What you put in, pays out in full!

25-02-2021

Lately, someone asked me how I managed organisations in my working life, how I build and managed teams locally and internationally, that were always successful, enthusiastic and motivated.

Below is some of my thinking that influenced my doings over the many years I worked in management roles, learning from failing, doing it better and building experience. In random order:

Listen. Although we have been given two ears and just one mouth, it is surprisingly difficult to be an active listener. Not just listening to what people say to you, but to understand what they really 'tell' you. As it is just as important that you take into account culture or language aspects and the particular interest (could even be only personal interest) and role (assuming a person with more roles). This requires you to put energy and time into a conversation to reflect on what is said, who and why. Not just by asking more detailed questions but also looking at any form of body language to really understand a message.

Build trust by giving trust. Accept that some people give more than others. Start with opening up (giving) yourself. Maintain a trustworthy environment where emotions can exist and people are not judged, regardless the intensity of the debate (or clash). Be selective in what you take out of it and with mutual (mostly inclusive) consent. Be very aware of cultural differences. They might not be obvious from the start. Accept and endorse those differences, adapt your attitude. If your managers work in other locations, trust their judgement, if it concerns their locality, but always keep challenging the approach to improve your understanding...and sometimes theirs.

Be open and transparent, but always keep in mind to what level. If you know, but cannot tell, just say so. Being open and transparent applies to all your action items towards your team. And people should always rely on your action or response, even if you cannot or will not act.

Let professionals do their job. Manage on outcome. Do not tell them how to do their job. Professionals should know how to get to the desired outcome. If not, coach or let them be coached or challenge their role.

Delegate with increasing empowerment. Give the tools to go with delegating and actively coach the process. Reflect on decisions taken and give active feedback (maybe you would have considered another direction). Discuss motivation, considerations and potential consequences: Taking decisions is better than not taking them, and like all actions in live, is a learning experience. And the more you can delegate, the better it is...

As I set the bar high for myself, I expect the same from people I work with:

  • Deliver or react as agreed (A deal is a deal, or 'afspraak is afspraak');
  • In all you do use your common sense; If it does not feel ok, it probably is not;
  • Think as if it is your own company;
  • Perform just above expectation, or if not possible timely adjust;
  • Create an enjoyable working environment (be yourself, have some relaxing moments,
  • Do not spend time on matters you cannot change. Focus on what you can influence instead (only fight the battles you can win);
  • In (upcoming) conflicts or differences in opinion, first think about your own role(, before judging others);
  • A management-role is 24x7. For me my door and phone are 'always' open when needed, and not just for my direct reports or unit...;
  • Focus on the pounds, not the pennies. Again use your common sense if investments in people or tools are needed. No-brainers should not be given time to discuss. Btw: This could give friction if your organisation is part of a bigger setup. There could be rules that you need to adhere to and cannot influence. Of course, it is what it is, but you can still protect your organisation from spending more time then absolutely needed.

Communicate with passion and drive. Be opiniated and clear about your own objectives and ideas. About, what drives you in goals and objectives, about your vision, linked to the mission of the company or organisation you are part of, and, in my case, about people, being an asset rather than a tool. Express your expectations from managers and their teams, be prepared to listen to criticism and if needed, do something with it. And if you do not, express this as well. Introduce (quarterly?) allhands sessions to share your messages across the organisation.

Understand your 'product'. I cannot believe you can manage an organization without an in-depth knowledge of the deliverables of your organisation and how they relate to the world around you (internally and externally, its value contribution, competitiveness, ...). How else can you continuously evaluate your goals and objectives and re-asses your point on the horizon, safeguard to be confronted with unachievable targets upfront (once they are on your plate, it is too late) and challenge your managers and staff to be capable to challenge and assess, to continue to innovate and learn?

Circular governance. Create a formal communication structure spanning all of your management and staff. This should cover your overall organisation and staff. Enforce a structural cadence on all management levels. Formal meetings are minuted (at least on the level of agreed actions, progress and owner).

However, formal communication can still be driven out of your office and could eventually lead to an unbridgeable gap with your organisation. To live the real world, managers need to be actively part of the informal organisation. I once stated "The 'reality' is developed at the (coffee)table and WILL happen with or without you...". In earlier days I would have added the smokingroom... I strongly urge you (and your managers) to join in at coffee breaks and lunches, do it unplanned and contribute as much in the debates as others will eventually do as well...

There are some rules I would advise you to respect:

  • Become visible to 'all' - do not be selective, unless you are on a mission;
  • Be prepared to level: equal ground and same "language";
  • If you show more of yourself...(and it also increases the binding effect);
  • There is no place for hierarchy;
  • Apply the same trust levels from your end as you would do in other settings;
  • Certain forms of coaching, guiding, advising are allowed;
  • "Inject" (YOUR thinking or thinking of company...);
  • Be opiniated, but always make clear which part of you states the opinion;
  • If you cannot discuss certain topics or information, say so!;
  • Keep everyone grounded and away from fantasy;
  • If you desire it is also a perfect way to test challenging theses (even if they are a bit suggestive or off-track). It is a good way to find out how the wheels spin;
  • And finally: Analyse findings, observations and connect the informal to the formal governance.

Apply re-use and stop not-invented-here. Disapprove teams or managers to re-invent what is already invented (process or approach, intellectual property, service or other). Enforce re-use or, if criticized being not good enough, improve what is there! Only if people learn to accept what is already there and add value time and time again, you get the best out of your organization and let go of inefficiencies. The same applies to knowledge exchange. Do not spent time researching if it has already been researched... Asking for help is not a motion of distrust and actively promote cross border interaction and support.

Create or link up with virtual teams (communities). This is another way to avoid the not-invented-here syndrome. Communities allow peers and alike to share their knowledge and experience around clear delineated topics, such as a particular service-type (design, build, etc.) or profession (architect, purchasing, etc). Similar to a formal governance enforce a structured cadence and open up broader audiences. If topics stand out because of their general interest or importance they could be presented to other audiences, for example an allhands session.

Stay relevant. Constantly validate what we do is relevant. Always have open eyes and ears for the outside world we are part of and for (innovative) ideas and wishes from within. Review and adapt your horizon accordingly and, as a minimum, on a yearly basis. And once you communicate, be clear on what is new focus and what is or will not be relevant anymore.

Whether you take over, build, manage or restructure an organisation accept the imperfection of the formal structure at any given time. With people there is no 'one size fits all'. Every person has his/her own background, qualifications, peculiarities, and pitfalls. Obviously, you have roles and its responsibilities to be fulfilled, but this does not mean that everyone in the same role is suitable to cover all aspects associated to that role. And once you figured out (sometimes the hard way) the individual strengths and weaknesses within the team I would not automatically attempt to address the weaknesses, but combine the individual strengths to get the best outcome. BTW: people like working in their strength and in my view increases motivation, enthusiasm and job satisfaction.
And even if you want to move people around or fulfil roles with new people or different skillsets, there could be many reasons that restrict or limit you, such as budget and upper management veto's. Taking all those restrictions and limitations into account you still have to build a winning team. In the end you work with the people you have. People who in my view you should make them want to work for you instead of the other way around...

Celebrate and have fun with a personal touch. Working should as much be enjoyable as it is to contribute and add real value. If people do not enjoy their work they will have a hard time performing.
Ensure you devote time, energy and effort to praise individuals and team personally or in community and allhands meetings. Expect similar behaviour from your manager towards their employees as well. A part of your job-satisfaction should also come out of putting others in the spotlight instead of yourself and be proud of the many achievements your organisation delivers.

And finally nobody is perfect, and that also applies to you. You are human too I hope šŸ˜‰ so mistakes and failures will also stick on you. When that happens, admit, say sorry and fix it, learn from it and continue doing your job. And you know what? Those lessons learned are always a very good topic for both informal and formal settings...

Fred Bosch - About Management and more - All rights reserved 2019-2022