Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Management Memes: Honesty really is the Best Policy

This tip is for managers that are not 100% in control of their situations.



This topic could span books and books. And books. Honesty itself is just a huge topic. Keep the below in mind while you consider just HOW honest you want to be and are allowed to be as a manager:

Honesty without sensitivity is brutality

Seriously. Learn it. Love it. Live it. It's going to be vital to your success.

The following discussion assumes you have a manager and are working on a single project. I'm sure you can figure out how to apply this to your situation. 

If this feels like your
company, go ahead and quit.
If you own this company,
I pity your employees.
What is the culture of your organization? We have to start there.

Before you start getting honest with everyone about everything, you need to know if your efforts are going to find traction or if they are going to get you fired. I've worked in situations where dishonesty kept projects alive and I've worked in places where honesty kept the company alive. I prefer honesty, so the most honest places were my own companies. We weren't perfect, and we had to keep a lot of things close to our chest as managers, but in general, those were things that were specific to running the business and not related to the projects themselves. 

Go ask a kid if you need advice
on this topic
One of the worst cultures of dishonesty I have experienced was best evidenced during project status meetings. Every manager would come in and say their project was "on track" unless they were near the end, when they would need more time, playing on the sunk costs of the project. "It'll only take a little more funding to complete." And then the other managers / leaders would usually agree to fund it further, allegedly to completion. 

I could have told them those projects were off schedule months ago, but I wasn't allowed to speak. Had I spoken, I would have likely lost my job and I couldn't have cared less. I would have told the TRUTH. 

I could go on and on. 

Let's go ahead and make the assumption that you can tell when honesty is acceptable

Can you really be honest?

Yes. I am suggesting this if you
cannot break through your own bullshit.
Honesty is really tough, but when you are honest, it makes discussions so easy! You don't have to remember anything other than the truth. And if you forget something, just say it! People can appreciate that. 

One amazing way to deal with honesty is to release your hold on emotional issues and defensiveness. Just step away from the emotions and deal with facts. When you can do that, you're ready to get honest. 

If you can't pull out of the emotional tide, go get therapy. Now.

Do you really know what you want?

Is there a clear definition of the project? Do you know how to lead people toward that goal? Does your manager know what they want? Does the company have clearly defined goals and aspirations? 

Maybe it's not you, in other words. 

But maybe it is. 

Live it.
How do you talk to the team? What do they think of you? Can you be trusted enough to ask them what they think and get a real response? Do they fear you? Do you perform honest, frequent checks on their work to tell them they are doing a good job? Are you vague in your feedback because you don't know exactly what you want? Do you understand their capabilities? Do they trust you enough to tell you when they need additional help? 

Are you in over your head as a manager? Do you need more training? Do you even WANT to be a manager? 

My suggestion is to stop what you're doing and take a full personal assessment. Find someone that can listen to you and be honest with you about your skills and whether you actually do know what you want. 

This way!
Maybe the problem is that you don't have a clear idea of what YOUR manager wants. 

If you can be honest with your manager, sit with them and ask them what it is that they want. Look for specific, achievable deliverables. They don't have to be in minute detail, but they do have to have enough description so you can make them happen. 

Even if it's "get to the top of the mountain," you can figure out how to get there. How? Because your team is going to figure that out. You just help them with the equipment and keep pointing upwards.

Let's say you know what you want. What's next? 

Are the schedule, budget, and scope realistic?

Be honest about the goals of the project and the tools / resources you have to achieve them. Slow down and really work this out. If you know what your project's goals are, take a long hard look at your resources and constraints. Now would be a good time to look at the scope. Are you sure your understanding of the requirements really match your manager's requirements? Is your team aligned with these requirements? 

Run out of months? Reduce
scope or surrender your life to
the company. Your choice.
Do you have enough money, personnel, and other resources to complete this on time? Where should you be spending the majority of your efforts? Are there features that aren't really that important? Would your manager be willing to bend on them? Can they prioritize them with you? Maybe some aren't even that important, and they were just "nice to have." 

Never underestimate the power to bargain. 

Most importantly, be sure to let your manager know that you are doing your best to get them what they want given what you have access to at this time. 

Assuming that talk goes well, it's time to press forward to the most important talk you'll have.

You build it.
Think about it.
Fess up what you've learned.

By this time, you've been honest with yourself, your understanding of the project, and verified that your manager has given their blessing on your goals. You must share this with the team. They need to know that you have gotten honest and now you want them to do the same. 

Tell them you are going to be 100% straight with them. And do it

Go over everything. Get their feedback. Maybe those features that weren't that important could be done much more simply. If so, leave them until last. If not, jettison those features ASAP. 

Let's see if your team is up to the challenge of trusting you.


"Realness" is a
lifelong commitment
Whatever they say about your assessments, take action. Get real. 

Based upon their feedback, you may need to adjust your estimates or reassess your resources. If you have to go back to your manager with this new information, do it. There is nothing wrong with a manager that learned something from their team and acting on that information. Nothing. At least there shouldn't be in a healthy company. If there is something wrong, you may need to re-assess your decision to stay there. 

Your team should know that you are committed to reality. 

Earn their trust one day at a time. Some people may take forever to change their estimation of you, but you'll never know until you give it a chance. 

Teams that trust their managers are far more effective and they enjoy their work. Give it a try and see how it works for you. 

Share what you've found here. I'd love to hear some success stories or even better, what didn't work. How am I supposed to know if I'm giving good advice?!?


What do I know?

Feel free to look me up here.

meme mēm noun: an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.

As a manager (and reader of a bunch of stuff) for the past 20 years, I have had requests for management tips. Some things work; some don't. Some are magical wins. Some are spectacular failures. Your mileage may vary. Whatever the case, these techniques have worked magic for me, time and time again.

1 comment:

  1. The first suggestion I have heard on this topic is that I need to add a part on being honest with yourself about your teams experience and ability. In other words, if you need to be honest about someone needing to be fired or removed from the team, now would be a good time to do it.


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