[M.A.C.E] Management perspective
In this post, I’ll dive deeper into the 2 factors controlled by the management side of [M.A.C.E] framework: Conditions & Expectation. Context: to make understanding easier, let’s just assume that we are discussing about an employee name Tom. Tom is a nice guy, who is also excellent at what he does (Ability), proven track record, and he joined the team because he believes in the grand vision of the company (Mindset). Tom is holding a mid-level manager. Tom thinks he has an excellent plan to help the company to cut operating costs by reducing manual work. He wants to put the idea into action and is currently pitching his thoughts to a few people. Sounds familiar? Conditions Conditions refers to the external environment or the working environment an employee is in. I’ll explain deeper in the following aspects: Title / Role / Position A title still carries a lot of weight, especially in a structured setup. This is what I would refer to as “hard power scope”. In order to carry out his plan, he is willing to do some groundwork as the first step and later on he might need additional resources from other departments. However, he is seen as too “high-level” to be doing necesary-but-mundane work and whether getting additional resources, either money or human capital, is not part of what his title would entitle. It may seem extreme but this happens too often in corporations. In this case, his title is probably not a right fit for what he is willing to get himself into. The solution to this, a new title: Special Project Lead. Ironically, I have not seen much success of this approach and would prefer to leave the discussion to another post. I hope you’d get the message. In a start-up environment, title is less of influencing factor than the team culture. Working team culture Tom wants to get a few more opinions from senior leadership or someone else who might think better of him. However, he faces difficulty accessing these people he wants to meet, either they are too busy, or they are seemingly ‘untouchable’. Tom tried a couple of times, reaching out to a few people to validate his ideas and sadly the feedback he got was along the line of “I love the idea but I’m not at the position to help”. Slowly Tom lost interests in carrying out the plan and it was buried in time. If Tom were an old-time employee, he might have made enough friends with the right people to leverage his friendships, this is what politics is about. Now let’s look at it from the other side of the table, as senior management team, how can we cultivate a behavior of team members taking the initiative to propose ideas, getting positive feedback on next steps. Or if it’s a no go, why and how to make senior management not feel so detached from the main team. This is not a question of scheduling, not a problem of communication chain, it rather boils down to how open the culture is. Can anyone speak to anyone directly? Is there too much politics getting in between? There is no right or wrong culture, let’s not forget it is just something management can and should be mindful as an external environmental factor to one’s performance. Salary / Benefits This is obvious, the elephant in the room. Salary and benefits are directly tied to personal issues at home, can Tom make his rent/ultilities? is Tom helping his family in some other ways beyond his means. Though a company can only pay and help so much, it is still a prerequisite aspect to be considered as part of performance, often missed by senior management too. I made this grave mistake during my initial years of running a company — ignoring personal situations. So before we judge why one is not performing, let’s make sure that his personal issues are settled first. When things don’t work out at home, perhaps the best way us, as leaders, can offer is a sabastical vacation. That is the real condition-setting for our potential star, Tom. On related discussion, there’s an excellent long-form article titled “Laziness does not exist” that basically sums up to : context, context, context! Expectation Expectation is a two-way street between employee and management regardless of the channel and format. From my experience, having ambiguous expectation is where employees easily failed the most, more so in a start-up environment. Let’s dive deeper into this. Scoped expectation This is can be understood as job scope, let’s just arbitrarily suppose that Tom handles a team of handful of administrative clerks and handles incoming requests from other team — a typical scenario in almost all companies. Things are not however as straightforwards as it seems. Tom started his job with a crytal clear JD, writen beautifully by HR. As he started his job, he found out what he does day to day deviates quickly from the original scope. Market changes lead to a slight pivot in product direction, which created a ton of incoming manual paperwork for his team. This new development lead to our original assumption, Tom realised it’s better to automate these mundane tasks and streamline integration with other teams. Tom’s job scope expanded to include handling of inter-team collaboration and require some support or approval from higher management, clearly this is beyond his JD. Unscoped expectation Without setting the clear expectation : “I’m going to do this!”. Tom just went ahead and tried to rally support from other teams. Tom feels that it is a logical undertaking, after all, he truly believes in the grand vision and genuinely want to help. Fast forwarding a couple of weeks Tom got a disapproving talk from his boss for his failed attempt. The reason being his plan might require much-needed supporting IT resources, being deployed for other urgent market-expansion tasks. Does this sound familiar too? Tom’s boss clearly understand what Tom wanted to do and it is indeed a great idea. Despite such, the expectation was not made clear from both sides. Tom’s boss did not disregard the idea and at the same time did not express clearly that Tom should just sit and weather the situation a bit longer while waiting for the right support. More often than not, from a management perspective, we often have some unwritten expectations for our hire yet we do not feel the need to express them precisely, allowing ‘room for growth’ in people. I believe my personal lesson also resonates with many others: we say the should-not but we left out the should-do in our conversations and the result is gaps in expectations both ways. As passionate and dedicated as Tom is, when being failed a few too many times he would easily give up on his management and leave soon after. In this example, is Tom expected to interfere with process-improvement? If yes, is he expected to lead the interdisciplinary effort? If not so, why not? Setting the right expectation My tried-and-true approach to situations like this is over-communication, being explicit more than we think we should be. Easier said than done. Like any habit, it takes quite a bit of effort to make over-communication a standard practice in all team communication. Admittedly even when I thought I have said more than enough, there are still gaps in how my subordinates perceive the message. Another way to ensure having right set of expectation in a fast-changing environment is constantly calibrating scope of work, making the unofficial become official ones. It does not have to be in formal writings, as simple as listening to what one employee has to say and agreeing with him is a great way to align expectation.
When was the last time you had coffee or just a casual hangout with your subordinates? May be it’s time to schedule a few.