Five Joys of Being a People Manager
So on the back of a rather negative post focused on managers avoiding bad behavior, I thought it would be good to write a blog that shares five of the biggest joys I experience when managing and leading people.
- Seeing people grow. I love to see people accumulate experiences and become better people. Better at their job, better at life, better at relationships. Too often we look at people only through the lens of performance. But when we hire people, we hire the whole person, and we need to appreciate all the ways they learn and grow.
- Learning from my team. I know there are a lot of things I still need to learn, and I love learning them from my team. Diverse teams bring different perspectives and a variety of knowledge. I think good managers become better managers when they open themselves up to the knowledge of their team and drink deeply.
- Watching stress turn into celebration. We have all experienced difficult projects that create stress. We are over budget, out of time or the customer isn’t happy with result or progress. But you know, we come through all those difficulties, and many times after passing through the trials, we can look back and celebrate our accomplishments. Those difficulties teach us about our business, about the world, and about ourselves—and I think they can create powerful moments of personal and team celebration that recognizes joy in overcoming a difficult path.
- Learning through new eyes. The more we learn and experience ourselves, and the narrower our focus becomes, we tend to forget the pure joy of learning something new—the delight in revelation of new ideas or relationships. I not only enjoy seeing people on my team get very excited about their work, but also thrive on the energy passed on to me—and the reminder that I need to keep pushing myself to find new experiences that will bring me that joy directly.
- Staying connected to former colleagues. Perhaps one of the biggest joys comes from the friendships that cross the boundary from work to personal. That can be a tricky thing for those who currently work for you, but retaining a friendship with former peers and colleagues is a pleasure.
You may have your own list, but regardless of which items fall into your top five, I think you will agree that managing and leading people should be something you really enjoy doing, something that thrills you and inspires you. Our businesses are important, but they wouldn’t be nearly as valuable to our customers, or to us, without the great people who contribute their time, their intellect and their physical being every day.
How to Avoid Being a Management Turkey
I’ve had the privilege to manage people for many years, and I’ve watched others manage as well. Fortunately, I have not experienced all of these behaviors myself, but I have seen some—and I have heard the horror stories from friends and colleagues about the others.
In the spirit of the holiday, I offer ten behaviors managers should avoid so their employees, partners and peers don’t think they are acting like turkeys.
- Saying one thing, doing another. Inconsistency damages organizations because people never know what to expect, and that leads to inaction across the board.
- There is just no excuse. Anyone who is asked to lead or manage other people needs to, if nothing else, respect the people he or she works with. If you don’t respect people, you cannot expect them to respect you, which means that any achievements will be the outcome of fear or politics, not commitment and excellence.
- Not apologizing. We all make mistakes. We need to say we are sorry and mean it. A real apology doesn’t include a “but” or an “explanation”. A good manager owns his/her mistakes and his/her apologies. The best apology is action that isn’t repeated.
- Blaming others. This one goes hand-in-hand with number 3, not apologizing, but extends it from the individual to the organization. Passing off your mistakes to others hurts the organization by rapidly degrading trust.
- Holding a grudge. People who design things expect failure, and therefore, create designs that forgive users for mistakes. We don’t design most organizations, they just happen, and too often, when mistakes reflect on a leader, he or she holds a grudge rather than thinking through how they forgive and move forward. I like the idea of resiliency, as resiliency means that the recovery from an error makes things better, not worse. I see forgiveness as a tool of the resilient organization.
- Encouraging politics. Humans are political animals. We really don’t have a choice, but we can recognize politics, call it out and try to rise above it for the greater good. The manager who encourages and gets caught up in politics only helps those that help him or her, which isn’t how an organization learns and grows together.
- Taking credit for other people’s work. This represents a simple decision to do the wrong thing. There is no excuse for this. People work hard, and good managers recognize those who deserve recognition regardless if a person wants the accolades or wishes to avoid them out of humbleness or selflessness. Taking credit for other people’s work steals goodness from the work experience.
- Avoiding decisions. Some decisions are tough. Some are easy. Many prove unpopular. But one of the primary responsibilities of a manager or leader is to make decisions.
- Not trusting people. Managers who don’t trust others end up ineffective for many reasons. Most importantly, they either do everything themselves, or feel compelled to be so involved in everyone else’s work that they might as well do it themselves. This results in poor team productivity because everybody knows that no matter what they do, it just won’t be good enough unless the manager adds his or her touch or spin.
- Always being right. Always being right is just as bad as not trusting people, because it leads to teams who don’t trust themselves—and that means little learning and little progress. Stuff just doesn’t get done well or very fast.
I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving. If you are a manager, may you return from the holiday refreshed and self-reflective—if you are managed by another person, may you discover the assertiveness to confront bad behavior, and therefore make the world a better place for all.
Welcome to the Gig Economy
Most organizations no longer give people the promise, or even hint, of lifetime employment. While stock options, bonuses and other compensation help keep employees for some period of time, in most cases, employment has become a matter of mutual benefit to the employer and the employee. An August 2015 study by accounting software maker Intuit expects upwards of 43 percent of people to be in the contingent labor market by 2020. When people want to leave to do something else, they leave.
Stephane Kasriel, CEO of upwork, the largest freelancer platform, called the Gig Economy the secret weapon of the US economy in his last interview in The Street.
Facing disruption in many once-stable industries, more workers are freelancing and turning to “alternative” employment strategies to cobble together their livings, but as the economy improves, the amount, perception, and desirability of freelance work seems to be changing.
63 percent of freelancers said that they started freelancing out of choice, up 10 points since 2014. A majority also said that they saw having a “diversified portfolio of clients” as more stable than having a single employer. And about half of them said that there was “no amount of money” that could convince them to take a traditional job. (Results from an online survey of roughly 6,000 working Americans).
I see people who move from company-to-company as being great at three personal learning traits:
- rapid understanding of a business,
- social awareness that allows them to quickly become a effective co-workers, &
- swift mastery of variations in process and practice.
Good interpersonal communications support those three traits, as does the ability to understand the work environment—and that requires a solid understanding of the working language, which more likely than not, will be English.
Business English as the Voice of Talent
In many ways, English becomes the protocol that permits the Gig Economy to work. If people had to assimilate new language and cultural concepts to do about the same kind of job they did at another company, the Gig Economy would fill with friction. It would take people large amounts of time to learn what they need to know to be effective.
But because English has become the protocol for representing ideas, the frameworks across business become transparent. And when variations occur, everyone uses that same language framework for describing those variations. As people move throughout their Gig jobs, picking up ever more experience, they will find fewer and fewer variations they have not seen before.
So English becomes the lubrication of the Gig Economy, allowing people to deliver value to multiple employers during their careers by leveraging their growing experience within domains of knowledge, rather than functions within a given business.
The Gig Economy appeals to many because it also allows them more personal choice and flexibility as to when to work, and even where. People throughout the world who want to find employment in the Gig economy would do well to master Business English so they can more easily move not just from job-to-job, or employer-to-employer, but from country-to-country.
Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?
The recent presidential debate reminded me of the importance of sharing the responsibilities across nations to help solve the refugee challenge. I talked with colleague and friend Daniel W. Rasmus at Serious Insights about innovative ways to approach the refugee crisis [see his post here].
I started with the work I did a few months ago with the U.S. State Department, where I learned about the plight of refugees inside of countries across Europe and elsewhere who find it hard to find work, or are denied work in their skilled profession based on local regulations around certification and licensing.
Considering how technology enables more of that “gig” technology, we started discussing it as the solution to bringing much needed paying work to refugees, reducing the burden of acclimation by local governments and reducing the incidents of violence spurred by perceptions of refugees displacing native workers.
Samasource is helping with what they call “the bottom of the bottom,” by providing projects to people inside refugee camps that pay significantly more than equivalent hours of manual labor.
We kind of both started saying the same things. What if we flipped the model so that businesses around the world provided access to remote jobs for skilled workers around the world, who may be displaced by circumstance—but still highly qualified to deliver their expertise.
And at the core of this, those companies could increase the value of these workers by helping them learn English, which would reduce their costs by ensuring the understand work assignments, and that they deliver quality results.
While experiments like the Samasource and Crowdflower to GiveWork app attempted to bring together refugees with quality monitor in the U.S., no one has scaled a solution. What we need to do is take the flipping idea even further and help make the landed refugees citizens of the world first. I’m not suggesting that they abandon loyalty to the country in which they settled, but that in order to contribute locally they will need work, and it might well be that global work will be more accessible than local work. The faster we can make them citizens of the world, the better it is for them, for their employers, and for the local economies.
There is no magic formula that is going to help the millions of displaced workers tomorrow, but we believe that the world needs innovative ideas. The number of displaced grows daily and we have to find new engagement pathways—and encouraging global companies to take on not just citizenship efforts that pour money into third-party programs—but programs that bring refugees into organizations so they can contribute through global collaboration and communications systems.
I’m committing that in the next six months I’m going to find a way to hire a couple of recently settled refugees. I ask my fellow leaders to join me in finding an answer to the question: Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?
Will Innovative New School 42 Create The Next Gold Alumni Network?
For many of us in the Silicon Valley, we know well the shortage of programmers and coders. We also know that the shortage isn’t just about coding, but about innovative thinking among those who know how to code.
I was thinking about this as I drove to an event recently. After a beautiful drive over the Dumbarton Bridge from the Peninsula, I arrived in Fremont, at a large building—and I entered the brand new US-based school known simply as 42.
For those of you not familiar with Ecole, it is a new university model aimed at disrupting education by providing a FREE coding school, that is project-based and peer reviewed. You read it right: No teachers, no lectures, no tuition.
The university model has operated in Paris for a while. It is fully funded with a $100M philanthropic effort of a well known businessman, Xavier Niel, who already disrupted the telecom industry with mobile operator Iliad’s Free brand.
I have previously written about how investment in education has increased over the last several years. This is driven not only by the student loan crisis and the increasing focus on the ROI of educational institutions, but also by the new ways to monetize and deliver education enabled by the Internet.
Digitalization has impacted educational products, services and delivery. It has also expanded the set of players coming to the market. For example, LinkedIn acquired Lynda, creating new vertical strategy for technology market learning. In the digital world, learning on its own is not sufficient. These digital services exponentially increase the value for learners. Lynda’s, for instance, links to finding a job as an outcome, with its integration into recruitment services.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to moderate a launch roundtable for the ‘piscine’ at 42. The “piscine,” or “pool” is an intensive entrance process that gives students a month at the school to understand learner motivation and skill. I was impressed by the scale, the speed and the team driving this project.
There are many factors that make 42 unique and successful. Here are few of my thoughts about their approach:
A team with an incredible passion and ability to execute
Each person proudly wears their Ecole 42 staff tee-shirt. The style of communication is open and collaborative. Every staff member is either an alumni, shares a strong sense of purpose with the school, or is an avid defender of the model. They want to show how to provide access to critical skills for people who might not otherwise have access.
Just two months ago they announced they would come to the US and launch in the summer. And here they are, with new buildings, the first set of students, all while finalizing the campus.
The magic sauce: An end-to-end model with the student at the center
Not only is there a shared pedagogy, but the whole structure is centered on the individual.
The school does not include the idea of a standard “term,” recognizing that every individual progresses his or her own pace. Some may finish the school and get to level 21 in 2 years, while other learners may take as long as 5 years.
Brittany Bir, the COO of 42, explained that accounts will never close. This leaves the opportunity for students to come back if it becomes relevant to them.
While tuition is free, Kwame Yamgnane, the managing director of 42, asserts that free tuition is not sufficient. The ability to come back means tuition remains free for life.
42 also offers lodging. Onsite dorms provide learners with a place to stay while they learn.
I had the opportunity to talk with two students, Antoine Bungert and Henri Dumas. Antoine is currently a Level 10 student in Paris. He has participated in the annual 42/HEC partnership program. Henri, a Level 11, recently completed a partnership and an internship with thanks to his studies at 42.
Both students recognized an immediate connection of their studies to potential jobs. The moment the students shared their studies at 42 via LinkedIn companies started reaching out with job offers.
42 students help reach underserved populations. Eighteen-percent of the students are women, five times that of institutional averages.
Not only does 42 attract job offers and teach great coding, but they help their students master 21st Century skills like collaboration, communication and team work, skills often not taught by other schools.
I bet the alumni network of this school will be strong. I look forward to seeing how their graduates flourish as entrepreneurs and innovators that start their own businesses and contribute within larger organizations!
Change is inevitable, and it arrives from many sources. Last week, those in the United Kingdom, the European countries, and most places across the world felt a wave of uncertainty as the Brexit measure passed in the UK. This left governments, businesses and individuals with many uncertainties about jobs, trade, regulations and many other areas. This one event is precipitating uncertainty across the globe.
Closer to home, uncertainty is a huge issue in technology-heavy places like Silicon Valley, where many have worked for a company that has been acquired, re-organized, or perhaps just ceased operations.
We all face what I call the dysfunction of transition, the chaotic time of moving from one reality to the next. Individuals make a choice of letting the future happen to them, or participating in the co-creation of the future. Those who worry about protecting the past will likely find themselves on the wrong side of history. Those who help co-create the future also help find their place in the future.
As leaders we can help our team when facing uncertainty. Here are 4 practices that I redouble in times of uncertainty and ask of the leaders and managers in my organization:
- Keep moving – Manage deadlines and priorities. Uncertainty does not mean that things stop. Leaders must manage to deadlines with great vigilance in times of uncertainty because even the best employees start second guessing what is important. In less stressful times, it might only be necessary to reach an agreement, and the staff will go off and do what they have committed to. In times of stress, people get distracted and miss deadlines and let other responsibilities, like maintaining good customer or partner relationships, suffer. Unless a company is closing its doors, those partners and customers are part of the new future, and it is important to remind people that the best future is one that arrives from a strong present.
- Increase communication among the management team. It is very important that the management team be on the same page and deliver consistent messages. In times of uncertainty, knowing the right thing to say can be difficult, and just making a statement from experience may not result in the best statement to share with a team or individual. The management team needs to discuss any questions that aren’t clear and come to a consensus about how to answer those questions consistently. Managers need to look to each other to keep their own issues with uncertainty in check, and to shore up their personal safe guards in order to avoid making the already difficult situation of change into something negative.
- Create as many learning opportunities as you can. One of the drivers of fear in the face of uncertainty comes from being too routine, or too personally connected to a particular skill or discipline. Most businesses give people opportunities to stretch their experiences, learn new areas and challenge themselves. I find that those who do this are much less fearful of uncertainty because they know they can align with whatever happens. Instead of wasting time worrying about what might happen, take that worry time and focus it on learning.
- Listen, console and coach. Not everyone has been through major changes in their lives or careers—and some don’t deal with change well, even if they have been through this before. Managers need to recognize this and make maintaining a cohesive, engaged and productive organization their priority. That means listening to people, coaching them through transitions and reminding them of priorities. Sometimes it may mean consoling them because something they believe is important is going away, be it a technology or a process, or perhaps a colleague. Good managers are at their best when they help the people who rightly or wrongly perceive themselves as facing the most risk, work their way through the transition.
It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity.
It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity. I learn something new about myself, my organization, about the world, every time change occurs. It is important for me to pass along this love for learning to my management team and to the entire organization, as I believe that only by actively learning from change do we find a way to face it without fear.
My Wellness Routine
I received some immediate responses to my wellness post. Most of the questions were about my wellness routine, so I drafted a brief overview of my daily process of preparing my body to support my mind.
I leverage a Priming My Mind exercise I borrowed from Anthony Robbins. This exercise activates my mind, helps me embrace gratitude, and focuses me on my goals. This exercise proves very powerful for me every day.
I also exercise regularly before starting my work day (or alternatively late in the evening) at least three times a week. I go for a short run. I just put on my running shoes whether at home, or in a hotel when traveling, and I run. On Saturday mornings, I share my social ritual with my husband and our running group for longer runs up to 12 miles. These Saturday rituals are as much about exercise as they are about catching up and bonding, killing two birds with one stone. Once a week, on Fridays, when training for a triathlon, my husband and I go for a long bike ride in the mountains close to home. The ozone I breathe brings so much to my body—and again this is a great bonding time with my partner which is much needed in our busy lives.
Days off are not really off. On days without a run or bike ride, I start with a fifteen-minute Yoga routine to awaken my body for the day and get my energy rolling.
What I eat
Of course, what you eat is also very important. 80% of what I eat comes from high water content foods, like fruits and vegetables. 50% of my food is raw, the source of most of my vitamins.
I know that not everybody has the time or the inclination to create a wellness routine like mine, but I encourage everybody I know to create a routine that works for them. Wellness drives my continuous learning as much as anything else in my life.
Wellness at Work
I have always been an active person, but until a few years ago, much of that activity was directed toward work.
When I moved to the US, the culture of working both on one’s mind and body enabled me to commit for my first half marathon. Now six half marathons and three Olympic triathlons later, exercising is part of my everyday life. Three days without exercise significantly impacts my mind and my body.
While I was preparing for the marathon, I realized that there is an inverse relationship between health and mind. Elite athletes talk about their mental preparation all of the time. In the most recent football season, quarterbacks in college and on professional teams used virtual reality systems to help them learn to read defenses. Golfers practice swings on courses around the world in simulations. These are all examples of mental preparation.
Rarely, though, do I hear executives get out and talk about physical preparation for work. For those of us who spend most of our day with a computer, it is the organ in our skull that we think is most valuable. But that organ, our brain, requires blood and oxygen—and it requires it efficiently.
Wellness at Work: Decisions and Empathy
I talked to a few of my CEO peers about exercise and work, and while our roles might differ, we all spend a lot of our time on two key areas that are highly impacted by wellness: decision making and empathy.
First, a large part of our day is spent making decisions on matters which cannot be resolved before we arrive at our desk. For most of the issues we deal with, there are no black or white answers. It is really making a decision as the Latin origin of this word means – de caedere, a cut off, or the death of one option over another. Decisions are never perfect.
Second, we spend a lot of time working with our teams—managing challenges, dealing with emotion situations and helping people and our ecosystem to thrive. It often requires a lot of empathy, compassion and patience which we never have enough of in our very active business life.
In both of these instances, I heard too many times that my fellow CEOs all had bad memories of actions and behaviors influenced because they were on the edge—too stressed, not enough sleep, mentally exhausted.
We live in an era where there are plenty of studies that establish a clear linkage between mind and body. The ability to manage both our mind and body to operate at peak performance is our responsibility as leaders.
Let’s be honest, I’m not an elite athlete, but I am proud of what I’ve accomplished in terms of operating at my optimal self – this is what matters, not the volume of muscles or how fast I finish a race. In fact, we have to be cautious for as much as exercise is good for the mind, some people can become obsessed with it to the point that they suffer from conditions like “excessive exercise” and “overtraining syndrome”.
Wellness at Work: Finding Time
When I decided to add more regular exercise to my day, the biggest challenge for me was finding the time. My preparation exercises taught me that I have to make real time for staying healthy. I can’t just work it into my routine and do a couple of crunches in the lunch room, or knee bends waiting for a conference call to start. I think in a way my body knows when I’m paying attention to it. It is part of the design of my life. This body & mind preparation became an official block on my business calendar.
I have to make time for my body—for my heart and lungs and muscles—as much as I make time for strategy, evaluating the competition and nurturing the career goals of my staff. Balance is an important idea in design. We must find a balance that lets us be whole people, not just brains with bodies or bodies with brains. We have to design our own personal mind-body experience.
This isn’t new wisdom, just a new realization.
As the Buddha said:
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.
My Continuous Learning Conversations at Pearson English
Over the last couple of weeks, I wrote three blogs for the Pearson English website that extend the recent continuous learning themes I explored here. I want to share the opening paragraphs of the blogs and links to them. I look forward to your thoughts!
Continuous Learning: Staying Relevant to the Talent Conversation
I am very excited about the dialog that Pearson English Business Solutions is creating around the future of jobs, and the need for continuous learning. Anyone who has been reading my personal blog knows that continuous learning is very important to me. I think continuous learning is critical to people staying relevant in the 21st Century job market.
Read more here.
Is Learning English the Way to Tackle English-biased Research?
In order to change the world, we have to start by accepting it where we find it. When it comes to content on the Internet, the vast majority of it is written in English. Even non-English speaking countries like Germany, France and Spain produce much of their scientific literature in English. Eighty percent of articles, for instance, collected by the SCOPUS database of peer-reviewed articles, were written in English according to a 2012 study by Research Trends.
Read more here.
English as a Gateway Skill
English is currently the most important language of business and business travel. I speak French, but when I travel, I am much more likely to meet someone who shares speaking English with me, than speaking French. The following list offers evidence as to why English is dominant, but more importantly, why it is important to invest in reaching English proficiency.
Read more here.
Over the last several posts, I have explored continuous learning. Here are the last three topics for now. I look forward to creating a dialog around this topic. Please comment if you have other ideas or questions about continuous learning.
1. Say yes – keep space for spontaneity
When people are asked to do things, a lot goes on in their mind. Do I have time? Can I afford it? What do I get out of it? Who is getting something out of this beside me? Is this aligned with my plans?
All very selfish thoughts. I find that one of the best ways to be selfish is to just say, yes. When you say yes you put yourself into situations that you wouldn’t be in if you had said no. Now I don’t mean dangerous situations, but business situations. Let’s say somebody asked you to be on a panel, to present at a conference, take on a new project or coach a new employee. If you say no, you will never meet the people on the panel, you will never learn new things as you prepare for the presentation, you will never gain experience through the wins and failings of the project, and you will never have the opportunity to get to know a really interesting new person at more than a passing level.
All of that happens because you say yes; break through the barrier of routine, and open yourself up to learning.
2. Hold your beliefs lightly
If you think you know something, you may be reluctant to look into it any deeper. I have conversations all of the time about topics that I think I know something about, but when I get in a group, I find that some of what I know is only surface knowledge, and some of it is wrong. If I hold on to what I think I know about everything, I can’t learn new things. In some areas I might be considered a subject matter expert, but even in these areas, I am not the only source, or even the best source for all aspects of entrepreneurship, managing start-ups or social learning. I think a subject matter expert is someone who actively learns all of the time, someone who is passionate about their area, but not so trapped by their beliefs that they can see when disruptions happen, new insights occur or new technologies offer improvements. Be humble even about what you know because some new discovery may be very important to your future, and you need to be willing to embrace it, or it may just pass you by.
3. Negotiate learning into your objectives
This is harder than it sounds because when most people write their objectives, they create them based on their manager’s objectives — which are derived from other, higher-level objectives. Even organizations that consider themselves “learning organizations” seldom flow down any meaningful learning objectives to individuals.
People can take classes, but they often feel like the classes take time away from work, and the success of that work drives personal assessments, and personal assessments drive bonuses. Contributing to lessons-learned systems and in-house communities often get left out of time measurements and success metrics. If you can’t integrate learning into your personal achievement equation, you will probably skip most learning opportunities. People don’t get paid for learning more on the job, really, do they?
I find it useful to not assume that this is the case. I have learned to take the time to talk with my manager about what I need to know to advance in my career, and then find ways to put that learning into my objectives. If it is important enough that I know something to better contribute to the organization, then it is important enough that the organization recognize my effort to learn it. Even for a CEO!
If start-ups teach us anything, it is that true leaders pitch in and do what needs to be done. They don't worry about boundaries, just goals. And they bring everyone along with them.
We are surrounded by technology. Leveraging technology is a strategic necessity. The best leaders will transform emerging technology into a strategic advantage, and they won't be afraid to abandon the obsolete.
Education is essential. Life-long learning is the key ingredient for today's business.