Interview Transcript

How do you look at the basics of management?

Management and leadership are both important, but if you’re going to be running a team, there is some really good, basic stuff you can put in place that will stop you screwing up. It might not make you an amazing leader, but it gets the basics done. I’ll start with routines. If you have a team, you need routines, and I’d say they break into weekly, quarterly, and annual.

You probably need to have a team meeting once a week, in which you go through how we’re doing against our most important tasks, go around the room and see who’s doing what, they update each other, support each other, etc. Typically, you need other meetings too, focused on specific tasks, but I won’t go into that. You typically need a one-to-one with every member of the team, either every week or every two weeks, in which you go through with each individual how they’re doing against their tasks, how are you feeling. I’ll go into more detail on that in a moment.

Then quarterly, most companies work on a quarterly cycle of goals, so most individuals will have MBO's (management by objective) or OKR's (objectives and key results), there are lots of phrases, but basically, quarterly goals of what they need to achieve. Typically, three to five is the guideline, and every quarter, it’s good to review and say how did you do against last quarter’s goals, how are you doing against next quarter’s goals.

And then, on an annual basis, it’s good to have more reflective feedback; what are your skills, what are your weaknesses, maybe do it 360 feedback, in which you get feedback from your peers, from your direct reports, etc. Those are some of the basic building blocks, and every single leader should put those in place, and it will get all the basics done, stop you screwing up, and actually, you’ll learn through that process how to be a better leader. Those are important.

I’ll zoom in on one, which is the one-to-one itself. For many one-to-ones, they go down one of two bad directions. One is just focusing on the leader’s agenda. Okay, from you, I want to know about this, this, and this. When you’ve finished talking, you go away. That’s the wrong way of doing it. Another is to have no structure and just have a chit-chat about life.

It needs to be a two-way street. You need to both talk and listen. And quite frankly, the first thing I always do in a one-to-one as the leader is say, “How are you feeling?” Because quite frankly, if their dog just died, if they’ve just found out a family member’s got cancer, they’re not going to want to talk about work straight away. Find out about their life first. If their life’s absolutely fine, get on with work. If there’s a problem, work out if you can help. Work from home today, or whatever it might be. I think that’s the most important one.

Then, as a general guideline for one-to-ones, a good place to start is “How are you doing against your quarterly goals?” “Are you getting the support you need from your peers?” because most tasks don’t happen in isolation, they need support from elsewhere. “Is there anything I need to know that I didn’t ask?” is a good question. “What else is going on in your life, work, etc?” You can add more engineering to that, but that would be a pretty good start.

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