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4 valuable management lessons I’ve learned from 1,000+ leaders in January

From our 1,000+ managers all over the world in our Watercooler community, here are 4 valuable management lessons that I’ve personally learned already this year.

Management lessons

Management lessons are everywhere. You can read them in books, listen to them on podcasts, and hear them live during conference talks. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great ways to learn! The problem is, you can’t easily follow-up with famous authors, podcast hosts, and speakers. This is why we at Know Your Team created The Watercooler: a unique, and highly-moderated community for 1000+ managers, leaders, executives, (and you!) to share and discuss management lessons, talk about challenges in the workplace, and support one another through our wins and losses.

As I said last year, in my post ‘The 3 lessons on leadership I’ve learned from 1,000 managers in the past few months,’ when I started here at Know Your Team as Operations Manager, I had no formal management training whatsoever. The Watercooler community has become an essential part of my workday and education in my new management role. There are thousands of conversations that I can learn from.

Here are four of the best conversations and top management lessons, I’ve learned from and that we’ve been having in The Watercooler in January 2020 alone:

Lesson #1: What are common pitfalls and mistakes to avoid when doing manager handoffs and transitions?

People come and go in the workplace for various reasons. Maybe you’ve been promoted and are transitioning into a different role. Perhaps you’re taking leave for one reason or another. Regardless of the reason, you’ll want to make sure you’re structuring transitions to be as smooth as possible for yourself, the new person, and your team that they’ll be taking over.

Tim Burgess, co-founder at Shield GEO, said, “I think going too fast is the biggest pitfall.”

Additionally, he suggested:

  • Writing out all the things that you currently do in your role, monitor it for a few weeks to make sure you don’t miss anything and create good documentation for your role.
  • Give a quick win with a process improvement or an initiative that the team has wanted for a while but he hasn’t had the bandwidth to do.

Jonny McCormick of spokepodcast.org, Founder and Director of People & Organization Development at Rosseau added:

  • Give people milestones to strive for: “When you achieve XYZ, when you’re competent in ABC, or when you feel comfortable with DEF, we will increase your accountability.”
  • Be clear on delegation, accountability, responsibility, and monitoring. Typically the most difficult things are delegation, accountability, and monitoring because they’re less commonly defined when compared to responsibility. Here’s how he thinks of it: 
    • Delegation – Jonny points to this article on the 5 Levels of Delegation. Be clear on what is being delegated and to what level.
    • Accountability – This happens in both directions (up and down the hierarchy) and can typically be tied to concrete outcomes. Being clear on what this role has accountability for delivering allows a person to come out swinging and plan appropriately.
    • Monitoring – It’s worth being clear about how the role will be monitored long-term (e.g. performance reviews), but it’s crucially important to define how it will be monitored in the early days (e.g. weekly check-ins, continuous feedback, and agree upon next steps, etc.)
  • As for handling the transition publicly: What gets announced in the company is significant as well. 
    • What is the symbolic date of handover where this person has full ownership and authority on all decision-making? 
    • Timing: Does the announcement get made initially on Day 1 that there’s a new role, and that a phased transition is in place with the expectation that by the end – Day 30, 60, or 90 – there is clarification of what this new role now has full accountability for?

Lesson #2: What are some good ways of showing you value your employees?

Showing you truly, genuinely value your employees in thoughtful ways can make all the difference to a person’s happiness and contentment in your workplace. Watercooler members shared the little extra things they do as managers to show they care about their team:

  • Give them back their time. Maybe a Monday or a Friday is right on the cusp of a holiday, but it isn’t technically a holiday. Perhaps some people are even taking off on purpose to get a head start for family preparations, travel, etc. Consider turning it into a free paid “bonus holiday” to show your appreciation.
  • Give shoutouts. In Slack, you could create a channel just for this purpose alone. Encourage folks to give whenever and as often as they see fit. You could even take those shoutouts and include them in an internal newsletter to provide people additional recognition.
  • Simply express gratitude. Thanking people is probably the easiest, lowest cost, and yet hardest thing to do authentically. The challenge is you want to do it in the moment and not to make it systematic (otherwise you lose authenticity).
  • Write hand-written notes. Pen a quick note with some kind thoughts, words of encouragement or gratitude, or anything else that might be appropriate and mail it or hand-deliver it. People appreciate the personal nature, thoughtfulness, and the little extra time it takes as opposed to a quick-worded Email or a Twitter message. You could even take pictures of the cards before sending, and occasionally go back and reminisce to warm the heart. Win-win.

🧠 Goal idea for 2020: Pen at least one handwritten card each week. One member feels it will help him maintain a level of gratitude and diminish the ego.

Lesson #3: Should you be conducting pulse surveys?

A member was concerned because they were not receiving as many company health survey responses as they were striving to. Once again, member Jonny McCormick of spokepodcast.org, Founder and Director of People & Organization Development at Rosseau, gave the following solid advice:

  • Almost all companies suffer from survey overload. The bigger the company, the more surveys. It’s impossible to respond to them all. 
    • Tips: 
      • Is your survey sufficiently short? 
      • Can it be anonymous? 
      • Are there any additional barriers to entry? (i.e: sign-in page, reading instructions, etc.) 
      • The less friction, the more likely you’ll get completion.)
  • Do people have faith in the surveys? Perhaps people aren’t completing them because they don’t have faith that anything will change. Perhaps they are content with the status quo and, therefore, don’t see the point in the surveys. 

Some tips on increasing participation if you want to continue down the survey route:

  • Have leaders model the behavior: i.e., Writing a quick email to their teams saying “I’ve just completed X it took me Y mins and I think you should do it too…it’ll really help with Z.”
  • Have a reward for participation: i.e., Giving away random gift cards or something else to encourage others.
  • Show you’re listening: Do something with the feedback you receive. If someone takes the time to fill in a survey, they’ll want to understand it’s been listened to (even if the action isn’t the course they would have wanted!)

Lesson #4: What are some frameworks for better communication?

It’s never fun having hard conversations with employees, but in The Watercooler, members discussed helpful frameworks and other reading material that might help you start to hold better tough conversations with employees and team members:

  • Simon Senek: The Best Way to Confront People is by Saying These 3 Things
    • “Say exactly how they made you feel. Happy/sad/angry isn’t enough. Be specific.”
    • “Share the specific action that made you feel that way. ‘When you walked out on Friday night…'”
    • “Explain the impact of their actions. ‘I feel this threatens a stable future…'”
  • Acknowledge how you feel and work out how you would like to feel. Then do the same for the other person or people in the conversation. Ask yourself, “how might they feel, and how would I like them to feel?” One of our members has been playing with a tool called “The Emotional Culture Deck” to facilitate these conversations.
  • Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.
  • The moment you have the urgency to talk and get your voice heard is the moment when you need to be listening to the other person the most.
  • Sometimes, we talk over each other because we fear that “our turn” might not come. That is not true. The more patient you are, the better the conversation will flow.
  • Use phrases like “Help me understand…”, “I’d like to understand your point of view better…”, and “How can we get on the same page?”
  • Questions > Answers.
  • Curiosity > Judgement.
  • Disagree without being disrespectful.
  • Difficult conversations are very challenging by nature. It’s ok to accept and remind yourself of that.

Delivering hard feedback is always tough. You may find these resources on our blog additionally useful:

I love our Watercooler Community. I learn so many helpful management lessons from participating in the forum every day. I’d love for you to join me and impart on me your wisdom as well.

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