Saying Sorry, the Numbers Game, Managing Up, and Past Managers
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.
In this Issue
Sorry seems to be the hardest word: you’ve probably seen others make a terrible mess of apologising for something (we’ve seen two this month!). Hopefully you won’t have to do this too often, but here’s how to do it properly when you do.
It’s a numbers game: is your boss not paying attention to your ideas? It may be because you’re not putting them in the context of metrics that matter to your company.
Things your manager might not know: a lot of 'managing up' is just telling your boss what they need to know about your team. Here’s a checklist to help make sure you don't miss anything.
Ask about past managers: we highlight a great shortcut to understanding the best way to manage each of your team members.
Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Chances are you've got a lot right in your career so far. It’s probably why you were promoted to being a manager.
But as a manager, sooner or later you’ll get something wrong. Most of the time it won’t be your fault. It’s the nature of performing a complex role with incomplete information and under uncertain circumstances. But sometimes it might be your fault, and you’ll have to apologise.
How you do that will speak volumes to your team about you and your leadership style. It’s why it’s so astonishing that leaders continue to get this so appallingly wrong.
We deconstruct a couple of incredibly bad apologies just from the last few weeks (thanks Cathy and Jason, who you've met before in this newsletter...), and learn from a psychologist about how when it comes to your turn, you can make sure you get it right.
Have you ever pitched your boss on something really important for your team, only for them to brush it off and tell you the idea needs more work?
Needs more work?! You spent a week preparing that slide deck, and then another day on your notes. It took you a further 2 hours just putting together the accompanying email, which you re-read, polished and tweaked until you were sure it was as clear as it could be.
And yet, ‘meh’.
It might be because you haven’t put your case in language that your boss really cares about. And by language, we mean numbers.
Chances are that there are particular metrics which your boss is accountable for, whether sales figures, output targets, campaign clicks or gross margins. The way to get their attention will almost always be to put your suggestions in that context.
So that’s the first takeaway from this piece. Are you clear what numbers your boss is accountable for and your team contributes to? If not, well there’s a task for you right there.
But it’s one thing knowing the language your boss speaks, it’s another actually being able to speak it. Do you really get why your firm obsesses over CAC/LTV/COGS/EBITDA (ooh so many exciting options), or whenever those acronyms are mentioned do you just nod professionally and hope no-one asks you to explain it.
If the answer is the latter, it’s probably worth putting some time in to get more comfortable.
In many firms, there is a general lack of education around key financial/commercial concepts for managers even though it can have some dramatic benefits. We’ve heard it described in several workplaces as a ‘superpower’.
Productivity: if you understand intimately how your team contributes to value creation at your firm, you can better guide their activities to do that.
Communication: we spoke a couple of weeks ago about your role as an information switchboard - providing context down from senior management to your team, and operational information back up to them. Understanding basic financial concepts enables you to pass more relevant information up to senior leadership, but also to better interpret financial context for your team when it comes down the chain.
Ok great, so your second takeaway is just ‘get better at this’?
To be honest, at this stage, it mostly is. We wanted to highlight this skillset as one you might not have thought to prioritise as a manager, but which could really help you.
We’re also aware that businesses target different metrics. What’s useful for one manager in a B2B SaaS business is not helpful for a billable consultancy model. We certainly can’t cover everything here (and your company may offer dedicated training if you ask).
Nevertheless... here’s a few resources which might help continue the conversation:
Essentially, don’t be overawed, just make a start. If you approach the topic with a curious mindset, and focus on the metrics that matter to your company, you'll quickly make tangible progress which you can put into practice.
If you know of any other resources like this you’ve found useful, please let us know. We’d love to add more to our library and help managers develop this skillset.
Things your Manager Might not Know
We’ve spoken before about how ‘managing up’ is not a very helpful phrase. It feels like it could be useful, but it also sounds like it could mean sucking up to your boss, and while we’re here, what exactly is it?
Software engineer Julia Evans has a helpful explanation:
‘In my experience, managing up is usually a lot more practical. Your manager doesn’t (and can’t!) know every single detail about what you do in your job, and being aware of what they might not know and giving them the information they need to do their job well makes everyone’s job a lot easier.’
In a post on her excellent blog, she goes into eight categories of information which your manager might not know and what you can do to help.
It’s a great breakdown which might help you spot gaps in what you’re currently communicating to your boss:
What’s slowing the team down
Exactly what individual people on the team are working on
One of the most crucial factors in being a successful manager is understanding the various ways of working which your individual team members respond best to.
Yep, people are different. It’s annoying.
Some will prefer a more hands-on approach. Others will see that as micro-managing. Some will bring a clear agenda to every 1:1 meeting. Others will need to have their career goals dragged out of them. Some will love being praised publicly for their great work. Others will hate the spotlight and resent you for it. The list goes on.
The problem is you can’t exactly ask someone ‘How do you like to be managed?’. Kind of feels like asking your team how to do your job.
Or can you?
Lara Hogan has a recent article on 1:1s in which she talks about asking your team members the following question:
‘When you think back to great managers you’ve had, what kinds of support did they provide that you found helpful? What did you lean on them for?’
It’s a great way to open up a conversation on the management style someone responds to, without addressing the topic too formally. You can swap stories on previous managers (good and bad), and from that get a really clear idea of the ways you can best help them.
If you haven’t asked this in a 1:1 yet, maybe give it a try.
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