I had a discussion with a very intelligent manager – let’s call her Sally – a few weeks ago. When I first met her, she was full of energy and ideas. She was looking forward to an illustrious career and to learning more in her role. She had been identified by her Manager (let’s call her Barbara) as a high potential leader – someone who would help them to innovate their processes, improve their work and increase productivity and service. The company and their department was implementing new systems and Barbara knew that significant change was needed and felt that this employee would help to make the changes.
The last few times I’ve seen Sally, she’s seemed lack-luster and quiet. She spends more time on her phone than engaged in discussions. Her passion seems to have left her. The difference in her is almost palpable.
When I was able to check in with her, I found out why. The ideas Sally has had have been turned down. New projects and responsibilities that require higher level thinking have been kept at the senior level. Sally feels like she has become a set of hands without much use of her brain. “I just do what I’m told”, she told me. I asked if she’s talked to Barbara about how she feels. “She’s too busy”, she explained. They haven’t had a one-on-one in months. Barbara rarely comes out of her office, except to attend a meeting.
And it’s true. I’ve talked to Barbara – and she is incredibly busy. It’s affecting her family life, her health, and her emotional state. Eventually, something’s gotta give… I hope it’s that she realizes the opportunity she has to re-engage employees like Sally.
Here’s some advice for the Barbaras of the world.
- Stop and look around – how does your team look? Are they happy? Productive? Talking to you and to one another?
- Have meaningful one-on-one meetings with your team members. These don’t have to be long or formal, but they should be about more than their tasks. Ask how engaged they are with their work, what they’re missing, what feedback they have for you, what feedback they want from you.
- When you’re busy, your one-on-one meetings should be the last thing that gets cancelled. When you constantly postpone or cancel these meetings, it perpetuates the feeling that your team members are not important to you.
- The more senior you are, the less actual hands-on, technical work you should be doing. Evaluate what activities you’re spending your time on. Are they the right things? This is a difficult question to ask yourself if you’re an expert in the field, and have been promoted internally. You’ve probably never not done some of the work. Challenge everything you do. Chances are, you’re doing lots that others would love to learn.
- Delegate with accountability. Consider the stage your employee is at for the task you’re giving them. Do they need specific direction or just support and encouragement? Providing direction when they know how to do something feels like micro-managing, but when the task is new, it’s helpful. Encouragement and support can be completely useless when someone has no idea what to do, but helpful when they just lack confidence. It’s important to know the difference – which may mean discussions with them (see points #2 and # 3)
- If something you delegate isn’t done to your standard, think about whether your standard is the only right way. If so, discuss what was missed and have the team member fix it. Whatever you do, don’t take the work away from the person or just fix it yourself without involving them in why and how you’ve done so.
- Most importantly, Get Over Yourself! You haven’t always been this perfect. Allow others the chance to fail and learn, and your entire department will develop.
There are a lot of competent people in the world. Most of them just need a little trust and purpose, and they’ll figure it out. And that will be good for you and for them.