Recently we asked Everwise experts in team management to respond to questions from the community. The conversation ranged from managing teams to the challenges of both high- and low-performing direct reports.
Thanks to the following mentors for providing their insights to the challenges the community brought to the conversation:
Don Fuss, Director of Marketing and Sales, PwC
Luis Velasquez, Managing Principal, Velas Coaching
Adam Spence, Managing Director, 7
Stepping up to Management
It can be challenging to make the leap from being the boots on the ground to manager. One of the first questions to come from our community was how to overcome feelings of insecurity and resistance to delegate that many experience as they step up to management. Luis Velasquez answered this questions with his own set of questions to get to the bottom of why one might be hesitant to delegate: “Are you scared of surrendering authority? Fearful of becoming irrelevant? Scared of not getting it perfect all the time? Fearful your direct reports aren’t capable?”
In Velasquez’s opinion, “delegation is not an all-or-nothing affair, delegation is not just a matter of telling someone else what to do.” He suggested that new managers consider testing the waters by having their employee look into an issue, report the situation, and then let you decide how to proceed or decide together. You could alternately have your employee decide how to proceed but report to you for an “OK” before moving ahead.
Managing Direct Reports: setting expectations
A number of questions revolved around setting and meeting expectations. One specific issue was handling employees who excel in some areas but not others and how to navigate this type of situation. Velasquez observed that one of the most important skills in this scenario is awareness. He recommended that if a direct report is open to coaching or feedback, managers should coach them to increase their awareness of themselves, their social context, and others perceptions of them. He noted, “Awareness at these three levels will help [your employee] determine what can be done and map a plan to close the gaps.”
Along these lines, another question that came up was how to manage employees that are competent but are not performing up to their potential. Both Adam Spence and Velasquez replied that this kind of issue stems from management’s ability to set expectations. Velasquez was of the opinion that this challenge could be resolved by setting clear, realistic performance indicators that explicitly lay out what constitutes below, average, and above expectations. Spence agreed and remarked that he has heard many people say, “They are doing an ok job but it’s the way that they do it.” To this, Spence says, “People should be measured on ‘the what’ and ‘the how,’ and the combination of the two be equally valued.” To do this, management must set key performance indicators (KPI’s) to measure the “what” and clearly explain the values of the organization so that employees understand the substance and significance of the “how.”
Managing Teams: the importance of communication
In the area of team management, several community members asked about how to effectively lead and develop remote teams working in opposite time zones (e.g., US Pacific Coast and India). Spence noted that this is something he can to relate to on a personal level and, more broadly, is being asked more and more of managers in today’s global markets. He observed, “There is only so much that modern technology can do in terms of creating connections between people.” He recommended getting teams together (or, at the very least, subsets of the teams) for face-to-face interaction as regularly as possible. He also noted that in these kinds of teams, it becomes critical for leaders to recognize the cultural differences in these regions and develop that awareness amongst all team members.
Switching gears, someone asked for advice getting in sync with a new team that has been working together for a long time and established a strong working relationship, making it hard to keep up. Don Fuss recommended that in this case, the best approach for this is to engage with members of the team who are (a) the most knowledgeable and (b) willing to help with the manager’s education. Proactive communication with just one team member can provide a manager with enough context via behind-the-scenes know how to get him/her up to speed and build enough confidence to not only participate in meetings but also to prove oneself to the team.
The final type of questions that came from our community revolved around managing up. People first asked how to handle managers who are detail oriented to the point of micromanaging. In Fuss’s opinion, “The easiest path to building that level of comfort is to be frank in your dialog with the manager. Assure your manager that you still need his/her input and guidance but need a level of autonomy to achieve your best performance. This will give him/her a sense of control, yet the confidence to let you ‘own’ your projects.”
Velasquez agreed with Fuss, saying, “You have two choices: Get out of there or take a proactive approach to your manager.” He recommended trying to understand the manager’s motive for micromanaging and present a plan of action, including each step to complete the project. Velasquez suggested providing frequent report: “Accuracy is everything with this type of manager, so make sure your data is solid.” He noted that asking for feedback during these reports will help you build trust, and as that trust grows, the manager will be more inclined to loosen the reigns.
Lastly, a community member asked how to integrate input from other leaders versus direction from one’s manager, even if the external input contradicts that of your manager’s. Velasquez recognized this as a challenge, saying, “Your goal is to add value to the organization and get the job done, but… as you probably know, the relationship with your manager is key for your development. Thus gaining his trust should be paramount.”
With this in mind, Velasquez recommended first considering any complexities between one’s manager and the other leader: are there conflicting interests or dynamics? Once you’ve thought this through, reflect on how you might present the outside advice to your manager. Presenting the information in the context of building his/her performance as well as the team’s may give you the best chance of incorporating this input while building the relationship with one’s manager. He finished, “It is a complex world out there, having a mentor to deal with these issues will definitely help you navigate the sometimes-complex world of managing up and sideways.”