Listen to our leadership lessons now on iTunes, Spotify, and read the best management quotes from 31 leaders from each episode, so far.
I’ve got some fun news to share: The Heartbeat is now a podcast! You can listen to your favorite leadership lessons during your commute, daily walk, while you’re cleaning your kitchen… well, you get the picture. Anywhere you’d like 🙂
I’m lucky that a big part of my job as CEO of Know Your Team is talking to insightful leaders. So several years ago, I came up with the idea of filming those conversations, just via Skype, to share with everyone else. In each interview, I ask the question: “What’s one thing you wish you would’ve learned earlier as a leader?” The answers have been undoubtably fascinating.
Building trust in our team is more than a “feel-good” thing – here’s the data that show how trust affects our team’s performance and company’s bottom line.
Trust in the workplace matters to us. Or at least, we say it does.
We surveyed 597 managers and employees back in Fall 2018, and 91% of people said they value trust highly.
We also seem to spend a decent amount of time of it: 85% of managers say they spend a moderate to large amount of time and energy on it.
Yet, how many of us could specifically say what the specific outputs of trust are?
Inherently, we know we’re supposed to trust our team. But it’s more an assumption, than it is a true understanding of the payoff. Let’s take a look at the exact benefits of trust in the workplace, so we’re not just saying it matters, but understanding the ways in which it matters:
#1: Correlates to higher revenue
Research often shows organizations seen as “high trust” tend to have higher financial returns. A 2016 Harvard Business Review piece written by Stephen M. R. Covey and Douglas R. Conant compiled many of these findings. They cited companies listed on the “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Fortune, which trust comprises two-thirds of the criteria, “beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”
They also noted how “an advocacy group, Trust Across America, tracks the performance of America’s most trustworthy public companies and has found that the most trustworthy companies have outperformed the S&P 500.”
Lastly, they discovered that “a 2015 study by Interaction Associates shows that high-trust companies ‘are more than 2½ times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations’ than low-trust companies.’”
#2: Improves job performance
A 2002 study conducted by Dirks and Ferrin found that trust in leadership that significant relationship with these individual outcomes: increasing job performance, reducing turnover, increasing job satisfaction, and increasing organizational commitment. In addition, when in our own survey of 597 managers and employees, we found that 75% of people said they believe trust affects performance to a high degree.
#3: Increases employee engagement
According to a Gallup study of more than 10,000 people, when “employees don’t trust organizational leadership, their chances of being engaged are one in 12. But when that trust in the workplace is established, the chances of engagement skyrocket to better than one in two. That’s more than a six-fold increase.”
#4: Encourages employees to spread the word about the company
Trust is also your team’s rocket booster: It also gives people the “oomph” to spread the word about your company. In a 2016 Edelman study with 33,000 employees, they found that employees who trust in their leadership team are more likely to advocate for their company and its product and services.
#5: Enables dissent and open flow of communication
Trust opens the door for your team to express how they’re actually feeling. A Harvard Business Review article discusses how, “Without a foundation of trust, people in the organization may comply outwardly with a leader’s wishes, but they’re much less likely to conform privately — to adopt the values, culture, and mission of the organization in a sincere, lasting way. Workplaces lacking in trust often have a culture of “every employee for himself,” in which people feel that they must be vigilant about protecting their interests.”
Remind yourself of these benefits anytime you’re doubting whether you can afford to spend time on building trust. You can and you should. The payoff is real.
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Managing an underperforming employee is tough. Here’s advice from 1,000+ managers in Know Your Team on how to address poor performance.
It’s time to have “the talk”: The one where you have to figure out how to discuss poor performance with an employee.
This not-so-fun conversation you likely saw coming. After missed deadlines and low quality of work, you may have tried to have it, inquiring about their underperformance, one-off. Perhaps this employee even admitted to you that they had some personal problems affecting their work performance.
But you didn’t address their poor performance, head-on. Now, you need to… Or else they might be sticking around for much longer.
A manager who is a member of The Watercooler – our online community of 1,000+ managers in Know Your Team – expressed how he was facing this exact conundrum. An employee wasn’t performing well, and had divulged he was having some family issues.
This manager wondered: How should he approach this conversation in his next one-on-one meeting? How do you address poor performance with an employee, particularly when it seems they might have external issues influencing them?
Here’s how some of the 1,000+ managers in The Watercooler recommended approaching “the talk” about underperformance with an employee…
Don’t tell a bad performer they’re “a bad performer.”
You’re assigning them a highly loaded label, and this can cause the person to be defensive. Strong castigation doesn’t give any room for a productive conversation to discern the root cause of the bad performance. Rather, describe what behaviors you’ve noticed and the gap in performance, as objectively as possible. Do this without personally tying that person’s identity into their work. Ask, “This is what I noticed. Would you agree, or did you see things differently?” Decrying, “You’re a bad performer” is essentially yelling at the person – and yelling doesn’t make something easier to hear.
Size up the general shape of any external issues.
You’ll want to get a understanding of the “outside of work” issues. You don’t need to pry for details – just see if you can get a sense of the shape of things. Are there issues that could be solved through a more flexible work schedule? (For example, having the person take an afternoon off to handle a situation.) Are there issues that are emotionally taxing on them? (For instance, a sick family member can obviously bear a great toll on a person). In some cases, you might consider offering a short personal leave, so the person can focus on finding stability with their personal situation. If you do this, you’ll want to set expectations about their performance when they return.
Figure out if you have Problem A or Problem B.
One of our Watercooler members, Paul Sanwald, a VP of Engineering at a small fitness startup, shared an excellent framework for thinking about how to approach an underperforming employee…
Figure out which of these is true: (A) The employee knows they haven’t been productive or (B) The employee thinks they’re productivity has been acceptable. As a manager, your job is to figure out which of these two situations you’re in. The first (Problem A) is a problem of everyone understanding the consequences of unacceptable productivity. The second situation (Problem B) is a disagreement on understanding what acceptable level of productivity is.
One of the ways to discern if you have Problem A or B on your hands is to ask simply ask: “How have you been feeling about your performance lately?” Based on this answer, you’ll know which of these problems is true for you.
What to do if you have Problem A: The employee knows they’re underperforming.
If the employee knows they haven’t been performing well, here’s a recommendation of how to structure the conversation:
Recognize the problem: Before meeting, ask the person to reflect on their performance: What’s going well? Not well? Get their perspective, and then offer your own.
Identify the cause: Is the reason for underperformance something you did or didn’t do, as a manager? (Here are some questions to ask to figure that out). Is it situational to the task they were given? Is is systemic to the work environment? Are there mitigating factors you weren’t initially aware of?
Explore possible solutions: Discuss different possible routes to resolve the underlying cause of poor performance. For example, if the person works best with greater context, you as a manager need to be providing more detail and support on the project. However, if you’ve already been doing that consistently, another potential option is for that person to get a different job. “Best outcome” doesn’t always mean just forcing the person to “work harder” and stay at the company. Consider fit, and what is best for you, the other person, and the team.
Outline next steps: You’ll want to plan out concrete next steps to address the underlying cause of the issue. What are the actions both you and the employee will take? By when? Will there be a follow-up conversation to check back in and see if those actions are fulfilled, and how they are going?
What to do if you have Problem B: The employee doesn’t know they’re underperforming.
If an employee doesn’t believe their performance is suffering in any way, Esther Derby, a Watercooler member and well-known organizational consultant, recommends that you consider:
Does this person know that their co-workers feel they can’t rely on them? Have they talked to the person, directly, or only complained to you?
How do you know that the employee is underperforming? For instance, have you been told that the employee is “slow”? What does slow mean in this case? If the person spends more (perceived) time than other people doing similar work but does so with fewer errors, you might in fact prefer that.
Can you articulate the expected level of performance? What specifically does this person need to do to improve?
Don’t delay. As soon as you feel you might need to have “the talk,” the clock countdown starts: Every minute you postpone talking about an employee’s poor performance, the greater likelihood their performance will get even worse. Schedule a one-on-one meeting immediately, if one isn’t already on the books.
Yes, it’s far from fun to have to talk about poor performance with an employee. But you only exacerbate the damaging ramifications on your team by not having the conversation sooner.
The minute you stop tying your leadership so closely to your identity, you become a better manager.
You are not your leadership style. In order to be a good leader, you must internalize this. As much as you might self-identify with being an “empathetic leader” or a “decisive leader”, you’ve got to let these notions go.
This is not an obvious truth because leadership feels inherently personal. The adjectives we use to describe our own leadership style might be the same adjectives we use to describe our own personality or disposition: Calm, patient, deliberate, compassionate, rational…
But the minute we fuse our identity to our leadership, we cling to it – and it blinds us.
I was recently reminded of this when I interviewed Desiree Vargas Wrigley, CEO and founder of Pearachute. She emphasized to me:
“The more you can remove your sense of self-worth from the performance of your business, the better your business and your leadership will be.”
Desiree admitted how, as a leader, it’s easy to cement yourself as “a certain kind of leader” – and you fail to see problems for what they are, because of this.
For example, if you see yourself as a “motivating leader” but an employee isn’t performing up to par, it’s tempting to feel frustrated. You might think to yourself, “I’m doing everything I can over here to be supportive… How can this person be flailing?”
Or, if you consider yourself a “fair leader” yet a team member implies you’re playing favorites, their critique feels like a personal attack. “Wow, I’m a fair leader, and they really think they’re not getting their chunk of the pie?”
In both situations, you view your own leadership as static – it’s the other person who needs to change. You shut the door on collecting more information, evaluating the situation objectively, and the possibility that there’s something better you could be doing.
The closer we tie our sense of self to how we lead, the harder it is to improve.
Instead, can you view your leadership as a product – not an extension of your identity?
With a product, you welcome feedback, you experiment with what works, you see it as a work-in-progress. With a product, you take a step back every now and then to reflect if it is indeed working.
You’re not incredulous if it’s not working for some folks. You’re not personally offended if some people don’t seem to like it. You adjust, test, readjust.
If anything, when leadership is your product, you’re excited for your leadership to evolve, and get better.
Otherwise, your leadership is self-righteous. “This is just the way I am” or “This is just how I’m wired” become the default mode of thinking.
The most important thing your leadership should be doing is serving your team – not your sense of self. Is the way you communicate, make decisions, handle conflict, set direction helping my team get closer to what they all want to make happen?
Leadership is a tool to help your team achieve the outcome it wants. It’s not a precious thing, in itself, that needs to be held on high.
Our leadership isn’t an outward expression of some grand inner personal philosophy, gilded in gold. Our leadership isn’t a foundational core of who we are, set in stone.
The more you relish in self-identifying as a “certain kind of leader,” the less responsive you become to the needs of your team and how you can become better over time.
The more you separate your personal identity from your leadership, the better leader you’ll be.
From The Heartbeat Podcast: Interview with Joel Gascoigne, CEO + Co-founder of Buffer
Joel Gascoigne is the CEO and Co-Founder of Buffer, a social media management platform serving millions of people, and generating $19MM+ in annual revenue. As a remote company with 82 people, Joel shares why transparency helps him be less stressed less as a leader, the value of seeking opposing viewpoints, and why you should go slow to go fast.
Why Teams Should Record Individual Expectations “Gathering independent expectations from each stakeholder shifts everyone’s focus to the real point of interest: how the decision at hand is likely to play out in the future. Those expectations are still essentially guesses, but they’re tied to the appropriate context.” (You have to create an account to view the whole article, but totally worth it!)Written by Ken Favaro and Manish Jhunjhunwala, MIT Sloan Management Review
Good Leaders Don’t Disappear “You can’t follow someone you can’t see. That is why visibility and transparency mean so much in the realm of leadership. They are not just buzzwords; they produce the visceral experiences and tangible markers both potential and current followers evaluate as they mediate their level of trust and commitment to a leader.”Written by Jesse Sostrin, strategy+business
Why Trump’s Unusual Leadership Style Isn’t Working in the White House “As Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian and author of the recent book “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” told me this week, Mr. Trump manifestly lacks a long list of traits associated with effective leadership: ‘humility, acknowledging errors, shouldering blame and learning from mistakes, empathy, resilience, collaboration, connecting with people and controlling unproductive emotions.’”Written by James B. Stewart, New York Times
Are Your High Expectations Hurting Your Team? “This study of more than 300 executives in 10 countries shows that approximately 35% of executives fail because of a tendency toward perfection. That’s because achievement-oriented leaders tend to be chronically dissatisfied. While you may be thinking that you’re “just pushing them to be the best,” you may actually be setting them up to fail.”Written by Ron Carucci, Harvard Business Review
Companies will perform better if employees are not cowed into silence “Studies show that fear inhibits learning. And when confronted with a problem, scared workers find ways of covering it up or getting around it with inefficient practices. The answer is to create an atmosphere of “psychological safety” whereby workers can speak their minds.”Written by Ron Carucci, Harvard Business Review
From our online leadership community of almost 1,000 managers, in Know Your Team…
What questions do you like to ask during a one-on-one meeting?
What advice do you have for me?
If they could be proud of one accomplishment between now and next year, what would it be?
What are worrying about right now?
As a manager, what can I do better?
Are there any blockers I can help you with?
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about this week?
What rumors are you hearing that I should know about?
If you start a project/company, would you want me to be on the team? If so, would it be an expert role or a managing role?
What are your biggest time wasters?
Is there something we should start doing as a team?
Would you like more or less direction from me?
Do you get enough feedback on your work? If no, what additional feedback would you like?
Wanting to learn more? We’ve got a Guide to One-on-One Meetings and tool for running one-on-ones all included in Know Your Team – you can check it out here.
Just for fun
How Restaurants Got So Loud “Restaurants are so loud because architects don’t design them to be quiet. Much of this shift in design boils down to changing conceptions of what makes a space seem upscale or luxurious, as well as evolving trends in food service.”
How do you build trust in a team? First, let’s understand what trust really is and why it matters.
Who do you trust?
The first people who likely came to mind were your partner, your family, and your friends (hopefully).
How about your boss? Your coworker? It’s harder to say.
A 2016 study conducted by Edelman surveyed 33,000 people in 28 countries. From it, they discovered: One in three people don’t trust their employer. And only 24% of employees in this study believe their CEO exhibited highly ethical behavior.
In our own Know Your Team survey this past year of 597 managers and employees, we found that folks were slightly more trustful of one another: About 8% of employees said they rarely or never trust their manager. That’s almost 1 in 10 employees not trusting their manager.
Why defining trust matters
Whether 1 in 3 employees or 1 in 10 employees don’t trust their managers – both are significant occurrences. Especially given the amount of time we interact with our coworkers, and the projects and outcomes that are on the line, it’s startling.
Are we really spending all this time with people we don’t trust? Should we be doing anything about this?
To answer those questions, we first have to define “trust” clearly. Misconstrue what trust actually is, and you spend time on the wrong things. Get it right, and building trust gets easier.
What trust is NOT: Likability
We often equate trust with likability. We think, “This is a nice person” or “This is the kind of person I’d want to hang out with on weekends”… So we trust them.
However, that’s only part of the equation.
Consider someone in your company you don’t trust. You might like her. She’s affable, genuine and definitely tries her best. But trusting her with a high-profile project? You hesitate – she hasn’t shown the track record you need to feel confident. You don’t give her the big project because, honestly, you just don’t trust her enough.
So you if you want someone to trust you, it’s not enough that they like you. It’s not enough that they think you have good intentions. They’ve got to think you’re capable. They’ve got to think you have what it takes to prove something through.
You might think someone is a good person – but you don’t trust them to actually get the work done. You need both.
This is an important distinction because many leaders accidentally optimize for likability as a means to build trust. They try to “be friends” with their direct reports, thinking it’ll mean their team will trust them more.
If we can internalize that trust is not likability, it causes us to not fall into the trap of trying to please everyone around us. If we want to build trust, there’s something deeper we have to access.
So then, if trust isn’t likability, what is it?
What trust IS: Intentions + Behavior
In a 1998 paper, Denise M. Rousseau suggested this definition of trust: “A psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another.”
In short, trust is two things: Intentions and Behavior. It’s people’s perception of who you are, and their expectation of what you can do.
The 4 Cores
Stephen M.R. Covey defines trust in his popular book, “Speed of Trust,” similarly to Rousseau. To Covey, trust is the belief in who the person is, and a belief in their abilities – a person’s “Character” and their “Capabilities.” Covey then further breaks down trust into what he calls “Four Cores”:
Integrity – This means being honest, walking the talk, and being congruent with what you believe. You can’t trust someone unless you believe they have integrity. When someone is assessing your integrity, they’re wondering, “Do you have values I align with? Are you a good person?”
Intent – This is your agenda or mission. Your team must trust your intent before they can trust you. A person sizing up your intent will wonder, “Are you thinking about yourself, or others, in this situation? Do you have the short-term, or the long-term in mind?”
Capabilities – This is your talents, attitudes, skills, and knowledge. When someone is determining whether or not to trust you, they’ll consider, “Does this person have the expertise to do this job as well as they say they can?” Based on our survey, we found that both managers and employees most question their each others’ capabilities (26% of employees said this, and 36% of managers said this).
Results – This is your track record, your performance. You can’t be trusted unless you’ve shown results in some way that you can be trusted to follow-through. When you ponder about a coworker, “What has this person done that proves I can trust her?” you’re seeking results.
Warmth + Competence
Another related lens for understanding trust is described by organizational experts Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger. They revealed the two elements needed for a leader to be trusted were “Warmth” and “Competence” – with warmth needing to come first.
According to their research, when you project strength too quickly, people have a harder time trusting you. They explain in Harvard Business Review, “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”
These perceptions of warmth and competence are powerful: “Insights from the field of psychology show that these two dimensions account for more than 90% of the variance in our positive or negative impressions we form of the people around us.”
How do you show warmth and competence? Cuddy and her research partners detail how warmth can mean positive body language, affirming words, generous actions, and even a smile. Competence can be projected similarly through body language (such as standing up straight), your past track record, and the actions you take going forward.
Like Covey, Cuddy’s research and explanation of the requirements for trust echo Rousseau’s definition of intention + behavior. Trust is all about who people think you are (warmth), and what they think you can do (competence).
Getting this distinction straight helps lay the groundwork for you to build trust in your team. You can now understand why someone might distrust you. Perhaps you haven’t defined your intent clearly enough. Perhaps it’s because of your past behavior. As a result, most importantly, you now can start to think how you can build trust in your team.
The clearer understanding we have of trust and what it really is, the clearer path we have to our teams trusting us more.
Are you a first-time manager? Of all the management advice for new managers, embrace this one, first.
Don’t be fooled: Becoming a new manager is deceptively difficult.
No matter how many leadership books you’ve read or conversations you’ve had with mentors – the transition to becoming a manager is precarious.
Talk to any leader, and they’ll affirm this. “I was a terrible manager when I first started,” most will say. Myself included!
This is because the change required to be a good boss isn’t apparent from the outside looking in. You’re not truly aware of the change that’s needed in the role, until you’re actually in the role.
So what change do you need to make as a new manager? From 15,000+ people we’ve surveyed through Know Your Team and thousands of conversations with managers in our online community, the #1 consistent insight folks have shared is this:
Becoming a new manager isn’t merely a change in what you do – it’s a change in how you think.
When you become a manager, your responsibilities change and your daily schedule changes. But it’s your mindset that changes the most.
The biggest change in thinking, as a new manager, is that your best work is not you doing your best work. Your best work is creating an environment for others to do their best work.
You don’t think about, “Am I moving fast enough?” Instead, you now contemplate, “Am I removing obstacles so my team can move fast enough?”
You don’t consider, “Do I know the answer to this?” Instead, you ask yourself, “What am I doing to help my team become experts and find the answer?”
Becoming a good manager starts with how you think, not what you do. Shift your mindset, and the actions follow.
This shift in mindset, while seemingly obvious, is both substantial and hard to internalize. What previously indicated “success” for you as an individual contributor doesn’t indicates success anymore.
No longer do you pat yourself on the back when someone says, “Great work” or “I love what you did here”. As a manager, the small bump of validation happens when someone says: “Now I understand,” “Thank you for listening,” or “I’m excited to work on this.” The small wins change when you’re a manager.
This shift doesn’t happen overnight. We have to disregard the prior experiences of we were rewarded for as an individual contributor. We have to reconfigure our default settings of behavior that got us to where we are now.
But if you can embrace this mindset shift as quickly as possible, your ability to become a good manager exponentially increases.
You don’t have to wait til you’re in the thick of everything, as a manager, to know what you must change.
Now you know: You must change your thinking, first.
From The Heartbeat Podcast: Interview with Amir Salihefendić, CEO + Founder of Doist
Amir Salihefendić is the founder and CEO of Doist, a productivity software company serving over 13 million people. As a remote, bootstrapped company, Doist’s products include Todoist and Twist. In our conversation, Amir gets real about motivation, the importance of constant learning and evolution, and hiring.
Amir also turns the table and asks me a few questions about our recent new product launch 🙂 Don’t miss our chat here…
Closing the Culture Gap I found the data and the conclusions in this piece interesting. Affirms what many of us have likely experienced – that the C-suite is more excited about cultural change than everyone else in the company – and what to do in spite of this: “First and foremost, you must identify your organization’s “critical few” traits: the core attributes that are unique and characteristic to it, that resonate with employees, and that can help spark their commitment.”Written by DeAnne Aguirre, Varya Davidson, and Carolin Oelschlegel, strategy+business
The Art of Balancing Autonomy and Control This piece observes an unlikely group of managers – hackathon organizers! – to uncover insights about what makes them successful as leaders: “The distinction [of hackathon organizers] from traditional management is akin to that between directing actors in film versus theater — in the former arena, directors are expected to control and intervene in the process to perfect the finished project, while in the latter, directors focus on preparation in advance as they accept the uncertainty and improvisation which is integral to the live performance. “ (Note: They ask you to sign-in to read the full article – I think it’s worth it 🙂 )Written by Hila Lifshitz-Assaf, Sarah Lebovitz, and Lior Zalmanson, MIT Sloan Management Review
The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures A well-written reminder on the duality that a work environment must embrace to be successful: “Creating a culture that simultaneously values learning through failure and outstanding performance is difficult in organizations with a history of neither. A good start is for senior leadership to articulate clearly the difference between productive and unproductive failures: Productive failures yield valuable information relative to their cost. A failure should be celebrated only if it results in learning.”Written by Gary P. Pisano, Harvard Business Review
I hate manager READMEs A strong, compelling take on a recently popular best practice of writing “Manager READMEs”. I personally think Manager READMEs are highly culture dependent and can be helpful in certain teams. But I really enjoyed reading Camille’s thoughts on it – she makes excellent points: “First of all, be real: you probably do not know yourself as well as you think you know yourself. It’s the Dunning-Kruger of self-awareness.”Written by Camille Fournier
How To Be A Leader That Inspires People To Change Ignore the cheesy title 🙂 It’s a good, light kick in the pants to remember this time of year, as a leader: “There’s only one leadership strategy. Everyone knows this. You can only lead by example. There’s no other effective way to inspire people.”Written by Darius Foroux
From our online leadership community of almost 1,000 managers, in Know Your Team…
If you’re annual planning for the first time, ask your team to consider the following:
What were your group’s successes/wins?
Where didn’t you do as well as you would’ve wanted?
What metrics can you show, i.e., how are you measuring progress?
What’s your vision for your department for the year ahead?
How is what you/your department are working on contributing to the mission of the organization?
Do you have clarity on how what your department matters to the whole organization?
What are the two or three things that would make it easier for you/your department contribute your best work?
Is there anything that you think the leadership team should be focusing on that we’re not currently?
Other annual planning tips:
Set company goals quarterly. Set team micro-goals monthly. Set individual contributor micro-microgoals weekly. Don’t try to predict the future.
Just for fun
The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed” “A few nights ago I saw Jack White in concert. It was a wonderful night, and a big part of that was due to a new rule he has imposed on all his tour dates: no phones.”
Thank you all for a wonderful year. Talk to you in 2019! <3
Playing to your strengths as a leader doesn’t make you a good boss – in fact, it can make you a bad boss. Here’s why.
Of all the leadership tips to be a good manager, “leaning into your strengths” has got to be one of the most frequently cited.
“Do what you’re good at. Focus on your strengths.” That’s the conventional advice we all receive. There’s no shortage of StrengthsFinders assessments and personality tests urging us to triangulate which strengths we should zoom in on.
However, I recently had a conversation with Peldi Guilizzoni, CEO of Balsamiq. His insight on this topic turned my head sideways… in a good way. Peldi asserted:
“Doing what you’re good at hurts the team.”
Huh? Let me explain.
Peldi admitted to me that he’s good at getting stuff done. He makes things happen. He thinks he’s killing it. But as a CEO, 10 years in, should he really the one doing all the doing?
After a decade running his business, Peldi noticed he’d created an environment where his coworkers were depending on him to get things done. If he takes a vacation – he leaves them hanging. If he has to be out for a week – they’re stuck.
“What I realized is that I should stop myself from doing things I’m good at — which is so counterintuitive — and instead, focus on delegating training and making sure that everybody gets good at doing those things.”
Doing what he was good at was hurting his team, not helping.
I could relate.
I’m good at communicating. So I do it internally. A lot. I write-up about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, a new approach I’m thinking about, a new concept we should try… But, when I take a step back, it’s a bit too much. We’re a tiny, two-person company. For our size, all that communicating is overkill. I could easily spend some of that same time somewhere else in the business and have it be more meaningful.
For both Peldi and I, our predisposition became a preoccupation. We’re good at it, so we automatically assumed it was good for our team.
Whenever you’re good at something, you don’t objectively assess its effectiveness as you should. You apply less of a discerning eye. You know you’re good at it, so you figure the more you do of it, the better.
But as with anything, repeated actions without rigorous judgment become lazy and reckless. And naturally, they have unintended consequences.
Now avoiding this pitfall, and actually internalizing this counterintuitive leadership tip, is hard.
No one is going to stop you. Rarely do others have the temerity to stay, “What you’re good at is bad for the team.” Plus, doing what you’re good at is fun. It’s inherently satisfying to flex your strengths. Who wants to not feel that way?
So, you have to ask yourself: Are your actions feeding your team, or your ego?
Focus on what you’re good at, and the team never becomes good at it themselves. Focus on what you’re good at, and you never see things for what they really are.
Resist viewing your strengths as the only way to make the team strong. Resist falling in love with the short-term results of doing what feels good to be doing.
Pause. Don’t be so busy. Take stock. Why are you doing those things? Because you like doing them? Because you’re good at them? Or because it’s the best way to move the team forward?
Find someone who will tell you the truth. Your co-founder, your coworkers. Ask them if what you’re doing that you’re good at is really helping move the team forward.
This truth-seeking takes 10 minutes to do. Start today. And stop doing what you’re good at, all the time.
After four years, we’re launching a new product, business model, and company name. Here’s why.
We’ve always been a bit weird.
We’re a two-person company serving 15,000+ people who use our product in over 25 countries. We’ve generated almost $2MM in revenue to date, have been profitable since Month 1, and every year since. We’ve never raised money from investors, or taken out a bank loan. (And, we started out as a tiny prototype that Basecamp spun-off.)
Today, we’re doing something weird, again.
We’re launching a new product, business model, and company name.
We’re now Know Your Team — software that helps managers become better leaders. We give you educational guides, tools, and a community of support to help you avoid becoming a bad boss.
Know Your Team costs $65/month per manager (or $600/year).
If we’ve never met before, hello! I’m Claire, CEO of Know Your Team. It’s nice to meet you, albeit virtually.
Our original software, Know Your Company, used to be focused on helping business owners with 25 to 75 employees get to know their company better. We charged $100 per person, one-time, for life.
We generated $1MM in cumulative revenue in a little over two years. We helped tens of thousands of people at companies like Airbnb, Medium, Kickstarter. And not just at tech companies, but law firms, marketing agencies, retail stores, and even a few churches.
When we surveyed customers, 94% of employees said Know Your Company helped them feel more connected to their coworkers, and 85% of CEOs said Know Your Company positively impacted their company culture.
Yet as 2017 was winding down, we noticed our sales becoming flat.
I remember thinking this around this same time, last year, in December.
As I reflected on 2017, I noticed three things:
Our online community for leaders took off. We’d launched our Watercooler community in October 2017, to help managers learn from each other. More than 200 people signed up for it in the first month. (Today we have almost 1,000 members.)
Our writing about leadership took off. The writing I’d been doing on our blog increased our organic traffic by 3X in a month’s time. It would go on to increase by 20X over the next six months.
Our software sales went down. Our sales, however, did not increase. Not 20X. Not 3X. In fact, sales were fairly flat in 2017, if not dropping during some months.
Seeing the discrepancy between our audience and our sales, we scratched our heads.
Yes, Know Your Company was helpful as a piece of software. But for who?
When we got started back in 2014, we focused on selling to business owners. But by the end of 2017, our audience had evolved. After some digging, we learned that our 20X increase in traffic were mainly managers at companies of all sizes.
We had a mismatch. Our audience was managers, but our software was for business owners.
Our audience was asking the question, “How do I become a better leader?” But our software, Know Your Company, wasn’t answering that question.
In fact, no one was doing a good job of answering that question, “How do I become a better leader?”
Sure, you can read books, but they lack practical application. Trainings are expensive and one-time. And man, making mistakes and learning trial by fire is awfully painful.
I searched high and low for a good answer to, “How do I become a better leader?” I couldn’t find one. So we decided to build our own.
The best way to learn anything is to go do it. The second best way is to practice doing it. So with Know Your Team, we combined theory with practice. You can’t become a better manager by just reading books, or just by using software tools, alone. We built Know Your Team to include 3 complementary resources, to be used together:
Guides — Written guides on leadership, based on data, with 50+ chapters on topics such as one-on-one meetings, giving honest feedback, building trust, and more.
Toolbox — Dead simple software tools to help you run effective one-on-one meetings, ask for feedback, get high-level team updates, foster rapport, and more.
Community — Online support from 1,000 other managers from all over the world, where you can discuss tough situations like firing, hiring, and more.
And, we’re not done! We’ve got loads of ideas for more guides, more tools, and more resources that we’ve already started working on creating. There’s so much to be done to help people become the leaders they’ve always wanted to work for.
Changing our business model.
For new customers who sign up for Know Your Team, we chose a new business model. Know Your Team costs $65/month per manager to purchase. As a monthly subscription, this makes it easier for managers to swipe their credit card without having to ask for permission from their boss.
Previously, our one-time pricing model had been useful to get us to profitability quickly. For example if you had 19 employees, we charged $1,900 one-time. We were essentially collecting the lifetime value of the product upfront.
But over time, we noticed our one-time pricing model becoming a big barrier to sales. A business owner had to justify a $2,000 or more expense to their finance department, to their investors, and to their leadership team.
Now that we’re selling to managers, there was no way a $2,000 product was going to feel accessible to them, even if the cost was only one-time. We wanted Know Your Team to feel like a “no-brainer” purchase for folks who might not have access to the company’s budget. So we moved to a monthly subscription model.
Building Know Your Team with two people.
We spent six months building Know Your Team. This meant designing and coding new features, writing 50+ chapters on leadership for our guides, and constructing a new billing system, new onboarding system, and new marketing site… All with just two people.
Every piece of copy, code, and illustration you see is something our CTO Daniel Lopes or myself created. (We did this while maintaining our current product, doing customer support, writing blog posts and pursuing other marketing projects.)
This is a big move for us. As a bootstrapped company, we don’t have piles of cash stacked up, in case it doesn’t work. We don’t have investors to run to if we get stuck in a bind. (In fact, we have $140,000 in the bank, to be precise.)
But, the change feels right. Since I’ve been running the company in 2014, this launch, today, is the most energized I’ve felt.
Why the weirdness?
Admittedly, our approach is weird.
You might be wondering, “Why are you making things so hard on yourself, Claire? Why not raise some money to make this change? Take out a bank loan or open a line of credit? Hire more people? Buy yourself more time?”
Those are not bad ideas. We considered them. And who knows, maybe we’ll pursue them in the future.
But for right now, the short answer is: I don’t want to.
When you run your own business, you have to remember why you wanted to run it in the first place. What you want. Not what others want.
In business (and in life), we’re addicted to pattern-matching. We snuggle into where the grooves are carved, where the tracks have been laid — not necessarily because we want to — but because they’re just there.
For me, I got into this whole starting-a-business thing because I wanted to do it on my own terms: Small in headcount, big in impact, independent, profitable. Life is short. Why build a business any different from your vision for it?
Of course, you shouldn’t mindlessly listen to your own din, in isolation. You should carefully choose who to listen to. The only people I want to listen to are our customers, current and prospective: Employees, managers, leaders, CEOs.
The minute you take on investors, accept money from a bank, put people on your board — you change the people who you’re listening to.
I don’t even want to listen to Jason and David, the founders of Basecamp (and Know Your Team board members) 🙂 We’re lucky that Jason and David want us to do things our way, too. We disagreed on some of the strategy of the roll-out of Know Your Team, but they were very supportive of us choosing to ignore their advice. (I’ll write more on this perhaps another time…)
If you have the luxury to choose who to listen to, choose intentionally.
Is Know Your Team for you?
You might be one of those people I want to listen to.
If you’ve spent late nights googling things like, “how to be a good manager” or “how to run a team meeting” or “how to delegate well”…
If you’ve bought carts of leadership books on Amazon, desperate to avoid beginner manager mistakes…
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I have no idea what I’m doing as a manager”….
If there is anything else — truly anything — I can do to help you become the leader you always wished you worked for, I’m here. Feel free to email me at email@example.com or ping me on Twitter at @clairejlew.
I look forward to hearing what you think. I’ll be listening to you.
On the journey with you, -Claire
P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)