If you read my diary entry from last week, you’ll know I expressed some frustration regarding one of my colleagues; latterly a subordinate.
Like most challenges, I decided to treat it as something of a learning exercise. Since I had become aware only recently that I was now a line manager, a few things had occurred to me:
- I need to get my house in order. Probably by way of a systematic analysis of the work being handled by my teams. This train of thought was somewhat augmented by reading John Cutlers post on visualising flow at a higher level, and I recalled that Rob Lambert had written a post some time ago about turning around a team, citing the need to gain a deeper understanding of the work. I don’t think our team needs turning around quite yet, but it would certainly benefit from some workflow analysis and resulting tweaks and adjustments to the ways things are done. An “epic team change” would be welcomed.
- I need to nurture my team. I’ve taken a mostly hands-off approach to management thus far, seeing myself more as an individual contributor managing by influence, as I already mentioned. This needs to change; I need to get more hands-on. One-to-ones are in the pipeline, in some form or another.
- I need to deal with this specific individual, and get our project back on track.
This post is about item 3 on that list.
Having already escalated the situation, the next step was a conversation with the person in question, with my boss (now their bosses boss!) on the line also. Since we all work remote, the call crossed 3x different timezones, further complicating issues. But I’ve already discussed (to some extent) the challenges of remote work in another post, so I won’t dwell on that here.
Before getting into the call, I wanted to make sure I had all my ducks lined up, as it were, by giving some thought to the points below:
What are my motivations for this discussion?
On a surface level, my motivations are to unblock the work. While the situation continues, work that is now seriously behind schedule isn’t moving at all – so far as I and the rest of the team can tell. So the number one motivation and goal of the discussion has to be to get things moving along, by whatever means necessary.
However, if I dig a little deeper… Not too much deeper… It’s relatively easy to discover that there are other, potentially more nefarious motivations that need addressing also.
For example, do I harbour a secret desire simply to take back the work and do it myself, feeling that I could do a better/faster job? – Maybe.
Do I want to make myself look good at the expense of my colleague? – That’s a consideration… Certainly there is likely to be a bias in terms of how I communicate the history/narrative of how this problem arose.
Putting some effort into getting clear, and trying to focus on positive motivations is time well spent. Gaining an awareness of more harmful motivations so I can hopefully mitigate them during any resulting discussions and actions is a good investment also. The best way to do that is identify the outcome(s) I really want.
What do I really want out of this conversation?
Some time ago, I did a personality profile using the DISC methodology (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness respectively). Sadly, I couldn’t locate the actual assessment doc to verify my conclusions – but one of the things that has always stood out from the assessment is that I’m not particularly altruistic. For the purposes of this activity, I take this to mean I’m not necessarily going to be very sympathetic to any personal issues, and that I’m not likely to prioritise personal needs over getting the work done.
My primary goal is to figure out how best to move forward from here, in terms of the work.
I want to establish exactly where we are, and what the proposed next steps are by the person concerned. I want to see actions and I want to see those actions completed by dates that have been agreed upon by everybody involved in the call.
I want to see proposals for how things will proceed in the future, to ensure the work is completed to everyones satisfaction and to make sure we never end up in this situation again.
If I don’t get the the proposals I want, I have some of my own as backups.
- Take back the work and have the individual do something completely different.
- Have them work in a kind of parallel role. As a researcher for example.
- Have them continue the work but with much closer supervision and instructions
- See what their suggestions are and have them broken them down into granular detail with weekly milestones.
- Etc, etc.
What’s my story? What story am I telling myself and how does this affect my emotions?
I’m utterly blameless. Obviously.
Ok, ok. There are likely some learnings here also. Some of them probably stemming from my not realising I was this individuals line manager, and it was (much more than I realised) my responsibility to ensure the work was getting done in the way I think it needs to, rather than relying on the individuals (now, provably poor) own judgement.
At this point, I don’t think the delays reflect poorly on me personally, but I would certainly take the view that they reflect poorly on my current ability to manage other product owners/managers. I could have managed the work much more closely. I thought I didn’t need to, but this was clearly a mistake on my part. I take full responsibility for that.
One thing I need to be particularly watchful of in terms of my internal story, is whether there are any personal facets to it. I’d like to think not. But as I’ve alluded to in the previous articles, there are some cultural differences also, which may be complicating things at a relational level. I don’t think I have any particular prejudices, but it’s certainly something to consider further.
Do I have all the facts?
I have all of the facts that I have access to. Emails, work [artefact] history and the like. But I only have one side of the story. Maybe there are facts I am missing, and that are pertinent to the situation. Given my proclivity towards getting the work done, versus feeling empathy for personal issues – making sure I have an ear for facts outside of my comfort zone, will be an important consideration.
Have an attitude of curiosity
I’m curious, but also – to put it bluntly – slightly pissed off. I’m naturally curious and it’s a trait that has served me well during my career as an individual contributor thus far. Following on from the point above, in this situation, it’s going to be important for me to apply some empathy. Putting myself in the others shoes, and figuring out how the situation looks to them and how they think things might proceed in the future, is probably one of the keys to success as this situation unfolds.
The discussion took place. It didn’t quite go as planned (shocker!), and we’ll see how things go (in terms of performance) over the next few weeks. For reference though, the approach discussed above was taken mainly from the HBR article Things to do Before a Tough Conversation which is itself an abbreviated version of material from the author Joseph Grenny’s book – Crucial Conversations.Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out via a comment or on the socials if anything resonates.