A few weeks after a new team member started, I asked her how the onboarding process was going. Thankfully she was willing to tell me that she'd been frustrated by a lack of documentation in places. She was eager to contribute and happy to consult available resources to figure something out, but more than once the resources were outdated and others were missing entirely. Her candid response compelled me to evaluate our documentation with a pair of fresh eyes.
New team members arrive full of energy and ready to make an impact. They aren't carrying any baggage, and they have fresh ideas and enthusiasm. There's something really special about the eagerness they bring. As a leader I need to ensure this spirit doesn't get crushed.
I once had a team member who was weaker than his teammates in a particular area. It stemmed from a poor behavior choice, not a lack of knowledge or skill. My initial thought was to email some guidelines on expected behavior to the whole team. What I realized, though, is that the rest of the team didn't need the guidelines. They already knew intuitively. Why punish the whole group with a new policy?
It was tempting to roll out a set of rules and congratulate myself on improving the situation. But what would that have accomplished? I wouldn't have increased the motivation or interest level of my team member. I wouldn't have inspired him or helped him see how his actions affected others. If a team member is struggling, there is likely a root problem that won't be addressed by a new set of rules.
Note to self: Attack the cause instead of the symptom.
If there's such a thing as a "wake-up call," then there should also be a "wake-up smack" and a "wake-up bucket of ice water dumped on your head." A book gave me the latter. Until recently, I was convinced that I understood how job satisfaction affects performance. It seemed logical to me that happy and content employees would be more productive.
But then I read The Truth About Managing People… And Nothing But the Truth.
Author Stephen Robbins asserts that higher productivity leads to higher job satisfaction, not the other way around. (See Truth 13 on p39-41.) I've been thinking about it backwards.
I spend a lot of my energy as a manager focusing on team member satisfaction. I try to ensure that my team members are content. I want them to have a warm environment, I want them to enjoy interacting with each other, and I want them to feel valued as individuals.
I don't think this is wasted effort, but perhaps I should focus more on attacking things that impede productivity. Places where procedures make it difficult to accomplish things. Places where outdated tools slow things down. Places where projects bottleneck at a single person. If I spend more energy removing roadblocks, my team can surge ahead.
The more I think about it, the more I agree with Robbins' assertion about productivity coming first. I know for myself my favorite workdays are ones where I get immersed in something meaningful and make a substantial contribution to something. And my favorite projects are the ones where a group of people battle together to achieve a goal. In both of these, the feeling of accomplishment comes from having done something.
Note to self: Ask yourself each day what you can do to increase the likelihood that your team members finish the day feeling productive.
A team member once called me out on an area of weakness. She was nervous about how one of my habits was affecting our team and suggested a support measure that would help. I was floored. She was absolutely right. What impressed me was that she recognized the weakness AND had an idea to address it AND confronted me. How many people are willing to call out their manager in this way? That's a superstar employee move. That's unbelievably rare. And that's the kind of team member I want.
Dear Yesterday's Self,
You invited a coworker to a meeting on short notice. Not surprisingly, she wasn't prepared and floundered through the discussion points. Who do you think made the mistake in this situation?
Every person in your building deserves a name. This is How to Treat Others with Respect 101. If they're in your close surroundings and shared spaces, you should know who they are. "Intern" is not a name. "Temp" is not a name. "Janitor" is not a name.
It doesn't matter if the person is employed by your company or is a contractor or will likely only be around for a short time. If you're in the same place at the same time, you need to acknowledge the person. Say hi. Introduce yourself. Smile and be warm.
But most importantly, ask for his or her name.
I tend to replay my day in my head when I'm driving home. I reflect to an extent on what went well, but mostly it's a reflection on what didn't go well. I think this is an important exercise toward becoming a better leader.
Where did I rush someone who was trying to tell me something important? Where did I choose words that caused anxiety instead of spreading calm? Where did I side-step something that needed to be said but that felt too difficult in the moment?
Reflecting on these points in no way assures that I'll get it right the next time, but I believe it moves me a step closer to being the kind of leader I want to be.