This is Kommon People — the newsletter from Kommon which highlights stories about people, organisations, and technology to help you be a better manager. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing.
If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, you’ll have experienced struggles with what is often called ‘time management’, but would better be called ‘how-the-hell-does anyone-get-all-this-stuff-done-and-why-am-I-working-on-weekends-again management’.
At this point, if you’ve ever sought any advice on how to handle all your commitments, you may have been told:
‘You should get better at saying no to things.’
On the one hand, this is excellent advice. Most managers’ responsibilities bloat and there probably is stuff which we can delegate or de-prioritise.
But actually saying no to others can be easier said than done (otherwise we’d have done it already).
So it was great to read tech leadership coach Pat Kua recently break down four tips on how to say no at work (all of which we agree with).
This newsletter’s focus has always been providing practical advice to help you be a better manager. But occasionally it pays to look at the bigger picture of what it means to do the job. It helps put all the advice in context and guides us through the unpredictable challenges the role throws up.
This week, we came across a couple of pieces which do exactly that.
First up is Tania Luna, co-founder of LifeLabs Learning, who said in a recent interview:
‘It's really important to recognize that a manager's job is not to manage people.’
Seems contradictory, but it’s a very valuable observation.
Her point was that successful managers don’t try to control individuals directly. People hate that style of management. What we actually ‘manage’ are not people, but things like processes, projects, time, resources, and information to create the right working environment for our teams to excel.
This chimed with a tweet thread by Marco Rodgers who expanded on this idea by looking at the nature of knowledge workers.
He noted the key challenge at the heart of managing these teams.
His solution is context. Lots of it.
Managing people often doesn’t mean managing them, but managing the environment around them. A lot of the time, this starts with context.
This quarter’s Future Forum Pulse report had a couple of eye-opening results.
Future Forum is a consortium founded by Slack to research and advise on the future of work. Each quarter they survey more than 10,000 knowledge workers in the US, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the UK.
Whilst the report’s findings generally matched observed trends in remote work, some of the specific numbers illustrated the scale of the change the workplace is going through (and the challenges).
The whole report is an interesting read but we wanted to highlight two dynamics in particular.
An astonishing 66% of executives reported that they were designing post-pandemic workforce policies with little to no direct input from employees.
Given that one of the key pieces of advice for getting remote/hybrid work right for your corporate culture is to talk to your employees, this is staggering.
For many firms, this situation will be a train wreck. Particularly because, as the survey also showed, executives and employees are way apart on how they think about this issue.
“Of those currently working fully remotely, nearly half of all executives surveyed (44%) want to work from the office every day, compared to 17% of employees (2.6x difference). And 75% of these executives say they want to work from the office three to five days a week, versus only 34% of employees.”
A significant number of executives appear to be designing policies without speaking to their employees, based on assumptions which are out of step with the majority of their workforce. Oh and they’re also communicating them badly.
‘Two out of every three executives (66%) believe they’re being “very transparent” regarding their post-pandemic remote-working policies. Less than half of workers (42%) agree.’
If that sounds like it could be an issue in a competitive hiring market where employees are assessing their employment options again after two years of reconsidering their pandemic-blighted working lives, trust your instincts.
In short, if you don’t know your team’s preferences on remote work, although the best time to start asking was a year ago, the second best time is still now.
The last eighteen months have exposed the office as not so much the ‘best place to work’ just ‘the best place to work for some people, often white men.’
The report concludes that flexibility around where and when people work improves the working experience for everyone, but particularly underrepresented and historically marginalised populations.
The impact on Black knowledge workers has been especially stark.
“Over the last 12 months, the share of Black respondents agreeing with the statement “I value the relationship I have with my co workers” has risen from 48% to 76%. The share of Black respondents agreeing with the statement “I am treated fairly at work” has risen from 47% to 73%. And the share of Black respondents agreeing with the statement “Management is supportive” has risen from 43% to 75%.”
The report concludes that the shift to virtual communication removed options for exclusive in-office chatter and ‘levelled the playing field’ in terms of both transparency and frequency of communication, making more people feel they belonged.
Any boss committed to both ‘getting back to the office’ and ‘[Insert corporate boilerplate diversity commitment here]’ has some work to do to make those align.
Many of us work in busy, high-growth environments where the emphasis is on speed of execution, operating at the limits of what teams are capable of.
The end result of this during a pandemic has been a wave of employee burnout, and company infrastructure and processes stretched to breaking point.
Many of us will have worked on projects or initiatives that have come to a juddering halt because an individual had to take extended leave for their personal health, or overworked employees made crucial mistakes, or critical infrastructure failed.
‘If you don't slow down to speed up, something will force you to slow down. And it will not be on your terms.’
These events can be seriously disruptive, not to mention the untold strains leading up to the point where someone or something finally broke.
So as he advises, learn how to slow down on your terms.
Know your team’s personalities, capacities and working practices and learn how to spot the signals which indicate they’re starting to strain.
That could be as simple as hours worked, but there will be more sophisticated tells within your teams around the types of work and tasks people are asked to accomplish.
If you can do this, you can slow down on your terms without being forced to, and your team will be better for it.