The Managerial Leverage
A managers job is hard at ixigo specially because most of them were great individual contributors who never wanted to be managers in the first place. But eventually they turned out to be the best managers we have had and thats one of the reasons we seldom do lateral hiring for managers. So I have compiled a few of the best practices that managers follow here at ixigo and most of these are based on my own learnings and experiences leading and mentoring product and technology teams in the last one decade.
Exchange of information
One-on-one meetings between a manager and an employee, are used to share information, discuss difficult and touchy issues, uncover problems and review important but not urgent items. Urgent items are part of daily stand-ups and are addressed on a day to day basis. Such meetings should be driven in a way that makes it conducive to exchanging constructive feedback.
One-on-ones create substantial leverage with this exchange of information or mutual teaching. As a manager when you talk about specific problems and situations, you share your skills and know-how and suggest ways to approach things. Doing such meetings also has a very important impact on the productivity of the individual. 60 minutes of your time can improve his productivity and motivation for 60 hours and also gives you a better understanding of what he is doing. A lot of times you would also get very deep insights from your team members which can also help you make better decisions.
Its also important to encourage a heart-to-heart chat during one-on-ones because this is the perfect forum to provoke discussions around subtle and deep work-related problems affecting the individual. Are they satisfied with their own performance ? What is stopping / frustrating them from realising their full potential ? Are they confused about where they are headed professionally or where the organisation is headed ?
Be in the know
A manager should be in the know about his teams work life as well as anything on the personal front that might impact their performance / motivation. However this is only possible if the individual has enough confidence in their managers to not just share such information but to know that they will be able to do something about it as well. Usually when individuals don’t have the confidence or faith in their managers and their future is not aligned with the organisation, they would quietly start looking out and once they have found something only then they would communicate and even then they wouldn’t really communicate the actual reasons why they are leaving. The managers would then try hard to retain them but it’s already too late. When someone resigns and if that’s a news for the manager, they have already failed.
I remember that when I started the company I had a very small team on 6–8 folks but we were a very close-knit group. I would go out with them, travel together, play sports together and the bonding was so strong that I would have the confidence to say that this team is not going anywhere. And the reason for that confidence was that when people left, they not just left the company but they also left their friends and relationship which was part of their lives. Of course the flip side could be that the whole team left together but that’s rare and moreover the benefits of having such a close-knit team far outweigh the risks. But as companies grow large that confidence in the ability to retain people also fades away. However if you can inculcate that culture top down then you can create “islands” of such close-knit teams within a larger organisation as well and then connect those “islands” with “bridges” of leadership, culture & a common vision.
Training is a managers responsibility
Training is the highest leverage activity that a manager can possibly do (Andy Grove). So we should not leave this as a job that needs to be done by an external company, instead the managers themselves should do it. Identifying training needs and ensuring that the individuals in their teams are constantly being up-skilled / re-skilled is what ensures a very high sense of accomplishment within the individuals and motivates them further. The two most important reasons people stay in a company are their managers followed by the quality of work and learning.
Align individual goals with the organisational goals
Once you know where an individual is headed and what their personal and professional objectives in life are, it’s extremely important to align those with the direction where the company is headed. For example if there is frontend engineer who doesn’t want to continue being a frontend engineer and instead wants to learn backend, they should be comfortable and confident enough to talk about it with their managers and the manager should ensure that if that is a possibility it could be realised within this organisation. If people don’t have the confidence that something like this can happen internally or at least they could openly talk about it then you know what happens next.
Imbibe cultural values
In a setup like ours where there’s high risk, high complexity and high uncertainty, it’s important for the manager to constantly articulate and exemplify our cultural values. Cultural values like resilience, ingenuity and empathy are extremely critical as they influence the behaviour of the employees in a setup like ours.
The best way to imbibe cultural values is by doing it — what you do is who you are (Ben Horowitz). Sometimes you take a decision with your team based on a framework which leaves a lasting impression on them. For e.g. when is doubt we always ask people to question “Is this good for the customers ?”, followed by “Is this good for the company ?”, followed by “Is this good for my team ?”, and then you have your answer. So those seemingly simple day to day decisions and actions exemplify your culture — Whom do you hire ? Whom do you let go ? How you react under pressure ? The benchmark you set for yourself ?
Articulate common vision
It’s extremely important for the managers to get a consensus on the common vision and reiterate that as often as possible (Steve Jobs). Remember that exciting the team with the common vision and goals of the company is never enough, no matter how often you do it. So just keep at it. Articulate it well and communicate often. Excite them with the next exciting thing that we are planning to do that will take us closer to our goals and this can be easily achieved with a visually appealing and frequently updated roadmap. Nothing works better than the natural pull of a common vision.