Driving the Bus – Part 2(b)

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success. In Part Two A, we started with a section about Who Should Be on the Bus by talking about asking existing staff to get off the bus.  In this post, we are going to invite some new people to jump on the bus. What an exciting time! Bringing new people into an organization or onto a small team can send a shock of energy through the building.  Look what just happened with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Against 10 years of history, they made significant trades for better players to help them win this year and the jolt was felt right through the organization.  Their Monday game after the big trade was sold out and electric at the ballpark and the team is undefeated in the last week.  Contrast that to a year ago, when the Jays were in it and did not make a move. The fans howled, the media questioned and the players grumbled – and then started losing and missed the playoffs. Don’t miss the playoffs!  When you have a chance to strengthen your team through the hiring process, spend time on it and get it right. But where do you start?  Certainly not with a help wanted ad or a hiring ad on Monster.  Yes, you will post the ad internally and send it out online as part of the hiring process but your best prospects will not likely come from a stack of resumes.  They will come from your own personal list of superstars you want to hire, who do the same job with better results, better attitude and a new outlook at their existing company.

Do you keep a list of superstars?

If you are not, I would suggest that you start.  Start with your competitors locally, then nationally and find the person that kicks your butt at every pitch or who designs a product two upgrades more advanced than yours, year in and year out.  In baseball, one phrase you hear a lot is “Glad he’s on our side”  – because you’d rather not face them when with the game on the line.  Hire that person.

I would also suggest that you don’t limit your superstar list to your own industry.  Good sales people, CSR’s, coders and project managers work right down the street from you.  Identify the best companies around from their local press, awards for results, venture capital funding announcements, workplace awards, whatever and target the people you need who have proven results.

There is no better way for you to shine as a manager than to hire a superstar – both in the short term exhilaration of the moment when you hire a superstar but also when the results start improving as a result of that hire.

Driving the Bus – Part 2 (a)

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

In Part One, we talked about the pre-hiring process and in this post we are going to review Who Should Be on the Bus, which covers both existing staff and new hires.

Not many managers are fortunate enough to be able to form their team from scratch. In those cases, likely a start-up or small business, you can skip right to hiring after you decide Where the Bus is Going.  On the other hand, most of us inherit a team when we become a manager and then are expected to add and subtract members from that team as the company goals and team performance change to ensure the best possible results.

So before you start hiring, take a look at your existing team and decide who should not be on the bus

There are many reasons for showing someone the door, including obvious ones like poor performance (even after coaching) and destructive or criminal behaviour.  Not so obvious, but just as important, is when the company goals, focus or business model changes and team members motivation, skills and attitude do not change with the times.

I was lucky enough to work at a company for 11 years that grew very quickly and at every stage long term, high performing team members found their way out of the company because the fit between their skills and the kind of company they wanted to work for changed as the company became larger.  I made it through several changes in service and product focus, an acquisition by a larger, public company and finally a venture supported return to a private company before the fit wasn’t right for me.

I wasn’t asked to leave, but the role the new organization had for me was not a good fit.  And that’s how it will work with your team – you won’t be able to find a fit for a good person and hopefully they will recognize that they can find what they are looking for somewhere else.  If they hang in there, then you either:

  • Live with it and let them limp along riding on the glory of their former self while in a lesser role, or you
  • Invest in re-training to help that person find the new motivation that will help them become truly engaged at work, or
  • You have to cut them loose. Respectfully, honourably and honestly while recognizing that firing someone is an extremely personal act

Deciding who’s on your bus not only means asking some people to step off, but also involves inviting new people to jump on – which we will cover in the next post.

Driving the Bus – Part 1

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

Hiring is the perfect time for a reality check on Where the Bus is Going.  Hiring is an opportunity for rebirth – out with the old and in with the new, or in with more new because we need additional resources.  A little blue sky thinking before you get into the recruiting process could lead to the kind of radical change that makes a big difference, or lead to a subtle change in an existing dynamic that creates a much more harmonized team.  You are not Carnac and cannot see into the future to evaluate how a new hire will impact the business, but before your start you can ask yourself:

How can a new hire change our business for the better?

Asking this question gives you permission to dream big.

Successful Managers Find a Friend

There is plenty of advice in the Manager’s secret handbook about managing your team, your clients and managing up – and almost nothing written about managing sideways.

Likely because a sideways relationship in your organization is not about managing – it’s usually about rallying your managerial colleagues to a common cause.  Even if that common cause is you.

All first time managers should make two sideways friends immediately in order to save themselves additional work, grief, and embarrassment – one friend from HR and one from Accounting.

It is unlikely, that unless you are a manager yourself in either one of these areas, that you will know what you are doing when it’s time to fill out your first budget or hire your first team member.  How hard can it be?  I’m smart, I can figure it out.  Sure you can – but why would you?

One of the great joys of being a manager is giving other members of your team a chance to shine in their area of expertise. Sideways managers or their staff are definitely part of your team, even if it’s only a dotted line that connects you, and they want to be recognized for doing good work.  Accounting staff spend their days, by choice, knee deep in spreadsheets, debits and credits and invoices.  Some problem that seems complex and foreign to the new manager of customer service is likely right in their wheelhouse and can be banged out in no time.  Followed by a prompt and genuine thank you from you!

Your HR friend is the same, spending their days with vacation policies, dress codes, workplace standards, terminations, disciplinary meetings, and FTE planning.

Since recruiting is the most important work that you will do as a manager, having a partner in HR is crucial to your long term success.

I have been fortunate to work closely with several excellent HR managers who counterbalance my natural instinct to hire people I really like in the interview with the company’s need to hire people with experience doing the job we need to be done. These same managers have also guided me through employee issues like drug dependency, family funerals, long term sick leave, theft, fraud and excessive sick leave.  Together we did our best to balance the needs of the company with compassion for the team member.

In the end, as Ken Blanchard tells us in his book High Five, “All of us are smarter than one of us.”

When to Close Your Open Door

More than most, I believe that an open door is an important Work Habit for a successful manager.

In fact there are two open doors.  The actual physical door to your office being open and the symbolic open door that means you are always available for your team and you are OK with interrupting what you are doing to give them your full attention.  If you are spending a majority of time on your team – meeting with them, getting them resources, hiring, training, going to bat for them with the big boss – then the open door is key to facilitating that flow.

I know that sometimes an open door can be a pain – especially when the person coming through the door is someone that almost always brings you problems.  I know when that happens to me and it’s a day when I might not be at my best, my exasperation at being interrupted leaks out.  And the person usually knows it and feels bad for coming to see me.  Which means in the future they might hesitate to see me when they really should and the company could be facing some major damage.

So when I am having one of those days – too tired, swamped with important, not urgent work on a deadline, whatever – I close the open door.

Until I am clear of what I am working on or in a better frame of mind, it’s better for my relationship with the team to have the door closed a few minutes than for them to sense that I resent their interruption.

You would be surprised how effective you can be in less than 30 minutes without the threat of interruption.  Besides how many of us can work in a closed room for more than 30 without a desire to tunnel out through the latrine with a spoon carved out of soap.

And I make sure that at some point the team knows that I close the door infrequently and the reasons why.  People are smart – they know if someone is in there with you behind a closed door that it’s personal and they would expect the same consideration.  Sometimes you are in there all alone, so you have to touch base after and say “Ross, sorry I couldn’t see you when you came by.  I’m working on a revised budget for the big boss he needed changes to this morning.”  What team member would not understand that?  They know we all report to someone and that sometimes we have to churn out brilliance double quick.

I know – doesn’t all the work that a manger does fit that description?  Likely – so be smart and figure out when in your day the door and you have to be open for business.  You probably already know the pattern, because all offices and teams have them.  Arrival, coffee breaks, lunch, team meetings – it all has a rhythm and a place and so does when your team needs you.  You likely have people in your office at the same times every day.

There are also times when they are head down and bum up – working in their personal garden.  That’s when it’s time for you to get some work done.

Anyone Can Be a Good Manager

That’s right, anyone.

It does not matter how much experience you have, your age, your level of education, your communication style or your personality.  You can be a good manager.

Because being a good manager is a process.  And this process has steps and concrete things you can learn and apply that are universal to managers everywhere, no matter the size of company or the country it’s located in or the industry it serves.

The process begins by MANAGING NOT DOING.  When you move from a “doing” job into your “managing” job it’s important to remember that the managing is the work, and your habits should reflect that.  Spend 50% of your time on your team – coaching, training, praising in public and working the big boss and the system to make sure they get the resources and the love they need.  But let them do the work.  You may have been the best sales person, CSR or accounting clerk before you were promoted, but now your success depends on their ability to perform.  Imagine what they can do with a superstar manager.

Your long term success as a manager depends entirely on the next part of the process, getting your team to KNOW, LIKE AND TRUST you.  This requires you to consistently be yourself – whether introverted or extroverted, numbers driven or big picture dreaming – so your staff can count on you being the same person every day. It matters less about who you are and more about being that person consistently and authentically.  Brooding and locked in your office on Monday and giving high fives and playing rock music on Tuesday will only confuse them.

While they are getting to KNOW you, you can get to know them by paying attention to them as individuals and listening to what they have to say.

People are hard wired to LIKE other people that are interested in who we are and what we care about – and all it takes is regular, careful listening.

The final component is TRUST  – hardest and longest to win and the easiest to lose.  You will be trusted if you do what you say you will do and deliver for your team and the team as individuals exactly as promised.  Great things have been accomplished on the backs of making sure someone has the exact colour post-its they feel they need for the job.

The final step in the process is living a managerial life dedicated to SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  You can always tell a bad manager because it’s always about them. In the meetings with the big boss they refer to themselves and not the team, they suck the oxygen out the room during meetings, deliver sermons from on high and assign themselves the key accounts and the high profile clients.  A good manager is about the team – first, last and always.

Time to stop doing.  Time to start the process and Become a Better Manager.

The Difference Between an Executive and a Manager

It’s all about who they spend their time with.

Executives spend a majority of their time with other executives and most of a manager’s day is spent with their team.

In my experience, the demarcation between managers and executives happens at the Director level.  While there may be some organizations where someone is called a Director but really spends most of their day working on projects with their staff – they are a Manager.  Government is famous for this and so are other large bureaucracies – promoting with title instead of responsibility.

Sometimes they even go the other way and take someone who is valuable to the organization, but would not make a good Manager, and skip them over a position that requires them to manage people, and make them a Director to reward their work, seniority or skill.  That’s actually pretty smart.

Why make someone a manager who is no good at it?

Some give a title as a marketing gimmick – how many financial advisors in a small office do you know with the title of Vice President?  It’s like the Shelley Levene character in the movie Glengarry Glenn Ross, played by Jack Lemon, who despite being a phone salesman, becomes the President of Rio Rancho Properties when he has a customer on the phone.

Those outliers aside, in general someone Director level or higher is leading the managers who are doing the actual work – and that’s a good and important role in most companies.  As long as they don’t revert to their past training as a manager and try to jump in and run an important project.

Watch this scene from Band of Brothers, where new Captain Dick Winters is ordered to stay out of the fight by his commanding officer, after he attempts to revert to his old role as Lietenant for Easy Company:

Just as it’s important for a first time manager to spend most of their time “managing, not doing” it’s is also important for executives to be “leading, not managing”.

Nervous Knots for a New Manager – It’s All Good

In a post published today on his LinkedIn blog, Jack Welch wrote about feeling scared when you get promoted into your first managerial job. Unless you are in a job that is truly life and death – firefighter, soldier – I doubt that what you are feeling is fear.  At the same time, I have no doubt that whatever you are feeling is good for you.

I compare the feeling, which usually includes some sort of butterflies in the stomach and significantly heightened sense of sound, smell and touch, to the pre-game jitters most competitive athletes feel before a match or even the sweat down the back and dry mouth that show up when it’s time for a marriage proposal.

Why do these feelings and physical symptoms occur?  Two reasons:

  • We are highly invested in the outcome.  We want to win the game, or have our partner say “yes” or succeed at the new managerial job.  If there was no investment, there would be no physiological preparation by the body for the event about to happen.
  • The outcome is unknown.  You might not win the game.  There might not be a wedding in your future.  Your first project as manager might go sideways.

So the feelings are natural if you care about your job and the company you work for and the people you work with and the customers you serve.

As a new manager, the trick is to copy what the best athletes and marriage proposers and managers before you have done – focus on the process.  The athlete leans on their practice sessions, their game plan and trust in their team mates that they have your back and are working toward the same goal.  The person about to propose has already talked to the parents, picked a good time and place and has thought carefully about the words they want to say.  Once a minute they check to make sure that they have the ring in their pocket.

For you as a manager, focus on the stuff that got you promoted in the first place.  Trust your team, keep your office door and your mind open and be the guy who makes sure his team has everything they need to succeed.  Even though you are new, your team has been there done that, and will carry you through the first couple of projects happily if you make sure they have the tools, tech, time and food to succeed.  And after they do succeed, despite your newness, make sure they get one more thing – credit for the success with your boss and sincere praise from you in public in front of their peers.

And then even as you get things figured out and the butterflies disappear because the outcome is more certain in your mind, continue to use this model for the rest of your career.  Again from Jack’s piece:

Everyone knows that too much confidence can lead to arrogance and a kind of “that’s how we do it around here” inertia. The flip side is an insatiable hunger for new ideas and better ways to do things—a hunger that makes you fight like hell to win.

Keep fighting.


Meetings are Practice for Managers

Imagine a hockey team made up of the best players in the world, that only gets together just before the game.  They all know the rules and they share the same goal – to score more goals than their opponent – so they figure they can just roll out there and win.  After all, they are the best players in the world.  They don’t need no stinkin’ practice.

Well that did happen in 1979, when a team of NHL All Stars with 14 future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame and a Hall of Fame coach were defeated by the Soviet National Team 6-0.  The Soviets used their backup goaltender.

The same things can happen to a company and many of us have worked in a siloed work place where the “players” (managers) take care of their own responsibilities with no unifying plan or consideration for the other departments, product lines or locations.  Sure they know that Pete runs the manufacturing facility in Wenatchee, but they don’t know Pete and since they don’t know him, they don’t trust him to help them if they were to pass him the puck.  So instead of passing to Pete, they try to deke their way through the entire other team.

While many good managers efficiently plan meetings with their own team and ensure that everyone is on the same page, many organizations get tripped up by a lack of meetings between managers.  Like a Sergeant in the Army, managers in organizations are the people that get things done.  Executives think they do, but the good ones will admit they get credit for the work done every day by their managers.  And while the executives, often with good reason, make slower, more calculated moves at their level to work with executives from other areas to affect change, it’s the managers who can really strip away the bureaucracy through back channel relationships with other managers in other departments.

In fact, it’s better for an organization if managers have built up a little squad of fellow managers that can run the company and keep the executives from screwing it up with a calm voice of reason and a quick phone call to their opposite number in the adjoining building.

But before they can do this, they have to meet.  One to one if necessary, but preferably as a group with the common goal of making their lives simpler.  Create a Band of Brothers that sticks together for a noble purpose.  A group that know when something stinks when it arrives from the C Suite and as a group is confident enough to disregard or only partially implement directives from the boss for the greater good of the organization.

Manager:  “Sir, we attempted the implementation as you recommended but it was not feasible from a cost/resource/time/sanity perspective.  We did however figure out we could get the same results you need but with 20 less steps at 5% of the cost.”

Executive (to Manager): “Good Work”

Executive (to CEO): “I took care of that problem sir and managed to do it with less cost and time than forecast”

Everybody wins, but only if the managers have some practice time. Preferably without the executives present, as they tend to suck up all the oxygen in the room.  Talk, shoot the shit, discuss the common issues they face (the main ones being people – those work for them and those who they work for) and develop a relationship built on common goals.

The Recipe for a Good Manager

I grew up in sports and follow many sports, especially baseball, golf and college basketball closely.  Each of those sports has its own recipe for success.  These recipes provide teams or competitors the best chance of winning, even without the best players or the most skill.

In baseball – pitching and defense.

In basketball – defense and free throws.

In golf – chipping and putting.

The manager’s recipe fort success has just 3 ingredients:

  1. Managing Not Doing
  2. Sell Yourself Using Know, Like and Trust
  3. Practice Servant Leadership

By mastering these 3 ingredients, the accidental manager can succeed in their role, regardless of their skills, personality type or lack of experience.