Over the last twenty years, I spent a major part of my career in leadership roles. This had given me an opportunity to work with people in the dozens of roles, that panned across many organizations, countries.
It was also a wonderful opportunity to manage scores of teams and learn from many managers. I was also fortunate to learn many things from my managers and can proudly say that there not a single boss that I did not learn something from or admire for.
I usually, applied those learnings to managing my team. It was also an honour that most teams that I managed were also appreciated by other business units and peers in leadership. The usual feedback was that my team was high on – energy, ideas, awesome execution and good attitude. My teams and its members would receive the most awards in corporate events.
What made these teams A-teams?
We all, in the company had the same hiring process. We all had similar bunch of resumes that HR used to dish-out, based on which we made our selections. In fact, hiring the right person for the right job, was the easier part. Giving the right job for the right person is a lot more involving and effective. I learnt this, from some great leaders, who have imbibed in me the need to pay attention to each member of the team – continuously. It is anything but micro-management. I had learnt very early from some of the great managers, that focus on people is the simplest and most effective way to becoming successful.
Hiring the right person for the right job, was the easier part. Giving the right job for the right person is a bit trickier, and a lot more involving.
It all boiled down to six questions, that I would ask myself each time.
Do they know what is expected out of them at work?
This by far is the reason, that affects an employee’s productivity the most. Often, an employee may end up with a vague idea on what is expected out of them. After each 1-0-1 meeting I would ensure that we were on the same page on what was expected of them and, what was not. I would usually request them to summarize the understanding in writing on an email, whiteboard or scribble on a piece of paper. And yes, always – it would be rule of three. Never would it exceed three points. That helped both of us to remember the points and action items for the next meeting.
Do they have the materials and equipment required to do their work, right?
Once the team and its members had good clarity on what is expected, I would ensure that they had the right tools. There is little, that a woodcutter can do without his axe, however well-defined his goal is. I would give them all the necessary tools to make them effective. It could have been a faster IBM ThinkPad ®, it could be an extra resource to pre-qualify leads so that they focus on closing the deal, or, at other times by giving that approval to travel under budget constraints.
Do they do what they do best, every day?
Allowing an employee to work on their interest and passion is the easiest way to make them productive. There are times where I moved a team member from a ‘behind the desk number crunching” role to a customer facing role. and vice-versa. I have juggled the team structure and reallocated roles to accommodate the job for which that person was the best. I did spend a good amount of time understanding each employee’s strength and passion. My question would usually be “what do you usually love doing”, or “what is the best part of your job” or “what are your most memorable moments this quarter/ year“.
In the last 7 days, have I recognised or praised them for their good work?
Irrespective of their seniority, it is a good idea to find that one good reason or act that deserves appreciation each week. While one could definitely focus on areas on improvement, it works like a charm if it is balanced with that one genuine appreciation of good work. It might be a simple friendly statement during the discussion like “I liked the way you presented your case to X“, or “I love the way you have control on this Y account”.
Do I show them that I care about them as a person?
Showing people that you care is a strength. I was posted away from my hometown and my first boss, very early in career, enquired about my parents and how they would manage alone. He would regularly enquire if I had called them and spoken to them and not just be focussed on work. Sometimes he would ask the if we had our lunch, before starting the afternoon meeting and order for some food. I learnt to practice genuine care from him. I practiced it myself, throughout my career. I did not trust my memory, so I bought had a small notepad where I jotted down small details like their anniversary date, their favourite music and their children names. Occasionally I would ask about their family, about them. If they had gone on a vacation to Disneyland we would talk a bit about what rides kids enjoyed. I realise that it is never out-of-fashion to show concern and appreciation for the person, their family. And yes, show of concern does not mean being intrusive, or faking it.
Finally, I would encourage their development and pursuit of their goals.
Everyone, I believe, wants to learn and develop themselves. One of my very first companies that I worked for had a plan in place for Individual Development and that had a huge impact on me. For the rest of my work-life, I religiously practiced and inculcated Individual Development – whether the company had followed that policy or not. I share two examples here – in one technical person that wanted to learn and enhance his career by using Digital Marketing; and in another and a star Salesperson wanted to write a technical book. In case of former, the person ended up doing one of the best webinars and podcasts and, that drove sales and satisfaction levels of customers. In the other case, the sales person writing a technical book, built his credibility and insights and ended up reducing his sales cycle and conversion rates dramatically.
As I look back, these six questions that I ask myself, has been crystallised by observing different managers that coached me, and I had and put them into practice myself. If not for them, I would not have seen half the success that I have seen, but for these. Thank you!
Please do share your thoughts and feedback and I will be glad to learn from you.
**The author is an entrepreneur with two decades of senior leadership experience in India and Asia-Pacific and now runs Futureshift, a boutique consulting outfit that helps businesses chart their digital marketing strategy with the @ZMOTly framework to achieve impactful outcomes. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org **