Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to…

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As I write this, I’m reminded of a quote by Richard Branson – “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” So apt and sums it up beautifully. No wonder they say, people leave managers, not companies! A subject that is very close to my heart and the reason I turn up at work every day – managers and TEAM!

Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.

-Richard Branson

A few months ago, I met a colleague from another organization and he said something very interesting about managing people. Instead of a module for managers, they had a module for employees on ‘how to work with managers’! I quickly realized that it took two to make this relationship work, just like everything else in the world! Thereby, making the onus of manager-employee relationship a shared responsibility, a relationship based on common purpose and above all TRUST! In fact, data is vociferous about this. A recent study suggested that recognizing performance and treating employees with respect and dignity increases employee performance by 70%. The engagement levels drop to 2% in teams where the relationship is under duress. The best performers who become managers might not necessarily be great managers. Only 1 in 10 managers are born leaders while others have to work on it every single day.

Managing people is working outside your comfort zone. I recently decided to learn swimming and enrolled myself in coaching lessons. My coach said I could learn swimming in 10 sessions. I was ecstatic that it only took 10 lessons for a life skill. The coach quickly added that – what happens in the sessions wasn’t important but what happens in between these sessions would define the skill. What happens in tutorials and blogs like these are like the swimming classes, what matters is to live this every day.

If the world is a data set, this is my algorithm. Here are a few important thoughts that I believe are significant in a manager’s journey:

LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE

By far the most important. What is that you don’t do, but expect your team to do? A leader leads by example, whether she intends to or not.  I’m reminded of a story. One of my role models came to work every day at 7:30 am and encouraged people to get to the office early. He always found one of his colleagues coming to work before him, a working mother of two, boarding 2 buses to get to the office. The following day onwards, the leader started to get to work at 7 am. Thereby becoming the first to arrive & then propagating early to work! A great example of role modeling. A few other key ingredients include – 1) enabling information flow up and push empowerment and decision making downwards 2) Demonstrating T leadership where deep expertise will make the manager an influencer and the breadth of knowledge will help gain respect for the TEAM.

MEMENTO MORI

In ancient Rome when a victorious general paraded through the streets, legend has it that he was sometimes trailed by a servant whose job was to repeat to him – Memento Mori, remember you will die. A reminder of mortality would help the hero keep things in perspective, instill some humility and act as feedback. Do you have anyone reminding you of your team?

Do you encourage to speak up? Do you enable the team to give you feedback and you learn? Isn’t reverse mentoring a great lever to stay in touch with times? Trust is the biggest performance-enhancing drug and will create a collaborative and positive environment. It works wonders!

IN TUNE LEADER

A good starting point is to know yourself – your leadership style, your strengths, your weaknesses. Next is to know your TEAM – their aspirations, their learning styles, the triggers that activate their strength, both individually and collectively. Any manager worth their weight knows that annual reviews are not effective for either the organization or the team members. Instead, they focus on providing their team with real-time feedback and recognition through collaborative technologies and platforms and through regular, short, periodic check-ins instead of multi-hour long reviews. Celebrate small wins & more importantly understand them. I am reminded of a Manager many years ago, who helped 3 of his team members crack the MBA entrance exam (other managers scoffed at the teammates who took these exams) by teaching them post office hours. 2 of them returned just for him. You win if your TEAM wins!

GETTING OUT OF THE WAY

This is called management by no management at all. Ask your team and they will love this. Edison ran a very famous lab in the east coast. He had the best scientists and he seldom got deeply involved in work. He branded the lab well in the world, removed roadblocks and gave them exposure. In fact, when reporters came to meet him, he used to wear an old lab coat to give interviews. The intensity of getting out of the way will depend on the kind of work one manages. The repetitive and routine work will need more interventions, reviews and governance and the innovative work will need empowerment and more of ‘getting out of the way’. The key is to nurture the environment instead of managing work, to empower, remove roadblocks, support failure and enable the team to flourish with no fears! Micromanaging is an absolute no-no.

FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

This is an interesting one. You have to keep your spirits up even though you well understand that you don’t know what you are doing. Fake it till you make it: part of it is self-discipline and part of it is deception. And the deception becomes reality. It is deception in the sense that you pump yourself up and put a braver face on things than you start off feeling. But after a while, if you act confident, you become confident. So the deception becomes less of deception and you push through the crisis. Outcomes are better decision making, not creating panic and a leadership lesson in managing crises and keeping the team together.

PERFORMANCE AND HUMANITY

Managing TEAMs will need to be done effectively on two axes, Heart and Mind, Performance and Empathy. Great TEAMs will need to be high on client relevance, consistently changing the course of the game, innovating and performing at very high levels. At the same time, they should have trust, empathy, camaraderie, and teamwork. One without the other will not make TEAMs great. You could be a very happy and contented TEAM, but if you are not relevant to the client, it may not be ideal. Similarly, you could be a high performing team with no trust, respect or values within and that wouldn’t work either! The Chennai Super Kings in the IPL is a great example of nailing it on both the axes!

In the end, I have to warn you that managing people is a lot of investment of time and intent and yet there are no guarantees. But the joy of your TEAM succeeding will make this all so worth it!

  • Managing Teams is a Life skill, you have to Hit Refresh often.
  • Managing Teams is the sweet spot between Opportunities and Nurturing!
  • Pick three & Drop three habits from your manager repertoire.
  • Build a longer table, not a higher fence. Tear down the walls of the hierarchy!
  • After they interact with you, do they have more or less energy?

As I conclude this I want to leave you with an exercise to ensure you do those little things every day. Think of who your best manager was. Think of what that person did differently and how and what made an impact on you. Promise to be that person to your TEAM.

It is our turn now!  

Here’s a story of the legendary band U2 whose frontman is Bono. U2 was on its world tour and was making a pit stop in the US. The U2 frontman had been warned he would be shot if he sang the third verse of Pride about Martin Luther King.

U2 walked into a minefield when they decided to go ahead with the date after the state’s governor decided to cancel Martin Luther King Day, a paid holiday for state employees in honor of the late civil rights leader. Music acts were furious, with Public Enemy penning a song about sticking a bomb under the governor’s car. But U2 pressed ahead with the show at Sun Devils Stadium, which was crawling with cops. While the authorities recommended against the gig, U2 decided to go ahead with the concert.

As the concert progressed, Bono went ahead, crouching down at the front of the stage to perform the song, eyes closed in front of the 55,000-strong crowd, any one of whom could have been the gunman. Bono looked up at the end of the verse to see his teammate Adam Clayton standing in front of him. Adam had all along stood in front of Bono during the song deciding to take the bullet for Bono if it ever happened!

Are you the Bono of your TEAM?

Note: The article draws on various sources of inspiration from the public domain. All views are personal.

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Nanjappa B.S, Vice President, Human Resources at Infosys Ltd. In this role, he is Global Head for Employee Relations, Head HR for the regions of APAC & LATAM (emerging markets of significance for Infosys) & Head HR of Enabler Functions. At the center of his responsibilities lies employee experience at Infosys, and over the years, the company has emerged as a top employer/employer of choice. Nanjappa holds a PGDM from XIME along with a certification from Stanford for an Executive Leadership Program. He is an avid sports enthusiast and has been a nation level athlete. He is an active contributor to HR publications and is a speaker at industry events. He resides in Bangalore, India.

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