CAREER / 12 July 2017How to Remain Optimistic During the Job Hunt
The first time I managed a team of people, I learned very quickly that the line between employee autonomy and getting the job done right (or at least the way I wanted it done) is a very fine one. In my ill-advised effort to increase motivation and dedication by offering freedom, I ended up stifling the progress and productivity of this particular project. Was my team just incompetent? Could they not handle the independence I had so generously afforded them? Realizing that a manager’s team is a reflection of him/herself, I turned my attention inward where I learned a very valuable lesson about myself and people.
Anyone who has been in charge of more than one person in some capacity or another is probably familiar with the above issue: how do you get what you want out of those who work for you? The answer is simple, and since it is in the title above, I’ll spare all the tension-building and preamble and just give it to you—communication. Thats right, the answer to all life’s problems is communication. Well maybe not all, but at least in the workplace, communication is a key component and perhaps your most valuable tool in creating an environment of efficiency, productivity, and that all important word—synergy.
So how do you get what they you want and bring the best out of those under you? Communicate? Okay, thanks for the (obvious) tip, can I go now?
Well, no, it’s not THAT simple. If it were then all things would be done correctly the first time they are asked for, always. A perfect world indeed, but we don’t live in that world. The last time I checked, Led Zeppelin wasn’t going on a reunion tour and ice cream isn’t wrapped in bacon (actually I might be wrong about that last part). No, we live in the real world, where communication is something that is easy to know, difficult to practice, and valuable to master. These tips should help you get to that third part.
Be SPECIFIC on what you want or prepare to get frustrated.Employees are not mind readers—as much as you may want them to be. You must not expect them to give you want you want if you don’t tell them. And even if you do, if you are not clear as possible and leave any room for ambiguity, you’re leaving it up to chance that your expectations are met.
The remedy is specificity.
Specify or get denied. Be specific or be...enigmatic?
You get the point. It is simple and obvious but extremely necessary and too often brushed off. If you want something done a certain way, communicate that. If you want it at a certain time, let it be known. The more detailed you are, the less uncertainty you leave in an employee’s mind, and the easier the job becomes for both of you. Don’t waste time by leaving a detail out and then having the employee come to you with a finished product only for you to have them redo some aspect of it.
I don’t think I need to elaborate any further. I’ve been very clear. Just be specific.
Context is king.
If you fill your employees in they will care more and it will show in their work. No need to explain why a lack of context here would be dangerous.
Have you ever been asked to do a seemingly odd or random favor for a friend who wouldn’t tell you his reasoning? It’s a bit frustrating, and I bet at times you refused because of this. Fortunately if you’re the boss, employees can’t refuse a work task; however they can choose how much effort they put into it.
Employees are more likely to be dedicated, motivated, and invested in work that is provided with context. Without it, it becomes meaningless labor and valuable only in the sense of getting the next paycheck. It is a well known concept in psychology that extrinsic motivators are highly less effective than intrinsic motivators (and in some instances can even decrease productivity). So give your employee a reason to care. Tell them why they are doing what they are doing. Offer them your insight into the "end goal." This will increase their commitment and support to both the job at hand as well as you, their leader.
Remember, these are people, not drones programmed to do your will. Treat them as such by making them feel a part of the objectives, and they will reward you by meeting, or even beating, your expectations.
Structure is a good thing. Implement it or risk everything falling apart.
Relating back to the point on specificity, it is important to establish that there is a correct way to getting things done (usually your way) and to communicate this to your employees. Structure keeps things working efficiently and moving at a smooth pace. It also offers a means by which to convey expectations and ensure they are enforced.
Let’s say you’re managing a project team. Initiating structure should be one of your first agendas as a project manager. One way to accomplish this is to assign particular tasks to individual members. Establishing clear roles from the get go ensures employees know what to focus on and what not to worry about. This also helps to make sure that individuals and roles create a good fit, and that no one will be responsible for something they are not qualified to do. On the contrary, a muddled approach that allows all team members to have their hands on and say in all tasks is a recipe only fit for too many cooks in the kitchen—and we all know what that creates.
Another structural implementation is the creation of deadlines and their emphasis. You should parcel out specific deadlines throughout the duration of the project to make sure work is consistently getting done and you should constantly emphasize the importance of such deadlines. Reinforce the notion that this is a group effort, and that such deadlines are necessary for the good of the project and thus the group. If someone does not meet their deadlines, make sure that consequences are doled out. Whether they are in the forms of mere warnings, reduction of responsibility, or a good ol’ fashion chew-out, such consequences make known your seriousness and commitment to the project—a highly motivating and moral-boosting action-step to the rest of your team members.
Finally, have definite standards of performance that are clear to your team. Make sure they know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Are you seeing a theme yet? Communicate! Be sure they understand. Be accessible if they have questions. Monitor their performance by asking for updates on their work and giving periodic performance reviews. Feedback is highly important, and it lets them know what they are doing right and what they need to improve on. Speaking of which, reinforce their good work—it will go a long way. Don’t be afraid to throw a "that’a boy" or a "job well done" at them. Nothing is more motivating than knowing that you’re doing a good job!
Repeat yourself. Repeat yourself. Repeat yourself.
It may seem time-consuming. It may seem redundant. But it is effective. You want to get a point across? You want to make sure your expectations are known? Say it once, say it again, and keep on saying it. Embed it in their minds. They should be having dreams at night about what you expect of them. And to be truly effective, utilize different forms of media to get your message across. Tell your employees verbally, in a meeting, all together or one on one. Use memos and emails. Make fliers and post them all around the office if you want to. Get creative.
I’m not suggesting to consistently repeat the same sentence or sentences over and over like Vin Diesel telling you he is Groot.
This is communication. It’s an art form. It’s about knowing people and how they differ from one another and how to get across to them. Where one person may need to be firmly told something over and over, another may just need a friendly reminder. Use your empathy. Use your intuition. Know the appropriate situations. Are you going to give orders or have a conversation? The answer is yes. Just know when and who and adjust accordingly. Before long you’ll have created an environmental culture where everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and how to go about meeting and exceeding those expectations.
You have the knowledge, now apply it!
Having the know-how and applying it are two completely different things. As I said, knowing is the easy part—now you actually have to put that knowledge into practice. Maybe it will come easy to you. Maybe it won’t. Regardless, the more you apply it the more second-nature it will become, and the benefits will become apparent almost immediately.
It had only been a couple weeks, but the difference was palpable. I had learned to get what I wanted out of each team member by patiently conveying and, yes, communicating to them what I needed on both an individual and group level. I offered consequences when deadlines weren’t met, I reinforced the notion of what our end goal was, and I often repeated it during my consistent progress checks. The end result: a significantly motivated, productive team that satisfied my expectations and that earned the honor and prestige of completing the top project overall.