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Anonymous Career Advice

Anonymous Career Advice – Company Breaking Apart?

This week’s career advice is also business advice.

The Big Question: Is My Company Breaking Apart?

Dear Focus, there are a number of people leaving my company, we used to be so close, how can I keep my colleagues with me and complete our mission? 
— “Anon” Startup Founder  

This is common in every business, regardless of size, people leave businesses for many different reasons, one of the main reasons is career progress, the other main reason is the company has changed or changing in a direction staff just don’t align to. 

The Great Resignation?

We are about to see what some people are referencing as ‘the great resignation’ is a large number of talent will be looking to refresh their roles and change roles for career progression. 

You are likely experiencing some of this and then a blend of a changing culture.

Communications Is King, Queen & Everything Inbetween

As a startup founder, you were likely close to the team and then had to move away or actively decided to distance yourself from the team or departments. 

Being deliberate in this step was important however with focused comms around this move this can cause friction and disconnection. 

Questions to ask yourself:  

  • Are there patterns happening? 
  • Are there key internal influencers who have left the business? 
  • Has our company culture taken a hit with the change? 
  • Were we too close? 
  • When working remotely did teams drift apart? 
  • Have we brought in a new layer of management recently?
  • Is performance suffering? 
  • What motivates my current team? 
  • Is there data to show that staff are hitting the time-based limit? 
  • Are exit interviews highlighting any outliers? 
  • Which was the biggest change you made and how long before staff left? 
  • Am I struggling to hire? 

If there are patterns and data suggesting there were some steps that might have created disconnection, ask yourself are you moving forward as a business and are you creating something people will want to join in the short term and in the long term. If yes, this might be a business phase you fight through some of the growing pains. 

Business growth can be hard and many times has to be seen as a marathon, not a sprint. 

Team Not Family

Although this came under question, the CEO of Shopify Tobias Lütke suggested that your business is a team, not a family. It is likely time you consider the internal framing of your business and understand that a team comparison is far more representative than a family. Despite it might feeling like a dysfunctional family, families particularly in the startup space create connections when broken are too hard to rebuild or readdress. 

Shopify Email Quote
“Shopify, like any other for-profit company, is not a family,” “The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can’t un-family you. It should be massively obvious that Shopify is not a family but I see people, even leaders, casually use terms like ‘Shopifam’ which will cause the members of our teams (especially junior ones that have never worked anywhere else) to get the wrong impression.”

“The dangers of ‘family thinking’ are that it becomes incredibly hard to let poor performers go. Shopify is a team, not a family,”

Learn From Success Startup Leaders

Remember businesses that are close have to have agreed leadership principles, one important tip to borrow from Whitney Wolfe Herd CEO at Bumble, is that you are making the decisions for the best of the business and if you are friends this should not hinder your judgement and actually be best for the business. 

Good luck and remember even the best and top talent leave the biggest and well-paying companies. 

It is how you react and lead in creating the best business for your customers, shareholders and importantly for your current teams and talent coming into your business.

Danny Denhard 

My Personal Recommended Reads:

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Anonymous Career Advice

Will a strict return to the office help my team get back together?

This week’s anonymous career advice question:

Will a strict return to the office help my team get back together? 

Dear Focus, Our office has been told they are expected back in the office in the coming weeks. My department’s performance has dropped and you can see cracks appear. Do you think this will help our department get back to performing? 

This is going to be a big question for many department heads and leads in the coming months. 

If there is a performance issue it’s likely not simply down to being remote and video call fatigue that we have all heard about in the last six months. 

It’s likely down to many more factors of work: 

  • The general blurring of work and life, 
  • Relationships falling apart 
  • Colleagues leaving 
  • A change to furlough or headcount 
  • A team subculture that requires more than a bandaid or an away day. 

Here are just a few categories of questions to ask yourself and your team around what the causes are and answer collectively. 

Bonding 

  • Has there been a breakdown in communications? 
  • Has there been a project, product or campaign that has failed? 
  • Has there been turnover or lack of refill of headcount? 
  • How do you propose to bring the teams closer together if there are numerous fractions or your internal influencer or secret weapon is unhappy?

Proximity 

  • Proximity is an important factor within interpersonal relationships but does it apply or add value in 2021?
  • Being close or within one office doesn’t mean better communications and the old bad habits won’t come back. 

Something I always recommend to read and develop out is the Allen curve within your business, as the study shows the closer and more frequent you are by proximity the better relationships were.

Here is a good LinkedIn post to understand more of an updated review. 

Being a good leader from anywhere 

  • Asking if this was going to be full time back in the office? 
  • Have there been consistent communications? 
  • Regardless of where your team are located your role shouldn’t have to change, often remote can be easier to manage times and interruptions 

Resentment for having to come back in

This is something many team members are expressing. 

Likely voicing their concerns or frustrations around having to return to the old way of working. 

Although it doesn’t sound to have been easy or plain sailing many people have realised this way of working works better for them and their situation. 

Can you adapt this for a team member?

Swamped in routine 

One common mistake is not mixing up routines and not listening to feedback. 

Old routines won’t likely improve the issues that occurred while forced working from home environment. 

Is this an opportunity to change the routine? I would suggest this is a great time to revisit and restructure routines.  

Cost of over-communication

Many businesses were telling teams to over-communicate, this was one of the common mistakes over the last year. 

Communications have to deliberate. 

There has to be for a reason and managed by channel. 

Can you reduce friction by reducing communication or more likely over communication? 

Ability to deliver anywhere

  • The question everyone seems to struggle with, have we set our teams to succeed and deliver from anywhere? 
  • Do you actually have one rule that applies all within your business? 
  • Where your team set up to succeed? 

Best of luck with your move towards going back into the office, as we suggested the office should be rethought as an arena and this is an important read to help reshape your office while returning to the office safely. 

Helpful Reads To Improve Your Management

Good Manager Examples

25 Bad Manager Examples

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Anonymous Career Advice

Broken Promotion Track

This week’s anonymous career advice column is closely connected to a previous question submitted is playing the game necessary?

Dear focus, at my company the promotion track is broken. It seems to be who shouts the loudest and who has more time with the local CEO. What can I do? 

This is one of the questions I am asked in different ways quite a lot in my coaching

Interestingly as much from those at ‘the top of their hierarchy’ to those in Heads of and Director roles. 

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Anonymous Career Advice Friday Focus

Friday Focus: Anonymous Career Advice

Each week Focus answer’s questions anonymously submitted questions.

Since February 2021, we have answered career-based questions, how to battle internal issues, company culture questions and stress-related questions due to back to back meetings.

Here are the six most read articles

1/ How To Handle Back To Back Meetings
Why Read? Reduce your and your team’s stress

2/ Knowing Its Time To Leave vs Having Unfinished Business
Why Read? Find out if it is time to leave your company or you actually have unfinished business there.

3/ Broken Promotion Track
Why Read? Understand if your promotion track is broken or you need to play the game.

4/ How To Get Back On Track
Why Read? How to get your career or focus back on track when you have lost some motivation.

5/ How Do I Get Unstuck In A Stagnant Job
Why Read? Many people hit a point and stagnate or their role just freezes in time, find out what you can do about it.

6/ Tackling Disruptive Executive Hire
Why Read? Hired a bad fit or a disruptive leader? It happens a lot more than you think. Here’s what you should do next.

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Anonymous Career Advice

How To Get Back On Track

In this week’s anonymous career advice column, we tackle:

How do you get back on track when you feel like you have lost focus?

This is something many of us struggle with on a weekly basis, even someone who prides themselves on focus and productivity we all have times where we get off track or lose our focus and need different methods and techniques to combat “focus fatigue”.  

Short Term 

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Anonymous Career Advice

Knowing it’s time to leave vs unfinished business

This week’s anonymous career advice is going to be applicable for many people over the next quarter, with more people returning to offices and continuing working in the hybrid environment, we will see staff of all levels question is it time to leave or complete your role at your current company.

Dear focus, I have been in a director of role for the last three years and a director of for two years before this at another company, although I feel like I have Unfinished business, I’m not sure if it’s time for me to leave and take on my next challenge. Can you help?

You are encountering something that many people will be wrangling with over the next six to nine months. 

Regarding your specific question, there are a few layers to unpack.

Service:
The job market has shifted a lot over the last 18 months, there are many businesses rehiring, there are many companies growing and expanding headcount, there are others making the calculated risk to hire and mature their teams with more senior hires. 

Gone are the days in many markets you stay with a company for over a decade most tenure is under four years, so you have been with this company in a senior role for a good time period. 

Service and tenure can work for you and against you, one thing to ensure is ‘have you used up your social capital’ and have you become part of the furniture vs adding real value and being listened to? 

Regularly this can be understood by speaking to those around you and those above you, if your influence has declined and you feel like this is hurting your career, it might just be time to explore and get back to high performance and being valued. 

Title:
Many titles can be misleading, it doesn’t necessarily indicate your influence within the company or the level you operate at externally. 

If you are disheartened about the same title or not being able to take a V title or a c-suite title, there might be ways to ask for the timeline when this might be available. 

Is promotion an important thing to you? Are titles important to you where you are at? If yes, you need to understand the timeline and understand how you are considered internally, often this is harder to gain feedback on, however speaking to your boss, your colleagues on the same level and HR can help you understand this. Be prepared for tough questions and honest feedback loops. 

Know Your Worth?
Something an old boss used to say to me and what Netflix tells their employees, take the meeting or the interview see what you are worth or what might be out there. 

An important question to ask yourself is do you doubt yourself or have you lost some confidence in your current role?

If yes, it’s probably time to look at updating your cv/resume and start having conversations with recruiters and headhunters. 

If you have been unhappy in this role and need some help I suggest reading the professional injuries blog post to help you break down what is happening and why. 

To answer if it is unfinished business or time to leave, you will know in your own mind, you will have a feeling, unfinished business is often a reason why many people stay in their role when they don’t know what they want to do or where they want to go next. 

I would really question if you having doubts, you should start proactively making a change,  start with LinkedIn, CV and start having conversations, external conversations will help you make the right decision. 

Sometimes better the devil you know other times it takes the right step forward to catapult your career onwards and upwards.  

I recommend you to use a Risk vs benefits framework you can easily see what risks you have staying and what benefits you might have.

You can then apply the same risk vs benefit analysis for leaving. 

Once you complete the analysis you will be in a better place to answer this question for yourself and for your future. 

I always recommend writing a professional SWOT when you are at a crossroads. This is likely the time to put yourself first.

Consider introducing interview practice runs into your department as it will help your colleagues and help you prepare for what might be to come. 

If you are looking for other advice and tips for virtual interviews read this leaders letter.

My personal experience is, if you feel like you have unfinished business and you can make the changes required, you should map this out in detail and if you have the feeling it is time to leave don’t leave it too late as you will kick yourself and you may feel like your career has gone backwards. 

Best of luck with your decision, if you are asking the right question – you are on the right track. 

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Anonymous Career Advice

Virtual Interview Failures

In this week’s anonymous career feedback, we tackle virtual interviews and how to handle potential difficulties and how to impress,  

Dear Focus, I keep stumbling at interviews, what can I do to improve my virtual interviews? 

Interviews are difficult, whether they are in person, completely virtual or in the future hybrid, some in-person others virtual.

Virtual interviews should not be too much different to in-person interviews, however, the feel and flow can be offputting and each internet connection and quality of connection alongside the quality of headphone, the quality of your sound via your microphone, the background distractions and how good your webcam is can feel like competitive edges or a negative from the first hello, how are you. 

In 2021 the majority of interviews will be virtual, or virtual first with a second or third in person, if you have worked for a large international business or in a senior role this process has not changed but for many less experienced in these scenarios will feel daunting and hard to gage. 

No interview is ever the same, some interviewers are bad interviewers, some interviewees have off days or days they struggle to interview well. Like a good video meeting or session, there are components you can control and set yourself up for success rather than failure.

The best advice we can provide is: 

Pre-Interview 

  • Be prepared
  • Write down the questions on a notepad so as not to flick between screens or applications 
  • Ask clarifying questions before the interview during interview can take any flow away the interview and talking openly 
  • Arrange your desk and camera so you are looking at the camera and having “dedicated eye contact”
  • Do your research – let the interviewing panel know you have prepared 
  • Get yourself a drink and anything you might need like a tissue etc 
  • If you have a mac switch on do not disturb, there is a similar mode on PCs
  • Download the web client natively, browsers can be slow or need processing 
  • Join on time 

During The Interview 

  • Eye contact as much as possible 
  • Remember you are on camera 
  • Focus on the interview, not interior distractions 
  • Let the interviewers know you are taking notes 
  • Go through your list of questions, it is completely fine to take notes and ask numerous questions 
  • If the tools or software struggles call this out early and recommend logging back in or using another tool, do not struggle through with, own and lead interviews 
  • Answer as openly and honestly as possible 
  • Show you know the deck or document you have created, reading each slide bullet by bullet doesn’t show you are prepared or confident 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and let interviewers know there could be a delay 
  • If you have been asked to prepare anything consider how you can leverage third-party tools to record the video or send a copy of the information before the interview like you might with an important pitch or strategy session 
  • Ask about the company culture and recent failures – this shows you are interested and you ask important questions 
  • Think timelines, budgets and delivery – these are typically the three sections and story arch you have to deliver on 
  • Understand what the timeline is you are working towards 
  • If you have other interviews let the team know

Post Interview 

  • Ask follow up questions 
  • Ask for feedback 
  • Take the time to send through any links referenced 
  • If you wish you had said something, you can liaise with the team to provide more content 
  • Take the time to collate your thoughts and ideas 

Often your best work is not what the interviewing panel is looking for, often you will go over and above and you miss crucial summaries (exec summaries are priceless) or talk in the language of the panel, everyone has different challenges in interviews it is about being prepared, being able to connect with the interview panel and having a direct point and reference to guide your interview towards.

This year won’t be easy but often practise makes perfect and if you can practise with friends, family or a potential management coach or professional mentor.  

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Anonymous Career Advice

Self-Taught Manager Issues?

 This week’s anonymous career advice comes from “middle manager with middle manager problems”. 

Dear focus, I am a self-taught manager and I struggle managing my team and manage my manager’s expectations. What is the best way to develop my management style of managing my manager and managing my team? 

There is something quite important about understanding you can improve as a manager and improve managing those around you and those you come into contact with regularly. 

An issue managers face is typically being able to create time to manage, to do their own work and manage out managers, or at least their expectations. 

Middle management is the hardest area of management, it is often the time you learn most about the work environment, the way people are motivated and what expectations truly are. 

Personally, I have a belief that management is an art form that a tiny per cent of people have managed to crack, it evolves every day and with every interaction, so this advice won’t be perfect but will be a guide to help you improve as a manager and improve communications and expectation management.

Management Advice

Managing up 

Managing up is about relationships and time management, most senior managers are time-sensitive and struggle to have much time to dedicate themselves to one to ones or one to few. 

From experience key to managing up is to communicate the most important aspects and goings-on with clear thought and in digestible chunks. Being able to have an exec summary and a list of objectives and the ways you are thinking of tackling those objectives often puts you on the front foot. 

One issue to countermeasure is handling the requests and helping your manager to know when you can take more work on and when they need to take work off you. This happens with a relationship and having clear one to ones and clear communications around hurdles. 

One problem two solutions framework will help greatly with overbearing bosses as will risks vs benefits framework when going through and managing your communications. 

Managing Around 

Managing around you is an area many ignore as managing those managers in the same position as you are is an important part of your development and building a support network. 

Managing Your Team 

Managing your team is always a challenge, something that has been a help in my career is working out the individual motivations and the way people want to be managed and compare to how you manage them. Surprisingly you will find some are motivated by praise, others are motivated by money and some are motivated by knowing they can improve. 

Being able to have open conversations, help problem-solve together and collaboratively and speak on the right level will help you have better relationships and improve as a manager, being trusted and proving you have their best interests is vitally important. This comes with time and having their back and supporting them by knowing when they need you, when they want you and when they don’t know they require support and guidance. 

An important lesson: saying my door is always open and not being available is something that upsets and frustrates your team far more than you will know. 

More actions you can take to proactively progress as a manager:

  • Hire a professional coach 
  • Ask for internal mentors 
  • Look for external mentors – costs can vary but important to know how much an external mentor will improve and challenge you differently
  • Hire a personal development coach 
  • Join a manager group – some can be particularly useful, be wary of HiPPO bias or admin bias in big groups
  • Build a management group on slack, discord or on LinkedIn to improve your skills and be able to have voice anonymous issues. I have built a number of communities that have helped greatly  
  • Write a professional and personal SWOT – this will help you spot your own weaknesses and build on opportunities you and others see
  • Read lessons from leaders this was an important set of interviews from last summer
  • Bringing those up around you will improve you as a manager, consider is it time for a co-pilot
  • Ask to co-create leadership principles to roll out to your leadership teams if this does not exist and will enable you to understand different situations and working environments particularly if you have access to broader teams, for instance: tech vs non-tech management are completely different challenges.

Leadership is not a linear journey and often you learn more in challenges than you do when everything seems to be going well. 

Keep up on knowing you want to progress and being proactive in developing out your career. 

Finally, never discount free resources on YouTube, LinkedIn and don’t be afraid to invest in books. 

Have Your Own Question?

Our book recommendations can be found 

Focus book recommendations 

5 Business Books To Read 

Ride of a lifetime  – The Disney Chairman autobiography

The Netflix Company Culture Book aka No Rules Rules – – The Netflix CEO book autobiography


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Anonymous Career Advice Friday Focus

Friday Focus – 26th March

This week’s five for Friday, aka Friday focus, we showcase our five anonymous career advice articles, we have written helping those who people who completed our anonymous career help form.

Anonymous Career Advice Must Reads

  1. Disconnected from my team, what do I do?
  2. How to prevent burnout and working when my team are sick?
  3. I’m failing to get my message across, how do I improve?
  4. I feel like my career is going backwards, what can I do?
  5. My colleague keeps stealing my ideas, what should I do?

Need some of your anonymous advice?

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Anonymous Career Advice

Failing To Get My Message Across

In this weeks anonymous career advice, we tackle a problem many managers and leaders face, not being able to get their message across.

Dear Focus, I seem to struggle to get my message across to my company. My leadership team suggests it’s down to how I communicate, how can I improve?

For almost every leader, internal communications and landing a message has never been as challenging as it is today.
Why? Today there are too many channels to send and land a message, emails go unread, internal instant messengers are often ignored or skim read and there is no sense of urgency or importance.
Then there is the challenge of choice of language and more often than not sentiment can be difficult to understand and land as one message for everyone.

Over the past three years, there has been a shift to creating richer content when these communications are not made in person, typically video has been something many leaders have tried to embrace but the delivery mechanism is still email or instant messenger.

Questions to ask yourself?

  • Are you the best person to send the message?
    • If no, who would be the best to deliver the message?
  • Who is the best person at delivering a message in your organisation?
    If someone else is better, leverage them and their connection with the teams.
  • Have you watched any important speeches or watched free materials on speech rating or internal comms?
    There is a lot of free content that will help you deliver your messages
  • Can you use a mix of audio, written and video?
    It can seem like more work, however, making your message apply across different formats helps the message to land and will become shareable internally like it would on social networks.
  • Do you have a set of communication communications within your business to understand important communications and how urgent they are?
    Remember an email from the HiPPO does not mean it is important.
  • If you had to pick just one channel to deliver your message, which channel would it be?
  • Which channels land for you and your colleagues?
  • Do you explain the essential communications in the most simplistic and understandable way possible? Do you sense check any of the language you include?
  • Are you using any localised words which do not translate well?
  • Have you looked at the time you send these messages?
    The time that emails are sent are often too late or at busy times and can be ignored. Choose early, just before lunch or towards 16.00 (timezones are a pain to compete with).
  • If this was delivered by a large company as an advertising campaign, what formats would they use?
    What can you learn from this?

You have plenty to think about, I would consider leveraging free content online to help you become more compelling, speaking to those who can land a message and working with them on delivery and speaking to the team around you to help them spread the information in a multi-person comms attack vs trying to deliver one knock out punch.

If you are looking for a quicker fix, I would concentrate on:
(1) what you want to say – consider writing post-it notes out and then typing up or recording,
(2) how you want to deliver it (text-based vs video vs audio recording, email vs messenger) and
(3) how you ask for feedback
(4) how you follow up.

Best of luck.

Have your own question or need advice? Submit yours below