Want More (or Something Different) from Your Team? Try This

Liz Presson • 16 March 2015

Quick Overview:

  • Exercise: Document your philosophy and expectations around something that’s important to your business.
  • Time: 1 Hour (45 minutes to do the write-up; 15 to share)
  • Why & ROI: A quick, easy and collaborative way to train people. Increase productivity, performance and retention.

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things Ben Horowitz shares the story behind his “How to Be a Good Product Manager” document.

When I was a director of product management at Netscape, I was feeling frustrated by how little value most product managers added to the business. I wrote a short document called ‘Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager,’ which I used to train the team on my basic expectations. I shocked by what happened next. The performance of my team instantly improved. Product managers whom I had almost written off as hopeless became effective.

Like Ben realized in sharing his own expectations, until you tell people what you want, everyone will make assumptions based on their own experiences. In a lot of cases this leads to frustration.

This got me thinking, what expectations am I not sharing? What would make a positive impact on the business? I started with something that impacts our team everyday: how we use synchronous and asynchronous communication. Not only is it incredibly important to have solid practices around online communication as a distributed company, as a service-based company, our habits trickle down to our clients too.

Here’s the process. 

1. Pick something that causes you or your organization pain today. Work to find something that affects the largest number of people possible.

2. Don’t just create a policy, anyone can do that. Share expectations and explain how this supports the organization’s core values and helps people become better. Your message should be: “This is not a company policy, it’s a life skill that you get to master here. You get to take it with you when you move onto your next job.”

3. Share inspiring things that other companies do as a way to spark feedback.

Here’s what I listed in my sync/async communication document:

  • Automattic conducts interviews with potential hires over Skype chat, since that’s the key communication channel for their ever-growing distributed team (most are done with Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic).
  • Four Kitchens has meeting manifesto: “The Web Chef Manifesto of Good Meetingship.”
  • Upworthy sends out a four question survey after every meeting to continuously collect feedback and improve.
  • Here’s a great post by Jared Ponchot, Creative Director at Lullabot, about how communication happens in their now 60-ish person team.

4. Share your document in a format where people can add suggestions– like Google Docs, Hackpad, Basecamp. Again, be sure to include WHY you wrote it and mention what’s in it for them. If your organization has a place for internal discussion like Yammer, HipChat or Asana, mention it there and get conversation flowing. The goal is to create a sense of collective ownership, which will further it’s adoption.

Here’s my document, “How We Use Synchronous & Asynchronous Communication”. Anyone can use comments to make suggestions. If you have feedback or things you’d include, I’d love to see your comments too.

To take this to the next level, put together a lecture around the expectations in your write-up. Ben even broke down the math on the return of time spent doing this.

Consider for a moment the possibility of of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let’s count on three hours preparation for each hour of course time– twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class. Next year they will work for a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts results in a 1 percent improvement in your subordinates’ performance, your company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the results of the expenditure of your twelve hours.

If you’re inclined, share your document in the comments section below.

Interested in how we formalize these types of exercises for businesses? Pursuitof.com

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