Flexibility at work means different things to different people. One person might need to leave early to pick up their kids, while someone else may want to work remotely on Fridays. That’s why managers looking to create a flexible work culture should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach; dictating exactly how these policies may be used can make them less effective. Talk with your team about your expectations, so there are no surprises later on. For example, if you set a policy that employees may arrive late or leave early when they need to, do you want them to give you advance notice? Get their work done early? Make sure everyone knows what’s required of them — and then let them use the policy as they see fit. Of course, trust is going to be a big factor. But if you trusted your employees enough to hire them, you should also trust them to get the work done when and where they prefer.
Many companies use surveys to get customer feedback, but often surveys are a pain to complete and people don’t put much thought into filling them out. A better way to learn what your customers want (or don’t) is to interview them. Real conversations can unearth more-detailed insights than tick-the-box questions can — and they don’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. Whether in person or over the phone, ask open-ended questions that will help you learn how the customer thinks and makes decisions. For example, something like “How did you decide to buy our product instead of our competitor’s?” will probably reveal more than “How satisfied are you with our product?” You’ll likely hear a variety of responses, so keep interviewing customers until their answers start to repeat each other; 12 to 16 interviews is a good place to start. Remember, you’re after quality of information, not quantity. It may take fewer conversations than you expect to find out what you need to know.
AI has the potential to do so much that it can be hard to know how your company should use the technology. To start building an AI strategy, try a few pilot projects. Your goal should only partly be to create value; more important is showing stakeholders why investing in AI is worthwhile. Choose two to three projects to increase the odds of having at least one big win, and make sure they can be done relatively quickly — within six to 12 months. The projects should be specific to your company and shouldn’t be too trivial or too ambitious. If possible, tie them to ongoing initiatives, which will make their results easier for stakeholders to understand. Most AI projects create value in one of three ways: They reduce costs, increase revenue, or launch new lines of business. Focus yours on at least one of these goals. And if you’re still building up your company’s AI team, consider working with external partners to get the expertise the projects need.
When leadership teams are misaligned on a strategy, sometimes it’s because people disagree with it but hesitate to say so (particularly if the boss is present). For example, they may voice their support for an initiative in the planning meeting but find reasons not to commit resources to it later on. One solution to this misalignment is anonymous, real-time digital polling. The next time your leadership team discusses a strategic move, don’t ask people whether they agree with it. Instead, direct attendees to a polling platform where they can vote on the initiative from their phones or laptops. If the meeting is about, say, new growth innovation, ask everyone to vote on what percentage of profits the firm should invest. After the votes are cast, display the data for the group to see; you could also ask people to explain their reasoning. Remember, the goal isn’t to squash disagreements — it’s to surface them so that the team can have a richer, more productive discussion.
Perfectionism can push you to deliver excellent work, but it can also increase your anxiety and lower your productivity. To keep perfectionism from getting in your way, learn when it’s time to let go and move on. One way to do this is creating a checklist of a task’s essentials. If you’re working on a client pitch, for example, make sure the presentation addresses the client’s major concerns and details why the client should hire your company. Your inner perfectionist might fret over the font choice and every semicolon — but once your checklist is complete, take a breath and slowly back away. Another tactic is to ask a trusted colleague to help you get perspective. Do you need someone to tell you when your first draft is good enough? Or just tell you to stop nitpicking? Remember to keep the big picture in mind. High standards are great, but they shouldn’t keep you from getting your work done.
Having expertise in your field is a positive, but sometimes it leads to overconfidence. You might start to believe your usual methods are the best, or the only, way to get things done — which means you miss out on new ideas, fail to anticipate trends, and narrow your perspective. To avoid falling into this expertise trap, commit to constant learning and growth. Check your ego by seeking out fresh ideas and revisiting your assumptions about how a project should be carried out. Surround yourself with people who don’t look and think like you. Encourage younger employees to share the topics they’re excited about and point out key insights you may be missing. And set aside time to reflect on what you’ve learned from teammates, especially those whose expertise is different from yours. Learning — just like building your expertise — should be a lifelong pursuit.
When one of your employees starts to seem unmotivated, you should try to find out why. It’ll be far easier to help once you know the reason for their lack of motivation. Talk to the person about what you’ve been seeing; make clear that your intention is to understand their perspective, not scold them. You may hear that the employee doesn’t think their work connects to their values. In that case, try to draw connections between what they do and what they care about. Or you may hear that the person feels they lack the skills their work requires. Respond by building their confidence — point out when they’ve overcome challenges in the past, and consider breaking their tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Or you may hear that the employee isn’t sure why they’re struggling. Encourage them to think carefully about what’s holding them back. After identifying the problem, brainstorm solutions and discuss how they can approach the situation more productively.
Worrying about what other people think of us can be paralyzing. We stop taking chances. We play it safe. And our careers suffer for it. One way to fight these anxieties is to develop a personal philosophy, a phrase or sentence that articulates your sense of who you are. Think about the following questions: What values drive your actions? Who has qualities that align with yours, and what are they? What makes you feel that you’re performing at your best? How do you want to live your life? Write down your answers, and look for what they have in common. Use the words that stand out to you to come up with your personal philosophy. Then commit to living by it. When something at work starts to lower your confidence, let your philosophy remind you of what’s important to you and why you do what you do. Shut out the noise of others’ opinions and focus on the things that really matter.
Lots of managers work with employees whose backgrounds or cultures differ from theirs. In certain circumstances, the leadership approach you’re used to may be ineffective, or even offensive. That’s why it’s important to build your cultural fluency — an understanding of how norms and expectations vary across cultures. Think about how your current style has been influenced by your background and personal identity. When might your style be a bad fit, and for whom? Working with a coach, or completing an assessment of your cultural competence, can be a helpful way to identify your blind spots and figure out how to address them. When working with employees from different cultures, think carefully about where your usual approach might need adjusting. Consider: How will you greet employees? Lead meetings? Get your team’s input? Show respect? When you encounter something you don’t understand, ask about it rather than making assumptions. And always be willing to adjust your leadership style; never assume that other people will adjust to you.
Experiments are a great way to test your assumptions and make smart decisions, whether you’re launching a product or optimizing a marketing campaign. But without a thoughtful plan of execution, you may not learn anything truly useful. Before you invest in an experiment, make sure you have three basic ingredients. First, be able to collect the data you need to answer the experiment’s underlying question. For example, if you can’t measure attribution from a digital ad to a sale, you can’t run an experiment to figure out which ads are effective. Second, involve a statistical expert who has both the knowledge to design the experiment and the communication skills to explain the results to stakeholders. Leaders need to understand your findings before they can act on them. Third, do a test run of the experiment in a low-stakes environment. If your goal is to send an email survey to customers, send it to a large group of colleagues first. This will ensure that the experiment is set up correctly and that you’re gathering the data you need.
Hiring managers and recruiters want candidates who are passionate about their work. But going on and on about your past achievements can feel awkward. Luckily, there are subtler ways to show your commitment. For example, instead of telling hiring managers all about the great work you’ve done, explain why you do what you do. What drew you to your field? What motivates you to go to the office every day? You can also talk about when you’ve gone above and beyond your job description. Have you ever put in extra effort on a project you cared about? Taken on responsibilities that weren’t part of your job? Another way to show your enthusiasm is to share how you spend your free time. Are your hobbies or volunteer work connected to your field? Have you used your skills to help a nonprofit or community organization? Talk about that.
We all have bad days at work. But when a colleague is struggling for an extended period of time, how should you be supportive? Try to help them reflect on their feelings and what they need to move forward. (Note this works best when you and the person have a close relationship.) For example, you could get them talking by saying: “It seems like something has been bothering you. Can I help?” or “You’ve seemed stressed and preoccupied lately. Would you like to talk about what’s going on?” Be careful not to make the person feel judged. Don’t imply they already should have gotten over their problem, and avoid telling them how to feel. For example, don’t say: “You should stop worrying so much” or “You’re making too big a deal about this.” Keep in mind that bouncing back takes time — you can’t force someone to feel better. That said, helping a coworker return to their normal self is usually worth a try.
One of the greatest challenges of managing people is leading them through uncertain times. Maybe market conditions are changing, or it isn’t clear how your team fits into the C-suite’s strategy. Not having an obvious goal, or a clear way to reach it, can be really uncomfortable. You can help your team cope by telling them to focus on one thing: doing their jobs well. They may not know what the future holds, but they do know what their responsibilities are. Doing good work every day can give your team a sense of direction and alleviate some of their discomfort. You should also cultivate an atmosphere of open communication, which can create emotional steadiness. When there’s new information you can share about what’s going on, share it. Let your team know they can be honest about their emotions, and be honest about yours too — as long as it’s productive. Employees will take their cues from you, so project calm and avoid unhelpful stress-driven responses.
If you do great work but aren’t getting ahead, it could be because your contributions aren’t being recognized. Results don’t always speak for themselves, and management may not know all the reasons a great project was such a success. That’s why demonstrating confidence in your abilities can be great for your career. Make it a habit to communicate to your boss and other decision makers that you are good at what you do, and to highlight specific examples of your work. Of course, you don’t want to brag or praise yourself at every opportunity — but don’t be too modest, either. There’s nothing wrong with honestly expressing your achievements to the people who need to be aware of them. If doing that feels unnatural, build your confidence by asking yourself: What am I good at? What are my greatest successes? Why am I valuable to the company?
Families that run companies often avoid conflict, worrying about how fighting could affect the business. But conflict is inevitable, and ignoring it can lead to disastrous consequences: limited growth, poor decision making, and a loss of competitive advantage. A better approach is to reframe “fighting” (something volatile and uncomfortable) as “disagreeing” (something constructive and less uncomfortable). Disagreements give people space to express their views, consider new ones, and solve problems. In your next business meeting, encourage people to share points of view that clash with yours. Don’t take any tension personally; remind everyone that you all want what’s best for the business, and that disagreeing with each other is normal and healthy (as long as it’s done respectfully). As family members get more comfortable with disagreements, they’ll feel more able to bring up tough issues that need to be addressed. And they’ll see that a little conflict can make their bonds and the company even stronger.
If your employees are struggling to be creative, think about what might be getting in their way. Sometimes it may be the team’s processes. When people have to adhere too strictly to rules and procedures, brainstorming suffers. Can employees express opinions that run counter to the way things are normally done? Are they allowed to think broadly and originally? If not, try removing the processes or bureaucratic limitations that hold them back during creative sessions. Encourage employees to take risks, try unorthodox approaches, and disagree with the conventional thinking. But sometimes what gets in the way of creativity is people’s self-perception. If employees view themselves as not creative, they may be less likely to contribute. When you sense that someone is holding back, offer them coaching and support. Remind them that no suggestions are wrong or bad, and that every contribution is important. And tell them that if they believe they can become more creative over time, there’s a good chance they will.
Managers are supposed to help their teams develop professionally — and great managers tailor their development efforts to each person. Doing so helps you understand the nuances of how people are growing week by week and month by month. At the end of each week, take 15 minutes to write down recent steps you’ve taken to support team members. Note what patterns you’re seeing for each employee, opportunities for future growth, and feedback you’d like to give. As you gain insight into someone’s progress, find a few minutes to pull the person aside to discuss it. You don’t have to wait for their formal review; engaging with people on an ongoing basis shows that you know what success looks like for them and are working to help them achieve it. When employees see that you take their growth seriously, they’re more likely to give you their best efforts.
Just like everyone else, managers have to get things done every day. But when managers focus too much on their to-do lists, they may not have enough time for developing and inspiring their employees. If you’re struggling to balance your individual work and the work of leading your team, reset your priorities. Seek out leaders who find that balance and ask how they do it. You can also ask them for feedback on your efforts. Use the feedback to think about ways you can give employees what they need, whether it’s holding regular career development conversations, pausing to acknowledge a colleague’s efforts, or closing your laptop to focus in one-on-one meetings. Over the next few weeks, notice when you feel a task or deadline pulling your attention away from a direct report. Remind yourself to focus on the people you’re leading — you’ll be able to get back to your to-do list soon enough.
If you want to lead a successful organizational change, you have to communicate about the change empathetically. And that means finding out how your team feels and tailoring your emails and meetings to their concerns. Leaders who don’t take this step risk alienating their employees, who may already be feeling nervous or skeptical. So talk to your team members about what’s happening and why. Ask what they’re worried about and what kind of improvements they’d like to see. Listen closely, and then use your communications to address what you heard. Repeat these steps during each phrase of the change, so you can gauge how people’s feelings are shifting over time. The goal is to make sure everyone feels included and heard. You should also be as transparent about the change as possible. It’s likely that you’ll need to keep some details about the how and why private, but being open will build trust and credibility.
Maybe you think you don’t have enough time to read books. But consider how many texts, emails, and tweets you read each day — and how much time you’d get back by cutting some of that out of your life. Making your phone less addictive can help. Move all apps off the main screen so that your phone is blank when you open it. Use Do Not Disturb to quiet your notifications. If your screen is cracked, leave it that way. And for a real challenge, keep your charger in the basement (or anywhere hard to reach). Next, change your reading habits. Instead of using a Kindle or an iPad, try paper books. They immerse you in the story, they show off what you’re reading to others — and best of all, they don’t interrupt you with text messages. To motivate yourself, remember: Research has shown that reading makes us more empathetic, compassionate, and understanding.