A Modern Approach to Managing Teams

Management is a fairly young profession. Management was born out the industrial revolution when suddenly workforces swelled from 5-10 people, to 50 or 500 people. This change brought about a massive shift in our society, how products were produced, how people lived, and also how business owners managed their staff. Times have changed since the days of assembly lines and physical labour being a dominant mode of work. As this Wall Street Journal article highlights, work is evolving and the knowledge economy is starting to dominate the bulk of our workforce. Sadly management practices have been much slower in their evolution. There is a crisis in management today, to recognize this all you have to do is look at the number of books, articles, and apps that are produced to help struggling managers. So much of this information is theoretical and lacks the implementation framework to make the information useable. In a previous post on medium, I've written on how the two pizza rule can define your team size. In this post I would like to provide a more modern and practical approach to managing people and teams.

Relationships are built on trust

Many managers do no fully appreciate the power they wield over their staff. Without your approval and support, your directs risk loosing the safety of a stable income, a fulfilling career, in some cases healthcare, and positive self-worth. Anyone who has been fired from a job can attest to how emotionally overwhelming the experience is. Even people that hated their job can get incredibly emotional about being terminated.

Your primary motivation as a manager should be to build a relationship with your direct reports. This does not mean you need to be buddies, in fact, you should not be friends with your directs. This does not mean you cannot be friendly with them.

Make an effort to engage people as individuals. Talk about what they like, what they do outside of work, what they find interesting or inspiring. The trick is you can't do this as a 1 minute conversation before requesting a deliverable from them. This small talk is transparent to most people and doesn't constitute relationship building. Instead, try taking them for lunch once in a while, ask a lot of questions and listen, listen, listen. Better yet, organize weekly one-on-ones with your directs. As an added bonus if you can retain one or two things from that conversation to ask them about later, it will demonstrate to the person that you were listening and that you cared enough to remember.

Communication is what the listener does
— Mark Horstman

Spending quality time with your direct reports is one of the most powerful things you can do as a leader. Familiarity and development of a relationship will lay the groundwork for the directs to trust you. In most cases, but not all, the trust will also build respect.

beatings-willcontinue-till-morale-improves

Managers should view their work as in-service to the team. Teams of directs serve the needs of the organization and the managers serve the needs of the team. This is a powerful change in role dynamics. Too many immature managers view their role as telling the team what to do. In many cases this leads to a relationship based on role power. People only comply with the managers demands because they don't want to be punished. This has the deceiving effect of short-term results, but does massive long-term damage to team performance. Managers that can win the teams trust and be viewed as a champion for them will be able to rely on the relationship to impact performance and affect behavior.

Look for small wins you can make for individuals or the team as a whole. Maybe it's a product they would like, a change to the schedule, training they have asked for, or an improvement to the work area they have been begging for. Whatever it is see what you can champion on their behalf. This will help to demonstrate that you are looking out for them and that care enough to champion a cause on their behalf. This has a secondary benefit of the team being more likely to raise concerns with you in the future, once they feel confident that their concerns will be heard and addressed.

Define Goals

Achievement is a powerful motivator. One of the difficulties in the knowledge economy is that quite often it's difficult to point to the results of your work. In IT for example there is an endless stream of problems. It can create thankless days of busy work, but lacks the dopamine injection of positive feedback when you can point to a finished work product. If you build a house or create a work of art, you can point to it and say, “I made that.” If you work in a knowledge based profession it's much tougher to point to your completed work product. Defining goals can help staff and businesses measure achievement. Often people get caught up in grandiose goals that are not necessarily based on the reality on the ground. Just as lack of goals can negatively impact the engagement of staff, failing to achieve goals can also be damaging.

start-simple

When starting with goals start with something simple in order to gain traction. A great first pick is often a behavioral change that you need to see from an individual. Do you need a sales person to update their funnel once a week? Do you need a tech to submit their timesheet weekly? What are those behaviors that you know they can do, but have neglected? Simple achievable goals will allow you to ratchet up expectations and set higher goals.

Metrics

Metrics are critical to efficient management. When you have the ability to see the important numbers of your business on a dashboard, you can understand if any problems exist in a matter of seconds.

In order to achieve your goals, you have to understand what behaviors will produce the outcome you expect. Goals are often a lag indicator, so you need to determine your lead indicators. For example if you set a goal that you are going to close $24,000 in new business in six months, you need to know what your weekly metrics are. A couple of examples would be number of opportunities in the sales funnel, number of client meetings booked this week, average close ratio, and average deal size.

Another example would be achieving greater than 90% SLA on all support tickets through the week. Metrics to consider would be average number of tickets opened and closed per day, number of tickets per team member, and average time spent per ticket.

Metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are your ruler for success when making changes. Know your numbers, keep an eye on them daily, weekly, monthly and yearly in order to measure the success of your activities towards achieving your goals.

I have worked with several organizations to develop KPIs and implement dashboards that hang in their office displaying those metrics in real time. Managers and operators love this! They get a quick overview of the health of their departments or business at a glance. It has another benefit in keeping staff focused on their priorities. When the dashboard metrics go out of the expected range they turn red. This acts as a visual trigger for the person responsible for that number to take action, without being prompted by someone else. This shortcuts the time to action on those numbers and allows a kind of self directing feedback loop.

Measure success and provide feedback

Metrics also act as a fantastic management tool. Using metrics when providing feedback can move the conversation from a purely subjective view to a much more objective one. Without a metric to measure a staff members performance you may be left saying, “I need you to do better.” This is a terrible example of feedback, but this type of interaction is surprisingly common. It’s no wonder people get frustrated and immediately try to defend themselves. The defensive response demonstrates an emotional override and completely misses the point of the feedback. The direct likely feels angry and demotivated thinking to themselves, “I work really hard, how am I supposed to do more? My boss just doesn’t get it.” Now let’s try with using specific measurements. “We agreed that you would make 6-8 proactive calls a day. Right now you are averaging 3. What can you do to improve that number?” In this case the direct knows specifically what you are asking for. Even if they are defensive there is likely more room to talk about why they are not able to hit the metric. Perhaps there is some tweaking that needs to be made to their workload or scheduling. Whatever the issue is the direct will appreciate having a constructive conversation about what they can modify, instead of simply being told to do better.

Celebrate!

When you accomplish something slow down and take the time to celebrate your achievement. All too often people squander the opportunity to celebrate wins. You don’t have to make a million dollar sale to justify some high fives, a cake or a round of drinks. Positive feedback is powerful action in management. It is your best method to re-enforce a behavior you would like to see repeated, and like I mentioned before, management is about creating future behaviors. So don’t be shy about celebrating simple wins, a simple thank you goes a long way. A gift can be appropriate in some cases, gathering the team for a few words and cheer, and if the celebration is big enough to warrant it, have a party! Providing a team a vehicle to rally around an achievement can be a powerful cultural glue.

As our economy and work-world continues to evolve in to our future, we will continually be challenged by the rapid change of technology and culture. Companies that make an effort to evolve their management practices will see higher levels of engagement and innovation from their staff. I hope this framework gives you some reflection on your management practices and offers a few ideas on how you could evolve your management framework. Feel free to reach out to me directly for assistance if you feel your company could benefit from an evolved management style.