New Manager Handbook: Effective Communication

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As a team leader you need to explain strategic decisions and champion them with the rest of the organisation. You will also have increased exposure to stakeholders outside the people you work with, and need to communicate with them clearly and logically. Here are some tips to help you manage this like a pro!

Structured Problem Solving

If you are dealing with a complex issue, draw an issue tree to help solve it and aid communication. This will: increase your understanding of the issue; make it easier to discuss with others; identify the major drivers; prioritise actions and further analysis. Issue trees rely on three principles:

  1. Hierarchy: The problem space should be broken down in layers
  2. Mutually Exclusive: Each sub-issue can only belong to one group
  3. Collectively Exhaustive: Each layer should cover 100% of the problem space. i.e. adding all items at one layer together should equal the layer above

Make Clear Recommendations
Use Problem, Insight, Action to prioritising action and explaining your rationale.

  • Problem: The top issue or opportunity you are facing
  • Insight: The analysis that identifies the most effective course of action
  • Action: What needs to be done in practical terms

Use Hierarchical Recommendations to structure complex recommendations.

  • Build a one line summary of the action to be taken
  • Support this by 3-4 lines of reasoning – the rationale for why this governing thought is the right answer
  • Prepare  evidence – a body of facts and analysis for the thinking

New Manager Handbook: Developing Your Team

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Good leaders develop teams to upskill them, increase their capabilities, and keep them motivated. Supporting the continued growth of your team is far more important than being technically excellent. Overall, supporting your team members’ development involves:

  • Understanding their career vision
  • Giving candid feedback
  • Coaching high performers
Understand the Vision

Having a clearly defined career vision has significant benefits for both an individual and the company. It develops their intrinsic motivation and gives makes it clear which skills they should work on in the immediate future.

As a manager, you should be aware of the following when deciphering someone’s intrinsic goals: be honest and open in your approach; ask people for several routes they could see their career taking and dig to find real aspirations; understanding someone’s career gives you insight into their future motivation.

Reflect on what is important to you

It takes time to understand and unearth what is really important to an individual. Keeping reflecting on the below questions, talk them over with trusted peers and mentors, and you should start to recognise some patterns.

  • Who are the people that you admire most? Why?
  • If you appeared in a magazine in the future, what the article to be about
  • What are your proudest achievements? Why this achievement?
  • If you overheard people speaking about you, what would you hope they say?
  • Imagine looking back on your career in 10 years time. How have you acted, and what are you glad you did?

Give Feedback

Feedback is the easiest way to support one’s development goals, and high achievers often often actively seek this. View your feedback as a way of supporting team members’ career progression and an excellent way to stretch top performers.

Reflect on what is important to you

  • Give feedback with the intention of helping that person grow. If you hold back honest feedback, you are holding back their progress.
  • Prioritise what you see as the biggest gap that person has towards developing towards their potential.
  • Feedback should be a two-way process. Make sure you ask for honest feedback from your team, your boss, your clients etc

You’re the Coach!

Coaching is a technique for developing your team members by asking them open questions to develop their resourcefulness. In contrast, mentoring can guide them on the best way to approach problems. As a people manager you will often employ both techniques, but it’s worth carving out time for coaching, it’s that sets apart great managers.

When to coach people

Coaching takes more time and energy, however, people learn much better by thinking through the options themselves and then committing to them. Coaching is a great asset when developing someone’s potential!

How to coach people

  1. Asking open questions: Open questions result in a fuller answer. Questions that start “how” or “what” work well, whilst starting with “why” can make people defensive.
  2. Listening actively: Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen attentively and try to understand how the person is feeling. Repeat back what you have heard to confirm your understanding, and ask some more questions.

New Manager Handbook: Creating a Positive Work Environment

Becoming a team leader is an exciting and challenging endeavor.  All too often this transition comes without any guidance on what is expected of people managers, or how to be a good one. At Learnitect, we’ve designed a handbook to facilitate a smooth transition into management. We know from our experience that great leaders who are well respected by their teams demonstrate three key pillars of competence:

1. They create a positive team environment
2. They develop the individuals on their team
3. They are excellent communicators

We’re kicking off a longer term blog series with Pillar #1: Creating a Positive Environment for your teams.

As a manager, you’re responsible for team composition and dynamics that enable everyone to thrive. The most productive teams are often those with a positive environment and clear expectations, which means: recruiting the right people, encouraging diversity & inclusion, nurturing different personality types and, resolving conflict.
How to Recruit the Right People 

Recruiting the team involves anticipating how well people will perform in a given role. While there are many techniques from informal chats to structured assessment centres to predict this, companies ultimately rely on structured interviews as a good balance between effectiveness and investment.

Defining Good

Develop a graded interview guide for: the qualities that would describe an ideal candidate; the questions you will ask to assess this; a quantified gradation of possible answers.

Great interview questions

Question should be phrased: “Tell me about a time when…” Asking about past experiences allows for more detail. The STAR format is a good structure to follow:

  • Situation: what specific occasion are we talking about? Who else was involved?
  • Task: what was the candidate’s objective?
  • Action: what did the candidate actually to do?
  • Results: what was the outcome? Were they successful?
Interview technique

Most interviews are short (30-60 minutes), so ensure you make the most of your time:

  • Bring candidates back to the point and dig for more information
  • Push for the information you need to give them an accurate grade
  • Stick to the interview guide, and take notes you can refer back to later
  • Distribute questions across interviews if you have several qualities you want to assess them for
  • Leave time for them to ask you some questions

Encouraging Diversity & Inclusion

There is a clear business case that diversity improves business performance  If you ask people to describe the qualities that they would like in an ideal colleague they will often list things such as intelligence, kindness, diligence and passion. None of these things is immediately obvious from someone’s background – which is why recruiting well is difficult!

The goal of diversity and inclusion initiatives is to try and equalise the opportunities to everyone. Here are some action items to achieve this:
  • Ensure disadvantaged people are visible, heard, and credited for their work
  • Actively support those who don’t share your privileges
  • Make the effort to educate yourself about other identities and be respectful of them
  • Educate others oblivious to their privilege on the benefits of diversity and inclusion
  • Don’t except double standards for different people – treat everyone fairly

Nurturing Different Personality Types

Even among people from similar backgrounds, not everyone sees the world in the same way. If you can understand where the perspective of yourself and others you’ll become a better communicator, create a more inclusive environment, and play to everyone’s strengths.

There are many personality frameworks (e.g. Myers-Briggs and OCEAN) which try to give some insight on how people perceive the world. You and your team can do a free test similar to Myers-Briggs at 16 Personality Types. The aim is to gain some insight into how they think and work effectively with them. Personality types are most useful when someone behaves in line with a particular description, as it will give you ideas on how to interact with them more effectively. Each dimension is a spectrum however, and many people will display both characteristics to varying degrees.

Resolving Conflict

Throughout your career you will unavoidably run into tensions and disagreements of different magnitudes. As leader you will need to mediate disputes, between your team and with others, in a proactive way that often leads to much better team dynamics.

Developing a collaborative solution
The goal here is to creatively problem solve for a novel solution that satisfies everyone. As a first step, it’s important to recognise that this is a difference between:

  • Positions: what people suggest as a tangible outcome
  • Interests: the underlying reason guiding their thinking

Positions are often directly opposed and leave no room for a solution that makes everyone happy. Collaborating involves understanding everyone’s interests so that you have the space and freedom to support creative thinking.

Four steps to resolving conflict
If you find yourself in conflict with someone, the following framework can help resolve the issue in a positive way.
1. Name the elephant: recognise the problem and call out the conflict
2. Listen and empathize: understand their interests and why they are resisting
3. Find common ground: establish an area of agreement to build on
4. Joint problem solving: search for mutually acceptable solutions

How to Retain Top Performers

whiteboard notes

This week we hosted a breakfast roundtable with MoveMeOn. Attendees from SuperAwesome, Salesforce, HelloFresh, BIMA, Quiqup, Seedrs and Yoyo Wallet shared their thoughts on retaining their best people.

// THE BUSINESS CASE FOR INVESTING IN YOUR BEST

Investing into retaining your best employees is a smart business decision:

  • Top performers are 4x more productive than average performs. This increased productivity holds true for process-heavy work and the effect is even stronger for creative and innovation areas.
  • 38% of employees are more likely to leave if they feel that there are no development opportunities
  • 24% increased likelihood of employees being retained if they feel they have access to L&D

// 3 PILLARS TO MOTIVATE YOUR TOP TALENT

Research shows that there are 3 pillars to motivating your top talent:

  • Recognition and reward
  • Autonomy and freedom
  • Learning and progression

Examples:

  • Netflix offers unlimited vacation, a one-line expense policy and transparency around paying best in class salaries. All this empowers their employees to act in the best interests of the company without too much bureaucracy
  • Supercell allows employees to work on whichever games they preferred – resulting in both games that did amazingly well, but also some failures
  • Pixar ensures there are communal spaces for people to meet spontaneously and Pixar University provides chances for employees to try new things (and fail in a safe environment

// PRACTICAL IDEAS FOR YOUR TOP TALENT

  • Assign all employees in a Nine-Box Grid that ranks them high / medium / low on both Performance and Potential. As well as identifying the future leaders of your organisation to invest in (High Potential-High Performance), it also identifies employees that are functional experts, and need recognition even if they are not being promoted (Low Potential-High Performance). Low Potential-Low Performance employees should be managed out as soon as possible. Consider being transparent to each employee about where they sit in the grid and how they can move around it, though be prepared that this can take time and effort.
  • If you can afford great maternity and paternity benefits then communicate these both internally and externally, to make sure that people appreciate them.
  • Dedicate and protect innovation time such as hackathons. These can vary from Hack Days in house, to week long Swarm Weeks, where developers to co-work in an out-of-office location and use that time on innovation only rather than bug fixing.
  • Make sure you process for determining salary is fair and transparent. People are at risk of leaving even if they are well paid when they perceive the system is unfair.
  • Adopt a holistic approach to development by investing in well-being (physical and mental) for employees
  • Assign executive mentors to your superstars. Support mentors and mentees with training for both parties to get the most out of the mentorship