Category Archives: Managers

The first step to becoming more productive at work

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The first step to becoming more productive at work is to know how your company (and your boss) measures productivity. Each manager has her own idiosyncrasies for how she evaluates her employees’ work.

Some common benchmarks are easily measured:

  • How early you show up to work
  • How late you stay at work
  • How many hours you work a week
  • How many meetings you attend

Other benchmarks are more difficult to measure:

  • How much profit your work generates for the company
  • How much closer the company is to reaching its mission statement because of your work
  • How much better your team functions when you are there to help
  • How much happier the company’s customers are because of your work

As you can see, the first set doesn’t help your company as directly as the second, but since they’re easy to measure, the first set of metrics is what a lot of manager rely on.  If that’s the case, the person who’s at the office the most will be the star employee.

If you are fortunate enough to have a manager who uses the second set of metrics and measures your work based on your actual value to the company’s goals, then it helps to recognize that working until 10pm every night is not the best way to excel at your job. You’ll need to help your company fulfill its mission statement. That’s more difficult for you, but at least promotions will be based on merit.

Before you can go about becoming more productive, and working toward a promotion, you need to know which of these metrics your manager values. The employee who fulfills those metrics is in the running for the next promotion.

The person you need to know to get promoted

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You go into work on time everyday and do everything that is expected of you. You complete your assignments on time. You get along with your coworkers. You understand how your job fits into the company’s goals. Your boss and your coworkers know that you are crushing it.

But you can’t seem to get noticed for a raise or promotion. That can get frustrating for even the hardest working employee.

If you are doing your job well, the reason you aren’t getting noticed is likely because the right person hasn’t noticed what a great job you are doing. That person is your boss’s boss.

Your boss’s boss is the person who approves your performance reviews and raises. She’s also the person who picks your boss’s replace should he leave and hires others at your boss’s level across the company. If she doesn’t know who you are, you won’t get selected when those jobs open up.

She’s also one of the best mentors you can have. She has a better strategic vision of the company’s goals than your boss does and she has more access to the executives. Talking with her can get you thinking like a senior team member before you’re promoted into those positions, and if you’re already thinking like a senior team member then people will see your leadership potential early in your career.

Ideally your boss would make it clear to his boss that you’re doing a great job. And then your boss’s boss would realize what a great job you are doing, but that doesn’t always work out. Sometimes your boss isn’t a great communicator. Sometimes your boss’s boss doesn’t ask about the employees two levels below her. Sometimes your boss is threatened by your success and fears you might replace him.

Whatever the reason is, you can still get noticed by your boss’s boss.

Whether your boss’s boss knows you or not, a good way to talk to her is to ask for industry advice or ask about the company’s goals.

If your boss is a good communicator and supports your professional development, ask your boss to introduce you to his boss. If not, I’d suggest sending your boss’s boss an email requesting a short meeting to learn about her career path, the company’s goals, and general questions about how your industry operates. Checkout my article about how to ask for advice: How to ask your boss for help.

Once you meet with her, you can do some general check ins. You want to check in when you have something valuable to add to her life. Some good ways to keep in touch are:

  • Volunteering to work on a cross-departmental project. Your boss’s boss is likely involved in this type of project since it involves multiple teams that report to her.
  • Sending your boss’s boss a congratulatory email if she does something noteworthy, such a speaking at a conference or being recognized in a company wide memo.
  • Letting her know when your boss does a good job on a certain project. This both helps you keep in touch and keeps your boss happy.
  • Asking about the company’s strategic vision and how her department plays a role in reaching that vision.
  • If you see a news article that relates to her work, you can email the link to her saying, “Just in case you missed this, I thought you’d find this article helpful: [link]. No need to reply.”
  • If you happen to have a hobby in common or a similar life situation (like your kids playing in the same soccer league), you can talk about that when you see each other at the watercooler.
  • Asking to meet as a mentor once or twice a year, most likely with your boss also present. You can talk about what additional skills you should learn to help the company.

While you are doing this, keep in mind that you still report to someone else so you should ask the majority of your work related question to your boss. And you don’t want to undermine your boss by going straight to your boss’s boss when you have issues. Talk to your boss’s boss about interdepartmental questions, the company’s strategic goals, industry topics, and casual watercooler talk. These topics are appropriate for someone two levels above you without challenging the organizational hierarchy.

With all that being said, your boss’s boss can know you and like you, but if you aren’t doing good work, you still won’t get the promotion or raise. If you do good work but don’t know the right people, you won’t get promoted and will get frustrated that your work goes unnoticed. If your boss’s boss likes you as a person but you don’t do good work, then she won’t risk her career by promoting you. But if you do good work and your boss’s boss knows you do good work, then she will promote you when the time is right.

Master the basics by doing your job well, demonstrating leadership skills, and adding value to the company. Along the way, get to know the leaders two or three levels above you in the org chart. Then your boss’s boss will help you climb up the ladder.

The Peter Principle

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The Peter Principle is a management theory that says an employee will continue to get promoted until he is in a role where he is incompetent.

In other words, if Sam was a great Associate he gets promoted to Senior Associate. Since he was also a great Senior Associate, he becomes a Manager. Once again, he does a great job as a Manager so he gets promoted to Director. But he’s not a good Director so he never gets promoted again. That’s unfortunately because Sam is now doing a job he isn’t good at which is hurting the company.

As a result, the Peter Principle says that a company is made up of employees who are working in roles they are unfit to be in. That’s a pretty grim outlook.

But like all theories, it’s written on paper and we don’t live on paper. When we reach a role that is too difficult for us, we can learn from our mistakes, seek education, get mentors, and become competent in our new roles. Over time, we turn our failures into success, get promoted, and repeat the cycle again.

How to be a great manager

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We’ve all had our share of great managers and not-so-great managers. Some managers bring the best out of their team. They can make you feel productive and like a valuable employee.They know how to take you from one level and make you even better. They are truly great managers.

Then there are the not-so-great managers. The types of managers that no one wants to work for. They are some combination of selfish, rude, and oblivious to how they make their team feel. The team isn’t productive and everyone hates Monday mornings that much more because it’s a week with a bad boss.

But what about when you become the boss? You’re now the manager. How do you make sure you’re the great manager? Whether you’re a first time manager or an experience one, it’s tough to know how to get the most out of your team, but it’s absolutely possible.

Your team comes first

At one point in your career you were a great individual contributor. Your boss and her boss both thought of you as a great employee and someone who the company can develop to be a leader.

One mistake not-so-great managers make is continuing to act as an individual contributor. As a manager, you are now evaluated based on how well your team does. Even if you are still tasked with making individual contributions while managing, you must keep your team’s development as the first priority before your individual contributions.

You are first a coach and second a player on the team. You are now in charge of developing talent, delegating the department’s priorities efficiently, and making sure your team has a work environment that will make them productive.

A large part of putting your team first and giving them that productive work environment is accepting the blame for problems and handing out the praise to your direct reports for the successes.

One thing that drives employees crazy is when their manager takes credit for their work or when the manager passes on blame down the corporate ladder. As a manager, you will need to own up to the team’s failures and share the success with your team.

If your boss asked why a certain project didn’t work out, you should take the responsibility for it yourself even if it was one of your direct reports who messed up. You should let your boss know that you didn’t help out that employee enough and the project has slipped up, but you will get it back on track.

Likewise, when a project goes great, let your boss know that the success for that project goes to your employee. And also let your employee know that your boss was told what a great job she did, perhaps by sending an email to your boss:

To: [Boss’s email]

CC: [Employee’s email]

Hi [boss’s name],

I wanted to let you know that the XYZ project wrapped up earlier this week. All signs point to success so far. [Employee’s name] did a great job on this project and deserves the credit!

Thanks,

[Your name]

Your boss will know that the accomplishments were led by you, but it also motivates your team to know their great work is recognized by upper management.

Treat everyone as an individual

Your team is a group of individual people, each with their own goals, fears, beliefs, and personality. As such, treat each of your direct reports as an individual person.

Give employees as much freedom as they need to work efficiently. Some people prefer to work solo and others prefer to work in pairs. Some work better with their manager checking in often and others work great with fewer discussions during the day. Find how each person works bests and give them a work situation where they can thrive.

Understand your individual team member’s emotions. Know when they feel overwhelmed. Know when they feel lost. Know when they are unhappy. All of this revolves around emotional intelligence and better leaders tend to have more emotional intelligence than other leaders.

When an employee feels overwhelmed, help him manage his workflow. Take an item or two off his priority list until he feels ready to take it on. When another employee feels unhappy about something at work, ask her what’s bothering her. If one of your team members needs support dealing with someone else in a different part of the company, stand up for her. If you need to go a level up for that support, ask your boss to support that team member too.

I remember once when I was having trouble getting a lower level employee at a vendor our company worked with to get a project done on time. It was a simple project that had been going on for three weeks. I told my boss about my frustrations and he picked up the phone that moment and call an executive at the other company. He voiced his displeasure with the situation…The job was done two hours later. But more importantly, he stuck up for me and my team. You can bet I had his back in the future too.

Do what you need to do to keep your team members feeling positive about their work.

Ask for help

Like most things in life, getting the help of more experienced people will make you better. Find a mentor ask for advice in the areas you want to improve. Management is a skill that you can improve over time and it’s especially improve to get help during the first year when you transition from an individual contributor to a manager.

Your boss is probably the best person to ask for help. She knows the situation you are in and likely has more management experience than you. She was probably in a similar situation to you just a few years ago. I wrote about getting your boss’s help before: How to ask your boss for help without looking stupid.

If you know other experienced managers, perhaps bosses at previous jobs, you can also get their help. If you are dealing with a particularly tricky situation within your company, it can be better to talk to someone outside the company so you can be more honest about the problems you face with political situations inside the company.

And the most overlooked place to get help is from your direct reports. Everyone can learn from other people whether they are older than you, younger, your boss, or your employee. Your direct reports can tell you what you are doing best as a manager and where you need improvement.

During your regular one-on-one check ins with your reports, go through the normal agenda: projects, priorities, and your employee’s feedback. Then turn the tables and tell your employee about what you are working on. Perhaps it’s meetings with your boss, the different projects other people on the team are working on, and then ask for feedback about how you are doing as a manager. You can say something like this:

Since these one-on-one check ins are for both of us to learn, I was hoping you can give me some feedback. What is one area that you think I’m doing well as your manager? [Start with a positive point to open the conversation. It’s easier to give a compliment than criticism. Listen carefully.]

Thanks so much for that feedback. I’m glad I can help you and the team like that. What do you think I can improve on to make the team better? [Ask an open ended question. A yes or no question will get you a yes or no answer. Also focus on how you can help the entire team. This takes some pressure off your employee to give you more honest feedback.]

Here you are letting your employee know that you care about keeping her in the loop on other projects on the team and that you respect her opinion. You also get to know exactly what challenges your team is having with each other and yourself.

As always, take any negative criticism as well as you can. It likely isn’t personal. It might just be your direct reports wanting to vent about something beyond their control, but also use the feedback to improve the work environment for your employees.

In the end, being a manager is about making your team productive and engaged so they can help the company. Doing that will make you a great manager.

How to Ask Your Boss for Help Without Looking Stupid

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Have you ever felt this way?

I feel like I don’t know how to do my job well but I don’t know how to ask for help.

Feeling like you are struggling at work is scary. You might not know how well you are doing. You might think that your manager doesn’t have much faith in you. You want to ask for help but you feel like you might look stupid.

I want feedback from my boss, but she is incredibly busy all the time and I’m not sure what asking ‘How am I doing?’ would accomplish, especially if she says I’m not doing well.

Fortunately, you can ask for help and your manager will thank you for the conversation. I’ll show you how below.

Top value creators ask for help

Asking for help is what sets apart top value creators from everyone else. That guy in your office with the extra computer monitor writing Excel macros got that way by learning slowly and getting feedback from other people, although it might not look that way to you now.

Being unsure about your job performance is hard so don’t make it harder by not asking for help. Asking your manager about where you stand and how to improve is part of feeling more confident at work. It’s also part of your manager’s job to coach you to be your best, but you have to be proactive in asking for help. You and your manager are working toward the same goal, and the better you do at your job, the better your boss’s performance review will be. It’s her job to help you!

It’s a good idea to setup a meeting with your boss when you think you aren’t performing up to standard.

Know what you want to ask your boss

Before setting up a meeting with your boss or manager, think what you specifically want to know from your boss. Think about these questions:

  1. What projects are you working on now?
  2. Why are those projects important to the company?
  3. What are you doing well on those projects?
  4. What fears do you have for those projects?
  5. What areas do you think you need improvement in at work?
  6. What questions do you have for your boss about your job performance?

Set up a meeting with your boss

Now that you know how you feel about the projects, let’s write an email to your boss asking for a casual meeting to discuss how you can improve. It’s important to ask for a meeting before hand so it gives you boss time to prepare. You don’t want to march into your boss’s office and surprise her with this conversation. She needs time to prepare for it just like you do. Modify the email template for your own situation:

Hi [boss],

As you know, I am working on the cost report for the Acme project and I feel like collecting the data is going well. But I could use more guidance on how to present the data within the report. [Say something you are doing well so your boss knows you are adding value to the company. Then say something where you need a little guidance from your boss to lead into the main ask for help.]

Do you have 15 minutes to talk about the best way to present the data next week? I’d love your opinion on how to make this project successful. [Ask a simple question for a short meeting in the future. This puts off the pressure of clearing time in your boss’s schedule now. Then ask for your boss’s opinion which will be flattering that you value his/her opinion.]

I have a few ideas, but your ideas would be helpful. I feel like I still need to ask others in the department for help too often and don’t fully understand the big picture for the project. As a result, I’m not sure how well this project is going. [Tell your boss that you have ideas so your boss knows you are being proactive in learning your job. Then, be more general about the help you need. This gives him/her an opportunity to give you more general feedback about your overall performance.]

Can we set aside some time next week so I can get your feedback? [End with a yes or no question so it’s easy for your boss to reply with a yes response.]

Thanks,

[Your name]

Practice, practice, practice

Practice beforehand by running through the scenarios in your head. Think about the ideal outcome at the end of the meeting. For example, your boss might say that you are doing great so far and that the doubts you have are normal for someone with your level of experience.

Also think about how you will react if your boss tells you that you are under performing. Visualize yourself staying calm and explaining that you want to be a top value-creator 6 months from now by using the feedback from this meeting. Your boss will then know that you want to improve and can help you reach your goal.

Most importantly, remember that it is your manager’s job to support you and make sure you know how to successfully complete your projects. Your boss is on your side even if they don’t communicate that with you often. His/her performance review is based on how well you do. You and your boss are on the same team and working toward the same goals.

Take action

Take action now. Leave a comment below with your answers to the six questions above, then go to your email and write the message to setup a meeting with your boss. Good luck!