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Category: Communicating effectively

How do I know it’s the right decision?

How do I know it’s the right decision?

We’ve all made good and bad decisions.

The tricky thing is that we can only tell if a decision was effective in hindsight, after the fact. And more often than not, it’s also unclear whether our decision was truly the best one.

Take hiring for example: We review hundreds of candidates and come down to a handful of top choices. We can’t hire all good candidates and test their abilities during a 6 months probation period (maybe some companies can, but with limited resources for salary and training, our startup certainly can’t), so what do we do? We decide on the candidate that we think will be the best fit and make an offer. However, even if our chosen candidate ends up bringing positive value to the team, can we confidently say that other candidate couldn’t have done better? We will never know whether unexplored options might have been better.

So we can’t predict the future. Then how can we confidently tell if a decision is right or wrong beforehand? How do we plan for the future?

In my opinion, it comes down to leveraging our team’s existing knowledge and experience, as well as analyzing all possible scenarios that could result from our choice.

Here’s a series of questions that have helped me evaluate decisions:

Why are we considering this decision? If we don’t have clarity on the ultimate goal, then let’s not waste any time on a decision. So what’s the problem or pain that this decision is trying to deal with? What’s the goal that we’re trying to achieve?

How does the decision advance our team goal? All decisions must help the team hit its goals, and in turn, help the company achieve its vision. Decisions and activities that don’t help us advance our cause distract us, and waste precious resources. So let’s avoid them. For example, if our team goal is to sign on a large number of small and medium clients, deciding on how to better attract attention from large companies is a distraction.

What has already happened in relation to the decision? Let’s document all steps that we’ve taken to date, so that if other stakeholders need to be looped in, they can easily be briefed on the current status. For example, if we’re deciding on a new office location, what have we done already as part of the process? Have we visited potential offices, talked to agents, or analyzed our needs?

What did we do yesterday to cope with this problem? Is this a new problem, or are we trying to improve the way we deal with an ongoing problem? Documenting and communicating a problem’s history ensures that parties that are not familiar with the subject understand the full context when evaluating the decision.

How important is it to take this decision relative to other decisions in the pipeline? We’re likely to pursue many different decisions at one time, so we have to prioritize the ones that may have the strongest impact on our team goals.

When do we need to decide by? Waiting too long on a decision and it may become irrelevant. Not spending enough time evaluating our options and we may miss valuable insights. So let’s set a decision date based on how much research and analysis we can realistically do and afford to do.

What’s different this time? If we’re taking a decision regarding a situation that we’ve dealt with before, do we know the similarities and differences between the situations? What have we learned from the past event? Should we react similarly to last time, or take a different approach?

What insights exist to help us evaluate the different choices?

Data: Do we have relevant analyses and reports that can help us evaluate our options?

People: Who has experience or insight on the situation?

Historical cases: Have there been similar cases like this one before, either at our organization or at other organizations, that we can review and learn from?

Who needs to be involved in the decision? My recommendation is to loop in a representative from each team that may be impacted by the decision, subject matter experts that have insights to offer, along with someone that has no real stake in the decision. This last individual will be able to offer an unemotional and objective view of the situation.

What are our potential options? What are all potential options that we have regarding the decision? Which ones are realistic? Let’s remember that doing nothing is a choice too.

What are all potential outcomes? Have we evaluated all potential outcomes of our options? We can certainly leverage scenario planning here. The exercise will help us identify, plan around, and react to all possible outcomes.

Are we ready to face the impact of all potential outcomes? Which scenarios identified above are we ready to face, and which ones are we not ready to face? Are we OK with not being able to react to certain scenarios, or do we need more time to achieve operational readiness?

What’s the right thing to do? Is there a potential for people to get hurt, either today or tomorrow, by our choice? Will we be able to sleep easy with our decision? If there’s a risk of hurting people, can we tweak the solution to avoid it, or mitigate the risk? For example, if we find that producing oil from tar sands is still the most economically viable option, can we minimize damages to the environment?

Does everyone agree on the decision? Is there a clear option that most people involved in the decision agree upon? If there is no consensus, the main stakeholder, usually the person with the most stake in the decision that has to manage and implement the decision, needs to take the lead and make a choice. This will help to avoid decision paralysis, which hurts team cohesion and diminishes trust in the leadership. (In High Output Management, Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, offers a very clear approach on decision making in a team environment to help get consensus)

How will we communicate the decision? I’ve often found that how I communicate a decision is just as important to success as making the right decision. In one situation, I let go of a team member that was clearly unproductive and a drag on the team. Yet by not communicating why we let go of that team member, who was a friend to many people around the office, it created confusion and fear among team members that were not familiar with the individual’s performance. So with every decision, let’s work to communicate why we’re taking the decision and how we went about evaluating our options. The key is to shed any doubt as to whether we reviewed the necessary data, consulted the relevant parties, and compared all possible scenarios.

The decision taking process explored above is like a production process. A car is worth much more than the value of the raw materials it’s made of. Similarly, with each additional question answered, a decision gains more value and importance.

So let’s be careful about not advancing unimportant decisions further along the evaluation process to avoid wasting resources, but also diligently vet important decisions.

I also recommend checking out the couple resources below on decision making:

Happy decision making!

Recommended exercise

The next time that we are faced with a decision, let’s start by asking ourselves: “Is this decision relevant to our mission?”

Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

I disagree with my boss, what do I do?

I disagree with my boss, what do I do?

Every person working at a startup has an opinion on how to grow the company. This is largely because startups attract hungry people that want to have an impact, lead, and change the world. Not only that, these individuals want to do all this today. Not when they hit 40, or when they have a ton of experience in a particular field. Today. They want to affect change the moment they leave school.

I know, because I’m one of those individuals.

Since established companies have relatively successful processes and business models, not to mention experienced managers and leaders, it’s much more difficult to affect change at a young age working for them. So we take a shortcut: We join a startup.

However, if we believe that by joining a startup, we will always affect change the way we want it, then we’re setting ourselves for great disappointment. Startups, like any company, have obligations to its customers and its investors, which means that we have to do what is right for those individuals, not just us. And for individual contributors and middle level managers like us, we also have to get approval from our boss before taking big decisions.

So what happens when we disagree with our boss on a critical decision? What if we don’t like the responsibility that is assigned to us? What if we think the company strategy, or lack of, is unproductive?

We could leave the company and find something else, but there’s no guarantee that the same thing won’t happen elsewhere. We could also disregard their comment and simply do what we think is right, but that’s creating further conflicts.

Or we could recognize that our boss also wants what’s best for the company, and try talking out our differences. We could try to understand our manager’s perspective and reasoning behind the decision, and share our perspective as well. Why do I favor this option? Because we don’t know everything our managers do, and they don’t know everything that we do. I’m of the opinion that getting upset before we confirm all our assumptions is quite unfair. So let’s share our thoughts and try to get agreement.

Here’s a personal example:

In one case, I was really adamant about a direction that we could take with our product. Based on preliminary market research, we could gain some serious competitive advantage over our competitors with a new feature.

After speaking with my CEO about the idea, we both agreed that further research was warranted, but that there was a clear opportunity. So I led further market research. It was clear that I was passionate about the idea and wanted to lead the project.

Yet once we reached the planning stage and were ready to start work, the rug was pulled from under me and someone else was put in charge of the project, pushing me aside as an “advisor”. I was pissed.

So what did I do? I followed my personal rule of not reacting for 24hrs when I’m emotional, so I focused on other priorities for the day.

After a night’s sleep, I went directly to my CEO and asked for a 15min conversation to clear the air: I directly asked about why another individual was chosen instead of me to lead the project. After hearing my boss out, I gained some additional insight. We even came to an agreement.

Long story short, the project was given to someone on the product team because they are ultimately in charge of our product direction. It would be unfair for me to take over the job of a product manager when I’m not on their team. Fair point. On the other hand, I argued that I had the most knowledge about the project, in addition to having more experience with certain skills that the project requires. So after some exchanges, we came to an agreement that I’d sit on the project as a stakeholder, that all decisions will need my approval, and that I would participate in all product reviews. Yay!

That’s what I had wanted all along. I wouldn’t have minded project managing, but that wasn’t my priority. I was much more concerned about having a voice in how the new product feature gets built, and I got it. I learned about my boss’s perspective, shared my own, and we came to a new agreement. It felt great.

Now, things don’t always go smoothly. So what if I still don’t agree with the decision after talking?

Before quitting the company or going rogue, let’s ask ourselves one last question: Do I trust my manager as a leader, and believe that they have the right values and principles?

Fact is, even after speaking with our manager, there will still be information that we do not have. Our manager may be keeping some information confidential for legal reasons, may be protecting us from harmful knowledge, or simply understand the context of the situation better. So we need to take a judgement on whether we trust our manager as a leader, and whether we respect their character.

If we trust our manager, my opinion is to also trust them with this specific decision and tackle other priorities. As long as we share the same long-term strategic vision as our manager, let’s move on. And fact is, there are usually no clear right answer to a problem, just one that achieves the goal more effectively. So as long as our goals are the same, our manager’s choice still advances us towards the ultimate goal.

If we do not trust our manager as a leader, disagree with their values and principles, then it’s time to consider finding a new team. We simply don’t trust them to lead us anymore. And when we don’t respect our boss, we’re bound to have negative emotions at work and become unproductive. Life’s too short to be frustrated.

So let’s try to get on the same page and validate our assumptions before taking drastic actions.

Finally, HBR has a good article on how to prepare for the tough conversation once you’re ready to disagree. Enjoy.

Recommended exercise

Let’s ask ourselves: “Do I trust my boss?” If not, why? And have I been able to communicate that to them? Have I given them a chance?

Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

How to approach tough conversations

How to approach tough conversations

We’ve all had tough conversations: Give negative feedback to a colleague, suggest a radical idea to our boss, or stand up against something wrong publicly.

These conversations are uncomfortable, because they have the potential to create conflict. In the worst case scenario, people will yell at us, react violently, or have us fired. So sometimes, not sharing our thoughts is the safer option.

No. Wrong. That’s not an option. Not at a startup.

In my opinion, not exposing what’s on our mind translates into not believing in our team’s ability to discuss bold ideas and receive critical feedback. As result, we stop seeing different perspectives and limit our ability to innovate. If we’re withholding a thought because we fear conflict, we might as well quit. It’s a sign that the workplace has a close-minded culture. Why would we waste our time at a startup where we cannot be honest with each other?

If we’re withholding a thought because we fear conflict, we might as well quit.

As leaders, it’s our duty to create a safe environment where team members can hold tough conversations with each other. Teams need to be able to disagree, to share constructive feedback, and to be honest without getting emotional.

To make tough conversations less uncomfortable, we need to focus on the issue rather the individual. The idea rather than the person behind the idea.

To this effect, allow me to share a three step approach that helps me approach tough conversations:

  1. Communicate the context of the conversation, along with supporting facts to our argument: Sharing why I’m talking ensures that the other party understands the context of the conversation. Next, I expose non-arguable facts and stats, which the other party cannot disagree with. The goal at this stage is to start from the same page.
  2. Reveal how we perceive or interpret the facts listed previously: I now reveal my opinion of the situation by sharing how I feel about the facts or stats exposed. To avoid debate, I state clearly that this is my personal opinion, and that I simply want the other party to acknowledge my perspective, not necessarily adopt it.
  3. Get onto the same page about the problem, and come to an agreement on how to resolve it: Finally, I open the conversation to the other party to see how they feel about the situation, and try to get onto the same page again by seeking their perspective. In other words, I’m validating my interpretations and assumptions. If I have an action item or takeaway for the other individual in mind, this is where I work with the other party to agree on it.

Let’s explore how to use this framework in real-life scenarios.

I. Giving constructive feedback to a colleague

One of the most common and uncomfortable situations we encounter at work is the urge to give feedback to a colleague. Maybe our colleague made a mistake, did something that we would never do, or even offended someone.

To avoid conflict, we have a tendency to not share our feedback. Yet it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable! Let’s think about the situation in a different light: The reason we want to share feedback is because we want the other individual to do better, to be more effective, or to learn something new. Guess what: They want the same thing!

So here’s how we apply our three step framework to help our colleagues grow:

  1. Describe the context and facts that support our argument: Hey, can I chat with you about increasing our team’s ratio of follow up sales calls? I noticed that you’re emailing prospects to schedule follow up calls.
  2. Reveal how we perceive or interpret the facts listed previously: In my personal experience, prospects take a long time to get back to me by email, if at all, so I simply schedule the follow up call while I still have the prospect on the phone.
  3. Get onto the same page about the problem: Do you have problems getting follow up calls scheduled via email as well? Have you tried scheduling it right on the call?

Let’s explore another case:

  1. Describe the context and facts that support our argument: I’d like to discuss how to make our meetings more productive. In the engineering review we just had, you raised your voice at John when opposing his idea on X. Here’s a recording of the conversation…
  2. Reveal how we perceive or interpret the facts listed previously: In my opinion, that was disrespectful to John and unprofessional. Even if you disagree with his idea, there is no need to raise your voice and intimidate him that way. It made everyone in the meeting, including myself, very uncomfortable.
  3. Get onto the same page about the problem: Do you recognize that it was disrespectful and unprofessional to raise your voice to someone? What do you think is a solution to this?

In the scenario above where the fact or event that we’re leveraging to illustrate our point is very specific, I recommend bringing it up as soon after the event occurred as possible (especially since we usually don’t have voice recordings of meetings). This avoids scenarios where the other party cannot remember details of the event. Often times, people are unaware of their bad habits.

II. Saying no to an idea

Rejecting someone can be difficult. It can destroy a person’s confidence, and cause the person to never bring up an idea again. So let’s explore how to say no with reason:

  1. Describe the context and facts that support our argument: I’d like to chat about how to best use our team’s resources and making sure we’re setup for success. First of all, thank you for bringing up the idea of hiring a consultant to help coach the sales team. Fact is, our current budget doesn’t allow us to hire such a consultant. Our budget is currently fully allocated toward salary, bonuses, sales software, and advertisements. It thus leaves no room for a consultant.
  2. Reveal how we perceive or interpret the facts listed previously: In my opinion, the team can improve their sales skills individually by reading about the Sandler system online and save money that way.
  3. Get onto the same page about the problem: Do you agree? What do you think?

Note how we didn’t give an absolute no. Instead, we explained why it is not possible to pursue a certain idea. We left the door open to explore alternatives and for the person to debate our opinion. It’s as desired to keep the door open to radical ideas.

Who knows… perhaps the team may choose to forfeit their bonus to get a sales coach instead. That’s fine by me. Or maybe I’m not aware of evidence showing that a sales coach has a higher ROI than ads, in which case it’s more logical to hire the sales coach and reduce our ads spend. Often times, explaining why we’re saying no will catalyze disruptive and innovative ideas. The one thing to avoid doing is saying no without reason – it communicates that we’re either close minded or don’t trust team members with our reasons.

III. Disagree on a decision with our boss

It can be most intimidating to disagree with our boss. That’s because we may create a conflict that we are unlikely to win. However, we don’t have to make it personal, and we can use the opportunity to try and understand whether there are other factors in a decision that we are not exposed to. So let’s give our boss the benefit of the doubt as they may have additional intel:

  1. Describe our expectation and facts that support our argument: Boss, I’d like to discuss how to best position our product for success in the upcoming quarter. Specifically, the decision that was made around building feature 1 rather than feature 2. Fact is, 60% of customers surveyed want feature 2 compared to 45% for feature 1. Feature 2 is also estimated to take half the time to complete relative to feature 1. Finally, the estimated yearly ROI of launching feature Y is 50% higher than that of feature 1.
  2. Reveal how we perceive or interpret the facts listed previously: In my opinion, to increase our revenue and achieve our growth targets, it is most beneficial to the company if we prioritized feature 2 instead of feature 1.
  3. Get onto the same page about the problem: Do you agree? Are there other stats or factors that I’m not aware of that led you to decide to focus on feature 1 instead?

This approach gives our boss a chance to be transparent and share why they think developing feature Y is more important, and for us to learn more about our boss.

Before I end this blog post, allow me to share a good HBR article on how to approach tough conversations, check it out here:

Recommended exercise

Let’s pick something that we’ve struggled to communicate to someone (boy are there many of those…) and practice communicating it with a trusted friend or colleague.

Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

(Featured Photo © Jeff A. Goldberg)

What we should never say to a new hire

What we should never say to a new hire

A relatively new team member (let’s call her Taylor) caught me out of the blue and said “Hey Blake, thank you.”

For what?” I asked Taylor, with a confused face.

For telling me that you don’t expect anything of me on my first day.”

Turns out, Taylor was at a leadership conference and one of the sessions focused on imposter syndrome. The session described how feeling like an imposter starts when we perceive what is expected of us to be more than what we think we can deliver. For example, we may feel like an imposter when we’re expected to cook Thanksgiving dinner when we can barely make a salad.

By communicating that I expected nothing from Taylor on day one, it eliminated any potential for imposter syndrome to develop. In turn, most team members are quite confident in their roles.

I wasn’t always this clear with new team members. Quite the opposite actually. I used to get so excited about finding someone that was a good fit that I expected them to solve all my problems right away. It didn’t help that we hired really smart, hard working, and ambitious people.

I’d often delegate work that required knowledge that nobody outside the company would have, and a lot of it. I would also fail to clarify whether they should be getting help on certain topics. New team members would then spend many more hours than veterans in the office, trying to make sense of the tasks by themselves. They thought that they were expected to do everything on their own, and that this was a test of their abilities. Most were too intimidated to ask questions.

While all team members successfully ramped up by themselves (speaks to their intellect and resilience), it wasn’t without stress. In 360 reviews, team members would communicate that I was demanding, intimidating, and impatient. Not traits that I want to be associated with when I’m trying to build long-lasting, transparent, and trusting relationships.

My goal has always been to create an environment where people feel comfortable asking questions and sharing their thoughts, so this was definitely a problem. What led to this?

In retrospect, these feelings likely started to develop from things I’d say to team members in their early days on the job, such as:

  • I saw that you’re working on a request for client X. They’re really important to us. I know that you will wow them.
  • So and so is dealing with a pretty tough request, can you help them since you have experience in Y?
  • I can’t wait to see the results from your work on project Z tomorrow. A lot of people are waiting on it.

What do these sayings have in common? They assume that the individual can independently complete the task with flying colors, and set the expectation that they are fully responsible for its success. Wouldn’t anyone be intimidated by these words, let alone new hires?

Fact is, even if new team members have performed similar tasks before, they’re now in a new organization that requires new knowledge and skills. Every workplace have unique processes, culture, and people that make them different from other workplaces. It’s thus unreasonable to expect anyone to be able to run at full speed without a ramp up period.

Let’s also remember that for some people, it’s their first time working with a start-up team. It’s their first time coping with an unstructured and chaotic environment. It’s thus our job as leaders to ease them into it.

The only thing we can expect of new team members is for them to ask a ton of questions. We need them to avoid making assumptions, and to never fear speaking up.

Based on the questions asked, and the speed at which they learn the job, it also gives us an opportunity to diagnose the type of coaching that they need.

So instead of saying “I know that you have experience with X, can you help…,” it’s much more fair to simply ask “What’s your experience with X? Could you tell me more about it?”

What does success look like? Success translates into a new hire that has the confidence to attack challenges we throw at them without feeling like an imposter. They should know that as a team, we help each other and face challenges together.

I don’t expect anything from you, except that you ask a ton of questions.

Related reading: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

Recommended exercise

Let’s include a new step on orientation checklist for new hires: Communicate that we expect nothing from them, simply that they become the best students ever and ask a ton of questions.

Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

start⬆Mngr handbook pt. 2: How to set clear expectations and motivate the team

start⬆Mngr handbook pt. 2: How to set clear expectations and motivate the team

First, a personal story…

On an ordinary afternoon, an A-player, superstar, technical genius on the team (let’s call her Casey), sent me an impromptu same-day meeting invite. I’ve always been suspicious of meetings without pretext. My guess was that Casey needed my help with something urgent, or wanted to communicate something special. In either case, it’s my philosophy was to deal with such situations sooner rather than later, so I simply walked over to the Casey’s desk and asked if they wanted to sync up right away.  She agreed.

Right after we settled into a meeting room, Casey told me that they had taken up a job at another organization.

This wasn’t a total surprise, as Casey had asked for a raise a few weeks earlier, which I declined (we have a company policy to discuss compensation annually, ensuring consistency for all team members). I went ahead and congratulated Casey on their career move, and out of curiosity, asked if they would have stayed on if the desired salary increase was given. Casey answered: “Maybe, but it would only have delayed my departure. I’m kind of glad I didn’t get it.”

I realized that I had failed to set clear expectations with the individual

That response puzzled me. Casey wasn’t leaving just because of pay (my initial assumption), but rather because they were unhappy with their job. How could this be? I had a trusting relationship with Casey, held regular one-on-one meetings, and had an ongoing professional development conversation, where we’d discuss her interests and try to find project opportunities that aligned with those. Aside from the salary issue, everything else seemed fine.

Why was this outstanding team member unhappy?

I got part of the answer by further chatting with Casey and reading her exit interview: Among smaller frustrations, Casey had no clear sense of what was expected, what success meant, and in turn, always felt unaccomplished. Interesting… I thought.

The question then begs… How could someone so successful, that I always praised feel that way? At every meeting, I only had good things to say: “I’m really happy with your performance”, “You’re rocking it”, “It’s a pleasure to be working with you.”

For weeks, I was trying to figure out how Casey could have felt unsuccessful. I then got another piece of the puzzle while randomly chatting with a colleague, a friend of Casey’s at the office:

“Casey was unhappy because there was always unfinished work at the end of the day, which she would continue at home, often disrupting her family life. She didn’t know when it was OK to stop. At the same time, Casey never really knew how well she were performing. Every time that you’d say “good job,” it added to the confusion and nuance: Casey simply didn’t understand what she had done that was so good.”

At the time, I didn’t really know what to make of this insight. But skipping ahead a few weeks, after discussing this with my leadership coach, I realized that I had failed to set clear expectations with the individual, failed to design a personal growth plan, and failed to be specific in my praising. The team member was going above and beyond relative to my expectations, but I failed to ever communicate what these expectations were. I’m not even sure if I truly had any expectations beyond working hard and doing their best. This left Casey constantly guessing about whether she was successful. And as most top performer in such a situation, Casey simply did more and more, better and better, without a clear goal. Over time, this likely drained her.

Upon further reflection, I realized that over years of formal education and examination, society has trained many of us, especially STEM students, to expect leaders to set clear goals and define success for us. We gauge our performance and areas to improve from report cards. We’ve rarely had to define success and set expectations by ourselves. So when we land a job where performance isn’t as clearly communicated as in a report card,  we feel lost. High performers that strive to beat expectations and earn A+ marks may not know how to interpret nuanced feedback, or gauge their performance independently. This is especially true for people straight out of school, and for jobs at start-ups where the definitions of success isn’t always clearly defined, and changes often over time.

It was my job as a leader to set personal expectations and goals for team members, and to help them continue their development. Even a simple expectation around timeline for projects or tasks would have helped the person understand what success looks like. Leaving people to independently figure out their success criteria may be asking too much if the individual has never done it. It’s a skill that needs to be learned. In short, I failed as a leader to set clear goals.

So let’s explore how to help team members define success and avoid confusion.

In part two, we’re going to discuss the basics of leadership. We’ll introduce a management system to help us maintain consistency in our interactions with team members, and explore important resources to help us:

  • Communicate clear expectations to team members;
  • Help team members meet expectations;
  • Track team member progress; and
  • Share constructive feedback.

What are some great reads on leadership?

The following two books provide a solid introduction on how to properly set expectations. I managed people for two years before being exposed these concepts, and certainly regret not having had this knowledge on day one. It’d have save my team and myself a lot of frustrations. They each take 45min to read, so we really have no excuse to skip them.

  • The One Minute Manager: The one minute manager (OMM) is a great basic management system that I recommend adopting. Having  a system in place helps us be consistent in our interactions. I’ve found the following concepts particularly handy:
    • Agreeing on expectations and goals early
    • Praising and reinforcing desired behavior and actions with specificity
    • Reprimanding if individual failed to achieve a desired behavior they have successfully achieved previously with specificity
  • Putting the One Minute Manager to Work: This one helps us implement the concepts explored in the OMM. While not as mind-blowing, I’m of the belief that success comes down to execution. And this book helps execute. What I personally found useful include:
    • 5 steps for training a learner to become a good performer
    • PRICE system

Beyond this point, I will assume that all readers have acknowledged the concepts introduced in the above readings.

How do I implement a management system?

The table below shows an example of how we can use the OMM’s PRICE system to plan and set goals.

In the context of management, the most used categories of goals includeproject goals (e.g. design a new feature / build a house), team or organizational goals (e.g. hit sales target, keep retention at x%), and individual performance goals (e.g. ability to query in SQL, ability to manage time independently). All three types of goals can benefit from the PRICE system as a way to agree on the specifics and keep track of our progress.

PRICE System Step Pinpoint + Record Involve Coach + Evaluate
Details of … Project goal OR Team goal OR Individual goal What are your expectations? Why?
What is the measure of success / performance?
What is your plan on sharing these expectations with the team member? What will you be looking to praise? When/how will you dedicate time / find time to praise? What will you be looking to reprimand and avoid? When will you dedicate time to reprimand?
EXAMPLE TEAM GOAL: Sales team goal Hit $50,000 in new monthly revenue to maintain growth at 25% over past quarter.

This translates into: 20 new leads per week per agent; $15,000 new revenue per week per agent.

Expose goal at beginning of month; showcase progress via email report weekly

Specifically, report on “% to goal completion” weekly and monthly, segmented by agent name.

Identify team members that are on their way to hit or surpass their goals.

Specifically, praise individuals that hit 70% of weekly goals by Wednesday, and those that surpass their weekly goals.

Personally speak with team members that fail to meet goals on consecutive weeks.

Specifically, look for lazy team members, and those that are holding less calls than others.

How do I set clear goals?

To ensure that there is clarity on expectations, I recommend adopting a SMART approach when setting goals. Being specific as to what we want to achieve helps to evaluate whether we’re making progress or actually achieved it.

What is the different between result vs. progress oriented goals?

Result oriented goals are achievements that one can hang on the wall: e.g. A series A investment into a company, a championship trophy, 5 years experience working at ______, etc.

Progress oriented goals are activities that we do while trying to achieve the result oriented goals: e.g. Improving the sales process at a company, training every morning to prepare for championships, taking a course to learn how to do a job or task better, etc.

In the context of setting goals, it is important to set both result oriented goals, as well as progress oriented goals. Whereas result oriented goals provide vision, progress oriented goals show team members a path to achieving the vision and feel successful along the way.

Assuming that a company’s end goal is to go IPO or hit $100M in annual revenue, it will likely take years to achieve its goal. So the journey needs to be paved with progress oriented goals that help team members feel advancement, see a path to success, and focus on learning relevant skills.

There are also many more opportunities to celebrate progress than there are opportunities to celebrate results, so teams that focus on progress are much more motivated. And when end goals are missed (which happens at the best of organizations), teams that focus on progress and have a growth mindset tend to reflect and make the necessary changes to try again, while teams that only focus on end results have a tendency to simply feel unsuccessful and beat down.

Other readings on goal setting I’ve found helpful:

How do I share constructive feedback?


As part of our job in helping people advance their professional development, we’ll come across situations where we wished an individual could have done better on XYZ. It may not always be easy to give such feedback, nor be accurately heard. Yet it’s our duty to actively give feedback, positive or negative. I’m therefore going to share a framework that can help achieve this without getting personal.

We explored in part one a communication framework to help assess whether a manager’s assumptions about a team member’s feelings are accurate. The same framework can be used to share feedback with an individual. Allow me to illustrate:

  1. First expose observations: As a starting point, we need to communicate specific actions, facts and events observed that led us to feel how we feel. These are non-negotiable and non-arguable elements. (e.g. I see that you’ve started participating and sharing your thoughts during brainstorming sessions on…)
  2. Next expose how you interpret these facts, your feelings: We will share how we interpreted these observations, and provide an opinion on whether the events were good or bad based on the context. (e.g. I’m seeing that as a sign that you’re really becoming comfortable sharing your thoughts and ideas with the team. Do you feel that way as well? )
  3. Give feedback on how to improve and grow: Finally, based on the events and interpretations shared, this is where we provide specific feedback to help an individual improve, call out something that we don’t want to see again, or call out something that we want to see more of. (e.g. I’m really happy that you’re putting the effort to frame your thoughts and sharing them with the team. I’d love for you to keep doing this. Please continue preparing your thoughts and allowing yourself to speak up at team meetings. Your ideas are very much appreciated.)

Special note on praising and giving positive feedback

happy face

Praising needs to start happening early in a person’s learning, especially when they get it right for the first time. It rewards good behavior, keeps them motivated, and guides an individual toward the ultimate target. When praising, it’s good practice to be specific in what a team member did well.

  • Specific praise: “Thank you for helping that client explore all potential options.”
  • Unspecific praise: “Good job with that client”

Relating back to results vs. progress goals, let’s also acknowledge that we need to praise both: Team members need to feel good about making progress and achieving results. If we only praise progress, it may undermine the need for team members to achieve results. And only praising results may lead to an unrewarding and even frustrating path to the end result, especially if it’s a long project, or if the end goals are still unclear.

Recommended reading:

Special note on reprimanding and giving negative feedback

 sad face

Reprimanding should only start after an individual has succeeded on a given expectation, and knows what “good” behavior looks like. It’s intended to reinforce good behavior once they’ve been able to achieve it.

Reprimanding before an individual has had a chance to succeed demotivates them and sets unreasonable expectations. How can we expect someone to get it right before they know how to get it right? It’s like expecting a person that has never skated in their life to win gold medal at the olympics for speed skating. Unreasonable. There is a process that we need to follow to properly guide team members toward success. We’ll explore how to coach and train individuals in part three of this handbook.

After a person has experienced success, a reprimand re-enforces the view that the goal continues to be important, that they have achieved it before, and that they can do better.

Similar to praising, reprimanding should also be specific:

  • Specific reprimand: “I saw that you dismissed a client’s idea before they had a chance to entirely communicate it. I’m disappointed that you failed to actively listen. You’re capable of achieving this as I’ve seen it before, so what happened?”
  • Unspecific reprimand: “I’m disappointed with what happened with that client.”

Recommended reading:

How do I make sure I’m heard?

be heard

While trust serves as a solid foundation to leadership, communication is our main tool. A leader that can’t effectively communicate their vision, their thoughts, or their decisions brings no value to the team: They don’t help set a destination, nor facilitate a solution to get there. As leaders, we must therefore learn to communicate effectively. Here are some outstanding resources on communication strategies to help us be heard:

Since most presentations today rely on digital slides or powerpoint, here are some good articles on how to avoid boring an audience:

If there’s one thing to recognize when giving a presentation, it’s that the audience can read much faster than the speaker can talk. With that in mind, I recommend to avoid putting into slides content that we plan to voice. Instead, slides should be used to complement what we have to say and emphasize a point: e.g. pictures, diagrams, or quotes that one wants to emphasize. This ensures that the audience is focused on what we have to say.

How do I make sure I’m understood?

Recommended reading: A case of misunderstandings

Saying something is not difficult. Saying it in a way that communicates the message accurately and that everyone understands is difficult. Too often, what we say is interpreted differently by different team members.

To be an effective communicator, we need to simplify and clarify.

Simplify the message

One method to simplify a message is to write it down and to strikethrough every element that doesn’t add value to the core takeaway. Any content that doesn’t directly help communicate the main message distracts the audience.

It’s a good idea to test one’s speech with a colleague to see if they remember the main takeaway that we intend to communicate. A simple message should be easily remembered and repeated by others.

Clarify the message

Beyond a simple message, a clear message ensures that the audience interprets the speaker’s words the way they are meant. This is accomplished by:

    1. Asking a member of the audience to repeat what we said;
    2. Providing relevant examples or analogies to illustrate the concept;
    3. Showing case studies to put things in context;
    4. Answering questions to clarify any confusions.

As best-practice, it is recommended to always communicate why: At the beginning of any message, simply describe why we’re here, why are we talking about this, why this is important, etc. This ensures that everyone is on the same page as to our goal.

How do I make the time to lead?

time agenda

To put the OMM management system (or any management system) into practice, we need to make the time to observe behavior, review work, prepare feedback, etc. More importantly, we need to recognize that this is part of our job, our time commitment.

Yet finding and dedicating time to managerial duties can be a challenge for all managers, especially new managers that may still be used to prioritizing individual work.

One solution is to schedule and block time for these tasks on the calendar, and respect it (this latter part is hard). Another tip is to be specific in describing managerial tasks to accomplish, helping to set clear scope to a task.

  • Specific task: Observe when a team member achieves _____ and praise.
  • Unspecific task: Observe team member behavior.

It’s important to realize that managerial work take more time to accomplish, so there is often no immediate reward. Individuals transitioning into leadership roles from non-managerial roles may find it particularly difficult to not feel instantaneous gratification everyday. To help with this change, a new manager can breakdown milestones into smaller tasks to feel constant progress. And to feel rewarded, I encourage everyone to celebrate every small accomplishment (e.g. give yourself a cookie every time you finish writing a chapter of the team’s quarterly report).

Recommended exercise

Let’s take some time to ask each team member: “Do you know what the success criteria are in your role?”

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