Tough Choices

I was recently presented with an extremely exciting opportunity. I was offered not one, but two new positions in my company at the same exact time. One role would be doing work that I am super passionate about and the other would offer me more experience leading a large team. As you might imagine, my excitement turned into stress when I realized I was forced to make a pretty tough choice.

Throughout our careers, we will all experience these types of intersections. Whether deciding to switch companies, change industries, or - like in my case - choose between the work you love or the experience opportunity, these are tough situations that can leave us feeling confused and indecisive. How do I know I am making the right decision? Will I regret my choice? These are just a couple questions that ran through my head.

When I encounter a tough choice, there are a few questions I like to reflect on to help me come to a decision:

  1. What excites me about this opportunity?
  2. What worries me about this opportunity?
  3. What will I give up if I choose this one over the other?
  4. What are my long-term goals? Where do I see myself in 5, 10, 15+ years?

By asking myself these questions, I am able to visualize myself in that new opportunity. It makes it more real for me than creating a simple pro/con list. To me, those lists never helped - they just made it more confusing. I need to imagine what it would be like to live this choice out.

Something else that I have to keep in mind is that every choice comes with it's own level of risk. You can never know for certain how a situation will turn out until you are in it. So I try to consider this even playing field and ignore the "what ifs" that will inevitably pop in my head.

It was tough to make a choice between taking a role to gain experience or doing work I love, but ultimately I chose to pursue the first. My long-term goals require this type of experience and I saw this as an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Yes, I was giving up work I love, but to me, seeing myself accomplish my long-term goals was more important at this stage in my career.

So the next time you find yourself faced with a tough choice, ask yourself these questions. Visualize what your life would look like. And remember that sometimes taking a risk can lead you down a wonderful path.

Great Leaders Have Hobbies

The best leaders have hobbies. Personally, I have found that the more I can invest into my hobbies outside of work, the better I show up at work. My hobbies include weight lifting and cooking, but yours could be anything. Whatever brings you enjoyment, go for it! Let me share with you a few reasons why you need a hobby to be an effective leader.

1. It gives you something else to think about

Ever had to make a big decision and someone told you to "sleep on it?" To me, having a hobby is the exact same concept when it comes to management. It's so easy to become consumed with our work and especially when we have a team to consider as well. Having a hobby to pour energy into will give your brain that mental break it needs to come back refreshed, revitalized, and ready to conquer the workday. 

2. It gives you a reason to disconnect

There's no doubt that the life of a manager is a busy one. Between meetings, one-on-ones, projects, personnel concerns and everything in between, you might not even have time to take 15 minutes to eat your lunch without interruption. With all that craziness spinning around you, it's extremely easy to fall victim to the perpetual "just 5 more minutes and then I'll go home" trap that keeps you in the office a couple hours past 5pm. Having something to look forward to when you are off work can push you to wrap up what you're doing and get out the door!

3. It prevents burnout

If you spent all of your time focusing on work, not only will you burn out, but I can tell you honestly that you will not be a leader people want to work for. As a manager, you are setting the tone for your team. They are looking directly at you to determine what success looks like. If you are working at all hours of the day, your team will feel as though they need to do the same and eventually they will burn out too. But if you make having fun and enjoying your hobby outside of work a priority, your team will feel the freedom to do the same. The last thing you want is for you to burn out only for your team to follow in your footsteps. 

4. It makes you a better you

My hobbies have taught me so much about leadership that I never would have expected. Through weight lifting, I have learned first hand the importance of patience, how discipline can help us stay the course, and that cheering people on can help them to do things they never thought possible. Your hobby, no matter how crazy it is, will teach you important lessons you can and should bring into the office.

Whatever your hobby is, get out there and have some fun!

So what's your hobby? How do you like to disconnect from work? What lessons have your hobbies taught you? Comment below - I'm dying to know!

MM News - August 2016

Hey, friend. Sarah here. Just wanted to check in and give you an update with what's been going on here at Millennial Management.

We have been super busy these days creating a framework for some exciting content! One-on-one coaching, group programs, events, and workshops - you name it, we're thinking about it. There are so many ideas floating around, and we are having a blast brainstorming all of them. 

Alongside our content creation efforts, we realized it was really important to have a bit of direction. A road trip without a map could end up in some pretty boring parts of town, am I right? We are spending a lot of time thinking about our vision for this company. What is it that we want to change in this world? What will be different about our community with Millennial Management in it? These are all questions we are asking ourselves as we create our Vision and Mission Statements. Having those down on paper will not only keep us in line as we embark on new projects, but it will also clarify for you why we are here and how we can uniquely contribute to your life.

Overall, we are busy at work for you! Most importantly though, we want our services to be impactful. So tell us what you are looking for specifically by subscribing to our newsletter! We would love to have a conversation about it with you.

Keep being rock stars,

Sarah

Strategic Thinking

I was lucky enough to join a training course the other day that focused on strategic thinking. The room was comprised of 5 individuals from different departments within my organization. During the four hours of robust conversation, the topic of strategic focus came up. We discussed the three main pillars that a company can put it's focus toward.

  1. Operational excellence - being efficient, lean, and operationally sound
  2. Product innovation - being the product/service leader in the industry
  3. Customer intimacy - focusing on the relationship with your customer

To put it simply, a company can't focus on all three of these pillars from an organizational standpoint. It would be confusing. They might be able to get away with two areas of focus but definitely not three. Ritz-Carlton, for example, is known for it's customer intimacy. Motel 6 would definitely be classified under operational excellence. And Apple...well, you get where I'm going. 

While the concepts of the pillars were not new to me, what I learned in that meeting is the importance of ensuring each group within an organization understands what the overall company strategic focus is (or isn't) so they can align themselves accordingly. Turns out the way I was communicating to our team was not aligning with our company's strategic focus. I mean, I work in customer support - it is my job to think about the customer. So naturally I would be inclined to believe that customer intimacy was a focus for us. Nope. Thankfully I had other people in the room to guide me into understanding that everything I knew to be true wasn't.

But looking back, I always had trouble understanding why the team seemed to be confused when I would talk to them about striking a balance between efficiently answering user emails and providing exceptional customer service, all while our company is releasing new app changes to stay at the forefront of the market.

It caused a lot of confusion around what the hell the team should be focusing on each day and rightfully so. My company is focused on two of those pillars and I tried to throw a third in the mix. Big no no.

The point is, figure out your company's strategic focus and communicate that to your team. Understand how your department plays a role in that strategy and tie everything your team does back to that. Sometimes that means networking with other people in your company who have totally different functions like I did in my class. But that's how your employees will feel connected and understand what the hell their work means and how it contributes to the business. 

When Your Direct Report Just Needs a Friend

I was reflecting recently on a meeting I had with one of my managers. Our 1-on-1 didn't quite go as planned and we ended up talking primarily about his life for about 45 minutes. Without getting into too much detail, apparently a lot is going on for him in his personal life and he just wanted to talk about it. What should have been a 1-hour discussion about his team, his current projects, and his reactions to some big announcements turned into a therapy session basically. When I was reflecting on that hour a bit later, I couldn't help but think that it was some of the most productive time I've spent with that manager. It could have been so easy for me to cut him off and make sure we stay on topic. But I am so thankful I didn't. Even though we didn't tackle any of the items we intended to, it was an hour where he was able to completely open up and be vulnerable about the things outside of work that were impacting his ability to be his best self in the office. Not only did I learn more about him, but we were able to strengthen our relationship by relating over some tough topics.

I mention all this to say that sometimes being a manager means being a friend. Your team will look to you for a plethora of things, even life advice. It can be so valuable to push your to-do list aside every once in a while and just connect with your people. This probably goes against everything you've been told. Sure, you can keep your personal life to yourself and out of the office, but sometimes the reward of opening up with your team can be so much greater.

Quarterly Goal Setting FTW

Most companies will ask employees to set job-specific and development goals once per year, usually during an annual performance review. While I think this is a good practice, ultimately I think it could be much more strategic and impactful. Quarterly goal setting is something I have asked my employees to do for a few years now. Because they only have to focus on three months rather than an entire calendar year, setting achievable goals becomes so much simpler. What I have found is that they have been better able to progress projects, reach milestones and find time for self-development along the way.

I have a pretty straightforward process I use to do this with my employees.

  1. Starting in January, I schedule 1 meeting per quarter with my employee where we focus solely on goal setting. This is a time outside of their weekly one-on-one, and I try to book these as far in advance as I can.
  2. I provide them with a little structure. No more than 3 job-specific goals per quarter, 1 professional development goal, and 1 personal development goal.
  3. I give them some probing questions to get them thinking more strategically about what they want to accomplish. What challenges do you think you'll face? Who needs to be involved? How will you measure your success?
  4. I require that they come prepared to the meeting with an outline of everything they are looking to accomplish.
  5. During the meeting we talk through each of these goals individually. I make sure to ask them in what way I can help them succeed. Their performance is a mutual commitment.
  6. I use the discussion and outline that as a framework for future one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, and the next quarterly goal setting meeting.

Regularity and consistency is the key to success with this process. My employees have those meetings on their calendar well in advance, and I make sure to reference their goal outline every time I can. I also check-in to ensure sure they are getting prepared when our next goal-setting meeting is approaching.

Making time to work on this with your employee will hold you both accountable, keep them on track without overwhelming them,  ultimately show your investment in their success.

Just Step Away

Being a manager can be physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally draining. Personally, I have been feeling that way for the past few weeks. Don't get me wrong though - I love my job and working with my people. It's just been busy and frankly I am tired. With nonstop meetings, one-on-one's, "quick chats", and all the other random things that pop up in a manager's day, it's really easy to forget the importance of taking a little time away to recollect yourself. Personally, I try to block my calendar for one hour each day to get out of my office and get shit done. Easier said than done, right?

Sometimes I spend the hour crushing through my to do list or shooting off all the emails I've been meaning to reply to. Other times I might spend that time browsing interesting articles on Harvard Business Review. No matter what I do during that valuable time to myself, it's just nice to be in my own thoughts - no distractions. I always feel refreshed walking back into the chaos and it's relieving to know some of the tasks weighing down my brain space are taken care of. I am more able to focus on my team during their one-on-one meetings or the not-so-quick questions that come up sporadically.

Where do I go when I step away from my office you might ask? The super-hipster tech company I work for has these badass treadmill desks that I love to spend my time on. Working while also getting in a little extra exercise? Don't mind if I do. If I'm not on the treadmill desk, I can be found in one of our many lounge rooms with my feet up on the coffee table just like mom told me not to do.

I'm an adult. I can do whatever I want.

When Your Employee is Just Not Hearing You

Personally, I take constructive feedback and sometimes let it consume my mind for far longer than it should. I immediately react and try to correct my behavior. So it's no surprise that I am always baffled when someone doesn't react the same way. I'm not saying I expect people to let constructive feedback take over mental space in the way I habitually do, but as a manager I think it's reasonable to ask that the employee receives the feedback and works toward making adjustments to improve.

So what do you do when you've given constructive feedback and your employee just doesn't seem to do anything about it?

There are a million avenues you could take, but here are a few that I have found to be successful:

Send a follow up email

Sometimes people don't hear you because they just aren't listening. I've seen a few times where an employee might "shut down" so to speak when they feel like they are receiving negative feedback. If you feel like this might be the case, a follow up email after the face-to-face interaction that clearly states the action or behavior the employee needs to improve can send a very clear message. Some people just need to see things on paper to understand it. Be sure to add in some positivity in there as well. No one wants to receive an email bashing.

Take them out of the office

Whether for coffee or lunch, I have found a lot of success in removing people from the normal office setting to get them to open up about more difficult topics like performance feedback. It can be extremely helpful to put yourself in a more relaxed environment so you can learn more about the why behind an employee's behavior. Hopefully during this time you are also able to find common ground to help them relate and understand the why for the necessity of their behavior change. It's also just a great bonding experience since you are most likely going to chat about topics that are completely unrelated to work!

Get someone else involved

Sometimes it takes a little extra muscle to make people move. I try to use the other techniques before bringing in someone else, but it can be extremely powerful to have your manager involved in a crucial conversation. They can not only reiterate your feedback, but also provide some additional context to why their area of opportunity needs to be addressed. It's also good to just have some backup in the room in case things get weird.

Again, these are just a few ideas that might help you in these situations. Leave a comment sharing what's worked for you when your employee just isn't hearing you!

So Now You're a Manager

First of all, congratulations! Let me be one of many to welcome you to the wonderful, exciting, challenging, surprising, and fulfilling world of management. I hope you are prepared for the unexpected twists and turns your role will take as you lead others toward common goals.

But let’s face it – if you were prepared, you wouldn’t be here.

In reality, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed, nervous, anxious, and otherwise self-conscious of your abilities to lead an individual or even a team.

What if I suck at this? What if they hate me? What if I turn out to be just like <insert name of crappy boss here>?

Don’t worry – you won’t. That crappy boss probably didn’t take the time to research any aspect of management, so you’re already one step ahead. The fact that you care enough to spend your valuable time learning more about what it means to be a good manager is enough for most people. Most people would be happy with a boss who cared that much.

It will be your responsibility to develop your personal management style through extensive learning, practical application, and self-reflection. What I hope to provide for you serves as a guide which encompasses real-life experience, advice, and tools you can use to not only be a great manager but become a leader that people want to follow.