In preparation for the arrival of baby #3, my husband and I have been doing some long overdue household purging. We’re getting rid of things we kept because, at some point in the past, we thought we might need it again. I’m realizing our house is too small for all this stuff AND to safely raise three boys. So, some things have to go.
In the process of going through old boxes, I came across an employee review form from when I was new to management. My scores were good, comments were generally strong and encouraging, but over five pages, there were two negative comments. And those not only stuck with me, but stuck out like a sore thumb as I was reading through the review again.
The two comments weren’t from senior management (read: my bosses) or even from two different people. The comments were from one person who didn’t like my management style.
Reading it years later elicited the same reaction I had the first time I saw it: some embarrassment that someone thought I wasn’t doing a good job. A bit of anger and defensiveness; I caught myself explaining why I had to be that way with this specific team member. And then I took a deep breath and stopped and noticed my reaction. Only then was I able to interrupt my habit of being defensive to instead think more clearly about what could have been done with this employee to make things better for both of us and, ultimately, the end result for our client.
I should have seen that this review gave me a new talking point when I connected with each of my team members. I could have used it as an opportunity to learn directly from them what I could be doing better to be the best manager I could be for them. I could have asked for more direct feedback from my senior management team about those two comments – specifically, what could I do differently in response to a negative comment from someone on my team.
So many questions ran through my head as I reviewed this old review. Once I got past all the negative self-talk about what didn’t work in my performance, I realized that it was partly because I was young and new at the role. This helped me create some guidance that I share with all young managers:
- Embrace every bit of feedback – It’s not all going to be positive, and it won’t all be productive, but feedback is your opportunity to hear what someone else is saying is not working for them and try to figure out how it could be better. As you hear the feedback, notice what it tells you about what’s working and not working in your performance. Own what is yours to own – successes and challenges. Then consider how to use the information to make small gradual improvements.
- Ask questions – As a coaching manager, ask more than tell to activate and inspire your teams. And since a big part of being a manager requires you to manage up as well as manage down, learning how to properly phrase questions to your boss(es) can actually engage them into a stronger relationship with you. Stop and notice how much of what you say is directing instead of questioning. Questions pull the other side into communication. Directing generally shuts communication down.
- Be yourself – We’re all human, which means we’re all uniquely packaged with specific strengths, talents and liabilities that make us who we are. But depending on your specific situation, you sometimes need to manage your strengths. Remember: just because they are strengths doesn’t mean you should use them at full throttle all the time. An unmanaged strength can quickly become a performance liability. This specific team member found my attribute of being organized to be off-putting, calling me a micro-manager, yet others found it refreshing to know that we were always aware of exactly what each member of the team was responsible for. I needed to first understand why they didn’t like it, and then learn how to better work with them to encourage and inspire them in a way that worked best for them. Manage your abilities based on the needs of the situations you find yourself in.
For senior management, consider this when you have young managers:
- Stop using performance reviews and instead have performance conversations – Help your managers develop greater skills in real time by having frequent performance conversations that review what’s working and not working with some aspect of the young manager. Period performance reviews are ineffective because they are too infrequent and too standard. Performance conversations happen in the moment, letting both parties take advantage of a performance success (that could be amplified) or performance challenge (that needs to be corrected). This creates both a strong manager relationship along with greater development opportunities, allowing the young manager to improve their skills, connection and retention.
- Encourage dialogue – Encourage discussion and team comradery with you and your manager(s) and encourage them to create the same level of engagement with their team(s). You’re the role model for your young manager; they’re going to look to your behavior as what’s working and not working. Make sure you give them something they can replicate that will benefit everyone.
When you feel yourself slipping into a negative reaction about something you’ve just experienced, allow yourself to recognize the emotions you’re feeling by stopping and noticing what’s happening in and around you. Then, take a deep breath and ask what you want to come from the situation and how you need to be or act to achieve this outcome. With a clear end goal in mind, you can respond with intention to work toward that desired end goal, and often get there faster and more effectively.
Consider reading Managers: How to Identify and Correct Your Blind Spots