1. “No, your idea is better.”
2. “What do you need from me?”
3. “Let me make sure I understand…”
4. “How can we reduce the number of steps in this process?”
5. “Thank you.”
Growing up and well into adulthood, whenever I left the house my dad invariably said:
Not “Drive safe” or “Be careful“, but “Watch for idiots on the road.” And as curmudgeonly and vaguely paranoid as it sounded, I always took it as a compliment.
It was his way of saying, “I know you’re smart and competent behind the wheel. It’s everyone else I’m worried about.” And I appreciated that. My dad wasn’t an overly affectionate man, but he somehow always made me feel that he believed in me.
So the tip here is really twofold:
First, actually do watch for idiots on the road. It’s sound driving advice.
And second, find a way to show your team that you believe in them. It doesn’t have to be overt or gushy or something out of a management textbook. Make it unique to you and your personality, and your team will appreciate it.
I think a lot about creativity – where it comes from, how to use it – because I’ve found that it’s all too easy to get stuck in a mental rut, particularly when it comes to our jobs.
Doing things the same way you’ve always done them isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is limiting. And kinda boring.
So here are a few prompts to get you thinking creatively about management challenges. I urge you to spend some time letting your mind play with these ideas.
Change your perspective. Use your imagination. See what happens.
What if…your organization doubled its current square footage? (office space, manufacturing floor, whatever) What do you do with the space?
Now cut your current space in half. How do you adapt?
Find your superheroes.
What if…one person in your organization has a new product idea that will revolutionize your industry? But you don’t know who they are. And they don’t know what they have.
How do you find this person and capitalize on their idea?
“And the Oscar goes to…”
What if…your organization receives a prestigious industry award for excellence and you’re asked to represent your organization at the award ceremony.
Who do you thank in your acceptance speech? Why?
Observe and report.
What if…you were a consultant (secret agent, space alien) visiting your organization for the first time. It’s an average workday and you’re free to observe and interact with the staff.
What do you see? How do you explain your findings to the people who sent you?
Need a creative jump start? I love these books from Keri Smith:
(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)
Graduating with a degree in Anthropology, I never pictured myself working in the private sector, and definitely not in manufacturing.
But life happens, and I found myself in the business world. And for a long time I struggled with finding meaning in my work.
Why am I working so hard at something so mundane? How is this benefiting the world?
What saved me was realizing that my work as a manager made an impact every day. Maybe I wasn’t going to change the world by making digital projectors or truck parts, but I could change how the people in my charge felt about their work. I could change how they spent their time, how they engaged with each other, and how successful they were in their careers.
Yes, I had operational goals as well, but the beauty of well-rounded, motivated employees is that they have a practical value: they perform better. A positive work experience that helps individuals achieve their personal goals benefits the whole organization.
So when you’re looking for meaning, struggling with the “why am I here?” question, try this:
How can you help them grow their skills, or meet their personal or professional goals? Is there an outside project someone is meaning to pursue? Perhaps you can help them through networking, planning, or encouragement.
Think about how you can better meet their needs and maybe you’ll meet more of yours in the process.
Revised from original post – August 21, 2013
Consider how human groups have evolved over the millennia. Bands of individuals find themselves repeatedly faced with common problems – how to communicate, how to divide labor, how to show respect for one another. Each group chooses to solve these problems in its own way. And these unique combinations of beliefs and behaviors become the defining elements of human cultures.
At the organizational level, we can view culture in a similar way. Organizational culture evolves as its members find solutions to everyday problems. How do we interact with one another? How do we best serve our customers? How do we prioritize our time?
Your people have been asking and answering these kinds of questions since day one, and in doing so, have established what is expected and accepted within your organization.
The big question, then, is how is this culture driving behavior that serves your mission?
Is it making your organization more effective or is it dragging you down?
Revised from original post – June 22, 2013
Have you ever had an interview question like this? Did it stop you in your tracks?
Employers use these seemingly crazy questions to see how well you can think on your feet and whether you can reason through a tough problem. Here’s a more common, but equally tough, question that can stump both new and seasoned managers alike:
This one can be difficult if 1) you’re not sure what the interviewer is looking for or 2) you’re not used to articulating your core beliefs as a manager.
First, as with the penny question, the employer wants to know you can provide an organized and reasoned response. They also want to know if your management style will fit with their organizational culture and whether you understand how your leadership impacts overall performance.
Second, it’s important to distinguish between management actions (what you do) and management philosophy (what you believe and why). Rather than listing tasks, think about how your management style creates a more effective and efficient organization, and focus on the results of your approach.
Stuck on where to start?
Consider working around the 4 basic management functions: planning, organizing, leading and controlling. (Remember those from business class??)
• How do individual and team goals correlate to organizational goals?
• What’s your decision making style?
• Do you have a preferred team structure? Why?
• What’s your foundation for distributing authority?
• What do you believe drives individual motivation?
• What are major sources of conflict within a team and how do you address them?
• How does evaluation relate to performance?
• What are your options when individual or team results are not in line with expectations?
How about you? Have you ever been asked about your management philosophy in an interview? How did you respond?
For more thoughts on the interview process, try these posts:
Revised from original post – July 4, 2013
As managers, we tend to focus a lot of our energy on things like team building, employee recognition, and professional development. And while those things are definitely important, sometimes you need to step back and make sure you’re covering the basics.
Growing up poor, I understand the scarcity mentality. Never having enough money makes you view the world in a particular way. There’s the sense of impermanence – what you have today likely won’t be there tomorrow. The constant fear of upheaval. Learning not to expect much. Decision-fatigue. You hear stories of hardship making you stronger, and maybe that’s true, but mostly it makes you anxious and unsettled, even when things are good.
The same is true in an organization. An atmosphere of scarcity leads to an underdeveloped infrastructure and undervalued employees. It also creates limiting behaviors across your team. Scarcity makes people risk-averse. It teaches them to protect what they have. To fear failure. And these are not characteristics you want in your team. You want your team focused on what they CAN do, not on what they don’t have. Your team needs the confidence to try new things, to risk failure, to shoot for crazy goals. Without that, you’re not going to get the results you need as a manager.
So how do you combat a culture of scarcity? You probably don’t have control over resource allocation decisions at an organizational level. But you can have an impact on how your team responds to their situation.
Start with yourself and recognize when you use scarcity language. Stop talking only about what you lack and focus on articulating what is possible. The “Yes, and…” technique is amazing for reframing your language and opening up creative possibilities. Share your grand vision and set bold goals.
We often respond to a sense of scarcity by assuming we need more help. Have you ever been on a team that didn’t feel overworked? I haven’t. We always assume that if we could just hire one more person – maybe an admin to pick up all the little tasks that bog us down – we could get on top of it. But work expands to fit the number of people there are to do it. So look for efficiencies within your current head count. Perhaps it’s training on time management. Or a workflow analysis to highlight non-value-added activities. Find the person on your team with the most effective approach to a process and then share that out. Encourage your team to learn from each other to foster a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment.
A scarcity mentality is fed by a lack of information. Human nature tends toward worst-case scenario thinking. When we don’t have all the details about a given situation, we fill in the blanks from our imagination. Or from past experience – Last time we fell short of quarterly numbers, there was a layoff. So this time, the same thing will happen. Avoid this by creating a culture of transparency and share as much information as you can with your staff. You may not control all the decisions that affect your team but you can earn their trust and respect by being a resource and an ally.
How about you? How have you experienced a culture of scarcity?
“First, [Sonsev] finds out the top three goals you want to have on your resume when you leave the company, and then the top two things you want her to say about you in a recommendation. Then every week, she does a planning session to figure out how to get you one step closer to those bullet points.”
What an engaged, thoughtful approach to management! It recognizes that, as an employee, your resume is one of your most valuable assets. Sure, we should all be driven by passion for our work and dedication to the organization. But as managers, we need to realize that people have career aspirations beyond their current position. Helping your team grow as individuals and professionals is one of the coolest things about being a leader.
What do you think? Is this an idea you could implement as a manager?
I am surrounded by organic textures and natural light. The space is modern, open, and well-maintained. The design reflects our organization’s core values and there are visible reminders of our shared mission.
My personal workspace is comfortable, and the tools I need are readily accessible and in good repair. I am able to interact with those around me, while still having a private space for deep work and thoughtful downtime. I am surrounded by things that inspire me.
Community areas are flexible, offering distinct spaces for private conversation, casual interaction and team engagement. The atmosphere is professional but relaxed. I am proud to welcome visitors.
This is my vision of my best possible workplace.
What is yours?
You might also like: My Best Possible Team