Note: The conclusion of our 3 part series, this message reflects on the perception and realities between leaders and individual contributors. Part one was “A Day in the Life of Your Staff“. Part two was “A Day in the Life of Your Boss“.
We saw both sides of the story. The individual contributor, Jonathon, working incredibly hard and striving to do the right thing, is misunderstood and feels undervalued. The team leader, Michelle, is looking out for the best interests of her team and the company, but is viewed as a taskmaster, unwilling to contribute the same long hours demanded of her team. The world is full of Jonathons and Michelles. The reality is, many individual contributors and team leaders are more alike than they may realize. This gap in understanding is often the result of insufficient transparency between the two. Below are some suggestions, framed by this business fable, for individual contributors and team leaders to improve transparency.
The Individual Contributor (Jonathon)
- Provide Timely Updates: When a sudden change occurs that may impact your deadlines, quickly summarize the incident. The timeliness of these updates may be more important than the detail. However, managers also need to understand this practice and have the patience to get the full picture later, when the team members can more effectively provide a full explanation. In so doing, the team leader can quickly respond, if needed, to reset expectations or shift priorities. For example, if there was a quick update from Jonathon before he came into the office, Michelle could have explained that she needed that estimate by noon because there was an external commitment.
- Understand the Drivers: When asked for a deliverable, especially on short notice, ensure you understand the motivation or driving circumstances. This will enable you to make the right decisions on priorities if something new arises. For example, in this case, Jonathon would have understood the motivation and may have asked Jerry if his production problem could wait until the afternoon, when the estimate was completed.
- Explain Incidents Completely: After the dust settles, ensure all details are captured with an excellent executive summary. Be careful this message does not come across as whining. Your message should remain fact-based and clarify what you accept responsibility for fixing and / or improving. At the same time, ensure your boss understands why you made the decisions you did. The executive summary is also important. As witnessed in this example, personnel leaders are busy too. Jon’s 8:30 PM email to Michelle was a decent summary, but lacked the supporting detail Michelle could have used to really understand Jon’s many contributions that day.
- Empathize With Your Boss: Don’t assume you know everything your boss does. In the case where Jon saw Michelle leaving at a decent hour, he was not aware of her 4:00 AM calls or the extent of her time that was focused on personnel concerns – including ensuring his position was not lost. People managers often have a tremendous amount of responsibility and additional tasks above and beyond those transparent to the team.
The Team Leader (Michelle)
- Empower Your Team to Prioritize: In today’s dynamic workplace environment, priorities change quickly. As the “boss”, you can’t always be there to adjust priorities for your team. Therefore, we must empower our teams by providing them sufficient data to prioritize both effectively and independently. Too often, leaders assume staff will guess the right prioritization if something else critical comes up. In this example, Michelle failed to provide Jon the reasoning for the noon deadline. As a result, Jon did not shift priorities appropriately, in part, from a lack of information.
- Get the Facts Before Responding: Leaders should not reprimand before they are certain to have all the details. In this case, Michelle’s roll of the eyes and negative feedback about the missed deadline, before she fully understood the situation, was a poor response. Instead of reprimanding on the spot and in public settings, Michelle should have requested Jon send her an explanation on why the deadline was missed and what the two of them (including herself) could do in the future to avoid another incident.
- Deliver Thorough Feedback: Empowered by all the facts, leaders should provide comprehensive feedback. For example, Michelle was really impressed with Jon’s report – it exemplified why she asked him to do it. However, her message reflected the lack of her full comprehension on surrounding circumstances and her inability to make appropriate time available to respond completely. It’s important to note though, that this feedback can’t be too late, as good feedback is specific and timely. There is a delicate balance that is more art than science.
- Clarify Commitments: Share your calendar with the team, both formally and informally. There are plenty of technical solutions available, but this requires informal communication as well. For example, if you have regular calls at 4AM, they should know. Not that you need to broadcast it, but if you’re leaving early one day, explain why. If you’re tired during an evening meeting, inform the team it is not because of disinterest in the topic. This is not to suggest that working long hours should be celebrated – working smarter should. However, when demanding times call for more hours from your team, it is important they realize your are doing your part as well.
This is not to suggest there are no bad bosses or poorly performing team members. However, there are plenty of great bosses and individual contributors that are undervalued due to a lack of transparency between the two. To ensure you are not perceived incorrectly and to deliver the most effective and sustainable results, focus on providing and promoting transparency throughout your organization.
Additional questions for reflection:
- What other tips do you have for improving transparency in teams?
- Are there other missed opportunities for transparency you see in this business fable?
- From your own experience, do you feel you are transparent with your own boss or team?