If You Choose to Manage…

At last week’s Seller Forum we published a few top line ideas for managers in our hyper-kinetic, often dysfunctional world. We’re reprinting them here.  Please feel free to share your own.

Don’t try to manage what’s inside the heads of your employees. Instead, focus on their actions. Don’t try to change their minds. Change their behaviors and they’ll end up changing their own minds.

Don’t use meetings and personal interactions to share information that could be delivered in other ways. Reserve your personal interactions with employees and teams to do what you can only do in person – coaching, prioritizing, planning, deciding.

Many managers overburden themselves and their teams with too many scheduled meetings. But management doesn’t fit into neat little boxes on your calendar. Focus instead on maintaining a helpful and healthy presence with your team. Accessibility and being able to focus intently in-the-moment are the superpowers that matter.

As a manager, you quickly become the PEZ dispenser of answers on a million tactical questions. About price, escalation, exceptions and more. Force your sellers to bring you two possible solutions each time they bring you a problem (see item 1 above). This change in the script will turn them from problem-bringers into problem-solvers and make your interactions far more productive.

As soon as a seller elicits your help – on strategy, on an email, in reaching a customer – immediately ask them for a first-draft. You want to put yourself in a position to coach and improve the work they do… not to do it for them.

Don’t give feedback. As a term, feedback has become tainted by association with criticism, nitpicking and negativity. It’s also always about the past. Instead, give guidance… it’s about the future, about possibility. Language matters.

No team is too small or too temporary to benefit from a strong culture, and that culture starts with you. Get in touch with the specific values that matter most to you as a leader – tenacity, generosity, curiosity, whatever – and share them directly with your team. Invite them to hold you accountable to those values and bring them up frequently. Don’t worry if you get a few eye-rolls; it doesn’t mean they’re not hearing you or that it’s not making a difference.

Don’t manage results. Manage excellence. You don’t control whether your team gets the business, but you absolutely control whether they deserve it. Focus on deserving it and you’ll be leading a team centered on excellence. The results will follow.

Insights like these are just the beginning. Join us for our final 2019 Seller Forum on Wednesday, October 23rd, at Reuters on Times Square and enjoy firsthand ideas and advice from your digital leadership peers. Contact us today to save your spot.

Summer is for Managers (Part I)

While you might take a vacation, you never really take a complete break from being a manager. Over the next handful of weeks, we’ll be offering up several of our most popular posts on the art and science of being a great manager. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

Thousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself. The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

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When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly. Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing? You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected? You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed. Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices. If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources. But don’t forget to ask the hard question: can this employee do this job? When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue… 

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required? This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to. They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other. This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it. Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself. Share it with other managers. Better yet, share it with the employee. Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion. It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.

10 Ways I’ll be a Better Manager in 2017 (Part Two)

10-ways-part-twoTo help foster a great 2017 start for my company, I’m publicly committing myself to being a better manager next year in 10 different ways.  In this last Drift of 2016, here are the final six:

  1. Be an Example by Planning My Own Days. So much of the American workforce starts its day by plunging right into its email inbox and starting to work south.  This begins a cycle of reaction – and non-productivity and frustration – that can last the whole day.  Too often I see myself doing the same thing.  So in 2017 I’ll have a plan – if only an outline – for how I plan to win the day.  And I’ll share that plan with my team so they’ll do the same.
  2. Put on My Own Oxygen Mask First. It sounds like a cliché from a self-help book, but it works.  Many managers – myself included – tend to burn out by failing to look after themselves.  Showing your team how much stress you can absorb and how many hours you can work is not a sign of strength.  Ironically, the best managers always seem to be the healthiest and most balanced.  In 2017, I aim to be one of those.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. With AppNexus Mobile Solutions, you can access more demand partners than ever, gain precision insight into your inventory’s pricing and attract the ad spend of the world’s largest advertisers.

  1. Bring New Voices Into the Room. Insularity is a problem in our business.  Even though we’re good at what we do, we run a small company and there are only so many voices we hear in a given business day.  Maybe your team is just as small and insular.  Or maybe you run a small team within a bigger company.  In 2017 I’ll be trying to find different voices for my team to hear.  Customers, TED speakers and thinkers and doers who have nothing to do with our industry or our business.  Because it’s often the unrelated or distant connection that helps you break through in your thinking.
  2. Ask Twice. As managers we should never forget that the first inclination most of our employees will have is to please us, to tell us everything is under control.  When we say “Do you understand?” or “Are you all set with this?” the immediate answer is “Got it!”  But is it true.  In 2017 I’ll start asking twice.  Because it’s in the second – or even third – question that the employee starts to feel your genuine concern and curiosity.  “Quickly take me through your plan” and “Let’s talk about how I can support you on this” are also good phrases to keep the conversation going.
  3. Take Time for Inspiration. Given how sophisticated and worldly our digitally-focused, millennially-oriented workforces are, they’re not supposed to care about inspiration, right?  In a world of ones and zeros, who’s got time for slogans and deep thoughts?  As someone who speaks directly with digital sellers and other executives in our business virtually every day, I can tell you that inspiration is more vital than ever.  Your people – and mine – are seeking meaning in their work and in their lives.  There are many inspiring stories, lives and ideas out there.  And in 2017, I’ll be trying to share more of them with my team.  I hope you will too.

As mentioned last week, we’ve evolved the mission of The Seller Forum to focus on developing the next generation of great digital sales managers.  If you’re one of them – or could be – or if you’re a CRO who wants to invest in the growth of your own middle managers, email Tamara Clarke and she’ll help with your 2017 Seller Forum and help you take advantage of pre-sale rates.  The first Forum of 2017 is on Thursday February 9th in New York, so don’t wait.

As this was our final Drift of 2016, let me thank you for reading our ideas this year.  I wish you, your family and your colleagues a wonderful holiday and a new year filled with hope, promise and grace. ~ Doug Weaver