How To Be A Great Manager
Everyone deserves an exceptional manager. Managers play a vital role in the success of an organization. Like any skill, it’s a learned craft that takes time and dedicated effort to master. Research consistently shows that the success of managers is the greatest indicator of success for an organization.
- Understanding Team Dynamics: “You set the vibe for your tribe.”
- Getting Results: “Look ahead and move ahead.”
- Managing your team: “You unlock the performance and growth in others.”
- The Business of You: “Know your own needs, drivers, weaknesses and biases.”
- What’s your true north? Create a team standard & hold everyone accountable.
- Build a Team Culture That Brings the Bolt’s Values to Life
- “Don’t give orders”
- Making quality decisions as a leader
- The underbelly of team harmony: politics
Browse the full playbook:
Understanding Team Dynamics: “You set the vibe for your tribe.”
As a leader, your team will mirror your behaviors and prioritize initiatives (events, training, projects) that you deem as valuable or that they know they will be rewarded for. An exceptional manager knows they set the vibe for their team. Experienced managers are like organizational psychologists; they’ve studied workplace dynamics and know how to identify the key roles each of their team members play and how to engage with them based on this information to create an atmosphere that fosters belonging and drives performance. Because they are able to see what influences and detracts from their team’s vibe, they are able to develop structures and processes that allow for all team members to fully engage.
Getting Results: “Look ahead and move ahead.”
A great manager drives alignment for the team, ensures they feel connected to the mission, and enables them to achieve results. They help their team “look ahead” and see what the future looks like and how their career aspirations fit into the larger picture and strategy as well as help their team “move ahead” by removing obstacles or barriers that stop them from getting results.
Managing your team: “You unlock the performance and growth in others.”
Leaders commit to developing themselves and their team. They develop their team by learning about their career goals, strengths, and growth areas then leverage these insights to help them meet performance goals. You should have a deep understanding of your team’s capabilities and determine how to fill in the gaps so you can achieve your goals.
The Business of You: “Know your own needs, drivers, weaknesses, and biases.”
Great managers know that they can’t be effective leaders if they aren’t aware of their own stats at any given moment. As the saying goes, “before you help others, you need to help yourself.”
Create a team standard and hold everyone accountable.
Values and behaviors are one component of a team’s true north, but think about your vision for the team and what you want your function to be known for; is it innovation? Productivity? Relentless execution? Being amazing cross-functional partners? Ideally, they should be doing all of the above but if your team was a brand, what would be that brand’s signature?
Team standards allow your direct reports to know what is expected of them and how you will measure their performance. You could have technical standards as well as standards of practice. These standards should describe the ideal or state of perfection that your team should be continually striving toward. This will also help with making the feedback process a lot easier.
- Partner with your team to create a vision and standard – Partner with your team to brainstorm and create a standard that aligns with your department. Your team standards should inspire, lead to efficiency, and encourage performance. As a team, communicate with each other why these expectations are important. These standards should be shared with new employees as they join your function but continuously iterate based on the needs of your team. Reflect on what percentage of your team is exhibiting the right behaviors and team standard. This can be an indicator to see if you have the right expectations in place.
- Hold yourselves accountable – Add details on how you will be holding each other accountable. What happens when team members do not rise to the occasion? Be honest about potential repercussions for not meeting team expectations.
- Always listen to your team – Listen to what they say and actually implement their suggestions when applicable. Listening to your team can help you identify misconceptions or problems early and nip them in the bud. This will also help you identify your own blindspots and uncover solutions you might not have thought of on your own.
Build a team culture that brings Bolt’s values to life
Culture is the lifeblood of a team. As the manager, you have to think about what culture you would like to create for your team. When building your team culture we want you to find innovative ways to weave in the company’s values and behaviors. Avoid creating an environment for your team that is drastically different from the overall culture of our organization.
Your team culture should fit within the larger framework of Bolt’s company culture.
- Team bonding – Consider how you would like your team to bond with each other and increase social interactions in an authentic manner. You have a team of diverse identities, personalities, interests, and experiences; which means you have to strike a balance to meet the needs of your direct reports. If people are connected to your team culture, they are most likely to stay engaged and energized to be at your organization. This engagement and energy in turn leads to better problem-solving and collaboration, which in turn leads to more value-creation. As managers, create events that you enjoy doing. Invite (but don’t require) your teammates to join you.
- Continuously celebrate your team’s success – Employees feel appreciated when they’re recognized for their hard work and achievements. Sales teams use a gong to celebrate closes. Find your equivalent way to celebrate continuous wins for your team. This also lets the rest of the company know what’s going on in your org and further brands your team’s culture.
- Show up – Leadership is about being there. Have daily standups so your team knows you are available. Go to an event your team member puts on. Support them inside and outside of work. Attend cultural events, serve as a mentor, and get involved in an employee resource group. Exhibit the right behaviors that reflect org. values and recognize/praise it when you see it in your team members.
- Encourage Fun – In this remote environment, it’s so important to build camaraderie with your team and find ways to stay connected. Engage in fun work convos, use giphy and emojis to show emotion and spice up the conversation. Send over articles or videos based on your team interests. Ask for recommendations from your team about movies, tv shows, activities to do, books to read, etc.
“Don’t give orders”
Avoid telling your team what to do. Once you start giving orders, you foster a culture of people who will always need you to tell them what to do. Give clear goals and timelines and context, and enable your team to figure out how to do the job. Ask a clarifying question before speaking so you can teach your team to think for themselves and not to take instruction.
Common Mistake – Even though you are not giving orders that doesn’t mean to delegate ineffectively. Most managers complain that they’re so busy and hence can’t focus on the real important problems. As you delegate, think about each individual’s bandwidth and divvy up projects/goals in a way that inspires and challenges everyone, while also maintaining the foundational processes of your team. Be clear with your team that there will be instances where they will be doing “unglamorous” work; being part of a startup means you are prepared to jump in to do what needs to be done.
The underbelly of team harmony: politics
Politics is lobbying to gain personal benefit. Politics can look like favoritism, secrecy, spreading of gossip, and/or unnecessary intragroup conflict. It’s poison for any team or company and the quickest way to kill productivity. Politics direct energy away from customer problem-solving and toward internal lobbying. It is a slippery slope that will quickly cause a race to the bottom.
What tends to happen is one employee lobbies their manager for a benefit and then is successful in gaining that benefit. Others see this, so they in turn lobby. They then gain benefit, and the virus then spreads throughout the organization. It’s essential that you stop this early on as a manager.
You can do this by:
1.Have a written policy for most situations
(Hence the Conscious Culture playbook) Apply those policies equally to all team members, particularly around compensation, raises, and promotions. Remember, if you’re going to make an exception for one team member you should be willing to make that exception for everyone on the team.
- Only consider comp adjustments and promotions during scheduled performance cycles – Do not cave into comp adjustments mid-cycle. Exceptions should be few and far between. The most common exception is if a role opens up internally that we need to fill, and then it is filled by someone internally vs. externally. If it is a larger role tied to larger comp, then this can be considered at that time
2. Check your bias
Are you contributing to this problem as a manager? Have you shown favoritism to certain employees? Do you engage in gossip with your team? Reflect on how you may have influenced the problem.
3. Have zero tolerance for gossip
Gossip is poison to any environment and it leads to disruption. The Society for Human Resource Management reported that gossip is defined as any talk of a person’s or institution’s affairs—whether personal or professional, innocuous or slanderous. Research from The Academy of Management Review has shown that consequences of workplace gossip are:
- Erosion of trust and morale.
- Lost productivity and wasted time because employees end up focusing on the drama.
- Increased anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact.
- Divisiveness among employees as people take sides.
- Hurt feelings and reputations.
- Attrition due to good employees leaving the company because of an unhealthy work environment.
Don’t involve yourself in toxic behavior and lead by example. Address any gossip that you hear head-on before it continues to spread. Ask questions to your team about how they obtained this information, what’s the intention for sharing the information, how would they feel if they were in the other person’s shoes. As a leader, don’t engage in the conversation and find ways to deflect the negative information being shared with something positive. Call people out when you hear gossip being shared on your team. Force people to speak up and address problems/questions head on.
4. Refer back to team standards
What’s the expectation for the team that we agreed upon? How is this taking away from those standards? As a manager, you can’t deviate from the team vision, expectations, and playbooks.
Additional Resources for Ongoing Manager Development
Please at least read the first and summaries of the rest.
The problems encountered in starting, growing, and running a company have been encountered by thousands of managers before. And luckily dozens of successful managers and business leaders have written down their lessons learned in book form. These books teach you almost every important aspect of running a business. While there are hundreds of such books, the following are our favorites, and considered to be required reading for any CEO or Manager.
Title: Getting Things Done: David Allen
Time to Read: 10 hours
Summary: Personal productivity. Describes using pen/paper, simply translate that to Evernote or another electronic tool. Using this system will make you sleep better. For this, reading a summary is usually fairly sufficient: https://hamberg.no/gtd/ (search for others online as well)
Title: The Great CEO Within: Matt Mochary
Time to Read: 4h
Summary: A holistic approach to running a startup with best practices.
Title: One Minute Manager: Ken Blanchard
Time to Read: 0.5h
Summary: Simple reporting structure that works. Simple enough that you can have all your team members read it. I recommend that you do.
Title: High Output Management: Andy Grove
Time to Read: 10h
Summary: The classic tech management book. A lot more detail than 1-Minute Manager, but essentially the same structure.
Title: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Ben Horowitz
Time to Read: 6h
Summary: Says how great High Output Management is, and then talks about what to do in some very specific and ugly situations that no other books discuss.
SALES & MARKETING:
Title: Disciplined Entrepreneurship: Bill Aulet
Time to Read: 12h
Summary: Painful, but very necessary step-by-step guide to determining who your real customer is, what solution they want, and how to market and sell to them. If you only read and apply one of these books, make it this one.
Title: Never Split the Difference: Chris Voss
Time to Read: 6h
Summary: Ostensibly about negotiation, but really about how to create deep connection and trust quickly, which is the key to an excellent relationship with your three key constituents: customers (sales), employees (management) and investors (fundraising).
Title: Who- Geoff Smart
Time to Read: 6h
Summary: Excellent recruiting process that maximizes the likelihood of hiring A players only, and then ensuring their success at the company.
Title: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership-Diana Chapman
Time to Read: 10h
Summary: Companies can become good using the hard skills outlined in the books above. To become great, a company must become curious and open to learning. This book shows how to do that.
The summaries are poor representations of the books themselves, as the summaries give the basic steps recommended, but not the details of why. And it is those details that are critical. Please force yourself to read all of the books above in their entirety. You won’t regret it.
Miscellaneous Recommended Articles
A great manager drives alignment for the team, ensures they feel connected to the mission, and enables them to achieve results. They help their team “look ahead” and see what the future looks like and how their career aspirations fit into the larger picture and strategy, as well as help their team “move ahead” by removing obstacles or barriers that stop them from getting results.
- Trust: Earn it and Give it
- Goal-Setting: Think 6 months Ahead
- Output and Energy over Hours
- No person is an island and no department is a company so collaborate!
- Leading your team through change
Trust: Earn it and Give it
If you want your team to execute on their goals they need to trust you and you need to trust them. A team that does not have trust as their foundation cannot move together in a cohesive manner because there will always be some form of opposition or difficulty. Your first priority is to build trust with your team and make sure they have confidence in your abilities as a leader.
- Have integrity and be honest/open.
- Make sure you do what you say you are going to do in a timely manner and repeatedly.
- Advocate for your team when they aren’t around.
- Get to know the employee and the person.
- Always set clear expectations. Give candid feedback as much as possible (trust is earned not just through praise, but also trusting that you as a manager are letting them know where to improve)
- Take the hit from time to time when they drop the ball.
Give trust to your team
- Don’t micromanage; if they said they are going to do something, trust that they will do it. Follow-up and verify if you don’t receive an update in a timely manner.
- Show support by championing their ideas/suggestions. Give them the opportunity to take on larger projects and look to them to lead initiatives.
- Avoid joining their meetings unless they requested your attendance
- Do not give people more responsibility than they’ve earned. Over time let your team prove that they can handle more responsibility; start with smaller opportunities then find larger tasks for them to own.
- Respect their decisions and how they approach getting their job done.
Goal-Setting: Think 6 months Ahead
Goal setting presents the opportunity for managers and employees to get on the same page, understand how their work relates to the company, and learn about growth and development opportunities. Setting ambitious goals is great, but don’t assume your employees can sustainably give 100%. Personal emergencies happen, people get sick, and everyone should be taking vacation time. Plan for all of these things when setting long term goals. Employees should be clear on roles, responsibilities, and understand the value of staying at your company.
Employees need to feel like they are making an impact so each person should have responsibility that influences your goals or OKRs. By giving them responsibility you are instilling a sense of purpose, contribution, and accountability. The most effective individuals should have a personal goal that aligns to their career development.
1. Build them together
Let your team have the opportunity to participate in creating the goals. It has been shown that employees who are involved in the goal-setting process are more committed to their goals and set higher goals than those who are simply assigned goals. Have a team brainstorming session to discuss the steps you want to take to achieve our OKRs then ask for owners for each OKR and work together to map out the details. (You can use the approaches to decisions outlined above as a guide).
- There may be some company goals that do not necessarily apply to your department but make sure all team members know what they are so they have a clear understanding about what’s happening across the organization. Everyone should have a pulse on the organization.
- Make goal setting fun. Consider goal setting it over a (virtual) meal.
2. Help your team prioritize projects
- As managers you need to help the team prioritize and focus especially at a startup. The importance of ruthless prioritization especially at a startup is key since there are always many things to do. This can be especially challenging for folks when everything is important. Helping team members determine the most important/urgent/highest leverage activities is important and helping them say no (or plan their roadmap of work to shift things to later if needed). This is key if you want to prevent burnout.
- If you need assistance with learning how to prioritize projects; check out the Eisenhower Matrix. The matrix gives you a framework on how to bucket your projects into 4 core areas: (1)Do First – Projects and tasks that need to be as soon as possible (2)Schedule – Important projects and tasks that can be done at a later date (3)Delegate – Projects/tasks that are urgent but less important that a team member can own (4)Don’t Do – Projects/tasks that you team should not be focused on.
3. Document & Check-in
During every team meeting check-in on the status of team OKRs and goals; discuss how people are progressing toward completing them. Don’t just ask for a status update; ask questions about the challenges they are facing?
4. No team likes jumping from fire to fire
You need to be prepared to deal with unexpected challenges. Work to understand where things went wrong, communicate the challenge and collaborate as a team on how to fix it.
5. Put in the effort
Help your team achieve their goals. Lead by example with your effort. Effort and energy are contagious.
6. Ask team members to create their own learning goal
As you think about the next six months and what we are trying to achieve as an organization and your team’s OKRs; what skills does your team need to be up-leveled on? Who has to do what differently, or more consistently, in order to achieve these goals? Each team member should have a learning goal to help bolster motivation and ensure you are able to achieve team outcomes.
1. Have constant communication
Have frequent stand-ups and be a constant physical presence in their day, even if just for a few minutes – make sure it’s clear that you’re engaged and you’re present.
2. Cascade information
Whenever possible we should strive to share information more broadly. In practice this means that you should:
- Be discerning when cascading information. As a manager, you build trust with others by keeping confidential information confidential. You can build your discernment muscle by asking yourself, “What does my team need to know?”, “How will it affect them if they do not have this information?” or “Will sharing this information cause disruption?”
- Go out of your way to take notes during higher level meetings and provide non-confidential insight to your team about what was discussed during your next meeting.
- Choose to give more people visibility but make sure you provide context when you are sharing information with a larger group
- When sending emails cc: or bcc: more people
- Put messages or questions in public or team channels
- Make your documents public so it’s easily accessible to others
- Add followers/contributors to an Asana task or project
3. Provide context & clarity
Give context when you give direction. Always talk about the “why” behind a task and bring it back to the bigger picture. The message and intent should be clear and easily understood by others.
4. Repeat the why
Don’t think that because you gave context once, people will remember. Remind people continuously that what they’re doing matters. Folks on the frontlines benefit from being reminded of the bigger picture.
5. Proper documentation & hygiene
Document well for planning, resolutions, process, and record keeping. Hold yourself and your team accountable for keeping Asana tasks and projects updated; leverage the comments function to keep collaborators informed about changes.
- A writing first culture has a downside: over-documentation. This leads to a lot of legacy documents that need to be continually pruned and cleaned. When creating processes and documentation, always consider how this will scale 6-12 months from now. Also, schedule times to actively eliminate outdated documentation.
- Review & audit your team processes and documentation with a fine tooth comb on a regular basis. During this process you will make updates, deprecate, and create new documentation as needed.
- For example, as the Learning & Development team creates training programs, content, and videos, once a quarter they should review the documentation to see if the materials are still relevant and remove anything that is outdated.
- Another example would be for Sales to partner with Product Marketing to assess if our customer-facing documentation addresses customer’s questions, is it outdated, if you are using the right tools to send/track documentation being shared.
- Your audit process could include (you should tweak the process based on the needs of your department):
- Shadowing – Especially for the first week.
- Recordings (non-Engineering) – Record everything for the first two weeks and review.
- Code Review (Engineering) – Regular code reviews. Review and comment.
- Written Feedback – Write up feedback daily for the first week based on recordings, and give to them.
- Playbook – Build an audit plan into your team’s playbook. Have the manager review and approve.
- Routine Review – Repeat Audit Process once per quarter.
Output and Energy over Hours
The question of hours worked is inevitably a part of every company. Should specific hours (start and end time) at the company be enforced? Total number of hours? Value both outputs (the outcomes you achieve) and inputs (how much energy you invest into the company). This is where the “Founder Mentality” comes from. Do all the little things right that lead to great outcomes.
However, if you specifically impose hours, people often will simply put in the required hours, but without effort or enthusiasm. Someone could be working eight hours a day, but giving it 110%, and having far greater impact than the person who’s doing 10 hours per day but gets easily distracted.
If someone is working longer than 10 hours per day, they are likely going to burn out. It’s important to make sure this is not the default for your department. Continuously check on the workload of your team and assess if they are working efficiently; employees should have access to a proper work-life balance.
No person is an island and no department is a company so collaborate!
Your team can’t execute their goals on their own. As a manager, you need to foster cross-functional relationships and ensure your team gets what they need from other teams . Remove barriers so that your team can be individual contributors. Pay attention to the blockers and issues they raise, and demonstrate the work you are doing to remove those barriers.
1. Engage outside of your team
Do skip-level meetings and coffee chats across the business to help build relationships for your team members. A lot can be revealed by setting up 1:1’s with people outside your org, through casual conversation. Shoot for at least one of these a week. Go in without an agenda, be curious.
2. Collaborate with peers to solve problems
If you notice that your team has been facing issues with other functions, have a back-channel discussion with other managers to figure out what’s happening. You need to be objective and get to the root of the problem. To help break down defences during the discussion, take accountability for how your team may be contributing to issues. Address how you want to deal with “bad-players”; if there is an individual or multiple folks who are continuously detracting from your team’s ability to get the job done, discuss with relevant partners (manager, functional leads, or people ops) to get to the best resolution. If you are uncomfortable or want to discuss ideas on how to approach, engage with Human Resources for mediation support.
Leading your team through change
In the book, “The Fifth Discipline”, Management expert Peter Senge said, “People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.” There will be times when you will have to champion a new idea, process, or tool that you do not necessarily agree with (or know your team won’t agree with the change) and you will be tasked with getting your team onboard. In those moments, you might have to pull them along to help them embrace the new way.
1. Gather context about the change
Try to assess the situation and make sure you have all of the details to communicate and manage this change with your team.
2. Map out how the change will affect your team
Most people think about themselves and want to know, “what does this mean for me?”. As a manager, you need to have a clear response on the implications this change will have for your team. Think about if there are any benefits to them and add that to your talking points. Also consider, if there is anything that your team will need to start, stop, or continue doing to adapt to this change. Lastly, think about the personalities on your team; who could be a champion with you and who will be a blocker/detractor.
3. Create a process to communicate and manage the change
What’s the core messaging that you are going to share and what’s the cadence that you will use to share updates with them. Will you announce the change in the team meeting, via Slack, or with each team member individually?
4. Follow-up with your team
Connect with each team member individually to see how they are handling the change. Gather insights into the challenges they are facing and provide support on how they can overcome them.
5. Get your team to adapt
After some time you will have to get your team adapted to this change. The pushback and opposition will have to come to a halt eventually. Have a key message that you want to reinforce to show that it’s time for everyone to be aligned with the change.
Developing Your Team
Leaders commit to developing themselves and their team. They develop their team by learning about their career goals, strengths, and growth areas then leverage these insights to help them meet performance goals. You should have a deep understanding of your team’s capabilities and determine how to fill in the gaps so you can achieve your goals.
- Motivating your team – “Think about what fuels the team in terms of what they need (think love languages)”
- Dealing with your high-performers – “Roll out the red carpet for all-stars”
- Coaching & developing others
- Building your team
- Resolving interpersonal issues
- Knowing when to let an employee go: “Firing well is just as important, if not more important, than hiring well. And, you gotta fire fast”
Motivating your team
“Think about what fuels the team in terms of what they need (think love languages)”
Everyone has different drivers which means you have to find creative ways to motivate each member of your team. This entire guide was created to help you motivate your team; as you read the playbook you will find practical ways to fuel your team can include:
- Sense of mission and growth as well as clearly defined goals
- Great work environment and culture that values recognition and praise
- Seamless Communication
- Flexibility in work hours and style
- Ideal Management Style
Dealing with your high-performers
“Roll out the red carpet for all-stars”
All-stars should be kept at the organization to the best of your ability. It’s important to understand what motivates them so you can find creative ways to keep them engaged and challenged in their role. These all-star performers are the ones who can make or break a business. They create an insanely powerful ripple effect that motivates teammates across their team and the company. Their example is priceless.
This doesn’t mean they are coddled or allowed to be jerks (all-stars are team players, collaborators, and team enablers, not just highly talented).
They should be compensated at the highest bands, given greater and greater responsibility, and be honored and recognized for their contributions in a big way. They should earn greater and greater growth opportunities.
Coaching and developing others
Great managers don’t tell their employees what to do; they coach and partner with their direct reports to solve problems. Managers who coach their teams have seen better engagement, higher productivity, improved performance, and self-confidence for the employee. As you coach, your discussion should align with your employees’ career goals. Help bridge the gap and explain how their growth areas will set them up for long-term success.
It’s important to note that you should also coach your peers, your boss, project contributors, and other employees across the organization. You are expected to help create our feedback and coaching culture. You can build a coaching relationship that leads to development by:
1. Exhibiting compassion and empathy for your teammates and all Bolters
Encourage vacations, recognize burnout, prioritize your team’s health. Ask about their culture and experiences. Understand how you can best support them; be in service to your teammates. Take a vested interest in people.
2. Having career conversations regularly
Once a quarter, schedule time outside of your normal 1:1 to conduct a career conversation and dive deep into growth areas, reflections, learning opportunities, and 6-12 month goals for themselves/role. You should provide performance transparency so your teammate knows where he/she stands.
3. Not skipping weekly 1:1s
Your 1:1s are the perfect opportunity to coach your direct report regularly. This is time to strengthen the relationship, develop trust, and create a safe environment. Prepare in advance even though your direct report drives the conversation. Check-in on key areas like their wellbeing, growth and learning, work relationships, productivity, and impact. Coach them through any issues they are facing as an employee. Ideally, 1:1s should do a good enough job with keeping an employee updated about their development areas that performance reviews don’t reveal much.
4. Investing heavily in feedback
Be thoughtful with feedback and ways to push your teammates to grow. Aim to praise in public and criticize in private. Regularly share constructive feedback. Leverage the feedback section to help build your skills in this area.
5. Asking open-ended questions
Ask probing questions so that the question may trigger certain reflections and insights in your team. You want to guide them through the discovery process on their own.
6. Providing positive reinforcement
Recognize behaviors that reflect company values and let your employee know what they are doing right.
Call-out behaviors that detract from our values as an organization. Be prepared to escalate the issue to Human Resources and place the individual on a Performance Improvement Plan if you notice that the behavior hasn’t changed.
7. Finding stretch projects and learning opportunities
Don’t let the skills of your teammates atrophy; find work for them that will help with their growth areas. Find innovative ways to keep them engaged and excited about the next challenge.
- Stretch projects – As you build relationships across the business, ask other department leads if they have projects that can help with your team’s growth. “Dumpster dive” in other team’s ”someday/maybe” teamboard or projects; this could be a great way for your reports to learn about another part of the company and build skills outside of the scope of their role.
- Build their network – Connect them with leaders and mentors that could help provide insight on how to get to the next level in their career. You don’t always have to be the main coach. Help create their support system.
- Share learning resources – Post recommended articles, podcasts, and videos in your team channel as a way to encourage informal learning. Include your key takeaways and perhaps host a monthly team lunch to review/discuss materials.
- Prioritize attending training sessions – Create the opportunity for your team members to prioritize attending an upcoming training. Make a recommendation on topics that you think they should focus on but find ways to make sure they are receiving the training they need to grow.
- Common mistake – Not making employees feel safe (also can be: over-focusing on what you work on at the expense of how you work on it. i.e. ignoring team dynamics). Google’s Project Aristotle, a large-scale study on what makes effective teams, found that one of the top five attributes of top teams is “psychological safety”. If your employees don’t feel safe in their role, if they don’t feel safe to take risks, you are losing value. Embrace risk-taking and being 20% wrong. Listen to people with an open mind.
- Common mistake – Underinvesting in hiring and training. The people you hire will make or break your company. Don’t expect them to be productive if you just throw them into the heat with no training.
Developing your team
When developing your team, move away from being reactive to proactive. You must plan out and manage growth on an annual basis. You need to understand the annual business goals and plan headcount appropriately. Be honest about the limitations of your team from a skills and bandwidth perspective. Requesting headcount and funding for vendors should not be the default, however, headcount requests are appropriate when you need the resources to achieve business expectations.
You are responsible for making sure your team can meet what the business needs at all times. You should have an ongoing meeting with Human Resources to discuss team capacity and headcount planning. During these meetings you can assess if you need a new team member or perhaps you should restructure your team to be more effective. In tandem, you should also discuss headcount needs with Finance (and Department leads depending on level) to assess budget and potential constraints that may impede your ability to get the headcount approved.
As you approach the discussion with Human Resources, think about the long term consequences if you are unable to secure another employee and the impact that new employee will have on the organization and the team.
You may need a new headcount if:
- You notice considerable skill gaps on your team
- The team is continuously overworked and starting to burnout
- You can’t achieve organizational goals with the current team size
- You need leverage to prepare for upcoming scale
As you build your team make sure you are only hiring the best. Hire slowly, if needed. Never compromise on talent to hit short-term goals. Know that your teammates are your greatest investment in your team’s long-term success. Never compromise on the long term in exchange for the short term. Review the hiring playbook to learn about our talent philosophy and hiring process.
Resolving interpersonal issues
When resolving interpersonal issues, strive to do it in-person (i.e. talking whether in actual person or on a video or phone call) as much as possible. When resolving interpersonal issues, the communication hierarchy is as follows: In-Person or Video > Phone > Asana > Slack. If the problem persists, bring in Human Resources for assistance as early as possible. Your HR Business Partner can act as a mediator, help roleplay conversations, and assist with conflict resolution.
When communicating constructive feedback, do it verbally, but also document in writing. See the feedback section.
Knowing when to let an employee go
“Firing well is just as important, if not more important, than hiring well. And, you gotta fire fast”
There are times when you will have to make the difficult decision to terminate an employee. It’s important to be firm with these decisions, but also carry them through with kindness and care.
Remember that letting go of under performers (and doing so with care) is the most empathetic thing you can do for them.
Sometimes there are also organizational changes that demand a different skill set and your current team members don’t have the capabilities to fit that change. In both instances it’s important not to prolong the inevitable; this delay can lead to disruption for your team. Being empathetic with the transition allows the person to move onto finding the right fit for them.
It’s also the most empathetic thing you can do for your team. A strong culture is one that’s built on motivated top performers. There is nothing that will demotivate a top performer faster than a low performer. It creates a sense of deep unfairness and makes it not fun to work with that individual. This is compounded if there are higher ranking low performers — that’s why managers and executives must be held to exceptionally high standards.
And finally, it’s the most empathetic thing to do for yourself (don’t forget to value your enjoyment of coming to work in this whole thing!). If someone causes you distress as a manager to have around, that impacts your energy and thus impacts your ability to give 100% to the rest of the team.
1. If you’re thinking about letting someone go, it’s already too late.
The toughest part of terminating someone is making the final decision to do so. Here are some sanity check questions that will help you see the bigger picture and gain final conviction:
- How would the team and other stakeholders respond to this termination? How will it be received?
Exception: there are certainly cases of folks who are beloved socially but bad performers, they are some of the toughest to terminate, but it must be done.
- Does this person continually impress you in their outcomes, or do they require constant hand holding?
- If you were starting a search over for this role, would you hire them again?
- Has this person done a complete 180 after being delivered serious feedback?
- Is this person a “Strong Yes” on your team?
2. More signs that indicate it’s time to terminate the employee:
- Productivity is down,
- They are causing problems with the team/stakeholders,
- They are not following the values/behaviors of the company,
- They are violating your HR policy,
- There is continuous underperformance.
When an employee is violating the HR policy please skip the below process and contact your Human Resources team immediately for assistance.
3. Follow the process:
- Document and give feedback about the situation – Have a conversation with the individual and share your concerns about the path they are on.
- Feedback should be continuous and timely. Waiting only creates mistrust that you didn’t tell them sooner
- Monitor any behavior change – Over a few weeks, monitor if the employee course-corrected and made any adjustments.
- Connect with your HR Business Partner – Request that the employee is placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Alternatively, tag feedback as “Serious” when giving it to that employee. This indicates that a behavior cannot continue. Read more about this in the “how to give great feedback playbook”.
- Share PIP or Serious Feedback with employee – Have a conversation with the employee about expectations and potential next steps if adjustments aren’t made.
- Monitor progress – Depending on the timescales discussed in the PIP or Serious Feedback, continuously monitor and document updates.
- Request an official termination to be granted – Share your feedback with your HRBP about recommended next steps and move towards terminating the employee.
4. Always do it sooner than later
- Frequently, managers convince themselves that now is not the right time to let the person go. All are false beliefs, even though you will convince yourself otherwise, for example:
- “There’s too much going on.” → Keeping this individual around kicks the can down the road of reallocating work. It will demotivate top performers and may cause attrition from your top performers. Even if it doesn’t in the short term, every passing day is a hit to their morale and trust in you as a strong leader.
- “It will cause too much commotion on my team at this point in time” → High performers respect you for making firm decisions that are best for the business. It will give them more faith in you as a manager.
No matter the circumstance and how we are parting ways, you want to do it with firmness but also with grace, kindness, and care. Engage with your Human Resources team to help you navigate the process.
The Business Of You
Great managers know that they can’t be effective leaders if they aren’t aware of their own state at any given moment. As the saying goes, “before you help others, you need to help yourself.”
Cultivate individual habits
Great companies are made up of great individual performers who work well together as a team. As a manager, you are both the architect of the culture and the central hub in the wheel of information flow that enables your team to function effectively. Your example inspires your team, and your efficiency determines the efficiency of the team. Therefore, the first thing to optimize is yourself. Read the Getting Shit Done guide, and become a pro.
Access the mental, psychological, and emotional state for you and your team members. Self-awareness is one of the hardest skills to develop as a leader. It requires introspection and the ability to understand who we are and who others are. The training industry reported that by becoming more self-aware as a leader, and recognizing your strengths, weaknesses and hidden biases, leaders gain the trust of their team members — and increase their own credibility. As a manager, you can become more self-aware by:
1. Prioritizing your mental well-being
Know your signs, triggers and what’s contributing to your stress. You can do this by monitoring your thoughts and responses in different situations.
- How do I feel at this moment?
- When do I feel burned-out?
- What behaviors are bothersome for me?
- What personality styles are draining for me?
- What are ways I can engage with them and protect my mental health?
- Is there anyone I can loop in for support?
Try to avoid engaging with individuals who may be an energy suck for you; there will be times when you have to communicate with them so keep the conversation short and limit the engagement as much as possible.
Make sure you utilize your vacation time to take mental health days. If you can’t take time off, take frequent breaks and aim to end meetings five minutes early so you have a moment to step away and reset.
Lastly, find ways to wind down at the end of the day. Seek help using an Employee Assistance Program if you are struggling to balance your mental health and work.
2. Increase your emotional intelligence
Try to put yourself in your reports’ shoes and consider how your words/tone/comments may be perceived.
3. Embrace your personality
Be yourself and be quirky (in a positive/inclusive way).
4. Embrace your “style”
We all share the same “values” but make it “yours” within the framework of the company values.
5. Be ok letting some fires burn
You can’t solve every single problem.
On top of individual habits, self care is extremely important. As a manager, your job is to think clearly, creatively, and compassionately. You have a major responsibility to be a strong and empathetic leader. You need to show up 100% for your team. This is not possible if you don’t take care of yourself. Invest in your personal life, health, and wellness to give your best self at work.
You have to lead by example with self care. Burning yourself out will not only lead to your management suffering, it will lead to your teammates following your lead and burning themselves out too.
Own your mistakes
You gain respect from others when you own your mistakes. When you avoid admitting what you did wrong, you lose trust with your team and peers. A survey conducted by Dale Carnegie Training found that employees reported “admitting when they are wrong” was the largest gap in leadership behaviors. The Association for Talent Development reported leaders’ willingness to “admit when they are wrong” was the number-one tested behavior in terms of its positive impact on employees’ job satisfaction and intent to stay. We are all human and will have slip ups and we get it wrong but always wanting to be viewed as right will do more harm than good in the long run.
On time and present
It is critical to be on time for every appointment that you have made, or to let the others in the meeting know that you will be late as soon as you realize that you will be. This can be done with a simple Slack message “I’m running X minutes behind.” That is ok. Showing up late without a heads up is not.
Why is this important? Because there is someone else on the other side of your agreement to start the meeting at a certain time. They have stopped what they are working on to attend the meeting on time. If you do not show up on time, they cannot start the meeting, but they also cannot leave as they don’t know if you’ll show up the next minute or not.
Being present means that you are composed, prepared, not distracted by thoughts of things outside the meeting. It takes a few minutes to “get present”. Therefore, it’s recommended that you aim to end meetings five minutes early to give you buffer room between meetings. You can use the few extra minutes to “get present” – prepare for the meeting, research the topic and the attendees, etc. It’s important to note that during 1:1s you are expected to be present and engaged. Give your team member your undivided attention and do not multitask.