Friday, February 19, 2010
Growing Great New Managers (2)
Not Too Deep and Not Too Shallow
When a gardener has chosen his or her plants, the next step is to make sure they’re planted well—not too deep and not too shallow. In the same way, it’s important to start new employees off on the right foot by making sure they’re “planted” at the right depth.
An employee who’s not given key information is “planted too shallow,” and will have a hard time getting what he or she needs from the organization in order to grow. An employee who’s overloaded with information and unrealistic expectations is “planted too deep,” and is likely to suffocate—paralyzed by too much, too soon.
One way to help yourself do this well: remember that almost everyone in a new situation wants to know three things: who’s important to their success, what’s expected of them, and how things get done in this particular culture. If you focus on conveying just these things—being careful to stop when the person looks glazed or starts to drift—you (and they) will probably be OK.
The Gardener’s Mind
Successful gardeners have a certain mindset: they trust in their own skills and they trust in the power of nature; they know that rain falls, the sun shines, and seeds grow. They know that nature and their plants will do a lot of the work, and that they’ll need to help nature along and take best advantage of it.
The mindset of a successful manager is very similar: he or she believes in people’s potential and wants to help them succeed. I feel very strongly that if you’re a manager, and you have an employee about whom you cannot say “I believe in your potential and I want to help you succeed,” then that person shouldn’t be working for you.
Staking and Weeding
There are day-to-day tasks a gardener does to keep a garden thriving—staking, weeding, spraying, pruning, etc. They may not be the most fun or creative aspects of gardening but they nip problems in the bud and give plants a chance to bloom. Two managerial equivalents of these not-fun-but necessary maintenance tasks are the skills of making agreements and giving feedback.
Research has shown that one of the things employees most need, in order to feel positive and be productive, is to know what’s expected of them. That’s what making clear agreements is about. Too often, managers give employees only the most general and ill-defined sense of what they’re supposed to be doing, and—more important—of the results they’re being held accountable for achieving. It’s kind of like sending someone in to run a race without telling them where the finish line is, who they’ll be competing against, or what the rules are!
If you want people to feel good about their jobs and get great results, it’s completely worth the investment of time to get clear with them about “what success looks like”—that is, what you expect them to do, why and by when; to give them the chance to weigh in with any questions, concerns or ideas; to make sure you both have the same understanding of the agreement; and, finally, to support a successful outcome by doing whatever you said you’d do —provide resources, give feedback, etc.
Letting It Spread
The most lush and exuberant gardens are those allowed to spread—to indulge in their natural tendency to expand into new seedlings and new shoots. One of the most powerful ways to grow great employees is to delegate authority and responsibility to them—to “let them spread.”
Most managers have had bad experiences with delegation: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard managers say same version of, “Well, I try to delegate—but it’s so much easier just to do it myself.” The problem is, it may be easier in the short run, but in the long run it limits your effectiveness (if you’re still doing all the work your employees should be doing, that doesn’t leave you much time to do the bigger stuff) and it limits your employees’ growth and opportunity… and if that happens too much, over a long enough period of time, they’re likely to leave.
One important tip for delegating well is: give autonomy according to experience. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you want an employee to take over the management of a yearly event. You know that he has a lot of experience in some parts of this kind of project: let’s say, for instance, he’s great at organizing and executing a detailed plan. On the other hand, you know he’s hasn’t had much experience at dealing with clients, and that’s also an important part of this event.
So, when you’re delegating this project to him, you might say something like: “Gary, I know you’re really well organized and excellent at making sure that all the details are in place. So let’s just check in weekly on that, and you can come to me if there are any problems. I also know that the client contact part of this project will be new to you, so I really want to stay closely involved there: let’s do the first couple of client meetings together, and debrief after wards. Then, when you feel ready to try one on your own, we’ll talk through it first to make sure you’ve thought of everything that’s important. “
In other words, you give autonomy according to experience. Delegation done in this way is far more likely to produce the results you’re hoping for: things coming off your plate, yet still done well; employees taking on and succeeding at new challenges.
Plants Into Gardeners
In being a leader, there’s a possibility that doesn’t exist in gardening; some of your plants have
the potential to become gardeners! You have the opportunity to help your employees develop new skills and abilities, including management and leadership. One thing that’s important to remember: most people want to grow and develop, but they need some help to do so. As the manager, you’re in a unique position to offer that help: you probably see their professional strengths and weaknesses more clearly than anyone else in their life—and you can support them to find the resources and knowledge to achieve their potential.
If you wonder whether you have time to be a coach—given your day job—just remind yourself that the investment of time and energy you make in this realm will have a big return: skillful,independent employees who respect, trust and like you, and who most likely want to support your success as you’ve supported theirs!
Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People Into Extraordinary Performers
By: Erika Andersen