Managers account for 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement, according to a recent study by Gallup. With so much riding on the success of our managers, we’ve kicked off conversations around the world to learn how we can help with hands-on manager tips.
Our latest panel session in San Francisco, brought together HR leaders from Bay Area innovators such as Reddit, Pinterest, and Disqus to share what they’ve done in their organizations to help managers grow. Read on for some of the key takeaways from this panel session.
What does a great manager look like?
Great managers come in all shapes in sizes. Whether introverted or extroverted, experienced or new to leadership, impactful managers share common traits that all begin with caring.
They have empathy
Micaela McDonald is a people manager at Pinterest. Her first manager tip is that “having empathy, really caring about people and being able to build trust is one of the most important aspects of being a great manager.”
“Follow-through is the biggest managerial trait that I find myself trying to teach,” said Kim Rohrer, Director of People Operations at Disqus. “You can have all the empathy in the world but if you don’t do anything with that empathy, you’ll lose the trust of your employees.”
Bob Lehto, an HR and Talent Acquisition leader, seconded that notion. He described how important accountability becomes in a managerial role. “You need trust in your team, but you also need a level of accountability and the ability to give feedback to course correct when necessary,” he said.
They match skill with function
Katelin Holloway is the VP of People and Culture at Reddit. She explained, “some of the best managers that I’ve worked with are really incredible matchmakers. Not just in terms of finding the right chemistry but also in being able to match skill sets. They have enough technical depth in the function they’re managing to match the appropriate people with the skills sets necessary to tackle the problems,” she said.
How can HR support managers?
From training programs to resources, there are tons of ways that HR can help to support managers. While nobody has it perfect, there are places you can start. An initial training program, providing helpful resources and having individual “check-up” meetings with managers are excellent beginnings.
It all starts with listening
“Don’t fall in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem,” said Bob. “It all starts with listening. So often, we come into meetings with a hammer or saw. With experience, we get more tools in the toolbox that we can apply to a solution. But first, you need to truly listen to understand what the problems are.”
Don’t wait for managers to come to you
At Reddit, “HR does monthly 1:1s (one-on-one meetings) with all of our managers. In that session, we cover things that we want to know about,” said Katelin. “We ask them, “who are your rock stars and who is struggling?” The initial manager training isn’t enough. The job of HR is to make the manager’s job easier and you can’t help if they don’t talk to you. The conversation will become healthier and more natural when you’re doing it frequently.”
What makes a great 1:1 meeting?
There was a joint consensus that the most important aspect of a 1:1 meeting was ensuring that you’re actually having them. Other manager tips included being emotionally present, allowing the employee to drive the meeting and putting structure around the conversation.
Set dedicated time
“Dedicating thirty minutes to somebody every week and listening to what they say is extremely crucial,” said Micaela. “In those moments you can accomplish so much, identify any budding misalignment, connect with your report and let them know you’re there for them,” she said.
“Make it sacred time,” said Bob. “Anything else could move on my calendar with the exception of 1:1s. It’s really about being present for them. Sometimes that means being there emotionally, sometimes it can be more tactical. Regardless you’re there to empower that person within a dedicated meeting time,” he said.
“When I started doing 1:1s, I found that they either became very conversational or very tactical. I found it useful to have employees send me a simple, structured, email before our meeting. The email would answer a few questions such as: here’s where I need your help, here’s what I’ve accomplished this week, here’s what else I’d like to discuss,” said Katelin. It’s beneficial to provide a very basic framework, whatever that looks like within your organization, to make the conversation productive.
Keep ’em spicy
“I have a google doc of 1:1 feedback hacks. Along with a few basic questions to get the conversation started, it also includes a list of questions to “spice up” your meetings,” said Kim. “It’s important to have an open space to talk about your challenges in a safe way. You’re not necessarily looking for a solution. In fact, sometimes you have to preface the meeting by saying, “I just need to vent now!” But being really clear about what you want to get out of each meeting will help drive the conversation in the right direction.”
Manager tips: What’s your best piece of advice for new managers?
We asked the HR experts at our panel “If you could offer one tip for new managers, what would it be?” Here are the manager tips they shared:
Bring the water
“Everybody dreams about being that person who people follow into the fire. Instead, be the person who has the water and smoke detectors. Start with follow-through and grow from there,” said Micaela.
“Be curious. You don’t know what you don’t know. Often, you’re unconsciously incompetent. Eventually, you’ll reach that nirvana of being a great manager but, in the beginning, just be open and curious,” said Bob.
“Remember this is not a popularity contest,” said Katelin. “Managing expectations will earn you the most trust in the long run. Don’t promise things you are unable to deliver and don’t feel like you need to have every answer in the moment. By managing expectations both emotionally and tactically, you’ll gain the trust of your employees.”
Want more manager tips? Check out the full panel session recording below.