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To succeed in your role, at some point you’ll need your boss to do something on your behalf.
Occasionally you’ll need to ask them to change something and your request will be an implicit (or explicit) criticism of the way they do things. It’s awkward.
If you’re worried about how your boss could react, Julie Zhuo, author of the excellent The Making of a Manager, recently tweeted a practical five step framework for discussing that change without completely flaming your relationship with the person who has the most influence over your career.
These two things shouldn’t happen at the same time.
And yet it happens all the time.
A study from the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations found that employees in demanding roles still fail to take advantage of paid time-off and other options for flexible working even when it would improve their work-life balance.
In a year when team burnout is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we thought we’d highlight what they found.
The authors interviewed 50 management consultants about their careers and personal lives and the challenges of balancing the two. Whilst the findings are particularly relevant to consultants, they also seem analogous to other intensive knowledge work.
The authors identified three reasons why this group of consultants failed to take advantage of flexible work programs, even though it would help alleviate stresses in their personal lives:
In a Harvard Business Review article, the paper’s authors identified three potential ways to change team dynamics so high-performers were encouraged to take advantage of these options:
If you find your team also aren’t fully considering these options, maybe the answer lies in some of the above.
Lots of articles with titles like ‘10 Ways to Improve Your Team Meetings’ are really ‘10 Ways to Improve the Author’s SEO’ with little actual value for managers.
The latest on this topic from the First Round Review isn’t one of those.
They’ve pulled together 20 ideas from various contributors, many of which could genuinely improve the way you run your meetings. We’ve picked out four of the best.
It’s no secret that recurring meetings are the ones most likely to descend into drudgery. They often follow the same format and the routine becomes stale.
Assuming you do actually need to hold the recurring meeting (try the ‘Should it be a Meeting’ tool if you’re unsure), getting others from elsewhere in your company to attend and participate can be very useful.
It introduces new perspectives to your discussions and enables your team to build professional relationships with others who they might not routinely meet.
When a meeting doesn’t go well, it may not be your fault - it’s often spillover from whatever was distracting your participants beforehand.
‘Maybe they saw some discouraging data, or had a rough call. People go from meeting to meeting without thinking that one influences their performance or responses in another. We give ourselves zero transition time, and the result is emotional transference.’ Leadership Coach Katia Verresen.
Try not to arrange back-to-back meetings and before beginning your meeting, consider asking where people have just come from or how their day’s going to judge the mood.
Making progress at speed is exciting. Not to mention beneficial for getting things done in most organisations.
When you’re sitting in a meeting slowly discussing the minutiae of the latest internal initiative it can feel like this opposite is happening.
Upstart’s Dave Girouard has a simple question for solving this: ‘Why can’t this be done sooner?’
Asking it may provoke a constructive discussion about the true mechanics of the problem you’re trying to solve, and ultimately help you towards a speedier solution.
‘It’s not just that someone did well, it’s the explanation of how they did it that often goes missing on remote teams’ Maggie Leung, Executive Editor at Andreesen Horowitz
Giving credit for good work is a staple of team meetings. But often it’s done briefly before moving onto more ‘pressing’ matters.
If we do this, we miss out twice. Once on distributing the learnings from doing something really well. But also on demonstrating that we value people taking the initiative.
When someone does something really excellent, take the time to dig into how they did it so others can really understand what happened.
Leung found this so constructive at her last company that they ended up creating a dedicated meeting called ‘What Good Looks Like’ just to break down these examples.
If you liked those, consider checking out the First Round article in full.
Beyond reading excellent newsletters, one of the chief ways we learn to be managers is from observing poor leaders and resolving never to be like them.
And so to the UK civil service (not all of them).
The Sunday Times recently spoke to a number of ‘senior officials’ about various departments returning to the office and the quotes they got are a masterclass in how not to talk about remote work.
‘We are significantly concerned at the lack of people coming into the office.’
‘The lack of people in the office has raised questions over accountability on work...’
‘People will find that those who get on in life are those who turn up to work.’
‘Working from home doesn’t work in many cases . . . and there must be the suspicion that some people have spent the last 15 months working from home but haven’t actually been doing very much.’
The last two are from a cabinet minister. Yikes.
The core issue which runs through all these is the suggestion that remote work is somehow less valuable than in-person work. Taking into account the last 18 months, employees will undoubtedly see this as:
So given that work is getting done, why are ‘senior officials’ making such laughable statements?
The clue is in the final quote, where the cabinet minister (again, yikes) talks about the ‘suspicion’ that some people haven’t been contributing.
‘If after 15 months, you have only a “suspicion” about what your people are up to, and find it “hard to know” who are your top performers, you are guilty of neglect at best, mismanagement at worst.
The argument isn’t about remote work at all. It’s that without the office, some organisations will be forced to find proper ways to assess and reward performance beyond people showing up in a physical space.
If that sounds like a good idea, trust your instincts.
Not to mention that the pandemic is far from over. Asking those who have unvaccinated children or who live with an immunocompromised person to come into work is a big ask. You better have a good reason beyond a ‘suspicion’ about their work.
But change always creates winners, losers, and resistance. In a recent fiery piece for The Atlantic, Ed Zitron laid it out:
‘Remote work empowers those who produce and disempowers those who have succeeded by being excellent diplomats and poor workers, along with those who have succeeded by always finding someone to blame for their failures.’
So it’s no surprise that we’re having a debate. But while we do it, as managers we want to avoid the kind of language that insults the intelligence of the bright, curious workforce we probably want to impress and retain.
So when talking about remote work, try and swerve the traps that the UK civil service fell into. Show how you value the contributions of remote workers and the benefits of working remotely.
As we’ve said before, if you think people should come into the office, be specific about why that is the case in the context of your work and organisation. Particularly if you’ve seen negligible impacts over the past year in terms of productivity.
If you don’t, employees will quickly see through attempts to use the office as a proxy for not improving poor management practices.