Manager’s Special: spare change

Spare change (kayaker1204)
Photo via kayaker1204

My husband dumps all of his spare change on his nightstand every night. Then every few months I haul it to TD Bank, where I play that game in which you dump it in the giant cylinder and guess how much you have. I am always wildly off. I guess something like $6 and it’s more like $80. I am shocked every time.

I’ve been thinking about time lately, about how it’s really the only thing of value we’ve got. I’ve also been thinking about how short chunks of time go wasted, spent browsing social media stuff or the like. And here’s where I’m at with this:

Spare minutes add up. You can do a lot for the culture of your company with spare minutes.

If you have 2 minutes, write a one-liner email thanking someone on your team.

If you have 10 minutes, take a slow walk to retrieve something at the printer. Stop by someone’s desk on the way. Ask them what they’re doing this weekend. Chit chat.

If you have 30 minutes and $5, grab a member of your leadership team and ask them if they want to walk and get coffee. Say you haven’t caught up with them in a while. This is an important one, because the relationships between leaders mirror the culture at the organization. If you’re close, the company will feel close. If you’re arguing or distant or out of sync, teams will form alliances behind the leader they feel closest to. That’s how companies fragment.

Time isn’t money; time is relationships. Every single manager I know wants more time with someone who knows more than she does. As a leader, time is an enormous tool you have to shape the confidences and direction of your colleagues.

Delegate the low-level. Get less busy. And spend your spare minutes well. I swear to you it makes a difference.

Manager’s Special: replacing a beloved team member

Michael-jordan (wikipedia)
MJ courtesy of Wikipedia.

There’s someone on your team who embodies the spirit, heart and work ethic you value most at your company. This priceless person just walked into your office and told you (hopefully gently) that it’s time for him to leave the company. She needs to stretch different muscles or he got the opportunity to build robots or she’s pregnant with triplets.

And you simply cannot imagine the place without them.

Your mind races through the scenarios, walls crumbling along the way: how will the work get done? How will other employees react? Is this the start of a chain-reaction in which the whole thing falls apart?

Is there a way to retain this person? You should certainly try having that conversation. But if you’ve both been open and honest and it’s still looking like a change is needed, it’s time to step back and start processing what may be a difficult and challenging transition.

There are a few questions that are worth pondering during these moments of processing:

Is there anything to learn from this exit?

Beloved team members do not quit jobs on a whim. It’s incredibly risky to leave a position where one is supported and valued for something unknown. So if you’ve got an employee who is doing just that, it’s worth asking a few questions about lessons you can learn.

An exit interview is one of the easiest ways to gain this information, though a more informal coffee or lunch can work as well. Find out what aspect of the job was most challenging. Were there constant roadblocks? Is there an invisible ceiling? Are there members of the team who have polluted the work environment for the group? These are things that you can work hard to change in order to prevent others from leaving for the same reasons.

Were there warning shots fired?

Here’s the short answer: almost certainly. But those signs may have manifested in ways that never got elevated to the most helpful channels. People exhibit their unhappiness or frustration through outbursts, unreliable work and distraction. All of these signs can be overlooked or justified away if you’re not tuned into them.

Thinking through the warning shots can reveal critical lapses in communication. Make sure employees have someone to talk to… and make sure the listener is empowered to affect meaningful change to address ongoing frustrations and the like.

And finally, how could the gap left behind be an opportunity for someone else?

There’s a cheesy saying that the Chinese character for “crisis” is the same as the one that means “opportunity.” Once you accept that your beloved team member is leaving, it’s time to take a deep breath and start to see a way forward. Their role may make more sense broken into two. You may spot someone with potential in another department to fill their shoes… or you may decide that the role wasn’t working as-is and it needs to be entirely rethought.

Our career paths are paved with opportunities left vacant by our predecessors. So who else on the team is up for the challenge? How can this be a defining moment in her career? How can you support his growth in this area? You’ve got a huge opportunity to bestow on someone… so leverage it while it’s still warm.

Your company is not one person; your team is not one person. Though we certainly know people who seem like pillars of the place, you will encounter a beloved replacement at some point in your career as a manager. Avoiding bitterness and finding ways to move forward are management skills that will serve you well every single day. Embrace change and make a date a few months from now to grab lunch with your departing team member. After all, this industry is small; there’s a very good chance you’ll work with each other again.

Manager’s Special: dealing with a bad attitude

I went to my local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library the other day to pick up a book I’d put on hold. When I couldn’t find it on the shelves, I approached the woman working the help desk. She looked it up and saw that it had mistakenly been sent to a different branch, somewhere deep in the heart of Brooklyn.

angry lion (tomconger)
Courtesy of tomconger

“Could we call them and ask them to send it to this branch?” I asked.

You can,” she said. “You can use the website on your library card to look up the phone number.”

SOME HELP DESK, I thought to myself.

“Could I call them from here? I just assumed there might be an easy way to do that in your system…”

This time she snapped. It wasn’t her fault that the book went to a different branch; I should be more careful when reserving items. She again referred me to the website on my library card. She gave me the stink eye and I gave it right back as I strolled out the door.

After I calmed down, I wondered about this woman’s work environment. How was this attitude tolerated? I’d encountered other extremely defensive employees in the past at BPL and it made me wonder what larger issues are going on underneath the surface. For some reason, this woman did not feel safe going out on a (miniscule!) ledge to help me work through a problem. She was wound up tighter than a spring.

I’ve seen this kind of defensive reaction before. It happens when people don’t feel secure in their role. Whenever there is continued bad behavior on a team, I look immediately to the person in charge because, like it or not, the manager sets the tone. If there’s repeated bad behavior, then it means that the manager is letting it happen.

Here are three quick ways for you to correct a bad attitude and the resulting behavior. The good news is, it’s not brain surgery:

  1. Make sure YOU don’t have a bad attitude.  Are your team members talking badly about the client? Make sure you’re not doing that. Are they showing up late? Arrive on time. Remember, you set the tone. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to decide what’s most important to the team and model that.
  2. Have the conversation NOW.  As soon as you notice bad behavior, confront the employee, one-on-one. Confronting the behavior as soon as it happens means that you aren’t letting it become part of the team’s culture. If confronting someone makes you nervous, that’s alright. You’re not alone. But you are a manager… so finding a way to confront someone in a productive way is part of the work. You can use language like “I’ve noticed you’re pretty [negative] lately in meetings. It’s harming the team and I want to talk to you because I’m worried about what’s causing it.” Boom. You just confronted productively.
  3. Follow up.  First time, it’s a conversation, but you should have a plan for subsequent discussions. If the behavior continues, you need to be prepared to move things along. Some companies have official escalation systems that involve the HR department, but cc’ing your manager on the communications will do in a pinch. Summarize what you’ve discussed with the employee, your new expectations and a near-future date when you’ll sit down to discuss progress. Of course, your assessment should be tailored to the severity of the behavior. Use your gut to figure out what’s serious and what’s a waste of process.

Addressing a bad attitude is an opportunity to uncover systemic problems and to build a supportive bridge between you and your employee. If you can do this you won’t only correct the current behavior issues, but you’ll have created a foundation of support and communication. A current troublemaker could be a future champion on the team if you play your cards right. So have the tough discussion because it’s important work and it makes a difference. Good luck!