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.
- Earn trust
- 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? How can the team support them? Fears/concerns about reaching the OKRs/goal?
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 process 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. This is ok for a sprint or short term project, but 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 defenses 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.