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Quick, practical management tips and ideas from HBR.org
Updated: 4 hours 46 min ago

Delegate Like a Boss

Fri, 11/27/2020 - 12:30

It’s frustrating when you try to delegate a project and it doesn’t get done correctly or on time. But it’s not necessarily the other person’s fault — the problem is often in your approach to delegation. You might be either too involved, or not involved enough. If you jump in too early after the handoff, your colleague never has the opportunity to take ownership. On the flip side, you need to provide enough guidance to set the person up for success. So think of yourself as a coach, and ask open-ended questions, such as, “How would our chief competitor respond to this strategy?” Another reason your attempts to delegate may fail is because the recipient lacks initiative or follow-through. In this case, make sure you’ve clearly communicated your expectations. You might share a one-page document that lists top priorities, signals the kind of work you plan to reward, and provides accountability. Finally, be careful about your expectations around timing. You might think a task is “quick,” but you probably didn’t think so the first time you were asked to do it. So ask the other person for a time estimate, and if it doesn’t sound right, ask about their process. Having this conversation early on will help the two of you get on the same page and will save you a headache down the road.

This Tip is adapted from "You’re Delegating. It’s Not Working. Here’s Why.," by Sabina Nawaz

Face Career Uncertainty with a Plan

Thu, 11/26/2020 - 12:30

Uncertainty can make us cling to the familiar, especially when it comes to our careers. But it’s also an opportunity to expand our mindsets and explore new avenues for growth. Start by imagining a wide range of possible futures — even ones that may seem intimidating or downright terrifying. If you’re looking for work, for example, consider planning for a future in which you’re unemployed for twice as long as you expect, or one in which your spouse also loses their job. These possibilities aren’t fun to think about, but knowing how you’d handle them will make you feel more secure, prepared, and confident. On the flip side, imagine your best possible future, challenging any assumptions like “I’m just not cut out for management.” Think beyond your past experience and outside of your current industry to explore new arenas and emerging trends. Next, identify and develop the skills that are most relevant to your future. Take classes, reach out to friends and mentors for advice, and try to practice these skills in your current role, even if they’re not part of your job description. Finally — and most importantly — start small. Break down big, long-term goals into small sub-tasks that you can knock out in a day or two. There’s no running away from uncertainty. You might as well face it with a plan.

This tip is adapted from "5 Strategies for Reinventing Your Career in Uncertain Times," by David Lancefield and Dorie Clark

How to Disagree Without Being Divisive

Wed, 11/25/2020 - 12:30

Many of us try to avoid conversations with those who have a sharply different point of view, or we try to convince them that they’re wrong. Neither approach is very productive. It’s possible to have healthy disagreements by employing a few tactics. Start by acknowledging the other person’s perspective, whether you agree with it or not. Say something like, “I understand where you’re coming from,” or, “Thank you for sharing your position,” before you state your point of view. Also, demonstrate humility. While confidence is important in making persuasive arguments, too much of it can be abrasive and even offensive. And be sure to phrase your argument in positive terms. For instance, you could say something like, “Let’s consider the possible benefits of having fewer people working on the marketing initiative,” rather than “We shouldn’t have any more people working on the marketing initiative.” Finally, if things start to get heated, reiterate areas of agreement — even if they’re small and obvious. Something simple, such as “We both want this pandemic to end,” or “We agree that social distancing is presenting unprecedented challenges,” can reestablish common ground. These strategies can help loosen gridlock, animosity, and resentment and open the door for connection.

This tip is adapted from "Disagreement Doesn’t Have to Be Divisive," by Francesca Gino

Craft a Vision of Success to Manage Through Ambiguity

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 12:30

With everything going on in the world today, making decisions can feel overwhelming and complicated. This is because you’re fighting two forces: uncertainty (you don’t have all the information you need) and ambiguity (the best outcome is a matter of interpretation). To fight uncertainty you can try to gather more information, but make a tough call in the face of ambiguity, you need to start from your own vision of success. Dig deep and answer the question, “What do I value the most?” If you’re a parent who wants to raise a good kid, for example, what does that mean to you? Is it one who’s academically successful? Who’s close to their family? Who’s good at team sports? Your answer — rooted in your values — will help you identify what has to happen to get to the outcome you desire. That’s what should guide your decision making every step of the way.

This tip is adapted from "When Managing Through Ambiguity, Develop a Clear Vision," by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn

Are You Writing to Reward Your Reader?

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 12:30

There’s lots of writing advice out there, but thanks to the work of psychologists and neuroscientists, we can now see in detail how our brains respond to everything from metaphors to complex words. The big takeaway is that we can actually write in a way that taps into the reader’s most primal learning needs. Here’s how. First, keep it simple. Divide up long sentences. Omit needless adjectives and adverbs. Cut useless transitions. And get rid of caveats that clutter your message. Next, be specific. Concrete details light up neurons in our brains that process sensory reactions. Play to your reader’s emotions — you may think logic is more persuasive, but our brains actually process emotions faster than thoughts. How your words make people feel will shape what they understand and remember. Reach out to your reader by using the second person (i.e. “you”). And finally don’t underestimate the power of a good story. Starting with the earliest hunter-gatherers, stories have been a primary way we’ve shared lessons, so our brains are wired to reward narrative. Whether you’re writing an email or a big report for the board, these tips will help you get your message across.

This tip is adapted from "Write to Reward Your Reader," by Bill Birchard

Briefing the Big Boss

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 03:17

There’s no shortage of advice on how to brief a senior leader: Keep it short, front-load the message, and so on. But you can’t undervalue the interpersonal dynamics in the room when you’re presenting crucial information to the big boss. So before the meeting, identify the senior leader’s most trusted advisor. Consult with that person ahead of time so they’ll be able to vouch for you and back up the information you’re presenting. Their support will help you earn the senior leader’s trust. Next, familiarize yourself with your boss’s instructions. For example, what are their nonverbal cues that indicate that they want you to either say more or hurry up. You need to adapt your style in real time based on their reaction — so make sure you know what those signals are. Finally, find out how your boss engages with material. Are they someone who pushes back on points? Are they a quiet listener? Or do they ask a lot of questions? Being aware of these things ahead of time will make you more effective in communicating the right message under pressure.

This tip is adapted from "How to Brief a Senior Executive," by Grant T. Harris

Be Kind to Yourself Today

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 03:16

When you’re a leader facing decisions that have a major impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, it’s easy to feel fear and self-doubt and to start beating yourself up. But self-compassion will serve you much better, and if it doesn’t come naturally, it’s a skill you can practice. Try a brief mindfulness exercise — it could be as short as 20 seconds. (In fact, you can even try it as soon as you finish reading this newsletter.) Take three deep breaths. On the first breath, notice how you’re feeling. On the second breath, remember that you aren’t alone, that other leaders are going through similar challenges. And on the third breath, ask yourself, “What would it look like to be kind to myself right now?” Try to answer that last question the same way as a friend or mentor would. Then take your answer and put it into practice. As a leader, part of your job is uplifting others — so why not start with yourself?

This tip is adapted from "Self-Compassion Will Make You a Better Leader," by Rich Fernandez and Steph Stern

Break the Silence Around Infertility

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 03:15

Nearly one in six couples experience infertility, and many people — especially women — choose not to share their struggles out of concern that doing so will negatively impact their career. If you want to create a truly inclusive culture, this is an issue you need to address. First, don’t hold back from using terms such as “infertility,” “IVF,” or “miscarriage” with your team. Normalizing the conversation can help create a more supportive environment. Next, develop infertility-informed policies. Because most employer benefit plans don’t cover its treatment, employees may not be able to use sick leave or other available support mechanisms. Consider changing your policies to include benefits for employees going through treatment, such as time off, reduced hours and duties, counseling, and financial support. Finally, educate your managers. Provide them with resources to understand the complexity of the situation, and encourage them to remember that juggling treatment appointments and work can be difficult and stressful. If you’re serious about inclusion, you must be willing to make the extra effort to support employees in this phase of their family-planning journeys.

This tip is adapted from "Employers, It’s Time to Talk About Infertility," by Serena G. Sohrab and Nada Basir

Help an Employee Turn Frustration into Action

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 03:14

If someone on your team lost a big account or was passed over for promotion, they’re bound to feel disappointed, frustrated, or angry. As a leader, it’s natural to want to help them bounce back quickly. But you can also help them channel that negativity into motivation. Start by naming the emotion. For example, you might say something like, “It sounds like you’re really disappointed,” or, “I’m sensing some frustration in your voice.” A nonjudgmental observation like this (even if it’s not entirely accurate) starts a dialogue and invites the person to either agree or disagree. Then you can encourage them to recognize their feelings as a signal that they really care. You might say, “This really matters to you, doesn’t it?,” or, “I can see how important this is to you.” Finally, help them channel their passion into action. You can candidly share your own experiences with struggles and growth. Or you ask them how they’ll feel if nothing changes, then ask them how they’ll feel if they act on their frustration and move on. This will help them embrace the possibility of taking positive steps forward — and help them come up with a game plan that they can deliver on.

This tip is adapted from "Turn Your Team’s Frustration into Motivation," by Dane Jensen

Nervous About Public Speaking? Try This.

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 03:14

Contrary to popular belief, confident public speaking isn’t about getting rid of your nerves. The secret is to reframe your anxiety as excitement. Here are four steps you can take before your next big speech or presentation. First, take a few minutes to center yourself. Pause and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Next, ask yourself, “Why is this speech, this topic, or this audience important to me?” Say the answer out loud. Then, visualize the entire presentation from start to finish … and be sure to imagine it going incredibly well! What’s the best-case scenario? What did you do right? How did you carry yourself? How did you communicate the information? Finally — and this is the easiest step — listen to a song that gives you a little boost. Pick one that brings a smile to your face and fills you with positive energy (no matter how corny). Practicing these rituals before every presentation will help you make use of your nervous energy instead of being thwarted by it.

This tip is adapted from "The Upside of Your Public Speaking Jitters," by Allison Shapira

How Men Can Be Active Allies on a Virtual Team

Fri, 11/13/2020 - 12:30

The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women’s careers: One in four are considering downshifting or leaving the workforce entirely due to the strain of the crisis. So how can men be an ally to their female colleagues right now — especially when working remotely? First, be an active sponsor and advocate for women, and particularly women of color. Talk about the great work they’re doing and the specific results of their efforts. Next, ensure women’s voices are heard in virtual meetings, passing the mic when you can. And take a gender-equal approach to distributing mundane chores and administrative duties, which are disproportionately assigned to women and detract from more career-enhancing responsibilities. You can create a simple rotational schedule so that everyone takes turns doing things like creating the agenda, taking notes, and keeping a meeting on time. And crucially, encourage the women you work with to say “no” if they’re being targeted with these kinds of assignments. We need to retain and advance talented women in the workforce — anything short of this commitment will undermine gains in gender equity.

This tip is adapted from “4 Ways Men Can Support Their Female Colleagues — Remotely,” by David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

Virtual Presentations Don’t Have to Feel So Weird

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 12:30

What is it about giving a virtual presentation that feels so unnerving? One of the biggest issues is that you’re deprived of direct audience feedback — body language, eye contact, and the general sounds of the room. So it can feel like no one is listening — and who wants to present to an empty room? But you can still interact with your audience when presenting virtually. First, use the chat function liberally, especially at the start. Consider kicking things off by posing a question and asking the audience to respond by typing a word or two. Read off some of the answers, crediting people by name if you can. This will help them feel more invested in what you have to say and will make you feel more like you’re presenting to a live audience. Next, try deploying rhetorical questions to simulate the back and forth of a conversation. You might ask, “Are you ready to try something new?” when introducing a new idea. Or, when presenting data, you could ask, “Do you notice this shift from low to high on the chart?” You may even ask open-ended questions to encourage active participation with something like, “What trends do you notice on this chart?” While virtual presentations will never be the same as in-person interactions, you can still have a meaningful dialogue that will help you feel less anxious and more connected to your audience.

This tip is adapted from "Yes, Virtual Presenting Is Weird," by Sarah Gershman

Talk Openly about Mental Health With Your Team

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 12:30

Talking about mental health at work can be tricky. But with the mental health implications of the ongoing public health crisis — along with political unrest, economic uncertainty, remote work, home schooling, and so much more — it’s never been more important. As a manager, your job is to create an open, inclusive, and safe environment that allows people to bring their whole selves to work. So how can you open up a conversation about how your employees are really doing — without overstepping? It starts with talking about health holistically. If your team member tore their ACL, you wouldn’t hesitate to ask them about their recovery, so treat mental health the same way. Something as simple as, “How is your mental health these days?” can go a long way. But remember that it’s not your job to “fix” people. An employee who believes you see them as “broken” may worry that you don’t see them as capable or credible. Approach your colleagues with the mindset that they are resourceful, able, and may need your support but not necessarily solutions. Finally, be sure to really listen without judging your employee or projecting your own experiences onto them. Opening up an honest discussion about mental health may be just what your team needs right now.

This tip is adapted from "Talking About Mental Health with Your Employees — Without Overstepping," by Deborah Grayson Riegel

Make the Most of Leadership Coaching

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 12:30

Executive coaching can be a big boost to both your performance and job satisfaction. But before you start working with a coach, you need to ask yourself whether you’re ready to do the work. To truly reap the benefits of coaching you must be able to tolerate discomfort and be open to experimentation. You’ll need to proactively embrace new ways of behaving, even if these approaches don’t come naturally to you. You also need to be ready and willing to take responsibility for your shortcomings, rather than blaming your organization, your boss, or your team. Deflecting responsibility will stymie your growth; acknowledging your failures will help pave the way for your development. Finally, it’s essential to ask for support when you need it. You’ll progress faster if you make yourself vulnerable to others, including your boss, peers, and even direct reports. Share goals, ask for advice, listen with curiosity, and most critically, accept and act on the constructive feedback you receive. Making sure you’re ready before engaging with a coach will help you get the most of the relationship.

This tip is adapted from "Are You Ready to Be Coached?," by Brenda Steinberg

Use Storytelling to Persuade and Motivate Your Audience

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 02:41

Telling a good story can help you win over a colleague, a team, an executive, a recruiter, or a large audience. But what does that look like? The best stories don’t just communicate information or elicit an emotional reaction — they’re also a tool to persuade and motivate people. So start by contextualizing your story, tying it back to the case you’re trying to make. Tailor it to the needs of your audience: Speak to their specific anxieties or concerns, and avoid bland platitudes that could apply to anyone. Be clear about what you want them to do. If you give your audience practical advice and direction, you empower them to take action and make your story their own. Finally, stay humble. Don’t be afraid to share stories of failure, moments of weaknesses, or times you needed help from others. Genuine humility shows you have the capacity for growth and learning, which everyone can relate to. Of course, telling a good story takes practice — but done well, it will help build credibility for yourself and your ideas.

Adapted from "Storytelling Can Make or Break Your Leadership," by Jeff Gothelf

Be a More Vulnerable Leader in Times of Crisis

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 02:39

Leading through uncertainty is hard. How should you adjust your style to stressful times? You might think you need to be tough and confident under pressure. But when we don’t have all the answers, leaders who show vulnerability — those who are aware of their limitations, admit their mistakes, and have the necessary humility to learn and adjust course — may make more progress. So, be willing to put your guard down. Tell people the truth, instead of what you think they want to hear. What information do you know, what don’t you know, and what do you need to learn to make the best possible decision? Be honest about the facts, no matter how traumatic they are — and even if it means fessing up to mistakes or issuing an apology. And be sure to ask for help when you need it. A leader’s job isn’t to be a hero, it’s to bring a group of people together to collectively solve problems. Be willing to try strategies that you didn’t think of or that you are new to you. Flexibility and openness is the sign of confidence, not weakness.

Adapted from "Today’s Leaders Need Vulnerability, Not Bravado," by Amy C. Edmondson and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

How Men Can Call Out Sexist Behavior

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 02:32

If you’re a man who supports gender equality at work, ask yourself if you tolerate bad behavior from your peers. Active confrontation of other men for sexism, bias, harassment, and all manner of inappropriate behavior may be the toughest part of male allyship, but it’s critical to creating an equitable workplace. Here are a few strategies you can use next time you witness a transgression. Try the two-second rule: After someone says something offensive, take a beat to formulate a clear thought. You might say something like, “Did you really mean to say that?,” or “That wasn’t funny,” or even a more direct, “That was sexist.” In some cases, you may want to deploy a thoughtful question, rather than a statement. For example, if a male colleague repeats a point that a female colleague previously made, you might say something like, “I’m confused, Charles — how is that different from what Amber just suggested?” Another tactic is to share authentically how bias or sexism was harmful to someone close to you. You might say calmly but firmly, “My wife experienced this at work, and it’s unacceptable. I don’t want women to experience that here.” This kind of openness can push your peers to do a double take, seeing their own behavior through a new lens and giving them impetus to change.

Adapted from "How Men Can Confront Other Men About Sexist Behavior," by W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith

Don’t Try to Fake a Good Mood

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 02:24

It’s pretty easy to be in a bad mood these days. You might be worried about your health, concerned about the state of the world, overwhelmed at work — or all of the above. But when you get to the office or sign into that Zoom call, don’t try to just “put on a happy face.” Sure, you may not want to dampen the mood or drag your coworkers down. But faking a smile doesn’t benefit you (because you still feel annoyed) or your coworkers (who likely see through your inauthenticity). Instead, try to genuinely change your mood so that you’re not pretending, and are authentically expressing more positive emotions. After a long week of juggling work and child care, for example, you might reappraise what was good about your day and what you like about your work. Try verbalizing what you’re grateful for: “I’m so lucky to be catching up with my coworker,” or “I feel connected to the purpose of my work,” and identify moments of joy in your relationships — at work and at home. That should hopefully help you break a true smile :)

This tip is adapted from “Don’t Just Put on a Happy Face at Work,” by Allison S. Gabriel, et al.

3 Ways To Encourage Collaboration on Your Remote Team

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 02:23

As the pandemic rages on, managers need to help their remote employees battle feelings of isolation over the long term. Online social activities — from coffee breaks to happy hours — can help, but many people are craving those informal office interactions that stimulate creativity and encourage collaboration. One thing you can do is set up a remote coworking space — basically, a videoconference at an agreed-up time where people can simply work quietly in each other’s virtual presence. This allows team members to informally chat, share ideas, and spontaneously ask questions, the same way they would in the office. If you’re managing a hybrid team, you can also set up a “hotwall,” a large monitor and camera placed in a busy location in the office, where remote workers can drop by to “visit” with their in-office colleagues. Experiment with turning it on for a fixed period of time each day, and see how people like it. Finally, establish a weekly, open office hour, without an agenda, and invite your entire team to ask questions and check in. These techniques, which aren’t hard to implement, can allow for the spontaneous and unstructured conversations that many of us are missing these days.

Adapted from “Give Your Remote Team Unstructured Time for Collaboration,” by Barbara Z. Larson

Don’t Think Self-Care Is for You? Think Again

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 02:22

While the benefits of self-care are well known, some leaders still question whether it’s for them. You might feel like you don’t have the time, or think that you don’t need it, or maybe you consider the whole idea to be a bunch of hippy-dippy nonsense. Well, it’s time to reconsider. Self-care is important, and it can look different for everyone. So, set aside your resistance, and find a way to make it your own. You might like a long, cross-legged meditation, or something much more simple, like a routine journaling session, a brief afternoon nature walk, or a 15-minute break during the day to listen to music. The key is to start small, because even short diversions can provide stress relief and an energy boost. Whatever form of self-care you settle on, be diligent about making time for it everyday. Schedule it on your calendar and set alarms so that you don’t forget to actually follow through on your commitment to yourself. And once you start feeling the benefits, share your experience with others, especially if you’re a leader. The more you encourage others to take care of themselves, the more your team and organization will benefit.

Adapted from "'Serious' Leaders Need Self-Care, Too," by Palena Neale

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