Initially this was going to be a book review of Resilient Management, an A Book Apart Book by Lara Hogan. But in jotting down my notes and as I began to write this, I realized that a multi-post series about how this book helps my management style would be more interesting.
The book was published in June 2019 and throughout my initial read I highlighted quite a bit as reference. Months later, I find that I still reach for it frequently, especially in our new work-from-home-during-a-pandemic world. In both cases, it validates many aspects of my current management style and each time I flip through it, I discover new, important ways to be a good manager.
Part 1 of this series focuses on how the book validates aspects of my management style and part 2 will cover some of the things I learned to adapt and improve my management style.
Validating My Management Style
I’ve been managing people on-and-off since the early 90’s. My bedrock management principles have always been:
- Be fair, transparent and honest;
- Never take credit for other’s work, give credit where credit is due;
- When mistakes are made ,take responsibility and work with your employees to ensure that both you and them learn from the error;
- Do. Not. Yell. Ever.; and
Managing people is challenging. I’ve learned over the years that the most effective way to manage is to understand what motivates each of your team members. In that time, I’ve also learned:
- Leave your office and make sure you see each team member every day,
- Be open to feedback and provide venues for it, and
- Recognition, not matter how small, is always appreciated.
See Each Team Member Every Day
One of my Management 101 professors drove this idea home at the top of every single class. “Get out of your office,” he’d always say. And while at the time I remember thinking, “this is so obvious. Duh,” it took some time before I recognized the value in it. The simple act of stopping by an employee’s desk to say “hello” underscores that employee’s value, that they matter and that employee’s work is important to the organization.
The return on such a minor effort is huge.
Be Open to Feedback and Provide Venues for It
Early on I didn’t have one-on-one meetings with my employees. (“1-1’s” as I like to call them.) It never occurred to me to do so. I always thought, “if they need something, they’ll stop by.” While I still encourage each of my team members to stop by (even virtually through chat or email), at some point I read something about the value of providing each of your team members with a consistent, scheduled time to meet.
I wish I’d saved the link to that article because reading it was such a light bulb moment for me. It seems so obvious now that having a consistent way for an employee to privately ask questions, provide feedback, discuss personal items that may be affecting their work or even to provide an “in the weeds” rundown of their to-do list is so beneficial. Not only does it help you gauge your employees workload and ability to deliver, it also says to the employee that they matter and that they have my undivided attention.
Also, if you say you’ll take action on something in your 1-1, you should do so well before the next one or do your best to have information to report back at the next one.
Recognition, No Matter How Small, is Appreciated
Everyone likes to be recognized differently, but in my experience everyone appreciates recognition, now matter how small it may be. A simple “thank you for your work” or “you consistently produce fantastic work, I’m so glad you’re a part of this team” may seem unnecessary, but it is absolutely necessary. It demonstrates to your employees that:
- They are important and integral to team success,
- The work they do is valuable,
- You are aware of their work products, and
- You are paying attention to the quality of their work and the extra effort and passion they put into it.
Several years ago, Knock Knock—an incredibly clever paper products company—produced multiple small notepads with checkboxes and areas for freeform text to provide quick recognition for a job well done. I purchased several of them to use with my team:
I subconsciously established a hierarchy for them, with:
- “Thanks a Bunch” used to acknowledge a little something an employee did to help another employee or make an someone’s life at work easier;
- “High Five” used to acknowledge standout work or effort on a product or project;
- “Awesome Citation” used to acknowledge an effort to go above-and-beyond what is necessary or expected to create a fantastic or remarkable outcome to a product or project; and
- “Honorary Unicorn” used to acknowledge the flawless (or nearly flawless) execution of a deliverable, product or project. A note from this pad is used extremely rarely.
I was—and remain—surprised and tickled at how well these were—and are—received. Most recipients hang them at their desk for a period of time. I try to deliver them when an employee is away from their desk as some of my employees are uncomfortable with direct recognition. Initially I didn’t sign them because I thought the anonymity would be more exciting. But even after it became known that these notes came from me, I still don’t sign them.
Over time I have distributed these notes outside my team and even outside my department, but those instances are extremely rare because I want to ensure that receiving one of these remains special by those who receive them.
In the first chapter, “Meet Your Team,” Hogan explains humans’ core needs at work:
These needs and a human’s perception of whether they’re being met are handled in the part of the brain responsible for analyzing our environment which is called the amygdala,. She further explains that each of these core needs are not equally important to everyone, some are more important than others for different people.
This brief section of Chapter 1 validated for me my approach to management with
- Belonging aligns with See Each Team Member Daily: the book says “this core need is about sense of belonging, a connection to a community or to a group of people.” Stopping by each employees desk reinforces their value to the team and to the organization providing them with a sense of purpose and…well…belonging.
- Equality/Fairness aligns with Be Open to Feedback and Provide Venues for it: the book says “the Equality/Fairness core need boils down to the idea that your environment includes equal access to resources, information, and support for everyone in it.” The speaks directly to having consistent 1-1’s with each employee as a way to listen to them, hear feedback privately and be present and available.
- Improvement/progress aligns with Recognition is appreciated: the book says “…the core need to feel improvement, a sense of making progress—whether for your organization, for your team, or for your personal life.” Being recognized for good work provides a measure of progress in the work an employee does and empowers them to try new things to improve their work experience.
Stay Tuned for Our Exciting Conclusion…
As I said at the top, this is a two-part series. The next part will be posted in the coming months and will focus on things I learned from Resilient Management and how I am going to integrate them into my management style.
A Bit About A Book Apart
Resilient Management is an A Book Apart book, which “publishes detailed, meticulously edited examinations of single topics” (their words). Initially the books were largely focused on the web world: discovery, design, coding, good practices, etc., but in the recent past the topics have also expanded to management, public speaking and accessibility. Those topics are not only applicable in the web world, but also relevant across professions.
I’m a huge fan of the books. They are great, well-written, easy reads and the authors are engaged on social media and interested in conversations about what they wrote.