Management Trait #1: Consistency
In the midst of my first big management job, I read Lazlo Bock's Work Rules!. Overall, it was really interesting to read about how Google developed their People strategy, but overall I found most things inapplicable to a smaller startup.
There was one thing that really stuck with me though. After a rigorous deep dive into the managers at Google, Lazlo's People Team discovered that the most common trait of a successful manager at Google was consistency;
"If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom.”
At this time I had ascended rather quickly in the management ranks in the company, and I was curious why. We had an amazing team that was quite strong in the management dimension and there were more experienced managers in the company than myself. Why was I able to navigate the ranks better than others?
There were probably a few things going on there, but I cargo culted on my consistency as a manager as being the key differentiator.
Why is this so important? I think in a startup or other high growth company (like when Lazlo was at Google) consistency becomes more important. In general, everyone in a high stress environment is looking for stability. The organization as a whole can do some things to make the over all company feel more secure, but ultimately a huge leverage point is the boss who you report into. If they can offer stability by way of being consistent and by creating a rhythmic and predictable environment, people will be less anxious and will be able to focus more time on execution.
Now, when I manage managers this is the first trait that I coach on when it isn't abundantly apparent.
There are three buckets of things a manager can do to be consistent and to provide predictability in an otherwise harried startup environment:
Being Self Consistent
This is a behavior that you project and impart with the people you manage. To nail this, you have to understand yourself well: What is your prime mode of operating? Are you anxious? Are you confrontational? Are you more laid back or in the clouds?
Changing your prime mode of operation is very hard. It will take years of coaching or therapy and a lot of focus to unwind an established personality trait. It's a worthwhile endeavor to unpack your own emotional underpinnings, but that wont help you today.
The key to being consistent isn't to exhibit what you think is the most attractive personality trait. This will introduce a lot of inconsistency. Rather you should lean into your primary mode of operation and be intentional on every interpersonal interaction in displaying that trait.
Do you worry about the numbers every day? You have to bring that to every interaction. Do you like to say what is on your mind and being transparent in what is bothering you? Bring that to every meeting.
Some personality traits are going to rub people the wrong way, but if you are consistent most people will adapt to how you operate and most importantly they will know you. They will know what you care about and what to expect in every meeting. That's the consistency piece.
If you are serious about changing your prime mode of operation, you must communicate that to your people. You must self diagnose your inconsistency and call it out to people when you see yourself behaving outside the normal. Tell your people that you are working on being more X, and that because of that you feel that interaction Y was different than how they have experienced your management style in the past. Again, only go down this route 100% committed. It's hard to communicate your inconsistency unless you are totally bought into your own transformation. Leaning into your primary trait will probably make you successful (through consistency) in your current role, but some of these personality traits will need to be adapted as you take on larger leadership mandates.
Another, and I would say easier, way to create consistency in your organization is by establishing rhythm. Rhythm is hard to come by in a fast growing company. The normal boom and bust cycles and even seasonality are disrupted by taking on a lot of money and scaling an organization quickly. Humans are adapted to the cycles of nature and when people feel rhythm they are more naturally at ease.
Creating rhythm is a wide open canvas. There are a lot of ways that you can come up with yourself to establish weekly, monthly, quarterly and seasonal rhythms. Here are a a few suggestions:
- Set goals quarterly on a specific deadline: Absent a company-wide planning cycle, you need to be proactive about starting the planning for the next quarter and delivering that to your team. Preferably at the start of the quarter. I would even sometimes break the company cycle, if it is lagging, to get people goals before the quarter they are expected to deliver on them. Be consistent here, goals are a prime stressor for team members.
- Quarterly, Bi-annual, Annual Post-mortems: Startups change a lot and it can seem never ending. Post-mortems on the previous time period can ground your team in all of the things that have changed and all of the work they did in the past time period. It grounds the team in time and makes it feel like there is progress even when the road ahead is long.
- Regular 1:1s: This one is table stakes. Set up 1:1s with everyone in your team on a schedule that you can hold yourself to. If you can only do bi-weekly check-ins do it. If you have large organization, commit to meeting with every team member on some doable schedule. Folks will look forward to these check-ins. Try to be firm on attending these 1:1s, especially the ones that are more infrequent.
These are just a few, easy to implement suggestions. Moreover, on your team wide goal kick offs and post-mortems have a slide at the end communicating when the cycle will happen again and any other key milestones in the quarter. This will impart that these meetings are consistent and they can count on them happening on a regular basis.
Vision is a hard trait to master and almost impossible to get right when you just take over a new team. When executed well, it communicates to the team where you are going.
There is the big capital "V" Vision, which I talked about in an earlier post. You should take the time to truly understand the vision of the company, preferably by talking to the founders or CEO. You need to understand the underpinnings as the statement itself can leave open a lot of interpretation. Start off consistently talking about how you understand the vision with your team members. This is achievable for most managers in most situations. This is regurgitation. By talking about the company vision and connecting it to every individual's work you will give them insight into why they are doing what they are doing.
The more complicated lower-case vision, is simply giving your team members line of sight into what is going to happen next. What is the point on the horizon for the team itself? In this case, it may be helpful to set a team vision statement at the start of the year. What will this team look like in 1 year? Will it be twice the size? Will the mandate shift to something new (like when a Customer Success team takes on a quota effectively becoming an Account Management team). Try to think about the future and communicate where you are going as a team.
Then there is just speculative insights you can communicate that will help frame what your team is working on today. When you are being speculative, you need to be 100% clear on the uncertainty of what you are saying, You need to make sure that it isn't an edict but rather how you see something could play out. You have more visibility than anyone else on your team. It is your job to take that visibility and share it with your team. This speculation will give your team members guardrails on what to expect and what is possible. It can also make for smoother transitions to new ways of operating when you have successfully foreshadowed the possibility or change weeks or months in advance.
Getting this last piece right is the hardest. You need to have some conviction on what is possible and where things are going before you start talking to your team about it. When done right, though, you will again impart predictability in a dynamic environment.