My Best Management Tip

I’ve been a people manager for more than a decade and in all of those years I’ve found that one simple tip and an hour/month for a team member can make the people you manage happier AND more productive and generally make your job as a manager easier and more enjoyable.

My tip is actually pretty simple, but often overlooked: deeply care about the people that you manage and work with and you’ll increase employee retention, satisfaction, and business outcomes.

The tool enables you to communicate with those on your team about what drives them to do good work which builds a supportive relationship and increases satisfaction for everyone involved. (And, by the way, if you aren’t a manager but like the way this sounds, you can run the process yourself and share the results with your manager…”managing up” in action!)

This note covers 3 areas:

  1. Why should you care about people on your team?
  2. What does “caring” actually mean?
  3. The tool to turn caring into happier, healthier, teams.

1. Why Should You Care?

At the end of the day, all of the goals that we hit or miss, features that we ship, and projects we complete all come down to what people do. What people do comes down to what people are motivated to do. What people are motivated to do is a function of what they care about. So, if you follow that chain of logic, if you don’t know what people on your team care about, then how is your team (and therefore, you) going to be successful?

So how does it work? People who feel cared for are more engaged, more engaged people stay longer, people who are engaged and supported get better work done. Also, as an added bonus, when you understand what drives people you can more easily assign “Extra Credit” projects that come up (aka things that need to get done by someone but don’t fall neatly in anyone’s scope) since you can align skills needed for a project with a person’s intrinsic motivators.

2. What Does Caring Mean?

“Care” in this context does not mean just asking them about their day (although that’s a good start). It means that first, you’re invested in their success over the long-term, not just in this job, even if that means managing them up or out because their current role isn’t the right fit. This approach aligns your incentives with those of the person you support.

Second, it means that you provide consistent and clear feedback on their successes and areas of improvement (read “Radical Candor” if this is a struggle for you). This shows them that not only are you paying attention, but you’ll take time to help them improve.

Third, it means that you take time to understand them. Not just their skills, but their aspirations, goals, fears, and past experiences. Enter…the tool.

3. The Tool

So, I’ve convinced you that understanding what makes your employees tick is important; congrats you’re part way there! I have a really simple tool that I’ve used to facilitate these conversations with people on my team for nearly a decade: a check-in on personal drivers. This tool helps me learn what drives people and how satisfied they are with all aspects of their work.

I consistently find this to be the most productive conversation of the month with people on my team and it helps them and their teams drive successful outcomes. For example, I’ve learned that the reason someone wasn’t communicating their successes is they were worried that they’d be viewed as a bragger when in reality it just led to Leadership being out of the loop. I also learned that I was holding someone back from new opportunities because I had applied my work-life balance values as opposed to understanding their ambition.

Here is how you can implement this with your team (screenshot of an example to help is below). Remember, cadence is 45 minutes once/month (pro-tip: the recurring nature is really important so that you can build trust and deeper understanding with your employees).

  1. (First time only) choose 4–6 personal drivers and define the success criteria for each. Write them down! Why do you show up to work? Examples include impact/scope, compensation, title, recognition, work-life balance (e.g. work for lifestyle), and learning, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
  2. Prioritize the drivers. Of course most, if not all, of these things matter to most people. The key is to cut the list down to 4–6 and then prioritize so that they communicate what is the most important driver to them at any given time. This prioritization can change month/month; whatever reflects the current prioritization.
  3. Stoplight code (red/yellow/green) each driver for the past month. This is why the monthly cadence is so important: anything longer is tough to categorize, anything shorter can become too much overhead.
  4. Describe why each driver got that color for the month in 2–3 sentences.

Now for the fun part! Let’s say that we end up with the below grid in month one. Here is how I would approach the discussion.

  1. Is one of the top priorities not being green an issue? Here, the employee states they think the work-life balance issue was a one-off, so I wouldn’t be worried. But I would watch the trend the next couple months: 3 yellow/reds in a row for a top priority often signals something is wrong with either role-employee fit.
  2. Understand why the person has these responses (for both Green AND Red). It’s one thing to know that they don’t feel recognized, but it’s more important to understand why they don’t feel recognized so that you can help them in the future. Similarly, it’s great that this person feels like they’re driving impact, but how do you know to tee them up for similar projects in the future if you don’t understand why they think it’s impactful?
  3. Are internal or external factors driving the rating? Lastly, I’ll want to understand how much control the employee feels over these areas. If there are internal factors affecting the ratings, what can we do to change that in the future?
  1. Resources: Are there resources that would help the employee turn things around in a key driver area? I look towards books, classes, and mentor connections to specifically address an area.
  2. Role fit: If I see lots of reds pop up due to things I can’t change about the role or help the person improve upon, I start the conversation of whether or not this specific role is right for the person. This can lead to finding a new opportunity, or sometimes just a better expectation from the employee of what they can get out of this role and what timeline before that would change (e.g. a new role on the team, switching teams, etc).

That’s it! One hour per month to a much more productive (and happier) team :D

I'm a Product Manager who loves to solve problems at the intersection of how to help people get value out of complex ecosystems and how people make decisions.