This week’s anonymous career advice we received a big question that is a simple one-word answer but requires more explanation and a deliberate decision to be made by you.
Dear focus, a simple question: Is being visible and playing the game necessary?
A simple but important question!
The TLDR answer is YES!
Unfortunately, it is more necessary than many people realise. Every business I have ever worked in has had levels of the internal political game, some at low-level others it is all about playing the game at full speed.
The Important Truth
The truth that many companies will not tell you or do not onboard you with and empower you with the most important piece of information: How to succeed in this business.
This is months of detective work, asking questions and for many trial and error. This is where you need to build a strong and safe network around you and understand the motivations and drivers of those around you and above you.
Positive Being Visible
There are often times you will think being visible is a negative but actually being visible can be and should be seen as a positive for you, your career and your team.
Being visible often means you are keeping people informed, you are communicating well and you have ideas, insights and feedback (not just opinions) that will progress the company. These are all important traits that leaders typically seek out.
In today’s broken world of work, we have never had the access to so many tools, to so many free resources to help us progress, or access to the best talent available, yet we are no closer to answering one of the fundamental issues in the business world.
In a recent and brilliant article, Eugene Wei really hit the nail on the head:
“One of the most common weaknesses among managers and leaders is the illusion of transparency, though it is a problem for most people. It is the tendency to overestimate how much people know what you’re thinking.” — Eugene Wei.
Thinking and communicating are two of the most important parts of being a leader and holding a leadership role, unfortunately thinking => discussing issues => communicating what, why and allowing others to build the how causes more problems often than competitors do.
Hard To Be A Manager – Harder To Be A Leader
Management has never been so hard, leadership is even harder, you have many challenges, you have faced 2020 and 2021 you were never prepared for or trained for and rather than communicating becoming easier it has become harder, we have too many communication channels and so little time to articulate clearly.
One of the reasons why managers fall short is thinking they have communicated to those around them and to their department or teams. The likelihood is, you didn’t and if it is important you should bring it up regularly.
As a leader you are busy, you have many of the same conversations with those around you (management teams, leadership teams, board meetings etc) you fail to relay the message to your own team. Your department then feels disconnected from you and core business decisions feel like you have bypassed your team.
I would estimate 80% of the time, poor or lack of communication costs Department heads their people and then their role.
Solution: The Decision Document
One solution Focus has created is to build an open decision document – this doesn’t have to be a document in format, this can be a notion page, a dedicated page on the internal wiki or it could even be a Trello board (I recommend against a kanban style board as people read them differently and is done actually done and completed?)
The decision calls out what the important decision was, what steps were taken and the date. The how has to be completed by the responsible team however it is essential any important business-wide decision is listed and these steps are followed.
Communication is still key to winning, explaining in the same format to the impacted teams is as important, but showing the chain of decisions and the process will help the company understand how you got there and the timeline connected.
As a leader, it is important to know when to take action and now is the time, if you are in the position, create the document and introduce it to the business, if not co-create with someone who is operationally strong.
Template Available Upon Request
When Knowing The Importance & Managing The Messaging
Bob Iger (the Disney Chairman wrote in his book Ride of a Lifetime) took to leading by press release as everyone internally realised the importance of the decision and they had to make it work, at a company of the size it is likely important however none of the decisions should be a surprise or surprising. The decision document will help you with this issue.
This is where the culture community manager can own and work with leaders to improve internal communications and centralise information flow into the centre of the truth within an organisation, a knowledge centre.
Introduce The Decision Document This Week
Be proactive and roll out the decision document in the upcoming week and introduce it to the business, you will be surprised by the impact.
I trust you are well today and halfway through planning Q2 and creating the action plan for your department or team to be successful.
I have spoken on a number of virtual panels and presented a number of presentations (including the future of work), one of the common themes of these online events has been offering the best reading materials and supporting content to the audience.
For one event, I was asked to provide three recommendations of what to listen to, read and watch.
I wanted to share some of the recommendations for you to digest and consider reading and then you can share with your teams. I have added why you might be interested
The Dip by Seth Godin Why? The best short book on knowing when to stay with something or know when the dip is going to be painful Link
1000 True Fans Why? A must-read for anyone in business, particularly in modern times when everything is about an engaged audience and a way to reconsider how you create content and engage the 1000 Link A newer spin on 1000 but totally inspired. 100 true fans. Link
Black Box Thinking (link) & Rebel ideas (link) by Matthew Syed. Why? These books will change your ways of thinking and shape how important your colleagues and having a diverse set of thinking and people around you truly are. These are dense books, there are talks on YouTube that will give you a tease into these. Listening to the books on Audible is a great option with these books.
Danish TV Advert. All that we share Why? Brilliant advert in English to help you understand how are all different but all connect on levels. YouTube Link
How Musically (now TikTok) was built. Why? How Musically (now TikTok) was fundamentally differently by thinking deeply about culture YouTube Link
How Facebook got to the first billion users Why? An unapologetic explainer of how Facebook got to their first billion users by being 100% driven by their goals of connecting people and understanding the first x friends or x actions improved experiences YouTube Link
Finding success in the music industry Why? Breakdowns the music industry so simply and helps you to understand how challenging industries have formulas & channel based thinking. YouTube Link
Business Movers Walt Disney Podcast Why? Captivating listen about Walt Disney, the complexity of being a genius who truly believed in stories and brand. As relevant today as then and will be relevant for decades to come. Podcast Link
Spark and Fire Podcast – Soul Pixar edition Why? The best supporting podcast to a movie (Soul) I have heard, the lead writer talks about the process and insane level of details that go into Pixar movies Podcast Link
You have likely read and heard that you should over-communicate when working remotely.
Over-communication is a terrible recommendation for the remote workplace.
Communication has to be thought through, deliberate and timely.
Taking time and flow from others is similar to stealing valuable time and energy.
Deliberate communication is far more important and far better advice.
A quick update is rarely quick if the update is not thought through and concise.
Communicate often but be more deliberate.
Think communicate often vs over communicate. Clarity over having to work through the confusion.
Create milestones where you will need to communicate. Understand who needs the update, when and how you will deliver it.
Channels Are Important
Communication takes time for both parties, the receiver often has to decode what the sender means, you will be stuck in slack or teams for much longer than you need to be.
Understand what channels and delivery methods are going to work most efficiently for you and your business. Every business ultimately works differently.
Not everyone is built for video updates, however, adding audio over a spreadsheet or a document (presentation etc), allows for a richer experience and less need real-time conversations.
Connect The Dots
Communication is supposed to connect important dots – connect the dots on projects, campaigns and performance. If you would like to update on personal situations or would like some help, don’t be put off – choose who can help. It is important to understand that grabbing a few minutes to discuss remotely tends to be harder and more time consuming than quickly in person.
Create a set of principles you and your colleagues will follow. What channels work, what times work, what your expectations are. Communication principles will enable everyone to follow the same rules on the same tools.
Understanding how, when & to take the opportunity to communicate is harder remotely but can be worked out. Grabbing someone coming out of a meeting, returning to their desk, bumping into them in the hallway or kitchen doesn’t really happen, there are ways to help with this, by adding statuses on internal chat tools, enabling calendar views and having open rooms where you pop in for virtual HQ chats.
It is also important to know having your own time for your own thoughts and deep work is important, keeping those around you updated will be important, a reminder or blocking time out will work.
Internal Comms Battle
On many occasions, internal comms is often harder than external comms. Internal comms has to answer many more questions. Internal FAQ’s or project hubs will help improve this and keep everyone updated simply. There are plenty of tools available to help with this.
Create a decision document or centralised document to have a timeline of updates, if you miss one update or miss a link in the chain, the wheels should not come off.
Use spreadsheets, words, pictures and record video explainers were required.
Tools like mmhmm, loom, canva & even instagram all make it free or low cost and possible to create explainers. You can also create this style of internal update on Macs or your smart phone.
Five Quick Fire Tips
Secret no-one wants to offer up: Save time for you, colleagues, your team &/or your boss, this feels obvious but time remotely is priceless
Have communication hubs, have internal wiki’s, shared knowledge centres you keep up to date. This will reduce quick questions and long email threads
Always question: Can I remove meetings and write a concise update or update the project overview and send a link instead?
Consider the RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) model of updates
Can you use BLUF? BLUF is a military communications short for bottom line up front, it is essentially communicating with the most important details first, with clear tone and a clearer ask.
This week you will be likely starting to arrange Q2 planning with your departments and understanding where you have landed and where you need to step up and improve.
Throughout leaders letters, there has been three main themes leadership, company culture and developing out your team through training, values and principles.
This week I want to offer some advice on tackling “soft skill ignorance”. This is an important part of my mission to fix the broken world of work. Soft skills are typically elements within a business you cannot put a direct revenue figure on from spreadsheet management.
Soft Skills typically considered are:
Many of these soft skills would be classified under company culture, historically c-suite members have struggled to assign a pound or dollar amount to these skills. In more recent times these skills have been clearly called out and many tools are attempting to assign a revenue value to these.
Be a leader – Address the problem top-down
I have sat in leadership team meetings when culture was always an agenda point but there was a fear by many others on how to address this.
HiPPO’s are often the worst at understanding the importance of company culture and it impacts on organisational health.
I have advised companies where culture is something they knew was an issue but took a true leader to go first and call out the issue they were experiencing and come forward as part of the problem.
There are many times as a leadership team, you have to step forward, call out poor behaviour and address the elephant in the room head-on.
The problem for many businesses, there is still an ignorance on how company culture impacts bottom line and many execs do not want to or do not know how to look at soft skills.
How to tackle soft skill ignorance:
If you sit on a leadership team or part of a management team the easiest way to address soft skill ignorance is to first call out how bad your company culture and how it is impacting your business. Data points and examples of these are important but applying a framework will help for the rest of the management or leadership team to apply the same methodology. By showing the data, you can show how your teams or departments are struggling from an output perspective and how you will have to work harder as a leader to address and bring the departments together cross-functionally.
You can use many matrixes to guide you in mapping these out, one that has worked for me previously: map out in columns: (a) happiness, (b) performance and (c) output mapped out by (rows) person by scoring 1 (low) to 10 (high) and as a team provides you with an easy to follow score and average.
When there is a conflict you can add this into the scoring matrix by team and department and apply cross-functionally.
Throughout large projects or products being rolling out performance will fluctuate, when the performance takes a dip you will likely see some respond positively and others respond with fear and performance anxiety if you are keeping track and on top of 1:2:1’s you will likely see this reflected in individuals, in teams and then departments.
By reviewing scoring as a leadership team and having open and frank conversations you will be more on top of soft skills, you will be more attuned to what is happening with your business and in places to tackle these issues reducing the performance anxiety, the friction and the conflict happening within your business.
This is just one blended method of tackling soft skills, you may have an org that needs management teams to be made aware of issues or act ignorantly, happily forward this letter them or send my email address to help you address this toxic management trait.
Have a good week thinking about how you could roll this or something similar out within your businesses and as ever let me know if there is something I can help you and your business with.
This is the 29th leader’s letter of the year. Thank you for reading every week.
You have likely had your remote or virtual (zoom based) Christmas (or seasonal, festive or end of year) party, you have likely written and read your speech to your department or to your company and you have hopefully signed off the budget and the action plan for 2021.
The end of the year is something we all look forward to, there is something about finishing up for the year and being able to rest, recharge and come back fresh, with renewed fight and optimism.
The time between Christmas and New Year is often a quieter time and ‘admin time’ for those who continue to work. For others, it is ‘returns session’ after what was likely the busiest online Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas period for your company. However, for most, it is the time you truly know how your end of year numbers came out and I hope you can celebrate with momentum into the new year.
Looking Back Leader: For certain leaders, they like to look back, recap and celebrate the achievements, with a thank you for your work, dedication and flexibility for 2020. Next year is the next fight but needs a refresher mind and clarity of thought on the 4th of January to rally the troops.
Looking Forward Leader: For others, they like to only look forward, driving forward with more energy, more intensity. The rallying cry is for more, for better, for bigger.
Neither is wrong, but being able to say thank you and know your plan for 2021 is set and going to provide many different possibilities and avenues is something to look forward to and gather around. Sharing that one-page strategy plan between Christmas and New Years might just be the difference between a flat first few weeks back and a joined-up company ready to stand together and win 2021.
2020 is the year that will stand out for all of us, the year we didn’t know the answers, we were unsure of what the next week looked like and the year we learnt so much about our friends, colleagues, managers and bosses.
2020 was the year of some good, some bad and a lot of ugly.
2021 Rally Cry
2021 has the opportunity to be brighter, an opportunity to challenge the status quo, to build something new, something different or even build something yourself. 2021 has to be the year you own, you lead, you empower and a little challenge, where you can; seize the day as many times as possible. You shake up your management teams and implement management pods.
I have been speaking to a number of different leaders in forms of meetings, panels, private slack channels and text (yes even text, remember that anonymous text helpline I offered).
The hottest talking points apart from the banned C-word and performance is leadership and leadership styles.
One leadership style I have always despised is the cult of CCF:
Confusion, Chaos and Fear.
There is a particular age range of members of the bad managers club aka CCF club, and they have allowed the tactical and channel-ification of work to hide behind.
There are many leaders who actively choose to lead by confusion. Yes, confusion.
Confusion is based on lack of or poor communication. Other traits include hoarding information to protect themselves, make themselves feel indispensable and they make everyone else constantly second guess themselves.
Confusion can mean handling everything on their time vs when it makes sense on others.
Confusion to Chaos
Once the confusion is worked out by individuals or team, they actively create chaos (just like politicians).
Chaos is often created by making changes to projects, to budgets, to headcount, and ‘shuffling the pack’ as there was a ‘bad egg’ or someone just wasn’t at the level they wanted.
Chaos is a way to control situations for weak managers, anyone who decides to use confusion or chaos as tactics to lead are not leaders.
Chaos To Create Fear
Once chaos works, they create fear around themselves and then the deliverables that have to complete. Fear is often inherited by rank or title but can be leveraged in situations to create uncomfortable working environments and deliberately build a horrible working environment for everyone in and around your team or department.
These managers have learnt these behaviours and believe this is the way to take control vs building the right team and environment to hit targets and develop their team. It takes a while for businesses to gain enough insight into this or takes a few brave individuals to come forward and address with the company.
Management styles shape company cultures, do not allow these behaviours to shape your organisation.
If you are in the position to, I recommend reviewing your management roster and see how they manage their team or department and if you are a manager and believe you have adapted this, I would highly recommend addressing this ASAP.
This week focus on improving your layers of management, remove this selfish and ignorant style of management and reduce the level of the stress by clearly and proactively calling out these behaviours.
You likely have only three more Mondays of 2020 left.
This weeks leaders letter concentrates on reviewing your team of managers feedback from their team.
Performance can be tricky to understand. As a leader, your performance is based on how the teams underneath performance and how close you are to the targets you set at the beginning of the year.
You have likely heard of skips, skip catch-ups and skip 1-2-1’s are commonplace in large organisations but have you considered how you review monthly reviews and quarterly reviews?
Something that can be frustrating is how you can understand how your management team and the set of managers underneath are performing. It is also an area many busy managers don’t see as important as attending more meetings or replying to more emails.
Being able to proactively review and receive unfiltered feedback can be difficult but not impossible. Your teams are likely providing feedback to their line manager in the form of a monthly or quarterly review.
Something I am a huge advocate of is opening up and reading your direct reports reviews and the feedback provided by the team. You will see a variety of feedback you likely don’t see yourself and you will see how they interact with the different members of the team, especially when in their one to ones and behind closes doors / closed video calls. This will work for teams leads, department leads and management team members.
You may also undercover your hidden leaders, those in management positions or those speaking up and informing their managers of potential issues and where to drive the business forward.
You will likely see patterns of feedback, often ignored by your managers, these are areas you cannot overlook and have to proactively manage and nurture your managers into the right areas or bring in external experts to help evolve your business.
Moving forward consider in on focusing in on making the time to review the direct feedback your managers are receiving and help them to improve their management styles, their management approach and improve the working environment for your middle management and their teams.
Your next set of leaders and the teams around them deserve your time and experience to guide the people and company forward.
I hope you had a good and re-energising weekend and ready for the week ahead.
This week I read about how Steven Gerrard (the Liverpool football legend and current Rangers FC manager) created an internal motto for this players to easily understand their change in playing style and helped to guide the team towards winning an important away game in Europe and re-shape their season.
Why so effective? Most likely because it is short, simple and easy to remember. Yes, it is harder to execute no doubt, however, that is for the management team to create training plans around, train new formations and create playbooks for upcoming matches. And for the players; to understand easily, to ask questions, to work on and train with in mind and develop their understanding of their teammates and develop their togetherness on and around.
So Why A Motto: Simple is essential in today’s noisy, feed driven world. Short helps everyone remember and repeat this and helps to have a guiding principle to follow and concentrate everyone around.
Focus On: I challenge you and your fellow leaders to create (or revisit) one simple and short motto for your team to get behind and help to guide your team with upcoming changes and a way to understand how you are going to operate for the near future and how it will lead your decision making moving forward into 2021.
Let me know what your new motto is and how you decided your new motto.
I trust this week has started off productively and you have identified your future seers.
This weeks point to focus on is communicating clearly and building a clear communicating culture.
The lack of information and ‘transparent’ communications often leads your teams to assume or fear for the worst outcome. Agree to create a culture that enables and ensures you communicate as clearly and kindly as possible.
As a manager and a leader you will be well aware that the fear and panic amongst your people, your teams and department is often when an important piece of information is not communicate to the group, it is not clear and often sent without second order effects considered.
Focus on speaking to your organisation and the managers around you to ensure you cut through poor communication and create an agreed internal principle you will communicate as clearly and as timely as possible to remove anxiety and fear around the company, particularly with the near future in mind.
This will reduce the amount of questions you will receive, you can encourage improving internal communications and reducing the internal chatter via instant messenger.
Until next week, focus on building clear communication templates you and your teams can use and agree as a company wide principle you will have clear communications across the business.