In this 6th Installation IN AN 8 POST SERIES, BRAD SZOLLOSE AND ROB HIRSCHFELD INVITE YOU TO SHARE IN OUR DISCUSSION ABOUT FAILURES, FIGHTS AND FRIGHTENING TRANSFORMATIONS GOING ON AROUND US AS DIGITAL WORK CHANGES WORKPLACE DELIVERABLES, PLANNING AND CULTURE.
Our advice comes down to very simple concept: Today’s leaders MUST walk the talk.
Management authority in digital work comes from being the owner of the intention. Your team is working towards a shared goal. That is their motivation and it’s required for digital managers to provide a clear goal – this is what we call the intent of your organization. So a manager’s job comes down to sharing your organization’s intent.
Like the 80’s “management by walking around,” walking the intent means that you spend most of your time helping your team understand the goals, not telling them how to achieve greatness. Managers provide alignment, not direction.
What does digital management look like:
- Pick a tone and repeat, repeat, repeat – You are the Jazz leader setting the tempo and harmony, your consistency allows others to improvise. If you set the stage, you can encourage others to take the lead off your base. Strong management is not about control. Strong management is about support. Support that streamlines productivity.
- Encourage cross-communication – Better, make people talk to each other. it’s OK to proxy, but don’t carry opinions for your reports as if they were your own. And don’t be upset if someone goes “above” you in the hierarchy. There is no such thing anymore.
- 1-to-1 communication is healthy – do a lot of it. 1) Don’t make decisions that way. 2) Don’t get stuck having 1-to-1 with the same people. 3) a lot of informal/small interactions are OK. Diversity is key. You may have to reply/rehash/proxy a whole 1-to-1 discussion for your team
- Learn your Culture – This may be the hardest thing for leaders to do because if they always assumed that culture didn’t matter. In today’s work environments, culture matters more than you could imagine. Just ask Peter Drucker! Knowing who does what is important. Knowing how each individual communicates and what their strengths and weaknesses are is even more important.
- “Yes, AND…” The cornerstone of Improv is about saying yes to ideas, even fragile ones. Then it becomes about testing, experimenting and pushing boundaries. This is where innovation comes from. Saying yes and, instead of no but, ensures things get customized. Yes, you might fail, but fail fast, and move on.
- Be forceful on time keeping – make sure debates and discussions have known upfront limitations. Movement is good, uncertainty is frustrating.
- Check and adjust – check and don’t change is just as important. The key is to involve your team in the check-ups. When you decide not to adjust, that’s also a decision to communicate.
- Don’t apologize for or delay making top down decisions – not all actions are team discussions. Sometimes, the team process is tiring and hard so the most strident voice wins. No team always agrees so don’t be afraid to play the role of arbitrator.
- Fix personnel issues quickly – allowing people to abuse the system drives away the behaviors that you want. Focus instead on strengths, and become the mediator. Be very sensitive to stereotypes and even mild no name calling. Focus on the work, the outcomes and how everyone can do better. then hold them accountable to their word.
- Ask people to define their own expected results – then keep them accountable. When they miss, have no-blame a post-mortem that focus on improvement. A term called the Feedback Sandwich helps by starting a difficult conversation with something a team member did right, then work your way through the conversation to the “meat” part of the sandwich: what they did that needed help, improvement or an admission that they might NOT be the person best qualified for that task. Let them state this on their own by asking better questions.
- Assume failures are from system, not individual – work together to fix the system. Communication and hand off are usually the biggest fails when meeting deadlines. Find solutions from the team. after all, who knows development operations better than the people working in it.
- Be careful about highlighting “grenade divers”  – All organizations need heroes, but feeding them will erode team performance. Once, they may have saved the day. When it becomes a habit, they might be creating the chaos they are always solving in order to have job security. After all, they seem to be the only one who can solve that problem…every time. In a symphony only a few get the solo. In Jazz, you play both solo and support. That flexibility gives your team strength.
These ideas may push your outside your comfort zone. Find a peer for support! You need to to be strong to lead from the back.
Even without formal hierarchies, manager roles are still needed to drive value and make the hard calls. Before, that translated into make all the decisions. The new challenge is to allow for free falls (post 4) while sharing the responsibility.
If you walk your intent and communicate goals consistently then your team will be able to follow your lead.
 Grenade Diving or “wearing the cape” is a team anti-pattern where certain individuals are compelled to take dramatic actions to rescue an adverse situation. While they often appear to be team heroes (Brad saved the batch of cookies again! Who forget to set the timer?), the result always distracts from the people who work hard to avoid emergencies. We want people to step up when required but it should not become a pattern.