.
Finally, risk experts advise that when assessing risks in the project, managers should also keep an eye out for opportunities.
“Make sure you create some time to deal with the opportunities in your project, even if it is only half an hour. Chances are that you see a couple of opportunities with a high pay-off that don’t require a big investment in time or resources,” Jutte suggests.
This process isn’t for everyone. But it’s extremely helpful for managers who can listen to the person with the problem as a neutral observer, ask the following questions, then hold up a mirror so he can see you’re only organizing or re-casting his thoughts.
This common-sense problem-solving strategy is unforgettable because it’s so straightforward and simple. As a manager, you can help your team with this DIY approach—and you won’t even have to call HR.
The four questions:
- What is the problem?
- What have you done to solve the problem?
- In trying to solve the problem, what have you learned about it?
- What’s your action list?
As you’ll see, your most complicated step is defining the problem, which after discussing with your management and your team, you realize the definition differs from person to person—as does the solution.
How does that look in practice? Here are a couple of real-world examples.
Pro tip: Sometimes a box of tissues and a cup of tea are useful.
B., a highly respected middle manager, came into the office in tears. “This company is not family-friendly!” she said. “I’m going to have to get a divorce, and it’s all because of this place!”
Step 1. To define the problem, we talked. On Saturdays, both B. and her partner worked on site to close out the week’s business, while their babysitter watched their children. Lately, though, her department was closing the week just a little bit later. Meanwhile, her partner’s responsibilities at work had grown, and she was staying later, too. But the babysitter needed to leave on time. Ultimately, we determined that job and child-care stress was negatively impacting their relationship.
Step 2. What had they done to solve the problem? Both were staying later at work, and the babysitter had to leave at the usual time. Both had tried to leave their workplaces earlier, but neither office was enthusiastic about that. They tried to switch off weeks with each other, but negotiating the switch caused fights.
Step 3. In trying to solve the problem, what did we learn? We found that changes in both partners’ jobs created stress. B.’s partner’s job seemed to be growing, perhaps surpassing her responsibilities and earning power. We also learned the couple’s stress was contagious – to the babysitter, to each other, and to their children.
Step 4. We put several potential solutions on B.’s action list. First, maybe B. needed to try to leave on time – or pass off duties to her deputy. Second, her partner could do the same. Third, the babysitter could be asked to stay an hour later regularly, or perhaps they could find a sitter who could work later. Fourth, they both might need to consider switching jobs. Fifth, either or both of them might work all or part of a shift from home on Saturdays.
Takeaway: More than one solution might technically solve the problem, but which of them will work best depends a great deal on the people involved. Keep an open mind and, if possible, try more than one to see which works out best.
S., a top professional and a linchpin of his department, stopped me in the hall. “I’ve just been to employee relations. I’m filing a complaint against the company about religious discrimination.”
Step 1. As an Orthodox Jew, S. needs to be home to light candles every Friday before sunset, and with winter’s onset, the days were shorter, so he needed to leave earlier. His previous manager, who was also Orthodox, had been promoted, and his new manager criticized him for leaving early. The department had taken on new responsibilities just as business was turning down, and his colleagues felt their jobs were at risk. When he left early, he said, they whispered about him.
Step 2. Trying to work out the problem, he told several co-workers quietly that he didn’t feel comfortable with the new boss, which didn’t sit well with them. He explained that they could leave early to pick up kids from school occasionally, and he felt his religion was at least as important as their kids. He felt his job was especially at risk.
Step 3. What did he learn? Complaining to co-workers was not a winning solution. Co-workers were sympathetic, but the business downturn made everyone twitchy.
Step 4. His action list: First, he made an appointment with his old boss to ask for her advice. Second, we agreed that he needed to talk directly to his current boss and explain the scheduling issue. Third, he would offer to “make up” the time by staying late or arriving early. Fourth, if it seemed appropriate, he would emphasize that he was meeting and even exceeding his goals: He would be clear that his performance was excellent, and that performance is measured not by time in the chair, but rather by achievement of mutually agreed-upon goals.
Takeaway: Some problems aren’t always solved by one big fix, but by lots of little ones. Any or all of the action list items might help, but all of them are worth pursuing. In this specific issue, managers should be alert to the laws concerning religious discrimination; make sure your company doesn’t run afoul of them.
Z., a boutique content marketing consultant, called in a panic to say her business checking account balance was down to $218.31. She told me, “I am going to have to fold my startup and go back to the office job I hate.”
Step 1: The problem is money. Z. has one big client and several small ones. The big client slow-paid every time, and this time she didn’t have enough cash on hand to cover basic expenses. This financial insecurity made her yearn for stability at work, even work she hated. She also found it hard to think when she was in a no-money panic.
Step 2: Z. needed cash to pay for hosting her website, her credit card bill, and her part-time assistant, plus recurring business software subscription. She had called the big client to collect, but the client was out of the country. She tried to gin up some other business quickly but wasn’t having much success.
Step 3: Emergencies happen, Z. learned, but if every month is an emergency, there’s a systemic problem. Businesses need budgets and cash flow. Z. had run much of her business without a strict financial plan for three-and-a-half years, with only one or two hair-raising events like this one. But it was clear that she needed more than one big-money client.
Step 4: First, she asked her husband for a $5,000 loan to get some breathing space. Second, she committed to use part of the loan to hire a bookkeeper and make a strict budget. Third, she went to sell her second-biggest client up to a bigger line of business. Fourth, she conducted a long-overdue exercise to create her goals and a five-year plan.
Takeaway: Sometimes to solve a problem you first need to mitigate it: Give yourself some much-needed breathing space so you can tackle it properly. But having bought yourself time, do not waste it by dithering—get a solid action plan together and execute it.
With Thanksgiving approaching, now is a good time to think about how you show thanks at work. Showing gratitude to colleagues can build stronger relationships and help you get better results in your work.
After all, think about times that you went out of your way to help a colleague. When they made it clear how much they appreciated your assistance, didn’t that make you feel good about the relationship – and maybe make you go out of your way for them in the future? And if you’ve had the experience of helping someone who barely acknowledged your assistance, you probably wondered if your efforts had gone unnoticed – which isn’t exactly a recipe for enthusiasm the next time they need help.
But not only does showing gratitude make people more inclined to help you in the future, it also has a real impact on the relationship itself. People tend to feel warmly and positively toward people who appreciate them. It’s a lot tougher to get irritated with someone who recently told you how much they appreciate your work. And in some cases, showing gratitude can even set you up for long-term strong bonds – bonds that can be a reward on their own, but which can also have real ramifications for things like networking, references, and your overall quality of life at work.
Why not think about the coworkers who have made your work life easier and let them know? You can do this in a few different ways:
1. Tell them face-to-face. You don’t need to issue a formal thank-you note; it’s fine to simply pop into someone’s office to issue a thank-you. For instance: “Jim, I don’t think I ever thanked you for helping me with the Miller report last month. I know you stayed late several nights to do it, and your editing made a big difference in the final product. I was so thrilled with how you pulled everything together, especially the ending section, which I know was a mess when I gave it to you. You really worked magic with the language, and I can’t thank you enough.”
(Note the specifics in there. The more specific you can be about exactly what you appreciated, the more valued your thank-you will probably be.)
2. Send a note. So few people send written notes these days, especially in informal relationships, that doing it can make a real impression. If you take the time to write out an expression of gratitude, many people will cherish it forever.
3. Send a note to your colleague’s manager (cc’ing your colleague). If someone has done great work for you, in addition to thanking them, you might consider letting their manager know as well. You can do this about their work on a specific project, or you can write to let them know how generally ___ (helpful/talented/efficient) the person is.
This can pay off in increased recognition for the person, and is the type of thing that’s often mentioned in performance reviews and even taken into account when raises and other rewards are being considered. And if nothing else, it will make the person you’re writing about feel great.
I spoke to Mark Walsh, who writes the number two ranked management training blog, hosts the number one training YouTube Channel and is one of the most “followed” trainers on Twitter worldwide (35,000+ followers). Walsh has done coach training with several organizations and most recently graduated from Newfield Network’s “Theory and Practice of Ontological Coaching.” He is also a long-term meditator with experience running numerous retreats and training courses on meditation and mindfulness. His business training experience includes working with Unilever, The UK House of Lords, Virgin Atlantic, and The NHS.
Dan Schawbel: How do you manage your stress, while ensuring all of your work gets done on time?
Mark Walsh: I commit to what I can handle -matching promises with personal capacity is key. I also have a program of stress management as I teach this and try to embody what I teach – involving many embodied practices from weights, to Aikido to dance – each fulfills different functions and I mix and match like a DJ to lead my state and long-term, my disposition. Meditation is a big help – I practice various kinds form Buddhist traditions, again which can be matched to circumstances – e.g. more metta meditation when angry, more sympathetic joy when jealous, etc; supported by ethics which are the basis of peace of mind, not tricks. Having a sacred morning routine with some ritual – even if in a hotel room, no matter what, is a support I recommend, whatever your faith or lack of. Routine and habit can be friends or foes. The basics such as diet and sleep matter a lot and you can’t “cheat your system” – it’s bad bodily economics to not invest in these.
My diet is basically healthy vegetarian with low sugar and carbs but with some pure pleasure food for joy. It’s about balance, not getting too uptight. Lots of water to keep the brain working and ensuring regular breaks from sitting! Good quality and quantity sleep and naps when that’s not possible. It’s really about prioritizing these as everyone knows this. Social support is the other big one – we’re inter-resilient and making time for friendships is a foundation. I also like some stress so I make sure things don’t get too easy either – challenge is another fuel.
Schawbel: What are some of your tips for building a high performing team and for ensuring that everyone meets their objectives?
Walsh: Centre yourself – state management counts – there are many methods for this and we have some free ones on YouTube. Listen – this is the basis of good communication and teams. Objective setting is just basic management – having clear role allocation and giving doable SMART requests is the key and checking-in regularly. Understand a basic typology such as MBTI and recruit and communicate with this in mind – the same thing does not work for all people and teams need a balance of types not just photocopies of the leader! Use clear linguistics such as requests – who, what when. We use a system called the “action cycle” that comes from Chilean linguists and creates accountability – this is the key thing. On a deeper level – know that you are going to die. Really know this, and connect to what matters for you and let this motivate and kill you. Also – thank people sincerely. And tea, tea helps.
Schawbel: How do you balance helping your direct reports with their careers, while achieving important business goals?
Walsh: There is no contradiction here. If I’m not also serving the people I work with a) what’s the point? b) I won’t meet the long term goals as they won’t be bought-in. I “unask” your question as the Zen master said to the squirrel.
Schawbel: Are all managers leaders and are all leaders managers? Why or why not?
Walsh: Language wars aren’t for me. We are all leaders and make choices if we have awareness – this is the basic “equation” of personal growth, business success and leadership. Others have covered the leader-manager distinction better than I can, I think.
Schawbel: How do you ensure that you’re always communicating properly with your team?
Walsh: The job gets done? There is some harmony and personal growth not burn-out? I guess these are “I, we and it” measures but nobody “always” communicates as they would like – it’s a hit and miss thing but we can learn to have more hits by getting feedback and learning awareness range and choice in how we communicate. Sometimes something as simple as asking, “What did I just ask you guys to do?” helps, or getting feedback on my style either directly, by asking or though videotaping myself for example – that can be an educational shock! In the embodied method I teach, we work with exercises which reveal unconscious patterns of universal communication which are very helpful. Once you learn range in this regard things get smoother and human beings are human so things will happen.
1. Why some superstars struggle to bond with their teams
New research featured in the Harvard Business Review finds that even in collegial, well-run workplaces, high performers are perceived as different and can be subjected to negative behavior from their coworkers, like sniping or lack of cooperation. “Average performers worry that you’re making them look bad,” reports HBR. “If they can bring you down a notch, they can alleviate (or at least they think they can alleviate) their negative feelings by reminding you what an ‘acceptable’ level of performance looks like.”
The researchers note that “benevolent high achievers” – those who are sensitive to what’s fair for others and put others’ needs ahead of their own – don’t receive nearly as much of these negative feelings: “Practicing thoughtfulness and cooperativeness really does work to defuse your colleagues’ impulse to take you down.”
2. Having a bad boss can make you sick
Having a bad boss can make you sick, reports the Washington Post in a round-up of research demonstrating that bad bosses are linked to an increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, sleep problems, anxiety, overeating, and more. What’s more, the longer you work with a bad boss, the worse the health effects become. (We’re defining bad bosses here are bosses who are hypercritical, unfair, inept, hostile, or harassing.)
It’s one more reason to vet a prospective boss before taking a job, and to appreciate the good ones. And it’s further fodder for managers of other managers to make sure that the managers beneath them are managing fairly and effectively.
3. Americans are taking less vacation time than ever
Americans are taking less vacation time than at any other point in the last four decades and collectively lost a total of 169 million days of paid time off last year, surrendering $52.4 billion in benefits, according to a new report from Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association. These were vacation days that were earned but went untaken, and which couldn’t be rolled over or paid out.
Last year, American employees took an average of 16 days of vacation, compared to an average of 20.3 days in 2000.
Of course, the travel industry has an incentive to encourage workers to take more vacation time – but so do employers, who benefit from having a rested, refreshed workforce.
Solar panel installations have tripled in the past three years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, and continue to grow rapidly.
In southern California, Sullivan Solar Power is leading the solar power revolution. One of the fastest-growing solar installers in the industry, Sullivan Solar Power has grown from a scrappy startup to a $30 million company in just a few years.
Growth is good, naturally, but managing growth can be a challenge. At Sullivan Solar Power, managing an exploding volume of leads became increasingly difficult with a spreadsheet-based system, which was both inconsistent (some leads were called by multiple sales reps, others by none) and impossible to report on.
To scale with its ambitions, Sullivan Solar Power built a sales management app on Intuit QuickBase. The app helped streamline the lead-to-close process and organize key data so sales leaders can run robust reports. Best of all, Sullivan Solar Power was able to get this app up and running quickly, with no coding required.
As it continued to grow, Sullivan Solar Power looked to expand its use of QuickBase into a platform in which all of its key applications communicate and share the same data. To help build out its solution, the company turned to Sympo, a QuickBase Solution Provider with deep experience in building process-based systems.
Within a few months, Sullivan Solar Power was powering its entire sales process from QuickBase. Leads generated online automatically populate new records in QuickBase, which are then assigned to sales reps using a “round robin” process. Data from the front-to-back process is all captured in QuickBase and can be used to generate deeply insightful reports.
“Sympo spoke our language. As soon as they came on board, things really started to happen,” says Chagala.
In the future, Chagala hopes to get even more out of QuickBase by integrating it more deeply with the company’s website — for example displaying a running counter of how many kilowatts of electricity Sullivan Solar Power’s installations have generated. It’s all part of a growing system that maximizes efficiency while minimizing waste — something Sullivan Solar Power does best.
The gap between your company’s sales efforts and strategy can be a huge vulnerability, says a new book. But there are ways to link your go-to-market initiatives with strategic goals.
If you want people in the field to understand your strategic initiatives and demonstrate behaviors that will drive profitable growth, then there must be a clear roadmap to drive that alignment, says Frank Cespedes, author of “Aligning Strategy and Sales: The Choices, Systems, and Behaviors That Drive Effective Selling.” He discusses the issue with Anita Bruzzese in this two-part interview.
AB: You note in the book that advice to managers often focuses on either selling skills or business strategy, but not both. Why is that a problem?
FC: There is no such thing as effective selling if it’s not tied to the company’s goals and economics. Selling, no matter how clever and creative, can’t generate sustained returns if it’s not linked to good strategy. And this is a big problem for many companies.
Selling is, by far, the biggest part of strategy implementation. U.S. firms spend more than three times on selling than they do on all consumer media advertising, more than 20 times what they spend on all online media, and more than 100 times what they currently spend on social media. Yet, studies find that, on average, companies deliver only 50-60% of the financial performance that their strategies and sales forecasts promise. You can see why investment bankers and other capital-market analysts tend to be a cynical bunch: companies regularly over-promise and under-deliver in their strategy results.
Advice that focuses on strategy or sales in isolation contributes to the problem. This should be a two-way street. Strategy provides necessary direction for sales efforts, and information from sales about customers is vital to keep strategy relevant to market realities today, not yesterday.
AB: You say that surprisingly few companies can answer the question, “who are, and are not, our customers?” Sales people are simply told to sell to anyone. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t salespeople supposed to sell as much as they can?
FC: When you look at sales compensation plans—and you should, because sales people look closely at how they are paid–you find that most tie bonuses and other monetary incentives to volume sales metrics. In effect, the plan is saying to salespeople, “Go forth and multiply!” That’s what those sales reps do. They sell to anyone and, in the process, fragment the company’s resources and brand across an often incoherent portfolio of accounts.
Companies make most investment decisions in order to attract and retain customers. Then, as customers buy and use their products, companies modify their products and processes in the directions generated by those selling activities. Soon, it really doesn’t matter what the strategic planning documents say. The real “strategy” of the company is the aggregate allocation of assets driven by that essentially ad hoc sales process.
Every customer is not a good customer. Every firm can serve some customers better or worse than others. Customer selection is crucial: it affects the seller’s value proposition, required sales tasks, and internal capabilities. In a competitive market, if you don’t choose, others will eventually choose for you: either competitors or, in voting with their feet, current and prospective customers.
AB: How can leaders drive effective sales behavior that supports the organization’s strategy?
FC: The basic idea is this: In business, value is created or destroyed in the marketplace with customers. The market includes the industry you compete in, the customer segments where you choose to play, and the buying processes at customers that you sell and service. Those factors should inform a strategy and its sales tasks—what salespeople must be good at to deliver value and implement that strategy effectively.
Then, assuming a coherent strategy, the issue is aligning actual selling behaviors with the required tasks. Managers basically have three levers to do that:
- People: Who are your salespeople? What do they know? How do you hire and develop their skills so they can execute your strategy’s tasks? Are you relying on generic selling methodology or what they learned at another firm that made a different set of strategic choices?
- Control systems: This is performance management practices, including sales compensation, incentives, and the metrics used to measure sales effectiveness.
- Sales environment: This is the wider company context in which sales initiatives get developed and executed, how communication works (or not) across organizational boundaries and how sales managers (not just sales reps) are selected and developed.
Selling effectiveness is an outcome of these factors, not only the result of heroic efforts in the field. And this has very practical implications. If you’re a sales manager, this way of thinking can change how you select and use available resources, how you develop and allocate sales people, and how you look at your own career and development. And if you’re a CEO, board member or some other leader evaluating sales numbers, it can help you to avoid being a sucker for glib generalizations and outright stereotypes about selling—and, believe me, as someone who has worked with lots of companies and served on boards, it happens.
AB: You’ve said that organizations must recognize that aligning strategy and sales is a leadership issue and that “a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” Can you explain?
FC: The quote is from a John le Carre novel, and it should be on a plaque on every executive’s desk. This is a leadership issue for numerous reasons.
One reason is that strategic planning in firms often generates a disconnect that damages effective implementation and profitable growth. About two-thirds of companies treat planning as an annual event, typically as part of the capital-budgeting process. Companies tend to do plans by business unit or P&L unit, even when sales sells across those units. The average corporate planning process takes an estimated 4-5 months per year. While this is going on, the market does what the market will do, and sales must respond issue by issue and account by account. In other words, even if the output of planning is a great strategy (clearly, a big if), the process itself often makes it irrelevant to sales executives.
Another reason is the fundamental role that sales plays in the value of an enterprise—and I mean things like stock price and valuation. For example, executives know that cost of capital is important, but most don’t connect that driver of value and their company’s selling efforts. Financing needs in most firms are driven by the cash on hand and the working capital required for conducting and growing the business. Most often the single biggest driver of cash-out and cash-in is the selling cycle. Accounts payables are accumulated during selling, and accounts receivables are largely determined by what’s sold, how fast, and at what price. That’s why customer selection, increasing close rates, and accelerating sales cycles are strategic issues and not only sales tasks.
Interactions with customers affect all elements of enterprise value creation and, in many firms, the sales force is the sum of those interactions. Strategy, growth, or attempts to increase the stock price without attention to this fact are at best limited and, at worst, going down the wrong path.
But many executives, years removed from customer contact, are often unaware of these links. That’s why C-Suite leaders must regularly get into the field. If they don’t, then I guarantee that, no matter how many consulting projects or big-data initiatives they fund, they are unaware of important factors driving their business.
The second part of this interview will look at how to hire sales people who are better aligned with strategy and sales.
Most people with project management experience are familiar with Cobb’s Paradox. The term was coined when Canadian Martin Cobb was serving as secretary of the treasury board in the mid-90s and famously asked the question:
“If we know why projects fail and we know how to prevent their failure, why do they still fail?”
“This sounds good, but is it really possible? And is it even desirable? Do we want to limit the scope and ambition of our projects to only those that we are certain can succeed? Or will this reduce innovation, creativity and appropriate risk-taking? A spectator at a recent Cirque de Soleil performance was heard to say: ‘I want to see them do things that they can only do half the time.’ Isn’t this what every project sponsor or portfolio manager should be saying?
In fact, this is exactly what I’ve always claimed about true innovators. They throw a bunch of ideas against the wall and watch to see if one sticks. They fully expect that most of their projects will never see the light of day – it’s just part of the process. But then when one does stick, it’s wildly successful, so it’s worth all the failures it took to get there.
Hillson said that understanding how to prevent failure cannot and should not prevent it from happening. In addition to the innovation argument, he mentions several rationales that I’ve paraphrased here:
All projects are risky
Uncertainty is built into every project because each one is unique and complex, based on assumptions and dependencies, and involves fallible human beings. Although the degree of risk might vary, the zero-risk project does not exist. This means that the probability of success for any project is less than 100 percent.
Most projects include unmanageable risk
We aim to manage risk in our projects, but risk management can never be 100 percent effective. As a result, some unmanageable risks will occur on every project, challenging our ability to meet schedules, budgets or performance requirements. While obviously not the ideal scenario, on some projects, the effect of unmanaged risk will be so significant that these projects will fail.
Projects should exist in a risk-balanced portfolio
The concept of risk efficiency should be built into each project portfolio, with a balance between risk and reward. A balanced portfolio will include some high-risk/high-reward projects as well as projects that are nearly guaranteed to succeed. It’s natural that projects in the former group do not always deliver the hoped-for results.
Failure to learn
Human beings are adept at repeating our mistakes. We don’t examine past failures to learn lessons for future projects, and so we fail again for the same reasons. The level of comprehension regarding why a project failed may vary, but what’s consistent is human unwillingness to dig under the surface.
As many executives are familiar with Cobb’s Paradox and prepared to wield it against project managers from whom they expect bulletproof results, PMs should be on guard.
As usual, communication is your most effective weapon. At the start of every project, manage expectations. Help your sponsor and other stakeholders understand that all projects carry risk, and that your goal to deliver the best return on investment may increase that risk. Tell them that you will do your best to make decisions to minimize the risk as much as possible, but just like in life, nothing in project management is certain.
You’ve gathered input and heard people out, and then made the ultimate decision – but now you’ve got a team of unhappy staff members who wish it had gone a different way. How do you get them on board so that you’re all working in the same direction?
Four of our workplace experts have weighed in on this question to give you four points of view.Alison Green says:
Well, first, you did the right thing by gathering input from your team before making the decision. Too often, managers make decisions that will affect team members without first giving people a chance to weigh in, and that increases the chances that you’ll get push-back. So it’s good that you consulted with people from the start.
However, now that you’ve chosen a different direction than they would have preferred, make sure that you’re being transparent about why. Explain the factors that you weighed and why you ultimately came out where you did, being specific about acknowledging the input that you considered. For instance, you might say, “I considered Jay’s point about X but ultimately felt it was outweighed by Y because …” And, “I heard you, Sarah, about the importance of X, but my bigger concern was Y because…” The point is to make sure people feel you truly did hear them and that your soliciting their input wasn’t just lip service.
From there, assuming you’re still sure that your decision is the right one, you’ve got to all move forward as one team. Decisions won’t always go everyone’s way, and that’s okay; what matters is that people feel heard (covered above) and that they’re willing to try to help make the decision a success. That’s what you want to convey now. You might also say something like, “Let’s see how this plays out in the coming months. We can revisit it down the road if we need to, but for now I’d like us all to move forward with this.” If you’ve built a strong team and done a solid job leading it, you should have the credibility and respect with your staff that they’ll be willing to move forward with you, even though the decision didn’t go their way.Alexandra Levit says:
I suppose my first question to you is: do you still believe you made the right decision? If so, then you want to give your team members an infusion of motivation so that they will trust your direction and be more productive carrying it out.
Passion is an important element here. The best leaders are enthusiastic – they’re out in front evangelizing the need for change. They are able to describe in detail why the change is in the best interest of the organization and its employees. They counter fear by portraying a desirable future state that team members will want to go above and beyond to realize. It’s hard to be critical of someone who is earnest and excited in the quest for positive change, and your team members’ anger should gradually dissipate.
Communication is the second key ingredient. It’s your job as the leader to explain to each team member why and how their role is essential to overcoming the hurdles inherent in the decision. Empower them by challenging them to come up with unique and efficient ways to meet the challenges associated with the change. Tell them you understand their frustration that things haven’t gone as they wanted/expected, and make it clear that you do value their feedback and consider it seriously. Team members should continue to feel comfortable approaching you about prospective changes, and should know that their efforts to improve operations are not for naught.
If you think you may have made a mistake, passion and communication are still important, but so are honesty and vulnerability. Your team members will respect you admitting that perhaps your decision wasn’t the best. Emphasize that you made the best call based on the information available to you at the time, and that you’ll need their support and collaboration to move forward. Maintain your composure even if the situation seems dire – if you have a “life goes on” attitude, your team will follow suit.Eva Rykrsmith says:
You are doing the right thing by getting buy-in up front. Resolving this now will save time, resources, and help avoid delays and conflicts down the road. Though you’ve sought out different perspectives, it sounds like you are still missing alignment. There might be several reasons for this:
(1) Black and white thinking: My way is right; the other way is wrong.
(2) Though your team feels their opinion was heard, they perceive they were not fully understood.
(3) There are unresolved needs, wants, or issues. The decision may be threatening in some way.
To get the team fully on board, go back and open the lines of communication again. Maintain respect for a difference in opinion and from a place of curiosity, try to understand why they are seeing things differently. Isolate the specific area that is causing consternation.
Courses of action from there might be compromise and negotiation. Each individual needs to want to be on board. However, if this is a recurring pattern for your team, it may be more than simply task-associated disagreement, and a broader issue of disrespect and relationship troubles. In that case, there may be an alternative root cause—the steps to resolution are to invest in your own leadership development.
Most of all, look at this as an opportunity. You may still have missing information. The team may intuitively know of obstacles you will face, but may not have a way of articulating them. Working through this tension, asking insightful questions, and patiently listening can bring new ideas or strategies that lead to a greater success.Anita Bruzzese says:
Gather your team together and explain that you valued their input, but based upon X, Y and Z, you made your decision. Keep your explanation simple, but friendly. You don’t have to go into long-winded reasoning, but do let them know that you listened carefully to what they had to say. Then, move into the benefits of your decision. For example, maybe you ran the numbers and discovered that your decision will save money in the long run, allowing you room in the budget to give across-the-board raises next year. Or, maybe it will make your unit more productive, and help avoid layoffs. Finally, meet individually with the influencers on your team, and work to understand their concerns and areas where you may be able to agree and move forward. This will help you capitalize on any consensus and make it easier to persuade them to see the value in your decision – and help others do the same. Above all, keep communicating with your team. This is the time to make sure you are approachable and don’t alienate them with a “do-it-because-I-said-so” attitude.
You may notice a few more mustaches than usual around the neighborhood or office this time of year. Could it be a drop in razor sales? More likely it’s due to the fact Movember has become a global initiative and has been growing (no pun intended) more popular every year. Much like people wear pink in October to support breast cancer awareness, Movember encourages its participants to grow a mustache to raise awareness and raise funds for testicular cancer, prostate cancer and men’s health awareness. It’s become a very popular cause for offices to create a Movember team and participate as a fun way to get people involved in a unique charity event.
Last year, there were a few people interested in the QuickBase Cambridge office, so we started to build our team. We Care and Give Back is one of Intuit’s key operating values, so engaging charity events are a big part of our culture here. To help build the buzz and get people involved, I turned to QuickBase as a tool that could help me out. I ended up making a very simple app, where employees could nominate a colleague to participate and pledge to donate money if they follow through. The app was as simple as possible, asking for a name and dollar amount, then used notifications to inform the nominee to sign up and a few reports of our results on the dashboard.
“I look terrible with a mustache” is one of the common objections to participating in Movember, but the truth is that your new facial hair is meant to prompt questions which allow for the awareness part of the campaign to take place. It gives you a chance to talk about the Charity and what you are doing and why you are participating. Because growing a mustache can be a difficult or uncomfortable decision, the nomination process and support from colleagues was very helpful in getting those that were on the fence to participate. This QuickBase app really caught on, turned out to be a lot of fun, and shot our participation numbers through the roof. Our Cambridge office ended up raising more money than any other of the 15 participating Intuit sites. After Intuit matching our donations, we raised just under $15,000 for the Movember charity.
This year, we’re back at it again. The Mustache growing started on November 1st and the donations are starting to come in. The QuickBase Movember app has been rolled out globally to other Intuit sites, from Bangalore to Mountain View, and the app is also available in the QuickBase Exchange. This year, the Intuit Network has 341 total participants, and some of the money has already started to roll in. Movember is starting to become an Intuit tradition, and we were very excited when our CEO Brad Smith decided to join the fun this year, and maybe next year you will too.
On November 19th, Intuit QuickBase is hosting a user training event in Boston. The training offers two tracks created for our beginner and advanced users. The day also provides a great opportunity for our customers to network with local users and the QuickBase team.
While this event is sold out, we will be offering future training events around the country, so be sure to get on our Event Mailing List to receive first access.
Meet some of our QuickBase instructors for this event that we’ll cover live on Twitter using hashtag #QuickBaseBOS:
Benjamin Buday, Sales Engineer
Training Session: Diagramming Your New QuickBase App
What I’ll be covering: All good apps start with good planning. By learning to create visual diagrams for new app ideas, you’ll cut down on app-building time, create more efficient and delightful apps, and will learn faster how to implement your ideas in QuickBase.
My favorite thing about QuickBase: That you can do anything with it. I use it to manage my band, and I just used it to plan a successful journey through Iceland, as you can see in my photo!
Training Session: Customizing Forms and Dashboards
What I’ll be covering: How to create and customize awesome app home pages and forms first hand!
My favorite thing about QuickBase: All the different options and tools it gives people to build their own solution. As a Sales Engineer, I get the chance to see many of our customers’ applications. I enjoy seeing how people choose to leverage the QuickBase features to solve their problems. Some apps are elegant while others are eccentric but all apps are ultimately addressing a problem. It is always impressive to me to see how customers, with very similar problems, choose very different solutions. There are so many ways to use QuickBase!
Training Session: Cross App Relationships and Table to Table Imports
What I’ll be covering: In this session we will discuss how to move data between applications and tables. This is more than a standard table to table relationship, we will explore the tables connected to tables of other applications. Join us while we work with these options in “live” QuickBase.
My favorite thing about QuickBase: QuickBase is the most fun you can have. Every day there is a new customer idea and need. Customer’s ask questions and we collaborate on possible solutions. “Fun-fun-fun!” I am fond of saying, “If you can say it, you can do it.”
Marsha Jacobs: Sales Engineer
Training Session: Core Features: Reports and Roles
What I’ll be covering: This session will show how to create many different types of Reports and how to manage Roles and permissions. I’ll being highlighting how you can segment and present your data in a meaningful way to many different users of your system.
My favorite things about QuickBase: How customizable it is!
I spoke to Scott Monty, who was ranked by The Economist as one of the top 5 of the 25 Social Business Leaders and by Forbes as one of the top 10 influencers in social media. He has been called “an unstoppable force of nature” and Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company, called him “a visionary.” As Executive Vice President of Strategy at SHIFT Communications, Scott contributes to the firm’s thought leadership while developing new agency services, offering strategic counsel to clients, publicly representing SHIFT at events, and widening the firm’s partnership opportunities. From 2008-2014, Scott headed the social media function at Ford Motor Company and held the title Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager. In the following brief interview, Monty talks about how marketing works in large companies, how he manages his time, working with teams, and how marketing is every employees responsibility.
Dan Schawbel: How does marketing, especially social media marketing, work in a big organization like Ford and how does it change at a smaller firm like SHIFT?
Scott Monty: Marketing is fundamentally the same no matter what size of organization you work for. The difference really comes in scale and in coordination. As you can imagine, there are all sorts of difficulties in coordinating across multiple departments within marketing at a large organization, and certainly across the world. The benefit of a large multinational marketing organization is that you have the experience, expertise and regional pilot programs from all over the world that can benefit the entire organization. This includes relationships with large platforms and networks whose sales, marketing and development teams will regularly work with large marketers.
A smaller company can be more nimble and more responsive to market changes. In addition, a small company might have the ability to try to execute a number of pilot programs in a very short period of time, while a larger company is still trying to gain momentum.
Schawbel: What does a typical day look like for you now and how do you best manage your time?
Monty: Well my commute is certainly a lot shorter! Typically my day starts with checking headlines, news sites, blogs and other sources to inform me. Obviously email is an important part of the day, as is instant messaging. And then the schedule will vary by day, with internal meetings, networking events, lunches with industry contacts, etc. but it’s important to keep in touch with the industry as a whole and certainly with each of our offices.
Schawbel: You’ve worked with several teams in your career, from startups to big brands. What are some of your best team management tips?
Monty: Everyone has a different style, so find the strengths of each of the members of your team and play to the strengths. Don’t try to shore up weaknesses, but rather focus on those strengths. Feedback is critical when something is going on. The best way to approach this is simply to ask someone, “Can I give you some feedback?” Then you have license to share with someone what happens when they do something and to offer a suggestion to correct it.
And no matter what size team you have, building relationships with your team is absolutely critical. One of the best ways to go about this is to hold weekly one-on-one meetings with each one of your direct reports. These regular times to touch base will help build that relationship.
Schawbel: When deciding whom to hire, or fire, what attributes do you look for in employees?
Monty: I always look for someone who is smarter than me. I want people who are skilled, motivated and most importantly, curious. Dorothy Parker once said “Curiosity is the cure for boredom. There is no cure for curiosity.”
Schawbel: Do you feel that marketing is every employees responsibility? How can employees best use social media to support their company?
Monty: To a certain degree, yes. You wouldn’t have gone to work for a company if you didn’t believe in what they do. And when you explain to people – relatives, friends, people you meet at networking events – what you do and what your company is about, that’s a form of marketing. Using social media to help amplify that and to help tell your company story is simply an extension. And employees who have an aptitude for social should be encouraged and supported, with assets that can help them become more successful.
The challenge that many brands have right now is that they’re finding that social is hard to scale without a paid component. But if you have employee advocates, then you have the ability to scale with more than just using paid media. And frankly most people would rather engage with other human beings. There’s not a lot of desire out there to engage with a faceless brand.
If you’ve been handed a new responsibility and are nervous about your ability to deliver, here are four steps to help you tackle a stretch assignment without a crisis of confidence or a major disaster.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Just because you’re the one leading the project doesn’t meant that you have to go it alone. Top performers are often top performers because they’re not afraid to ask for help and advice. Reach out to people who have done similar work before (or who have seen it done well) and ask for advice. What do they wish they knew the first time they were in your shoes? What insight and guidance can they offer? What are the pitfalls you should watch out for? Most people are delighted to be asked for advice. (Remember, you’re not asking them to do the work for you; you’re asking them to share their insights, which is generally flattering.)
2. Check in with your manager more frequently than usual. Don’t assume that you’re on your own until the work is completed. Check in with your manager regularly to make sure that you’re on track and to get the benefit of her input while there’s still time to course correct if needed. You don’t want to overly lean on her, of course, but it’s perfectly reasonable to do things like run your initial plan by her, check in about particular challenges that crop up, and report back periodically on what results you’re starting to get. Ideally your manager would check in on her own, but you don’t need to wait for that to happen, and if she’s busy, it might not happen if you sit back and wait. (If you feel weird about doing this, try saying at the outset, “Since this is new for me, is it okay if I check in with you at key points during the work?”)
3. Think about what could go wrong, and put a plan in place to guard against those possibilities. Having a vague sense of worry and trepidation won’t serve you well at all. But figuring out specifically what could go wrong can serve you very well indeed, because it allows you to come up with a plan to either prevent those things from happening in the first place or to handle them if they do. So spend some time thinking through what could stand in the way of your project’s success, and then figure out what to do about those possibilities. And –in keeping with steps #1 and #2 – don’t be afraid to enlist your manager or others with expertise in helping you plan for those contingencies.
4. Remember that pushing past your comfort zone is how you learn new skills. If you never took on anything new or anything that made you a little uncomfortable, your skills would stagnate and you’d never grow professionally. Plus, your manager probably trusted you with this work for a reason and sees in you the skill and ability to get it done. It might not go absolutely perfectly, but that’s a normal part of learning something new. But you only have to do something once for it not to be brand new to you anymore, and that’s how you learn.
One of the most frustrating things for managers is to discover a team is focused on the wrong things. Such wasted efforts can be demoralizing for the team, stressful for management and detrimental to an organization’s bottom line. But research shows how to make the changes that will keep a team focused on what truly matters.
When you have a critical deadline approaching on a big project, as a manager you are hyper-focused on doing everything you can to ensure your team meets it.
Then it happens. Your worst nightmare.
You arrive for work one day expecting to get a status update that shows progress being made on systems and key details, but you instead discover:
- Several team members involved in a squabble over who is supposed to being doing what.
- At least a quarter of the team doing duplicate work.
- Half of the team focused on long-term work that isn’t critical, putting the key project on the back burner.
After reaching for your jumbo-sized bottle of Maalox you keep in your desk drawer, it’s time to assess why your team can never seem to focus on what matters. Why do they always seem to be confused about what they’re supposed to be doing and why?
Haven’t you written them a million emails? Sat in meetings for hours outlining what’s to be done and when?
Well, yes, you probably have. But that may be part of the problem. It could be that your teamisn’t focused on what matters because you’re not presenting a compelling enough message and leaving them on auto-pilot for too long.
If you want to get your team better focused (and quit the Maalox habit), here’s what you need to do:
- Change the way you deliver a message. Those “Zen” presentations where you present a metaphorical image with a few words? The photographs, bullet-point presentations and other messages you convey to your team via PowerPoint? Not as effective as good old whiteboard visuals, finds research by Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Zakary Tormala. In an experiment, he found that participants were more engaged by a whiteboard presentation and retained more of the information later than other methods. An added bonus: the participants found the person giving the whiteboard presentation to be more credible than if the same person gave a PowerPoint or Zen presentation.
- Craft a better narrative. While you may put a lot of thought into a big presentation to bosses or customers, you may just wing it when it comes to passing information to your team. After all, they’re paid to listen to you, so what more do they want? According to Zach Friend, a former spokesman for the Obama campaign and a communications expert, they need to feel an emotional connection to your message. In other words, while you’re presenting facts about a project (when it’s due, key components, etc.) you also need to frame it so that it strikes a chord with your team. For example, you may explain that your customer is a David versus Goliath story, and the team’s efforts will enable a small business to survive and help people keep their jobs.
To craft a good narrative, Friend, author of “On Message,” suggests:
- Grabbing your team’s attention with a challenge or compelling question.
- Giving your team an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge or finding the answer to the opening question. In other words, allow each listener to put himself or herself at the center of the narrative.
- Galvanize your listeners’ response with a resolution that calls them to action.
- Touch base often. Managers must remember that no matter how much they may wish it to be so, teams don’t operate on automatic pilot. Without frequent communications, they can quickly go off course, finds research by Alex “Sandy” Pentland, the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory.
Pentland explains that his research shows that in a typical team, about 12 communication exchanges per working hour may be about optimum, but more or less than that can cause the team performance to decline. In addition, everyone needs to be given a chance to talk, as dominant motor-mouth team members can lead to low team performance.
Further, the best teams spend about half their time communicating outside formal meetings or “asides” during team meetings. This increase of informal communication tends to increase team performance, he says.
- Explain your thinking. Research by Heidi K. Gardner, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, finds that the discord among team members can be averted if leaders explain their rationale behind a decision, such as when divvying up part of a presentation to a client.
“Making your thinking clear lowers the potential for conflict that could otherwise arise if someone feels slighted. Being explicit also forces you to specify your own rationale, making it easier to see if you’re making any unwarranted assumptions,” she says.
- Consider a cheetah team. When something goes wrong, the whole team can unravel and resemble a pack of do-do birds running off a cliff. To keep the team moving and focused – but also deal with a critical problem – consider forming a “cheetah team.” This is a small team composed of experienced and top-notch team members who are brought in to specifically get a key component on track as soon as possible. Other team members continue to work on the main project. The key to success, researchers find, is that this team is brought in only for a short time to work full time on a specific task, disbands when the task if finished and is supported by top management.
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Congratulations on your new hire. But if you thought the recruiting process ended with the acceptance of the job offer, think again. You’re now in charge of a recruit so green she comes with a fresh car smell.
Lucky for you, we know how to smooth out those rough edges in no time. Here’s how to turn the “new guy” into the “old pro.”
Introduce her to everyone they’re likely to interact with
Obviously, your new hire needs to meet her colleagues and learn their job descriptions, as well as determine how their jobs impact hers. But you also need to introduce her to others in the organization—particularly team leads, the senior manager of the group, and key players in neighboring teams.
This has two benefits: 1) It gives her a better picture of how her team works with others in the organization as a whole. 2) No team is an island, and a new hire is an excellent excuse to improve relations across the company.
Assign a mentor
A mentor isn’t just useful for untangling the work-related snarls that always seem to entrap a newbie. A mentor can also introduce her to the culture of your team. Considering every job has both good and bad aspects to its culture, a mentor can assure that she encounters only the best aspects off the bat, as well as cut off cultural problems before they demotivate her.
Task the mentor to encourage the new hire to ask questions, just in case she’s shy about speaking out.
Give her simple tasks…
Throwing a new employee in at the deep end is a great way to demoralize her and encourage her to quit. Don’t place the person who still has to prove her worth into a sink-or-swim situation, because it strongly suggests you don’t know how to manage. And who wants to work in a team like that?
Give the new employee simpler—not trivial—tasks to start with, to ensure that she is not overwhelmed. This will also let you set expectations and have a measurable way to assess progress.
…but important ones
At the same time, don’t give new hires the simple but tedious jobs nobody else wants to do: That’s another good way to encourage her to quit. Make sure she’s doing something relevant, and delivering it is actually important. This way, the rest of the team can see she’s not just here to fill a quota.
Later, when she is properly integrated, you might not need to oversee her. But to start with, it will help you monitor her progress and give the employee a clear sense of what is and isn’t expected of her.
Keep her options open
Try to expose the rookie to what the rest of the team is doing, so she can appreciate the full range of the team’s responsibilities. If she shows interest in another aspect, you might find she’s a better fit for a slightly different role than the one you’d originally had in mind.
Interested employees are happier and more productive, so being flexible may net you bigger gains than simply slotting them into a role when they walk in the door.
Make sure she takes advantage of training
If your company offers training courses, make sure they are aware of them, and perhaps even require she joins in—even if it’s not directly beneficial to her role. Many recently hired employees are anxious to show their worth and reluctant to spend time that might appear to be “goofing off.” Setting this mandate can help the neophyte take advantage of the company’s efforts to improve employees’ skills.
If your company doesn’t offer any training for new employees, you likely have retention problems. And if you think taking training is goofing off, you have bigger problems.
Schedule a daily/weekly/monthly checkup
While your team lead and mentor are taking care of the onboarding of your new hire on an informal ongoing basis, don’t overlook the value of a formal checkup to see how she’s doing. It will give her a clear opportunity to voice concerns and give you the chance to feed back any performance issues or suggestions.
Putting this meeting on the calendar will also allow her to plan what she might want to say in advance, while at the same time keep her receptive to feedback. More importantly, it reminds your new hire that her onboarding process is considered to be important to the company.
Show her the coffee machine
Because caffeine is the most important meal of the working day.
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