(or Am I Girlboss-ing Yet?)
I know it’s not a standard anniversary that people acknowledge, but four years ago last Friday was my first day as a manager. I remember being absolutely terrified, even though I’d effectively been managing the team for months–the fact that it was now official made it seem a lot harder. People were going to look to me for direction? I felt like I barely knew who and where I was… and that was on a good day.
Thankfully, I’ve learned a thing or ten in the last few years. The successes and (even more so) the failures have helped me hone my management philosophy, which helps me make decisions and keeps me pointed in (mostly) the right direction.
My philosophy has four main tenets (which I guess is one for each year, but I swear that wasn’t intentional!):
1. Employees are adults and should be treated as such.
When you employ adults, they have lives outside of work. Occasionally, these non-work lives require a bit of flexibility, whether it’s in working hours or location.
I get that it’s not possible to accommodate every request, and that certain industries don’t lend themselves well to things like remote work, but when you can help someone out, it’s in your best interest to do so. By giving your team the most flexibility that your workplace allows (and explaining it to them in cases where you can’t), your team is willing to be flexible with you. It’s a lot more palatable to stay late working on something if you know that your boss will have your back next week when you have to leave a bit early for that doctor’s appointment.
2. The hardest conversation is the one you’re delaying–or not having at all.
Giving people bad news sucks. It’s not fun to have to put someone on a performance improvement plan or to tell them that they didn’t get the promotion they’d been working toward. It might be awkward, they might be mad, they might even cry.
What sucks even more, though, is putting off that conversation. Not only do you spend time building it up in your head until it seems like an impossible task, but you’re also doing your team member a disservice by not being upfront with them. Years ago, I received a performance review in which my manager told me that I’d been doing something wrong for months. Although it wasn’t fun to get the feedback, I was furious that they hadn’t bothered to tell me earlier so that I could correct immediately, rather than screwing up for half the year.
To use an absolutely disgusting comparison, think of it like having a hunk of rotting meat on your floor. Sure, you might not want to deal with it (it might smell bad, and picking it up is going to be gross, even with gloves), but it’s going to get worse and worse if you just nudge it under the carpet to deal with another day.
3. Make time.
The single-most beneficial change I’ve made was scheduling regular one-on-ones with each of my team members. I know it seems crazy to a lot of my colleagues that I spend (minimum) half an hour each week with each employee, but it honestly helps free up my schedule when people know that there’s a set time that they’ll get to sit down with me. Instead of having to fit questions in here and there between tasks, they can save up items that aren’t time-sensitive and address them all at once.
These meetings have also allowed me to get to know my team better. They’re the ones who set the agenda, and all (work-appropriate) topics are on the table. They can talk to me about a project they’re working on, the new dog they adopted, or how they want to grow their career. These conversation help give me insight into their lives, and they also help us build the necessary rapport and trust to work well together.
4. Ask questions.
Not sure how people are reacting to a recent process change? Wondering what the pain points are for your team? Curious about what feedback your team might have for you?
…Have you tried asking?
It’s crazy to me how often managers don’t think to ask their teams for input or feedback. I’ve seen rooms full of managers fretting and wringing their hands about morale, but nobody’s bothered to ask anyone what’s going on or what they could do to make it better.
If you’ve shown your team that they can trust you by treating them like adults and making time to communicate openly with them (and, you know, the obvious stuff like not lying and just generally not being an asshole), they’re probably going to be comfortable giving you that feedback when you ask for it. And, hey, if you’re having regular meetings with your staff, you have a set time and place that you can ask them!