The Weekly Reid: 3 Strategies to Reduce Surprise Turnover On Your Team

It’s getting harder to retain talent. Especially young, high potential team members. There are a bunch of reasons for this.

A few that come to my mind:

The widespread availability of salary information and benchmarks can make people impatient. Employees, especially those early in their careers, can earn relatively large salary jumps by moving from one company to another.

There is a near universal expectation of empowerment and autonomy, even from entry level employees. There is almost zero tolerance at this point for menial work, rigid direction, or tough performance management. It can be easy for a team member to justify making a quick career move in search of what may seem like greater freedom and responsibility somewhere else.

These days, company culture is marketed as aggressively as the products companies produce. More than ever, the grass can appear to greener at other organizations. It’s easy for your team members, especially the less experienced ones, to imagine themselves in the job of their dreams at some utopian company they’ve read about in promoted articles on LinkedIn or Glassdoor.

As managers, we need to stop pretending things haven’t changed. We need to stop bemoaning the situation and start changing our behaviors. I had to give my own head a shake a couple of years ago when one of my favorite employees left the company. It was a total shock to me. It made me question everything. Here I was thinking I was being a great mentor, a great teacher, and then … she was gone. I was forced, in that moment, to confront the truth of my management practices. I took a hard look at what I was doing and what I was not doing, and made some specific changes to my approach.

Here are three strategies I adopted to reduce the amount of surprise turnover on my team. I can’t promise this will eliminate it entirely for you, but it will help.

More Dedicated Career Conversations

Most managers will claim to conduct career conversations with team members. You need to be honest with yourself about this one. The occasional 5-minute conversation during performance review time is not enough. Waiting until your employee comes to you asking about career path or asking about a raise is also not enough.

In my opinion, managers need to have an ongoing, active career conversation with every employee on the team. What I mean by “active” is that it is something YOU make happen. Some managers espouse that it’s the employee’s job to manage their own careers – I disagree. That perspective is too passive. It ignores the reality of the situation we’re in. A manager needs to get personally invested in the careers of team members. “Active”, in this sense, also means “purposeful”. You need to schedule time that is dedicated only to having career conversations – in addition to the ongoing dialogue you have in your regular 1-1 cadence. This may seem like a lot to you, but my recommendation is to have one career conversation every month with each employee. In this meeting you only talk about career. That’s 12 dedicated career conversations a year with each of your team members. It’s a lot – but these are crazy times – I believe it’s necessary.

If you are not personally invested in the careers of your team members, who is? If you don’t understand what your team members are striving for, who does? A manager should never be surprised when an employee leaves. That is not to say your team members will never leave – they will. Sometimes there is a disconnect between what they want for their careers and what you can offer. Sometimes there is a gap between their assessment of their abilities and yours. It happens. By having more career conversations, you can’t prevent people from leaving entirely, but you can make sure you’ll never be surprised when they do.

Give More Context for Everything

A big reason employees leave is they don’t feel like their work is meaningful. They can’t see a connection between what they do and the highest-level strategy of the company. This is especially true of entry level employees. When you can’t connect the dots between your work and the outcomes the company is pursuing, it can be demoralizing. It can also make that start-up down the street seem extremely attractive.

While you can’t give every team member a job on the strategic front lines, you can help them find meaning in their work. Since I vowed to change my behavior, I’ve made a point of investing more time providing the full business context for every request I make and project I assign. Some managers feel they don’t have time for this. They just want to give direction and have that direction followed. In my experience, this leads to lower quality work and dramatically increases the risk of surprise turnover.

My recommendation to managers is to begin every project or task request with a clear articulation of what the company is trying to achieve and how the request is connected to it. The task in question may be multiple steps removed from company strategy but you should still have the patience to connect it. Since I have started making this investment, I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in overall work quality and employee engagement. When your team members understand why something is important and what you’re ultimately trying to achieve, they can act with greater creativity and purpose.

Engage in a Longer-Term Plan

Most employees are too short-term focused. Most managers are too. That’s easy for me to say given I’m 20 years into a career, but bear with me. When you’re two years out of school, still living pay cheque to pay cheque, it’s hard not to be short sighted. The challenge is, without the benefit of experience, it’s almost impossible to appreciate the real value of patience in a career. It’s so easy to convince yourself that making a quick jump to the company down the street for a 10K raise and “Senior” on your title is a good move. For an entry level employee, that can be the difference between getting car and taking the bus. It can be the difference between living with roommates and getting your own place. Job hopping can be extremely appealing.

Managers should not restrict the scope of career conversations to the next rung on the ladder. If your conversation with an Associate is restricted to what it will take to make Specialist, you’re not looking long term enough. Go all the way with your career conversations.

My recommendation to managers is to create a long-term plan with employees. They don’t need to have all the answers right away – they may not even know what they want to do in 15 years – but you should still have the dialogue. Help them see multiple moves ahead. Help them understand how salaries will change dramatically three or four levels from where they are today. Where a 10K difference in salary isn’t as significant as it may now seem. Show them how you’ll help them develop and grow. Get them thinking more long term and you’ll get surprised much less.

You can’t eliminate regrettable turnover altogether. It’s impossible to keep everyone engaged. You can’t always offer exactly what your team members want. But you can avoid getting surprised when people quit. Get more invested in your team member’s careers. Start really caring about them. Dedicate time to talking about them. Since I’ve adopted these strategies, I’ve noticed a marked reduction in surprise turnover. I hope they’ll help you too.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Management Lessons I Learned from my Mom

There are a set of principles that govern most of my thinking and behavior at work (and in life). Whether you have written them down or not, you have them too. I find it incredibly valuable to have these principles and to vocalize and document them. They serve me well when I’m faced with a tough decision or a daunting challenge. Many of principles I rely on most, came from my mom. Here are 3 that stand out to me and have helped me become a better manager.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I rarely rush at anything. I get this from my mother. I drive slowly, I walk slowly, I try not to rush to judgement on issues. When presented with challenges or complex decisions, I can often be heard saying, “I need to think about it ...” This can be a mild source of frustration for people who work for me and others around me, who are motivated to move quickly. But I have always found it best to think deeply about things before acting on them. This shouldn’t be confused for being indecisive. Quite the opposite in fact. I like to think through a problem so I can be decisive and be right more often than I’m wrong.

The longer I go in my career, the more evidence I see that a contemplative approach to decision making is a good one. I see a lot of managers and teams make impulsive decisions and act too quickly and end up having to reverse course or rework projects. They do damage to their reputations and to the business in the process. I should be careful to say that this perspective is not meant to be in opposition to the “fail fast” mentality. I’m not actually making a comment on the speed of overall execution. Pace to market is important. In fact, I would argue, when you tally it all up, a slow and steady approach is as fast if not faster at reaching a positive outcome than what might appear to be quicker methods. (My mother would be so proud) My advice to managers is to spend more time upfront weighing the options and forecasting potential outcomes so that you can be decisive and swift in execution once you’ve landed on the correct path – measure twice, cut once.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All

Many managers spend more time than they should in conflict with peers and gossiping about people at work. Nothing good comes from this. You should never allow yourself to be bullied, but you shouldn’t be seeking out conflict with people you work with either. I see some managers wearing conflict like a badge of honor. They want to be considered tough. But like all bullies, they are confused about what toughness means.

I try to build strong, positive relationships with everyone around me, and I find it helps me get things done in an organization. If I do enter into conflict with someone, I try to resolve it as quickly as I can. Prolonged conflicts and rivalries at work have no long term benefit I can think of.

Gossiping is also a weakness. I fall into this trap from time to time like we all do, but I try not to. Nothing positive comes from gossiping about people you don’t like or peers you find to be incompetent or a boss who is hard on you. When you gossip, you raise a very unfortunate question about your character to those around you. If this guy is gossiping about these people, what does he say about me when I’m not around?

Gossiping creates a slippery slope. It may seem innocent enough at first, but over time, your entire character can be called into question. In the long run, gossiping at work is a classic negative upside proposition – there are no wins in it for you – only losses.

Look People in the Eye When You Speak to Them

There is a literal interpretation of this and a metaphorical one. Both will serve you well in your career, but for today I’m going to focus on the metaphorical one. As a manager, you face difficult situations almost every day. You must give people feedback on performance, you must make tough hiring and firing decisions. Your life is about making decisions and communicating them to your team and to the company.

I’ve known managers who had all the natural tools, but were ultimately held back because they couldn’t make and communicate the hard calls. They couldn’t purposefully make a decision that would negatively impact a person or group for the good of the business, and then have the strength to break the news to them in a kind but concise manner.

Anyone can be a good manager when things are going well - when all news is good news. The great managers can keep a team motivated even when things are going badly. The best managers I’ve worked with communicated with honesty and integrity. They took no joy in delivering bad news but they weren’t afraid of doing it either. They had the strength to look employees and peers and superiors in the eye and be honest with them. For the aspiring managers reading this, I can assure you that sounds easier than it is. Even when every fiber of your being is telling you how much easier it would be to sugar coat something, or just avoid it altogether, great managers grit their teeth and take the harder path. This is something my mother tried to instill in me and something I try to do as much as possible to this day.

I guess it’s not surprising that these timeless edicts translate so well into valuable business lessons. What is surprising, is that of all the technical learnings and practical experiences I’ve had over a two-decade long career, these three lessons I learned from my mother, are the ones I point to most for contributing to my success as a manager. Happy Mother’s Day!

The Weekly Reid: How to be a Great Manager Even When You're at Your Worst

Finding success in your career takes many years (decades even) of consistently high performance. You need to build a track record of achievement to keep advancing. One or two blemishes on your record can easily stall out your progression. It’s hard enough to perform when everything in your personal life is great. But when things are bad, it’s easy to let that bleed over into your professional life.

I won’t pretend there is some magic checklist of things you can do to keep it together when your world is falling apart. There isn’t. But there are specific things you can do to partially quarantine your professional life from your personal life when times are tough. Having just gone through one of these periods myself, I thought it would be helpful to share the tactics I employed to keep the momentum at work going at a time I could have easily let it sputter out.

Rely on Structured Management Cadence

When your mind is elsewhere, it’s easy to let things slip at work. When I’m distracted by my personal life, there is always a temptation to skip non-essential things at work. I’m tempted to cancel 1-1s, push out team meetings, take a pass on a review session. My mind tries to convince me that anything not desperately urgent can be skipped so it can focus on the other issues weighing on my emotions.

When I’m feeling down or distracted, I stop being proactive. I stop taking action unless I’m compelled to do it. It won’t surprise you to know that if you behave like this for many weeks or months, your performance will suffer.

I recognized this tendency early on, and made a deal with myself. I vowed, no matter what, I’d stick to a structured management cadence. I also added some additional structured touch points to make up for the fact my natural proactive energy might be suffering. I made a conscious choice to add formal cadence to counter a lapse in natural proactivity and attention.

For me it was weekly 1-1s with every direct report, a weekly full team standup, a weekly leaders meeting, and quarterly 1-1s with every member of my extended department. I felt that if I could stick to this, at a bare minimum, I could maintain a reasonable enough connection with my team to keep performance improving even if my own energy and emotions were not fully engaged. But upping the amount of formal cadence I did, I was protecting against any natural drawdown in activity and attention I might be experiencing.

Build New Routines and Follow Them Religiously

When you’re having problems at home or your energy is being consumed by something other than work, it’s really hard to make professional progress. As regular readers of The Weekly Reid will know, I’ve always been a huge proponent for continuous learning. When my personal life is calm, I find it easy to naturally build learning into my daily routine. My mind is free, I’m intellectually curious, and so I just find opportunities to learn. But when life is chaotic, when I’m down or preoccupied, learning is one of the first things to go for me. Innovation is another - I all but cease to be creative. For whatever reason, I just can’t summon the creative energy to do these things when my mind is elsewhere.

When I started realizing this tendency in myself, I decided to add more rigidity into my routines to force myself to do these things. I won’t lie to you and say it always worked. It didn’t. But it did help.

For me it was going to work 30 minutes earlier every morning and spending that time reading and learning and brainstorming. I still had to battle with distractions, but this routine got me to focus more on learning and being creative than I would otherwise have. I came to love this special 30-minute period every morning and I still do it now, even as my personal life is as happy and healthy as ever. I also started doing private yoga classes. I realize not everyone can do this (or wants to) but for me, committing to a private session where someone would be waiting for me at 7 am, was exactly what I needed to force me into a behavior my mind didn’t really feel like doing.

The act of building a specific set of routines and committing to them, was exactly what I needed to keep my momentum building when my natural inclination was to retract into my own thoughts and concerns.

Focus on Helping Other People

I have found that when I’m upset, when I’m fixated on problems in my life, it helps to shift my focus onto other people. I tend to obsess about things. And that has served me well in my career but has the opposite effect when I face challenges in my personal life. When I catch myself brooding over my personal problems, I purposely try to shift my selfish energy onto helping other people.

One of the great things about being a manager, is that when you’re doing it right, its inherently a selfless endeavor. You must have empathy to be a great manager. You need to put yourself in the shoes of others. You need to put the team first. Whenever I catch myself stuck in my own head, I’ll find someone on the team to help.

For example, I might to a special mentoring session with a team member. I may do a round of career conversations with my team. Anything to redirect my self-centered energy. I have found this helps keep my management performance high, and calm the obsession I might otherwise focus on my personal problems.

Make a List Every Day and Keep Track of Your Wins

I won’t dwell on this one for very long since it appears in every book ever written on personal productivity. It works. When I’m not at my best (and when I am) I start each morning by writing a list of target accomplishments for the day. Then I order them by impact. I tackle the biggest impact ones first. As it happens these are also often the toughest. I find it best to take these on as early in the day as possible while I have maximum energy and positivity.

At the end of the day I reflect on my list and make note of a few wins I had during the day. I find a minute or two spent acknowledging your wins, goes a long way to building and maintaining momentum especially when you’re down or distracted. That may sound a bit corny to some, but for me, it makes all the difference in the world.

Finding success in your career is challenging enough when your life is firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, none of us is immune to the inevitable ups and downs of life. I hope these tips were helpful for you, and I’d love to hear what has helped you keep performance up when other aspects of your life are down.

Is there an optimal level of employee engagement? (And, is it 100%)?

Employee engagement is good, right?

Of course, it is, if you look at it as an abstract concept.

We want our teams to be engaged, motivated, driven, purposed. We want to provide a positive environment where great people can thrive and grow and develop.

But there you have it … right there in the details … we want GREAT people to thrive and grow and develop. We want to maximize their engagement. But do we want to maximize engagement for everyone? Can we maximize engagement for all employees and still maximize engagement for our top performers? Are there tradeoffs? Is that even possible? Is an environment that engages high performers also an environment that engages low performers? Should we be pursuing 100% employee engagement or is there some other optimal level we should strive for?

I have lots of questions as you can see.

Let me make a few points for your consideration and then I’d invite you to share in the comments section so we can have a dialogue about the subject.

Engagement on Your Real Team

There is a difference between teams in the abstract and teams in reality. It’s extremely rare that a manager has a team where each and every member is a top performer. That is a desired state – something we all strive for, but almost never reach. I can tell you with no measure of embarrassment, that I’ve never reached a level in my management career where every member of my team was a top performer. Most of the time in fact, I find myself in the middle of some type of transformation. I take on new teams, business conditions change, people come and go, it’s almost impossible to reach a universal level of performance. At least it has been for me.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that most managers have similar experiences to mine. They typically have teams with a quasi-pareto distribution. 20% of team members are absolute stars and really move the needle in a major way. The other 80% range from developing stars, reliable performers and some under performers. If you team doesn’t look quite like this, that’s fine, the principle still holds well enough.

Some Questions for You

Knowing this, do we want stars and underperformers to be equally engaged?

If underperformers are highly engaged but still not performing, what does that say about their competency and fit for your team?

If your approach to recognition and rewards creates an environment where both stars and underperformers report high engagement, are you sure you have the right program?

If you’re answering “No” to these questions, then isn’t that an argument for the optimal level of engagement on your team being less than 100%? Is there a disconnect between a near universal worship at the altar of engagement, and what we actually should want?

A Counter Argument

One argument against what I’ve just laid out is that as a manager, you want to get the best out of every employee you have. You want to maximize performance. In any given moment, you want to field the best team you possibly can, whether they’re top performers or not. And that you should seek to maximize engagement for everyone regardless of performance level.

I have argued in the past – including in my blog about Unicorn Recruiting Strategies – that you don’t necessarily want or need a team of “A” players. That it is a fool’s errand. Rather you want to build an environment where people can pursue their own personal bests. One could argue that the way to do this is to maximize engagement across the board.

The challenge with that argument is that it assumes (falsely I think) that the only way to maximize performance is to maximize engagement. More precisely – that the only way to maximize performance is to maximize engagement SCORES. It also assumes that everyone on your team can and will eventually maximize their own performance and that it will be at the level you need.

The reality of my experience, is that at any given time, there are going to be some underperformers on your team who, no matter how positive the environment is, cannot reach the level you require. In these cases, managers need to apply pressure - to aggressively manage performance. And, in some cases, manage people out of the organization. In these unfortunate (but not uncommon) instances, do you really want these underperformers at maximum engagement? I would argue that if you’re applying the right level of pressure and giving the right amount of critical feedback, this could be impossible.

Some Questions for You

Do you want your top performers highly engaged and your underperformers less engaged because of intense pressure on their performance? Or should they both be equally engaged?

Can you apply pressure on underperformers and still maximize engagement for them? Is this even possible?

Should an underperformer be highly engaged right up until the end?

My Ask of You

As you can see, I don’t have many answers. I can argue both sides of this debate. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing in my head for the last week or so. I wanted to invite you into my internal struggle and ask you to share your thoughts and experiences with me so we can advance our collective understanding of the subject.

Is a little bit of micromanagement ok?

Tell me if any of these scenarios hit home for you:

You give your team a project to manage. You provide direction up front about the desired outcome, timing, budget and other relevant details. High level direction, but certainly enough for the team to work with. Three or four weeks pass, the deadline is rapidly approaching, you ask for a review of progress, only to discover, the project is completely off the rails – now you’re in big trouble.

A senior-level person joins your team, they have all the credentials and a ton of experience. When the first big project comes along, you want to offer a lot of space for them to operate and be creative. They’re experienced after all. With the deadline bearing down, you do a status review only to be shocked by how “off” everything is. You need to jump in at the last minute to save the project which causes a lot of frustration and some measure of embarrassment to both you and the new manager.

You’ve been pulled onto a strategic project and its seriously hampered your ability to manage the team like you normally would. You’ve been acting as an individual contributor way more than you probably should. Because you haven’t been paying close enough attention, several projects have been operating for weeks without a meaningful check point. When you finally have time to check in, you discover things are way worse than you thought. Projects are behind, quality has suffered, people are unhappy. Now you have to dive in and repair.

Some of you may read these and say, “well you’re just not hiring the right people.” That’s easy enough to say, but I think it’s an overly simplistic and somewhat naïve perspective frankly. My experience tells me that teams are made of people, and people are inherently imperfect, so the strategy of just hiring better people is never the complete solution. Certainly, it’s not a solution to this problem specifically.

We all want to build great teams and hire great people – that’s an ever-present management goal – it doesn’t go away. It’s also not something that happens overnight. Most managers, myself included, are constantly in a state of transformation - taking a team from one place and building towards another. The real question is, how do you maximize empowerment, autonomy and flexibility for your teams while also ensuring great quality and results?

Here are a few techniques I’ve adopted over the years that improve the probability projects will be done with quality and stay on track without having to micromanage the entire way. Think of them as tiny bits of micromanagement at certain points of a project that provide the right guidance to ensure a quality result without sacrificing empowerment, autonomy and flexibility for the team.

Help Build the Framework

I encourage my teams to include me at the very beginning stages of a projects. When we’re first building the basic skeleton and framework for the major deliverables. If we can agree on the core principles, outline and structure for the project, the probability of having a great outcome goes up significantly. I also find that this level of collaboration, at the outset, still allows for a lot of creativity and autonomy in how the team executes within that framework. Moreover, as the likelihood of success increases, the level of frustration that often comes from discovering a last minute disconnect, reduces as well.

My advice to managers is to get deeply involved in the first stage of a project rather than micromanaging the entire thing or removing yourself completely. You’ll find the overall quality of outputs will go up and the team will gain confidence as they execute creatively within a framework you’re aligned to.

Find Examples of Great

It’s one thing to align in principle and another thing to align in practice. A source of great frustration for teams everywhere, is when they think they have alignment with the leader only to discover when the project has been delivered, that they weren’t as aligned as they thought. Everyone loses in this scenario, and it’s an extremely common occurrence. The leader, who didn’t have enough time to properly focus, nodded when she was presented the initial high-level direction. Then, in the final review, discovers she didn’t fully understand or appreciate the direction in the first place. The project is off the rails and everyone is frustrated.

To avoid this situation, I find it helpful to align up front on some actual examples or mockups of what the result will look like. I’ll often ask my team to look for examples of how other great companies have done something similar. If we can align at the very beginning on an outcome we all agree is great, the chances of success go up significantly. A little bit of “micromanagement” up front, frees everyone up to execute with confidence and creativity for the remainder of the project.

Discourage the “Tadaa” Moment

Many team members try to pursue big “tadaa” moments. In an effort to show they can be trusted to “own” big projects, they operate in isolation for days and weeks in anticipation of a big reveal. This approach, while well intentioned, is misguided. More often than not, projects that run in isolation like this, fail miserably in the so-called “tadaa” moment. I discourage this entire line of thinking and prefer my team members to work collaboratively with each other and with me. Rather than have a big reveal at the end, you and your team should be in sync the entire way through a project. This increases the likelihood of a quality results and shouldn’t be any less empowering for your team members.

It’s a mistake to equate empowerment and isolation, and many less experienced managers and contributors do this. It’s an important lesson for your team that you can be collaborative and empowered at the same time.

My advice to managers is to discourage the “tadaa” moment. Encourage your team to collaborate with you and with each other throughout the entire project to protect against it veering too far off course. I think you’ll find it has a positive impact on quality and engagement.

Make Yourself Approachable to Share Work in Progress

This is one I need to work on. If you want a truly collaborative environment, your team needs to be comfortable showing you unfinished work. This one is on you. If you overreact every time you see work in progress; if you create fear and tension for people, you’ll never get the level of collaboration you want. If your team fears you, they will operate in isolation for too long, they will hoard unfinished work, and you’ll get a lot last minute surprises with projects that have fallen off the rails. It’s easy to blame your team for this behavior, but you also need to look inwardly.

My advice to managers is to make yourself more approachable for early stage collaboration. Reduce the fear and anxiety and consequences of showing you unfinished or misdirected work so long as there is enough time budgeted to repair and redirect. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the improvements in quality and the overall reduction in stress and anxiety during projects.

We’ve all grown up loathing the very notion of micromanagement. But my observation is that some managers have over-rotated to the point where we are sacrificing quality in exchange for empowerment. I don’t think these things need to be mutually exclusive, but I do think there are some specific hands-on management techniques managers can apply to preserve the best parts of autonomy and empowerment while maximizing the probability that projects are executed on time and with quality. I appreciate this is a delicate subject and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Weekly Reid: Are You Critical Enough of Your Team?

Do you ever look around at other leaders in your company and wonder how it’s possible they don’t see problems with their teams that seem so obvious to you?

Do you think other leaders look at your team and wonder the same thing?

My observation is that many (if not most) managers, are not critical enough of their teams. They are critical of other teams. They are critical of peers. They are critical of corporate policies. But, for whatever reason, managers tend to look at their own teams through rose colored glasses.

Today I’m going to walk through some key factors leaders should consider when calibrating that optimal level of critique. My goal is not to send you off to be tyrants. Far from it. In fact, I’ve written on several occasions, how being critical and being negative are not the same thing. Check out the blog below if you want to read more about that now.

3 Tips for Giving Negative Feedback to Employees

The question of how hard to push my team is something I battle with all the time. There aren’t clear cut answers I’m afraid. Every situation is different. The job of the leader is to read the pulse of the team and the needs of the business situation, and throttle criticism commensurately. I’m going to share some concepts for you to consider as you calibrate criticism to the level that makes the most sense for your team.

Engagement vs. Improvement

Employee engagement is critical – there is no news here. We want our teams to have purpose and autonomy and the opportunity to learn and grow in a positive way. But as engagement scores have become metrics we all monitor so closely (and publicly), it’s had an impact on the amount of pressure we feel comfortable placing on our teams. There is a debate playing inside the heads of most managers as they worry about how critical they can be of performance before the engagement score begins to fall. No manager wants their team at the bottom of the engagement list at the end of the year. So, its easy to hold back. It’s easy to push a little less. It’s easy to search for a positive spin whenever we can. It’s easy to coddle when we should criticize. I understand why we do this, but we need to be careful.

In the long run, in my experience at least, great accomplishment and meaningful development lead to higher engagement. Even when that comes at the end of a long, difficult struggle. If you try to game the engagement system by going soft on your team, you may lose in the long run. My advice to managers is to focus on building a high-performance team with a culture of learning and development. Make honest feedback a hallmark of your team culture. In the long run this will lead to higher performance and higher engagement.

Believing Your Own Press

If you’ve read my book or my blog, you’ll know I’m the biggest proponent of building visibility for yourself and your teams. You must promote your accomplishments across the company. But sometimes, managers start believing their own press a little too much. They get confused between promotion and truth and mistakenly throttle down the critical feedback.

In my experience, you want to praise and promote your team publicly as much as possible. This helps with engagement and helps build relevance and respect for your team in the company. When you do this, your team will see that you have their backs – that you’re their biggest fan. But you need to pair that with an equal dose of critical performance feedback.

One of the great things about being so aggressive in promoting your team internally is that it buys you the right to push them very hard. It’s a fair exchange. I’m very happy to be pushed hard by my manager if there is a commensurate reward/recognition on the other side. That’s the essence of a performance culture.

My advice to managers is to separate the public promotion of you team’s success from their development towards optimal performance. Don’t believe all your own press. Promote your team’s success but never stop pushing for greatness.

Focused Criticism vs. White Noise

It can be overwhelming to take on a new team or transform and underperforming one. There are so many areas you could be critical of, but should you? I’ve had several experiences like this in my career, and it takes a lot of patience to get it right. This is one case where I think you need to be more conservative in the volume of critical feedback you give out. If you’re critical about everything, nothing stands out. It becomes white noise to your team. Managers need to identify the areas that need the most improvement or that are most negatively impacting the business, and focus criticism on them.

It can be painful to watch inefficiencies happen and do nothing about them. But manager’s need to have the patience and perspective to take a pass sometimes. If your team has many challenges, my recommendation is to focus your critical feedback on one of two areas only. Just let the other stuff simmer until you can address it properly. This is not an argument for being less critical, rather for focusing your criticism to ensure you make progress instead of just creating noise.

Every manager has an inner dialogue about how critical to be. We see suboptimal behavior and performance everywhere. But, when you should react and when should you let it go? In general, I think managers need to dial up the criticism and do so in a more focused way. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Weekly Reid: How to Lose a Team in 10 Days

If you manage teams for long enough, you’re going to lose them every so often. You’re going to get busy or distracted. You’re going to make mistakes. The company is going to go through ups and downs. It’s impossible not to lose the team once in a while. We all do it. Through my own reflection and self-assessment, I’ve identified 10 specific management behaviors you should be on the lookout for. When you see these in yourself or in leaders on your team, you should be doing whatever you can to eliminate them.  

Here’s how you lose a team in 10 days:

Day 1 – Protect underperformers

It’s easy to trick yourself into believing that terminating underperformers is bad for morale. You tell yourself firing people makes team members nervous, that it signals larger systemic problems, that it brings people down. I’ve seen many managers talk themselves out of a termination they know in their heart is the best thing for the business. Managers who apply this line of thinking are, more often than not, rationalizing a fear of making tough decisions. They use this flawed logic to defend it to themselves and others.

In a performance-based culture, protecting underperformers does more harm than terminating them. When you allow low performers to flourish, it tells top performers that there is an unfair playing field. If you’re not careful, your inaction will cause you to lose the high performers in favor of the low performers.

Day 2 – Cancel 1-1s

For some managers, the first thing to go when things get busy, are regular 1-1s. You should never do this. In fact, the crazier things get at work, and the busier people are, the more you need to prioritize these check-in meetings. Cancelling 1-1s is a sure-fire way to lose touch with your team and ultimately have them slip away entirely.

When I notice things are uniquely chaotic for my team, I make a point of doing more 1-1s to give them the opportunity to talk things through, share challenges and feel supported. Its counterintuitive, but I’ve found doubling down on 1-1s during turbulent times to be extremely effective.

Day 3 – Disparage departing employees

Some inexperienced managers are unable to control their emotions when people leave the company or get terminated. They can’t help but speak negatively about their former team members in public. This is a huge mistake. Your team is always watching. And when they see you disrespect or disparage former employees they naturally imagine how you’d speak about them if they left.

Managers should make a point of speaking positively in public about employees who have left, no matter what the circumstances of the departure were. There is no downside to this approach that I can think of. Control your emotions, always be kind and respectful when speaking about departed team members, or risk losing the team you still have.

Day 4 – Sugar coat everything

Your team is smart, don’t lie to them.

Some leaders have a nasty habit of trying to paint everything as a positive. They tell themselves it’s to keep morale up and to prevent panic, but it’s actually a great way to lose a team. In my experience, it’s much more productive (and positive in the long run), to be honest with your team. Don’t tell them things are ok when they’re not. Tell them what is going on, and ask for their partnership in overcoming whatever obstacles you face. They can take it. They will surprise you.

Day 5 – Pay inequitably

10 years ago, it was uncommon for employees to talk openly about their salaries. They do now. Glass Door and other sites have made pay so much more transparent. The new generation workforce has completely abandoned the conventions we had when it comes to talking about money. It’s time to acknowledge everyone on your team knows what everyone else makes. For this reason, (and for the obvious ethical and moral reasons) you must make a point of paying equitably.

You can lose a team in a heartbeat if they discover you’re not paying fairly across gender, race, performance, and experience. I realize there are many practical realities that make consistent pay equity more challenging than it appears on the surface. New hires tend to come in at higher salaries, some people negotiate harder than others, your company doesn’t always make it easy to fix pay gaps that may exist. I get all that. But your team needs to believe YOU are committed to doing the right thing. If they don’t, you’ll lose them.

Day 6 – Talk badly about staff when they are not present

Many leaders, when frustrated, will talk disparagingly about staff members when they’re not in the room. It often happens in front of that person’s peers or subordinates. This is another byproduct of leaders not being able to control their emotions. It’s inexcusable. When you speak badly about a team member in from of their peers or subordinates, it sends a terrible message.

If my manager talks about him like this, how does she talk about me when I’m not here?

When I’m in the presence of others, I try to use the classic rule – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s not always easy. I will admit, I still catch myself from time to time, criticizing a team member when they’re not present. This behavior serves no purpose. There is no upside to speaking negatively about a person in front of others and we all need to eliminate it or risk losing our teams.

Day 7 – Apply standards inconsistently

Have you ever had a manager who seemed to be very hard on certain teams and very easy on others?

Have you ever had a manager who seemed to care more about some functions than others?

I think we all have. Sometimes this happens because of a leader’s personal experience and interests. Other times it happens because of personal relationships. Whatever the reason, leaders risk losing their teams when they’re seen to be setting the bar differently across people and groups. It sends a very confusing message. It seems unfair. You can lose the team entirely if you’re not careful. I’ve found it helpful, in my self-reflection, to make sure I’m pushing all teams and people to the same standard of excellence.

Day 8 – Miss team meetings

I catch myself, from time to time, cancelling the full team meeting I run every week. Most of the time it’s for unavoidable reasons, but not always. If I’m travelling or engaged in a big project, a regular team meeting seems like an easy thing to push. In fact, this is the opposite of what I should do.

The more disconnected you feel from your team – due to travel or high priority projects – the more important your team meetings are. If you’re feeling disconnected, your team is likely feeling that at 10X. If you get too disconnected, you can lose them entirely. Next time you’re about to push or cancel your team meeting, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Day 9 – Make yourself unapproachable

This is one I’ve thought about a lot over the last five years. Some managers create an aura about them that makes them difficult to approach with bad news or challenges. I have been accused of this in the past and it bothers me every time I think about it. As a leader, your team needs to feel comfortable bringing bad news to you. You want to be the first person they think of when sh&t hits the fan. If they’re afraid of telling you, if they think you can’t handle bad news calmly, they will internalize problems and you won’t find out about then until it’s too late to take action.

Day 10 – Stop communicating

Communication has been a recurring theme in this list. As soon as you stop communicating with your team, you will lose them. Some managers prefer to operate at an arm’s length from their teams. They sit in an office and pat themselves on the back for not being a micromanager. The problem is, when you’re not actively communicating with your team members, you run the risk of missing too much important stuff. I have always favored a much more active management style than some experts advocate for. I want to be in the middle of things with my team – not to micromanage them – not even to direct them – but to be in the struggle alongside them.

Whatever approach works best for you, I recommend to all leaders to engage in a continuous, active dialogue with your team. Do save your conversations for regular 1-1s and update meetings. Keep communicating or lose your team.

If you’re anything like me, you see a few of these in yourself. I’ve found it helpful to practice regular self-reflection and self-assessment. I actively look for weaknesses in my management style and act to shore them up. If you’ve got some other bad habits I may have missed, please send me an email or share in the comments.

The Weekly Reid: 5 Attributes Every Great Leader Needs

While there is no single formula that makes a great leader, there are some traits most great leaders have in common. I work to develop these traits in myself and my team members. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these attributes and if you think I may be missing some.

1.  Calmness

The longer I go in my career, the more I value calmness as a leadership attribute. Things change so fast these days. Our companies are changing. Our technologies are changing. It feels, to me at least, that we are spinning faster and faster. The pace of change can be overwhelming even for the hardened veterans among us.

Calm leadership is more important now than ever. Your team needs you to be stoic when everything around them is chaotic. When a plane goes through sudden turbulence, the first thing passengers do is look at the flight attendants to see if they’re panicking. If the flight attendants are calm, it calms everyone. If the flight attendants blink, everyone panics. Panic and worry are contagious. The same is true at work.

I council the leaders on my team to make calmness an attribute they strive for. It takes practice, but you can develop it – at least outwardly. None of us are immune to a certain degree of worry and panic – I do it all the time on the inside. But I make a point of presenting a calm demeanor, especially when things are chaotic. When my team members look at me, I want them to see someone who is under control, so they in turn, will stay controlled. I want to make the contagion work for good instead of bad.

2.  Clarity

I used to think I was clear in my communication until I started doing performance reviews and terminations on a larger team. I realized in a hurry, that the messages I thought I was communicating to people, were not exactly what they were hearing.

Many of us focus too much on what we think we are saying, and not nearly enough on what our audience is actually hearing. How many times have you left a meeting believing you were crystal clear, only to learn later there was a huge disconnect? It’s happened to me more than I’d care to admit.

How many times have you given someone a negative performance review, only to discover they had no idea there was a problem in the first place? It can be quite vexing for everyone. It’s easy to blame the person on the other side for not listening, but is that really fair?

Your job as a leader, is to be clear with people. To give clear direction. To provide clear feedback. To be honest. There’s a big difference between speaking and communication. What matters most in communication, is that both parties are aligned. With that goal in mind, I have worked over the last few years to make clarity a priority. At first, that meant being a bit robotic. I could be quite clinical when giving direction and feedback. I’d document things. I’d list things clearly. I’d speak in brief, direct language. It felt a bit awkward, but it was effective. It solved the clarity problem. And, over the years, with more practice, I have learned to be clear without being so clinical. It’s become more natural for me and just as effective.   

My advice to leaders is to make clarity your top communication priority. Focus more on what is being heard and less on what you are saying. I realize that sounds a bit odd, but it has worked wonders for me.

3. Objectivity

Long time readers of The Weekly Reid may be bored of me talking about objectivity. I do it a lot, because I have found it to be extremely important in my career. Some leaders struggle to be objective because their passion clouds their judgement. They get locked into a way of thinking. They become rigid. They become blind to alternative ways of thinking. I’m sure you know managers like this. You may even see this tendency in yourself sometimes. When you lose objectivity, you miss opportunities that could be roads to greatness for you and your team.

I’ve had a few unfortunate experiences working with leaders who lacked objectivity. They became unable to see beyond their own perspectives. They became TOO passionate about a program or approach or strategy, and it eroded their performance and credibility. If you’re not careful, a dogmatic allegiance to one way of thinking can chip away at your reputation over time. You want to be viewed as a manager who can take on anything, who can adapt to change – not a one trick pony.

By contrast, the best managers I’ve worked with, were ruthlessly objective. Passionately objective, if you will. They were open to new ideas, counter arguments, input from others. They could embrace being wrong as strongly as they could embrace being right. They took advantage of changes and new perspectives. Their teams were loyal because their ideas were heard.

My recommendation to leaders is to focus on embracing a spirit of objectivity in yourself and inspiring it in your teams. If you want to read more about my views on this subject, check out this blog I wrote a while back:

4 Tips to Move from Director Level to VP Level

4.  Empathy

We hear a lot about empathy these days. To the point where it’s easy to ignore the concept when you see it. I would advise against that. If there was one attribute I would credit most for any success I have had as a leader, it would be empathy.

When you hear the word … “empathy” … most of us hear something very soft. Not me. For me, empathy at work is about taking the perspective of others so you can be effective. When I’m in a negotiation, I’m using empathy to put myself in the other party’s position. When I’m building competitive intelligence, I use empathy to understand why my competition is behaving the way they are. When I’m developing people, I use empathy to discover the best possible ways to motivate my team members.

Tactical empathy, as I call it, is one of the most valuable (and underutilized) leadership skills. If you haven’t already, I suggest checking out this blog I wrote on the subject.

The #1 Workplace Mistake I Saw in 2016

My advice is to take empathy more seriously. Develop in yourself. Spend more time placing yourself in the shoes of others, and less time focusing on your own perspective. It has been immeasurably valuable for me and I think it can help you too.

5. Decisiveness

In chaotic times, your team needs you to be decisive. It’s rare that you will ever have all the information you need to be certain about any decision, but you still need to be decisive. That’s one of the great challenges of being a leader. Indecision or waffling from a leader can kill a team faster than just about anything.

I spent many years playing poker at a reasonably high level. That experience taught me to be comfortable making tough decisions based on incomplete information and loosely calculated probabilities and expected returns. In poker, you never know exactly what hand your opponent has, but with some practice and a little math, you can narrow the possibilities down to a range of possible holdings. To be successful at poker, and at work, you need to be able to take whatever information you have, evaluate the probable outcomes of your available options, and make a confident, decisive decision. And then learn to live with the results. You won’t always be right, but if you do it often enough, in the long run, you will come out ahead.

It’s hard for leaders to make confident decisions knowing that some percentage of the time they will be wrong. But the alternative is worse. Not making firm decisions leads to chaos. Your team will lose confidence in you. Your peers will lose respect for you. And you won’t come out any further ahead in the long run anyways.

My advice is to focus on being decisive, even when you don’t have all the information you need. Embrace the concept of making logical, well-formed decisions without perfect information. As it becomes a habit, you’ll get more confident and your team will embrace it too.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of leader I want to be. And as I continue to learn and gain experience, my image of model leadership is evolving. I’d love to hear your thoughts on leadership attributes. What stands out to you? Send me an email or write in the comments to share your experiences.

The Weekly Reid: 2 Success Traps to Avoid at all Costs

There is a school of thought that you should myopically focus on your personal strengths and steer clear of your weaknesses. The idea holds that by doubling down on your strengths and wasting less time dealing with your weaknesses, your path to success accelerates. While I see merit in some of the points behind this philosophy, it has always seemed overly fatalistic to me. As though your path and destiny are inevitable. I don’t see evidence of this in my own life and career. I attribute much of my personal success to acute self-awareness and a constant cycle of reflection and improvement. I’ve played out this cycle over several decades to shore up my weaknesses and build the best possible version of myself.  

Last week I had the chance to sit down with an old friend and fellow coach – a person I admire and respect greatly. We chatted about this very topic and it got me thinking about the success traps I’ve done battle with over the years and my quest to overcome them. Today I’m going to share the two traps I’ve struggled with most. I’d love to hear about the traps that plague you, so we can start working to remedy them together.

1. The Future State Fallacy

Once my divorce is finalized I’ll start working on my business again.

Just as soon as my travel schedule lightens up I’ll get back to writing.

Once I lose 15 pounds I’ll go back to the gym (love this one … lol).

Once things die down a bit, I’ll start doing more regular 1 on 1s with my team members.

If we can just close out this quarter strongly, I’ll start focusing more on my family.

Sound familiar to you?

This mindset – what I call the future state fallacy – is a killer for me. It’s safe to say, my career, my relationships, and my health have suffered greatly because I fall victim to this demon over and over again. Just as soon as I figure out how to solve this one, I can start focusing on being successful (See what I did there?  J ).

Unlike some of the things I write about, where I have struggled with a problem and overcome it, this one is different. I’m still plagued by the future state fallacy. I catch myself in this line of thinking almost every day. “Once I do that, then I can start this.” It’s a trap. And if you’re not careful, it can prevent you from tackling the activities and projects and problems that will most profoundly impact on your life and career.

I have not overcome this one yet. But I can tell you, from years of experimentation and self-reflection, that it is helpful to actively look for the demon and acknowledge its existence. When I see myself heading down this path, I call it out and put a stop to it immediately. That seems to help. The other thing I do is make a weekly list of the biggest, scariest things I need to take on – and I try to act on them right away. Instead of looking for reasons why it makes more sense to wait until some future state to change my behavior, I look for reasons why I should start immediately.

I’d be lying if I told you this is a foolproof method, or that I’ve overcome the challenge. I haven’t, but this mindset does help. If you’re interested in reading more about my views on this subject, check out my recent blog:

Hard Conversations: Why You Need to Have More of Them

I’d love to hear from any of you who have also struggled with the future state fallacy. Share your thoughts and stories in the comments or send me an email so we can learn from each other.

2. Pursuit of the Clean Inbox

Early in your career, when you get one call and only ten emails a day, the pursuit of a clean inbox is possible. But when you get ten calls and two hundred emails a day, this pursuit becomes a trap. The pursuit of the clean inbox is a demon I’ve faced and mostly conquered. And I can tell you it has had an extremely positive impact on my productivity and career success.

Too many of us let our natural desire for order trick us into prioritizing a clean inbox over real productivity and progress towards our most important goals. We get lost in a quest to stay current and in control, and lose sight of our real purpose. It’s easy to do. I did it for years.

Do any of these sound like you?

Answer the phone every time it rings.

Read every email as it comes in.

Check voice mails as soon as they come in.

Never leave work with unread messages.

Constantly cleanup and file inbox items.

On the surface, these behaviors masquerade as virtues. We tell ourselves we’re responsive. We’re on top of things. We feel good because life appears to be in balance. But in my experience, these behaviors are traps. They trick you into favoring responsiveness and order over real productivity. They create the illusion of progress.

The most successful people I know are myopically focused on specific goals, game changing initiatives, big wins. They embrace a certain degree of chaos around them so they can doggedly pursue the activities that will have the biggest impact on their mission and on their success.

There was a time when I struggled mightily with the pursuit of the clean inbox and other time wasting activities. They artificially constrained my success for many years. To overcome it, I adopted a new mindset and a specific set of behaviors designed to keep me focused on high impact pursuits. For example, I start every morning by identifying the big wins I am pursuing and then close each day by writing down the big wins I have achieved. It’s become a habit with many benefits. It keeps me focused on high impact work and it creates positive momentum as I actively make note of my wins on a daily basis. I do the same thing for the team’s I manage. I have found that a focus on wins, with purposeful behaviors to support it, goes a long way to getting you off the pursuit of order and onto the pursuit of progress.

If you find yourself falling into this trap, here’s another blog on the subject you might want to check out.

Why Multi-tasking is a Trap and How to Break Out of It

I hope that was helpful for you. It was certainly therapeutic for me. It’s easy to blame external factors for your problems. We all do it. But I have found it to be much more productive to focus on the internal demons that are limiting my success. More than anything, I have found that an honest acknowledgement of weakness, some healthy self-awareness, and a constant pursuit of improvement have been the biggest contributors to success in my life. I’d love to hear about your experiences so we can move towards success together.

The Weekly Reid: The Best Strategic Planning Template

We waste so much time building slides. It hurts me to think about the countless hours my teams have spent over the years building and rebuilding the same basic slides over and over again. And here I am, Mr. Template (self proclaimed ...) doing nothing about it. Well those days are over. I spent the last two weeks under cover collecting and refining all my favorite strategic planning slides so we can all stop wasting so much time. 

I've assembled 40 of the strategic business slides I use most frequently. You can flip through a handful of them below to give you a sense for what's in the package, but keep in mind that is only a small sample. I've designed these templates so they're visually appealing but really easy to use and edit. Most of them use well designed PowerPoint tables instead of shapes which makes them way easier to use. Instead of spending 3 hours building a presentation for your boss next week, you can spend 15 minutes by using my slide templates. 

If I already had you at "strategic slide templates" and you just want to buy them now and get on with it, click here and use the promo code "SLIDE2018". In the package you'll get 40 strategic slide templates and a fully baked example version to show how I would use them in practice.

Buy the strategic planning template package

If you want to learn a bit more about what's inside the template, I'll outline below.

I've probably built hundreds of strategy and business presentations over the years. I have evaluated hundreds more. And during that time, I've developed a set of slides I always use because they make sense and they work. 

Mission Slides (2 slide templates)

Its good to start every strategic presentation or plan with a reminder of the highest level mission. It provides an anchor point for all plans and strategies. In the strategic planning template, I’ve given a simple template and a visual template to communicate your mission.

Situational Analysis Slides (7 slide templates)

I start every strategic presentation with a review of the current situation. This can include analysis of internal factors like your team or budget as well as external factors like competitors and markets. Situational analysis slides are critical to setting proper context. You can't build an effective plan or presentation without at least one. In the strategic planning template, I’ve provided several slides to use when analyzing the current situation. 

Goals Slides (3 slide templates)

Once you have assessed the situation, you need to communicate your goals in a way that is specific and measurable. Goals are ultimately tied to your mission but should reflect the situational analysis you’ve just done. I’ve given you a few templates for communicating your goals.

Transformation Slides (4 slide templates)

Every company is transforming in some way. Every team is transforming. I find it very useful to use transformation slides in my business presentations. I've built a few of my favorites for you to use in the strategic planning template.

Strategic Initiatives Slides (3 slide templates)

In my experiences this is the most important section of a strategic plan or presentation. Once you’ve identified your goals and desired transformation, you need initiatives to get it done. In this section I’ve given you a few templates to communicate and describe your strategic initiatives in a compelling way.

Comparative Analysis Slides (4 slide templates)

In many business and strategy presentations you will need to compare markets, competitors, features and other attributes. I do it all the time. I've designed four of my favorite slides for comparisons and included in this template.

KPIs and Dashboard Slides (2 slide templates)

You can't have a strategic plan without some sort of measurement dashboard. I use the same basic dashboards in every plan I do and I've included two versions of it for you in this package.

Budget and Resources Slides (2 slide templates)

Most strategic plans need to contemplate resources and budget requirements. I created a couple of simple slide designs that embed excel sheets into them. This makes it way easier for you to edit and adjust based on your specific needs.

Execution Plan Slides (4 slide templates)

Once you've aligned everyone to your strategic and the key initiatives, you need to present a project plan and timeline. Most people spend too much time building these or they try to copy and past something from excel that is not legible. I've included 4 slide designs I use all the time when presenting my execution plans.

Decision Framework Slides (2 slide templates)

How often do you need to decide between two options? All the time, right? I've included a couple of slides I use when I need to get executive alignment or a key decision made between two reasonable options. 

Risks and Request Slides (4 slide templates)

Most good presentations end with a statement of risks and some requests for support or help. I've included 4 of my favorite templates for doing that. They should help you save time in future plans and presentations.

I hope this package is helpful for you and saves you a ton of time. Send me an email and let me know how it goes!

Buy the strategic planning template package

Weekly Reid - How to Develop Leadership that Scales

For the past 10 years, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to manage teams of all sizes. From very few to many. I’ve experienced firsthand, the unique challenges that arise at specific inflection points along the way. I’ve shared many of my mistakes and learnings with you. In my journey, the only constant I’ve discovered with certainty, is the need to be humble. Just when you think you’ve mastered the art of management, something changes and you realize how little you really know. There are levels to this thing and those levels are rarely apparent until the next one is staring you in the face.

For all the debates about management styles – collaborative, autocratic, coercive, facilitative, situational – there are not nearly enough about management scale. All styles optimized for managing a team of 2, fail on a team of 20. What works brilliantly managing a team of individual contributors, fails when managing a team of senior leaders with their own teams to manage. Today I’m going to share some of the lessons I’ve learned for building scale into my own leadership style. I hope it will be helpful to you.

1.   Deleverage from You

The most important starting point for leading at scale is to embrace the goal of deleveraging from yourself. Failure to do so will inevitably transform you into a bottleneck to the success of your team. This is a hard one for new leaders. Especially those who have found success up until this point as individual stars. A mindset shift is required.

At a certain point, to be an effective leader on a large scale, you must evolve from being a star in your own right to being an agent for a team of stars. That transformation is harder than it sounds and takes real commitment to execute. There is always a temptation for a manager to dive in and solve problems. To fix things. To save things. To make sure things get done the way you know how. Don’t fall into this trap.

It takes discipline to embrace work from your team that you think is only 90 percent of what you could do yourself. But that is a profitable tradeoff in exchange for scalability. It should go without saying, though it often doesn’t, that a team of 10 people executing at even 70 or 80 percent of what you believe you could do, is more productive than 100% of your personal quality at a scale of one. Yet, so many leaders struggle with this.

If you never give your team the opportunity to operate unburdened by you, you’ll never get the chance to see the truly creative and innovative work that is possible. You will miss out on the opportunity to surpass your own potential. Don’t make this mistake.

My advice to leaders is to deleverage from yourself as early as possible. Your goal, from the outset of management, should be to architect your own irrelevance. If often talk about the best manager I ever knew and how he seemed to do almost nothing. That is the dream. You’ll know you’ve built a scalable team when you no long have anything to do. The good news is, for the career minded managers out there, this is when bigger opportunities and new challenges will be presented to you.

2.   Start by building values and operating principles

Architecting a team to scale means you need to empower people to make good decisions without you. Most teams I observe are not well set up for that. They depend too heavily on one or two leaders to be the source of all judgement and decision making. If you’re not careful, you can inadvertently build a team with no capacity of making well-reasoned decisions without you. I’ve seen entire companies that operate in a leadership vacuum because a controlling leader failed to build the necessary infrastructure for decision making at scale.

As a leader, it can be hard to let go. We all want to empower people to make decisions but we also worry about the consequences of bad ones. When the pressure gets high, we revert to controlling everything. I do this all the time. Like all managers, I am a work in progress. What I have found to be effective is to invest time in building and evangelizing core values and operating principles. Developing a set of principles your team can point to when making key execution decisions. Even though you may not be able to weigh in on each individual decision itself, your values and principles, if developed effectively, can be everything the team needs to make well-reasoned decisions and give you peace of mind in the process.

My advice to leaders is to invest more time building and communicating values and operating principles for your teams. Invest less time making decisions for them. Values can be cultural, but they can also be operational. You should be quite broad in your interpretation of this. For example, I run a marketing team, and we are constantly building campaigns and content that require many decisions and approvals. Rather than make all the decisions about what kind of language and tone our marketing campaigns are written with, I invest upfront to communicate a set of core values and principles for our brand. For example, our language is always smart and fun. We use human imagery whenever we can, and we never use a long fancy word when we could use a short simple one. A very simple set of principles like this can build scale into your model for leadership. Fewer people need to come to me to make decisions now. they have a set of values and principles to point them in the right direction.

3.  Teach models and frameworks

In a similar vein, I try to build scale onto my team my investing more time in teaching the core models and frameworks for the functions I manage. This way I can spend less time investing in day to day approvals and reviews. There are many benefits to leaders and teams in taking this approach. Teaching models is akin to the “teach a man to fish” proverb. Rather than have my team come to me to brainstorm and review messaging every time they are working on a program; I invest time upfront in developing and teaching a model for building messaging that can be applied to most scenarios.

You might be surprised at how few managers invest the time to understand their functions at a deep enough level to be able to build models to support it. If you can do it successfully, you will save yourself countless hours in reviews, you will build confidence in your team members, and the quality and consistency of the work will go up. Moreover, you won’t have to worry so much about key team members potentially leaving. The power will be in the models your team operates on – not in any one person.

The model for messaging I mentioned is just one type of example where investing in frameworks is effective. I do it for everything. As you probably know from my blog, I love building templates. I have templates for annual plans, quarterly updates, strategic plans … everything. By investing time in building templates, I free my team up to be more creative on the substantive things and expend less energy worrying about planning and operational frameworks.  

My advice to leaders is to invest time in building out the models and templates and frameworks for the most important things your team does all the time. Processes, plans, presentations … all of it. These models become a key ingredient in the scalability of your team. They deleverage you or any one individual or group on your team.

Leadership is journey that never ends. The moment you think you’ve got it figured you, you will be shown something that reminds you have far you still must go. In this latest phase of my personal leadership journey, I have been focused on building scale into the teams I lead. I hope this was helpful to you and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Weekly Reid - Your Survey Results and Some Helpful Resources

This week I’ll cover 4 data points that really jumped out at me. In the weeks to come, we'll get way deeper into this and I'll keep sharing the most fascinating results I've found. I don't know about you, but I find it super compelling to see how other people thing. There are some common themes in the data points I've covered this week and I’ve tried to include some helpful content related to them.

Question: What is your primary career goal?

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A couple data points really jumped out at me for this one. The first is that so many of you want to be recognized as an expert in your field. That is a great goal and I’ve definitely found my career trajectory has improved in direct proportion to my reputation as an expert. The second interesting one was how many of you wanted to reach the C-level. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given you’re so invested in improving your careers (and you read this blog :) ) I’ll keep focusing on these subjects and in the meantime, I highly recommend checking out this new video. 

4 Keys to Move from Director to VP Level

Question:  What have been the biggest hurdles to reaching your career goals thus far?

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  Two data points jumped out at me from the responses to this question. 32% of you felt your unwillingness or inability to self-promote was the biggest hurdle to reaching your career goals thus far. And, 26% of you felt office politics was the biggest hurdle. I can completely understand these perspectives and I’m going to keep publishing more content to help you overcome these challenges. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out these two blogs for helpful tips:

How to Work Well with Incompetent Co-workers

5 Things You Can Do Tomorrow to Get Your Career on the Fast Track

Question:  Which of the following is most responsible for your career success so far?

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Many of these responses were not surprising, but I can really see myself in the 23% of you who pointed to "perseverance through hard times" as being largely responsible for your success thus far. The further I go in my career, the more I think perserverance is the number one differentiator between those who ultimately succeed and those who don't. Check out my latest video for my advice on how to bounce back in tough times.

Video – How to Bounce Back from a Career Setback

Question:  What new skill do you think would be most helpful in your future success?

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An overwhelming number of you (43%) pointed to “improved ability to promote myself at work” as the key skill to achieving future success. That is by far the most popular question I get asked by my employees and coaching clients. It’s a critical skill we all need to focus on more. I recently filmed a video on building up your professional brand which I think will be helpful. I’ll also look to publish a blog in the next few weeks with practical tips on how to create more visibility at work.

Video: How to Build Your Professional Brand

I hope this was helpful for you. There is a ton more data to share with you and many more resources to help you navigate the opportunities and challenges in front of you. 

Weekly Reid - Setting Career Goals for 2018

This year I’m focusing on three professional goals. But before I launch into them, I think it’s important to share my methodology with you. I should warn that the goal setting purists may get offended by my approach. Unlike typical business goals, which are meant to be results oriented, I purposefully do not focus on outcomes in my annual goal setting. For me, the process is much more important than the outcome. I want to create new behaviors and habits that I think will lead me to positive outcomes, and then let the results take care of themselves.

The challenge with outcome-based goals, in my experience, is that they tend to be quite binary. You either lost 15 pounds or you didn’t.  So what if you worked out every day and ate well but only lost 13 pounds? Is that a failure? What was actually the most important thing, the outcome or the new lifestyle you adopted? Outcome-based goals can lead you to discount the amazing value that can come from adopting the right behaviors even if you fall a bit short of the desired outcome. To be honest, the older I get the less I care about outcomes and the more I care about habits. This applies to my professional life too.

Back to my professional goals. I have three categories for these: Learning goals, Leadership goals, and Coaching goals. For my career, this makes sense. First and foremost, I am a manager, so these categories are a good fit for me. If you’re an individual contributor or a hybrid contributor-manager, you might select slightly different categories.

Within each category I typically have one goal with a few behavioral commitments tied to it. This way I have something to shoot for AND a set of behaviors to ensure I stay on the right path.

Here are my professional goals for 2018:

Learning Goal:

Operational Mastery

Someday I would like to be a CEO. I have wanted that for a while now and most of my learning goals tend to be centered on the areas I think I’m missing to be successful at that level. When I look at the best CEOs I’ve ever worked for, they all had an amazing command over the financial and operational engineering of a company. I don’t have this yet. Most of my career has been spent working in the Sales, Marketing and Product areas of companies so I’ve got a gap to fill on the operational side if I want to reach my full potential as a leader. This year, my learning plan is going to focus primarily on the pursuit of mastery in financial and operational disciplines. I’m excited to dive in and improve in these areas.

My Commitments:

Read one book per quarter on corporate finance and operations.

Take one online course per quarter on corporate finance and operations.

Find a coach or mentor and commit to one session per month to develop my skills.

Find one opportunity or project this year at my company to expand my operational experience.

Leadership Goal:

Quiet Leadership

As I wrote about in a recent blog, I am very focused on speaking less and listening more. I have noticed, in myself and in leaders around me, a bad habit of leading by directing vs. leading by inspiring collaboration. I want to change this in myself.

I think you can get by for a while as a leader just by giving clear and precise direction and holding people accountable to execution. But at a certain point, you reach a limit. The best leaders in the world facilitate greatness in others. That is leadership at scale.

This year, I’m going to focus on leading by inspiring others to collaborate and to be creative. To do that, I’m going to talk way less. I’m going to wait longer before sharing my opinions. I’m going to find new ways to make people feel more comfortable to be creative. This hasn’t always been my strong suit. When I’m rushed or impatient I have a tendency of dominate and direct. I’ll just jump to my answer instead of facilitating real collaboration. I’m excited to develop in this way.

Commitments:

Start all project discussions and brainstorming by polling the room for ideas before sharing my own.

Start all new project meetings with a basic statement of the objective but no direction on tactics.

Make my team more comfortable by lowering the consequences of having a “bad idea”.

Host a coaching session with leaders on my team to create similar behaviors in them.

Coaching Goal:

Unleash the Introverts

I am an introvert. I always have been. There are unique challenges to being an introverted leader but it’s not impossible by any means. Many great leaders are introverts. Over the years I have developed a mindset and a collection of tools that help me succeed as a leader even though I struggle in some areas extroverts find easy. When I look around me, I see a lot of introverts who struggle with the same things I have had to overcome. My goal in 2018 is to share those methods and models with this group to help inspire a new generation of leaders.

Commitments:

Write one blog per quarter focused on leadership tools for introverts.

Hold one coaching session per quarter with the future introvert leaders I see on my team.

Create specific opportunities for the introverts around me to push their boundaries.

I love goal setting. I always feel great right after I do it. I realize the goals as I’ve presented them today aren’t as measurable as you might normally see, but it’s the behavioral change I’m after. I’m excited to pursue these new habits and committments with all of my energy and enthusiasm this year. I hope you’ve found my perspective to be valuable and I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on goal setting and what you’re shooting for in 2018.