Relationships

Managing = Caring
Managing = Caring 1080 565 Jason Lauritsen

The longer I study and teach management, the simpler things become.

For example, this week, I was again asked how managing a hybrid team is different than managing a team that is in the office full-time. 

When someone asks this question, they are expecting me to share how managing a hybrid team is more challenging. They expect me to validate their belief that it’s far more complicated to manage a hybrid team.

It’s not. 

Is managing a hybrid team different in some ways? Sure. 

Just like being in a long-distance relationship is different than one where you see your partner every day. 

What’s true in both cases is that if you don’t have the right foundation in place for the relationship, nothing else really matters.  

The most important ingredient in both cases is care.  

Being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t care about you is miserable regardless of how much you see them, we’ve all been there.

At some point in our career, most of us have worked for managers who we saw every day, who clearly didn’t care about us or our success and it sucks. 

When you don’t care about your people as a manager, they will never step up for you. They will never give their best effort. They will never trust you. They will never be loyal. 

If you don’t care about your people, they will move on to another job where they at least have some hope that their manager might care. 

Caring is where it starts

Years ago, I remember chatting over coffee with a friend. We both had young children and were commiserating over our parental worries and insecurities.

We were both obsessing over how our actions and the decisions we make for our children. They feel so important–as if we were somehow creating and removing opportunities for our children in every instance. 

After an hour or more of participating in this game of “No, I think I’m messing my kids up more than you,” my friend paused for a moment and smiled. 

She looked over at me and said, “I think the fact we care so much about all of this is a good sign we are doing okay as parents.” 

This was well over a decade ago and I still remember those words vividly. 

Caring is the first step toward doing it right.  

Do you care enough? 

This may seem like a simple question, but it’s really a gut check as a manager.

  • Do you care enough to prioritize your people’s needs, sometimes above your own?
  • Do you care enough to do the hard work of creating clarity about expectations?
  • Do you care enough to hold your people accountable and be accountable to them in return?
  • Do you care enough to help people with things you “shouldn’t have to” help with? 
  • Do you care enough to be patient and kind when people fail? 
  • Do you care enough to give people the benefit of the doubt? 
  • Do you care enough to have your people’s back, even when it means putting yourself at risk?

Caring is the job of management. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It’s real work. 

Here’s the truth. If you don’t care about your people and really want to see them succeed in their personal and professional lives, then you shouldn’t be in management. Hard stop.  

Your people deserve better. 

If you aren’t sure if you care enough, you probably don’t, but as long as you are willing to do the work, you can fix it.  

How do you become more caring as a manager? 

Caring is a choice. Granted, it’s not an optional choice. If you want to be a manager, then you must choose to care for your people. 

If you can’t be bothered with doing the work of caring, then you should find another job to do. There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require this work. 

Managing = caring. Below are some steps you can take to ensure that you are demonstrating to your people that you care so they will stick with you and give you their best.

1. Get your mind right. 

Your job is to enable the success of each member of your team. Enable is the keyword here. People want to succeed. They will choose success over failure whenever given the opportunity. 

People don’t need to be motivated to perform. Read that again. Instead, what people require is a manager who ensures they have what they need to perform well. That might mean support for their mental health one day and clarity about work goals the next. They need what they need. People are complicated. Our job isn’t to judge, it’s to help. 

People also need a manager who will help them with challenges whenever those challenges arise. Work can feel like an obstacle course with one challenge to face after another. Your job is to help them navigate the course, helping them reach the goal. Remove obstacles when you can. Help them face or get around them when you can’t. You are in it together. 

So many managers get this wrong. They think their job is to force people to perform. They micromanage like some overlord assuming that it’s their actions that drive performance when in fact, it’s the opposite. Micromanagement kills the desire to perform. 

Caring managers approach their jobs more like a farmer who cultivates the growth of their crops. Farmers know that if they provide what their plants need and deal with any threats or obstacles that might hinder growth, the plants will do the rest.

People have an incredible capacity to perform when we cultivate it in this way. 

2. Get to know your people. 

This feels like one of those things that Captain Obvious would say. When people talk about employers they hate, they say things like, “you feel like you are just a number to them.” 

If you want someone to feel like you don’t care, make no effort to learn anything about them. Feeling unseen and unvalued is a red carpet invitation to go find a different job. It’s like saying “Nobody here cares if I stay or go.”

Getting to know your people is perhaps one of the fastest and most effective ways to develop your caring skills as a manager. Invest in getting to know your people as people. It’s simple. Three steps.

  1. Ask questions. For example, what do you have planned for the weekend? Or, where did you grow up? Any question that invites them to share some insights about who they are is a good one. 
  2. Listen. If you ask a good question and then signal that you really want to hear their response by shutting up, making eye contact and waiting, they will reveal some wonderful things. 
  3. Make some notes. Unless you have an incredible memory or are somehow gifted with another superpower that helps you never forget anything important, jot down what you learn in these conversations. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I would ask great questions, listen intently and be delighted with what I heard. Then, I’d forget to write down what I heard and I would forget. What a waste. Don’t make my mistake. 

When you get to know people better, your natural caring and compassion instincts will kick in. The more you know, the more you will care. 

3. Check-in

Once you embrace that your job as a manager is to care for the needs and success of your people, the importance of a check-in becomes clear. 

If you aren’t in touch with what is going on with each of your people to know what they need and where they have challenges, how can you support them? 

That’s what makes the check-in the most powerful tool in management. An effective check-in involves having the most important conversations with your people so you can be the manager they need.  

Here’s how an effective check-in works. It starts with asking the right question. 

Here’s a simple, powerful question you can use to start a great check-in. 

How are you today, on a scale from 1 to 10?

The scale is the magic here. When we ask someone how they are without it, what do they say? 

Fine. Busy. Or, as my son likes to say, “decent.” These words tell us nothing. 

With the scale, a simple number tells you a whole lot. There’s a major difference between someone who says they are a 9 versus a 2. Either way, it’s an invitation to have a meaningful conversation. 

If someone says they are at the top end of the scale, ask them to share what’s been going well lately. You’ll learn about them and what matters to them. This is your chance to be excited for them and even to celebrate their accomplishments. 

If they are on the bottom end of the scale, that’s a cry for help. Ask them if they’d be comfortable sharing what’s going on that’s pulling that number down. It could be a work challenge but more likely, it’s something else going on in their life.  

Regardless of what it is, that is the thing you need to be focused on. Hear them out, express your care and support, and find a way to help.

If their response to the question is something in the middle, say a 5, it sets up a great conversation. Ask them first what’s going well. Listen and be encouraging. 

Then, ask them what’s going on that is keeping them from being at a 9 or 10. This is where they will share with you the insights you need to be supportive and caring.  

Done right, the check-in will transform your impact and results as a manager. It is caring in action. 

Managing = Caring

These are but a few ways to start investing more in caring for your team. 

There are a lot of ways to care. The key is to feel it and do it. Without caring, you cannot and will not be a successful manager in today’s environment. 

Care intensely. Care often.

Care. 

 

Rather watch than read? 

If you prefer video over reading, here you go. (Bonus points if you can spot my son)

 

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Managing Through Love
Managing Through Love 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently gave the commencement address to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduates. 

In his comments, he provided some interesting and compelling advice to these graduates, most of whom are entering into a life of service through public health. Among his closing remarks, he said something that struck me:

“Love is the world’s oldest medicine. Your ability to give and receive love is your greatest gift and your greatest power. It is what will sustain you on every step of your journey ahead.”

Love is your greatest gift. 

Love is your greatest power. 

Not medicine, math, or science. 

Love. 

While he was speaking to newly-minted public health professionals, these words also ring true for anyone who takes up the mantle of “manager” of other human beings.

The Pandemic’s Reality-Check for Management

One of the silver linings of the painful journey we’ve been on has been that many managers were confronted with an uncomfortable reality check. They discovered that their people are actual human beings with lives outside of work that dramatically impact how they show up for their jobs.  

This is particularly true for managers who were abruptly forced to move from working in the office to working from home.  

Like it or not, they had to become aware of all the challenges and issues people were facing because these “life” issues were interfering with their ability to do their best at work. And, perhaps most inconveniently, managers had to face the reality that there is no real separation between work and life, regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Managers were forced to care about their people’s lives beyond what they could produce at work. And, in many cases, they were forced to engage with their people in conversations about issues that stretched far beyond the traditional employee-manager relationship. 

What Happens When We Love Our People?

Of course, not everyone successfully managed this transition. Many did not, choosing instead to keep their head down and wait until things went “back to normal.” Then they could go back to ignoring employees’ real needs and pretending everybody’s fine. 

But for those managers who did make the transition, they discovered something powerful. When you invest in understanding and caring for your people and their needs, they will rise to the occasion, and performance will elevate.

To echo Dr. Murthy’s words, they used their power to give the gift of love to their people. 

When we love our people, we commit to understanding who they are and what they need to thrive. We listen to them more deeply. We prioritize their success above our own.  

When we love our people, we give them the gift of believing in them, often at a level beyond which they even believe in themselves. 

As a manager, love is your superpower—if only you chose to use it.  

4 Ways to Love your People as a Manager

If you’re still reading this, kudos. Talk of love at work is scary for a lot of people. Think of how many people you know who can’t even muster the words “I love you” for the people in their lives who mean the most to them. If that’s you, the good news is that you can fix it today. Right this moment. 

Tell your kids, spouse, best friend, significant other, family members—whomever you love—that you love them. And keep showing them too. Every day.  

Love is a renewable and endless resource. Giving your love to others will never deplete you. In fact, when you give love to others, it multiplies. It makes them feel more worthy of love and capable of loving. 

I think that’s likely part of the “power” of love that Dr. Murthy referenced, although I can’t speak for him. Our capacity to love is boundless once we learn to tap into it.  

Now, don’t get the wrong message here. It’s probably not a great idea to start telling your direct reports you love them—at least not right away. Freaking people out isn’t very productive. We’ll get back to this in a minute. 

What’s most important is that you show them love through your actions. If you aren’t sure exactly what that looks like, I’ve got you covered. Below are a few examples of what it looks like to demonstrate love for your people as a manager. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt and forgive quickly. 

I once had a member of my team who’d gotten tangled up in some office drama. She’d created some tension and hard feelings in the office to the point that some senior leaders were calling for her to lose her job.

When we sat down to talk about it, I tried to really listen to her experience of what happened. I asked some pretty hard questions about why she had chosen to behave the way she had. It became clear to me in our conversation that she clearly had no ill intentions and had just gotten carried away. 

She was heartbroken by the impact her actions had on others in the office. At one point, she broke down in tears. We talked through what had happened and where it went wrong. She understood and committed to learning from it in the future. 

Then, I gave her my commitment that I had her back and would support her 100% moving forward as long as she learned from this. She never got caught up in anything like that again and proved herself to be perhaps the most loyal team member in the office.  

Make sure they know that you love them.  

Okay, back to saying “I love you” out loud. You should definitely do this in your relationships with those you love. At work, it is probably a good idea to use different words (at least at first).  

Instead of directly saying “love,” use language to reinforce that you care about them and that you are committed to them. You can and should say “I care about you” and “I’m committed to your success here” and mean it. Yes, some people may be a little uncomfortable with those words on the surface, but deep down, it’s exactly what all of us want to hear from our manager. 

Saying this out loud to your people (or putting it in writing) does two things. First, it reinforces to your people that you love them. And, it creates accountability for you to show up for them in a way that strengthens these commitments. 

Invest your time in them. 

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about the lesson my daughter taught me when she was seven years old. I’d asked her one day how she knows if someone loves her. One of the first things she said was, “they spend time with me.” 

Time is the currency of relationships. Time is our most precious and fleeting resource. What we do with our time says everything about what we value and what truly matters to us. 

My daughter understood this truth even at such a young age. People who love you will invest their precious time to be with you. There is perhaps no more powerful way to show people you care about them than this. 

As a manager, if your calendar isn’t full of appointments to spend time with your people doing things that matter or are helpful to them, you should fix that.  

This doesn’t mean that you should smother your folks by micro-managing and constantly being up in their business. What it means is that you should have regular, dedicated time on your calendar for them individually each week. And, when they need time with you, you find it for them.  

Model Accountability

The most significant thing people misunderstand about loving your people at work is that they think it means avoiding the hard stuff, like having tough conversations or providing feedback when things aren’t going well.

It’s exactly the opposite. 

When our teenage son took actions that endangered himself and his future, as his parents, we had to take hard and heavy steps to hold him accountable for that behavior BECAUSE we loved him, not in spite of it.  

In any meaningful relationship, accountability goes in both directions. That means we must do the hard work to ensure our expectations of one another are clear and be willing to do hard things when things go off track. It also means that as managers, we’re accountable to each person we manage and that we accept that they should hold us accountable when we don’t live up to our end of the deal as well. 

Love requires mutual accountability. That accountability is the necessary fuel of healthy, trusting, and lasting relationships. 

Good Management Requires Love

We are entering a new era of work. 

We will be more distributed and separated by time and space than ever before. Trust can not be assumed—it must be earned. And, a new generation of employees will continue to rightfully demand a different kind of work experience; one defined by equity, inclusion, and community.  

This will require a different approach and mindset about managing and what it means to be a manager. If you want to thrive in this new era, start with love. If you can learn to love your people, you’ll be well equipped for the changes that lie ahead.

 

Related Reading:

Management, Parenting, and Love

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

[Video] Should We Still Be Shaking Hands?
[Video] Should We Still Be Shaking Hands? 1080 1620 Jason Lauritsen

I don’t know about you, but as more people get vaccinated, the world seems determined to make its way back to normal.

In some ways, this is comforting. But I’m feeling a little unsettled.

Amidst the terribleness of the pandemic, we were forced to stop and change things about how we live and work. In many cases, this was for the better.

I’m worried that if we aren’t thoughtful and intentional in the coming months, the positive things we’ve learned and gained will be lost.

I had an experience recently that brought this into sharp focus for me.

It involved handshakes.

I talk about it and what I think we are called to do right now in this video.

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives? 
How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?  1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past several months, I’ve been working hard to spread the message that what managers need to successfully navigate this new future of work is compassion. 

Compassion connects an awareness of the struggles and suffering of employees with caring actions to help them through it. It’s a big and important step beyond empathy, and I believe it’s imperative to support the well-being of others (and ourselves). 

Since compassion isn’t something you typically find in the standard deck of management advice, I’ve been getting some fascinating questions from people who are intrigued but slightly uncertain about its application in their organization.  

Recently, after a presentation I made about compassion as a new core competency of management, I received a question from an audience member that cuts to the core of why compassion in management feels uncomfortable for many. It also helps illuminate how we got to a place where so many employees are suffering through work experiences that more often harm their well-being and performance than help it. 

So, I’m going to share the question that was posed to me, along with my response. After you read both, I hope you’ll join the conversation and share your thoughts. 

The Question

While I agree that compassion ought to be front and center these days, and it’s important for managers to know what’s going on in their people’s lives, I guess I’m still struggling with how far that should go and would love to hear more from you about it. 

There are so many factors involved. From the comfort level of the manager and how experienced they are managing, to how comfortable people are sharing personal info with their manager (and all the baggage people tend to have from previous jobs when that didn’t go well), to keeping a level of professionalism and accountability to the work that needs to be done, to managers not overstepping scope to take on what should be another professional’s role (like a therapist). 

So, I’m curious what your thoughts might be on how to think about where to draw the line, or if you would suggest that there shouldn’t be one at all. 

My Response

Your concerns are the same ones that HR has been concerned with for as long as managers have existed. Where’s the line between knowing enough about your people and knowing too much?

In the way I approach this work, I start with the foundation that work is a relationship and that everything that happens at work should be seen through the context of relationship. When you frame your question through that lens, the answer to the question about how much a manager should know or how much an employee should share is…it depends. 

If it’s important to cultivating the relationship with that employee in a way that makes it easier and more fulfilling to do the work effectively, then it’s probably okay even if it goes past the traditional lines we’ve drawn (or what the manager is comfortable with). 

The heart of this issue is teaching people, both managers and employees, better relationship skills—compassion being key among those skills. 

When we teach people how to communicate more clearly, how to articulate expectations and demonstrate accountability, how to listen more actively, how to establish boundaries, how to trust and be vulnerable—then we don’t have to spend so much time worrying about how far is too far. The individuals will sort that out. 

They will disclose as much as is appropriate to make the relationship work in a way that meets both their needs. 

What do you think? How much do managers need to know? 

My argument is that we are due for an overcorrection. The past 100 years of management practice have been designed around what makes life easiest for the manager. As a result, we wrote policies and created norms about keeping the “personal stuff” outside of work boundaries. 

And despite how ridiculous that is in actual practice, we all played along. But then along came a global pandemic, and the charade was up. The fake walls between personal and professional came crashing down, and we realized that humans don’t compartmentalize like that. 

So, the old rules about what’s “work related” and how much a manager should know about an employee’s life outside of work are no longer relevant. It’s time to recalibrate.

If we equip managers and leaders with better relationship skills and give them permission to be compassionate and genuinely care about their employees, they will figure out the right balance.

When we start caring more about employee well-being than we do about managing risk, we’ll finally see the path to unleashing employee potential fully. 

And, if we over-correct a little and care too much, that’s probably not a bad thing. 

Do you agree?

 

Related Reading:

Relationships and Accountability

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations
A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations
A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations 1080 721 Jason Lauritsen

In my last post, I shared a story of the consequences that can occur when we aren’t clear on expectations within our work relationships. 

Having clarity within any relationship is vital, and it’s something that we all too often leave to chance. 

I also encouraged you to use the golden rule of management as a means to create clarity: “If it matters, write it down.” 

This is important and powerful—the act of committing things to writing forces clarity. 

But, what if you aren’t sure what matters? 

A life-changing tool.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to connect with Christina Boyd-Smith

Christina is a coach for leaders and teams. I knew I would like her before we even met because her coaching practice is called Corporate Rebel Coaching. What’s not to love about that? 

Over the past several years, I’ve gotten to know and admire Christina. One of the things that I love most about her is that she is truly authentic, and she practices what she preaches.

I wish I’d had her as my coach back in my corporate rebel days, but I’m thrilled to know her now.

Christina introduced me to a process she created called a “Designed Alliance.”

The first time I experienced creating a Designed Alliance was when we kicked off a collaborative project together. 

It was a structured, step-by-step process of walking through some pointed questions that drove us to real clarity about the work we were about to do. It allowed us to move forward with confidence about how we would work together to ensure a positive outcome. 

I was instantly hooked. 

In asking her more about this process, she shared how she uses this personally throughout all parts of her life. They use it as a family when planning a trip. She uses it with her spouse when they are undertaking a project together.

And, she teaches and uses it in her coaching all the time so her clients can take it forward and use it in their work and personal lives as well. 

In essence, it’s a tool to help you focus on what matters and clarify your expectations around those things in any relationship—work or personal.

This process is essentially a list of questions to discuss to help you clarify your expectations about how you will work together and what success will look and feel like. 

Below is a link to download a pdf with instructions and the whole process, so I won’t cover the entire process here.

But, I do want to share a couple of my favorite discussion questions that it includes:  

How do you want it to feel between you and around you during this alliance?

This question is so important and one we rarely discuss. If we are going to do something together, how do we want it to feel? Are we both on the same page at this critical level? 

If you want it to feel easy and laid back while I want it to feel energized and fast-paced, we probably need to talk it through before we start and find some middle ground. 

How do you want to be if things go wrong?

Again, what a great question to discuss before things go wrong. Creating agreements in advance for these situations removes so much angst and tension.

There are a total of eight steps in the process, most of which involve questions to discuss. As you discuss them, you should capture in writing your agreements and shared understanding. 

You can download a pdf of the process from Christina’s site here.

It is a powerful process that I’ve used in both my work and personal life many times. 

But, not often enough. 

When debriefing how the project I described in my last post went wrong, I immediately knew that the outcome would have been entirely different if we’d created a designed alliance. 

All of the hurt and misunderstanding would have been eliminated before we even started. And, we would have had agreements in place for how to handle things when they veered off course.  

It was a powerful reminder of how potent the designed alliance process is. 

I encourage you to download the document and give it a try. It will change your relationships. 

Let me know how it goes. 

 

Related Reading:

I Broke My Own Golden Rule—Here’s What Happened

Clear Expectations = Great Relationships 

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?

Engagement starts with Expectations

if it matters write it down
I Broke My Own Golden Rule—Here’s What Happened
I Broke My Own Golden Rule—Here’s What Happened 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Recently, I collaborated with a friend on a project. It wasn’t a big project, and we weren’t doing it for money. It was more of an exploratory effort that we were both interested in doing, so we decided to do it together.

The two of us have been friends for years but had never done any work together, so it was an exciting opportunity. We jumped right in.  

Over several weeks as the project started coming to its conclusion, my friend shot me a note. In it, she asked for us to do a debrief after it was all over to talk about how everything went. 

It turns out the project wasn’t playing out at all how she had expected. It wasn’t feeling the way she wanted it to feel, and in her eyes, it didn’t feel like a success. 

In hindsight, I went into the project with very few expectations. The biggest reason for me to do it was to work with my friend on something meaningful. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for the two of us to spend some time together creating something cool. It was supposed to be fun and energizing for us both. 

So, when it turned out that it wasn’t a good experience for her, I was heartbroken. I didn’t care nearly as much about the project as I do about her and our relationship. 

And the most frustrating part is that we could have avoided this if I’d only followed my own advice. 

My golden rule 

What went wrong in my project with my friend was a failure to get mutually clear upfront about our expectations—both of the project and one another’s role within the project. 

This shouldn’t be surprising. I preach in my training programs and speeches that a vast majority of performance failures at work result from a lack of clarity about expectations.

The same is true in relationships. When we allow ambiguous or unclear expectations of one another to exist within relationships, the relationship always suffers.

The solution to this problem is what I refer to as my golden rule:

If it matters, write it down. 

Why it matters

When it comes to any relationship, work or personal, to create optimal clarity about the agreements and expectations that matter the most, you need to put them down in writing.  

Notice that I’m not saying “discuss” them or “talk about” them. Sure, discussing your expectations with someone is far better than not discussing them. But I’ve been in far too many discussions over the years where I’ve come away with one understanding and the other person with something completely different. 

When you write something down, the opportunity for misunderstandings and different interpretations narrows dramatically.  

The act of committing our expectations to paper makes the intangible, tangible. Suddenly, we can see the fuzzy gray areas in our expectations of one another and choose to make those parts clear. 

Had my friend and I spent 30 minutes at the beginning of our project calibrating our expectations and writing them down, the project would have been a success on all fronts. 

What should you write down? 

This is probably the first question that comes to mind, particularly if you aren’t in the habit of writing down expectations and agreements. 

At work, if an expectation exists that affects how we feel about or evaluate our work, it should be written down. This could include any number of things:

  • Performance goals

  • Behavioral expectations

  • Team norms or shared agreements

  • Meeting ground rules

  • Purpose and vision

  • Strategic and other plans

  • Project assignments and roles

  • Deadlines

The list could go on. Another trick I’ve found helpful is to write down things that drive you crazy when others do (or don’t do) them or that you find yourself coaching or nudging others about frequently.  

Writing things down can also be incredibly powerful in all aspects of your life. When I coached youth basketball, I wrote down my expectations not just for players, but also for parents to clarify their role and standard of behavior. 

At home, my family went through a Brené-Brown-inspired exercise where we wrote down our family agreements like, “Say you are sorry and mean it” and “Be kind.” 

Taking time to write down expectations moves everyone to clarity far more quickly, which means less friction in the relationship and makes it much more likely that everyone ends up satisfied and happy. 

Clarity fuels accountability

Being clear on expectations not only makes it far more likely that things will happen as expected, but it also sets the stage for mutual accountability. This can be true between two people or across a team (or organization). 

For example, here’s an expectation that was in place for a former team I led: 

“No surprises. Good news or bad news should always be old news.”

This created a bond and expectation within the team to keep each other informed and ensure that if one team member got wind of something that would affect another, they would give them a heads up.  

This mutual expectation affected behavior. It also made it easier to provide feedback and coach when it didn’t happen. 

When someone didn’t get out ahead of something (good or bad) and a teammate got caught off, we could point to the shared expectation. “We agreed to no surprises. What happened here?”

When expectations are clear, accountability follows.  

Why don’t we write it down?

If writing down expectations is so effective, why aren’t more of us doing it regularly?  

There are two main reasons I’ve found—it’s not easy, and it takes time. Clarity requires work and effort. It’s always worth it, but it’s easy to skip.

Also, we’ve gotten good at settling with mediocre outcomes. When things turn out okay (not how we would have hoped, but decent), we settle and move on. What we achieved was good enough to survive and advance to the next thing.

But is good enough what you’re striving for? I’m not talking about perfection here, but I am talking about having the conviction to strive for the best. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle where good enough is the standard because we can accomplish it without doing the hard work to create clarity. 

That’s why so few people or organizations are truly clear on their values and purpose. It takes hard work and an investment of time. 

And, we’re all really busy. Even though some of our busyness is likely due to a lack of clarity caused by unclear expectations, being busy prevents us from doing the work.

This lesson is written in my book, I’ve taught it a bazillion times, yet I skipped right over it on the project with my friend and suffered the consequences. I can’t do anything to change that now, but I can use this reminder to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future.  

I hope you’ll do the same. Write it down. 

 

Related Reading:

Clear Expectations = Great Relationships 

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?

Engagement starts with Expectations

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever
How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

If you are like most people, you are concerned about how the current situation is going to affect those closest to you.

My two youngest are out of school and are trying to make sense of everything that’s happening. It must feel strange and out of balance to them. My priority is making sure they feel safe and loved.

My oldest son is experiencing disruptions with both his college schedule and his job. He’s stuck here in a house for long periods of time with his parents and younger siblings. Regardless of how cool his parents are, it’s not exactly how he imagined spending spring.

My grandparents are confined to an apartment in a small assisted-living facility without being able to have coffee with their friends who live in the neighboring apartment. I know they are struggling with the isolation.

Every single person we know right now is worried about something that’s happening. That includes every single one of your employees.

We need to stay connected to one another. We need to talk about things. We need to ask for help. We need to laugh together.

We need to check in on one another.

Talk to Your Employees

For anyone who supervises others at work, it’s important that you take the time to talk to your people about what really matters right now. Call it a check-in, a one-on-one, or a video chat, but just do it. Frequently.

With all of the chaos and uncertainty around us and the pervasive talk of economic challenges ahead, employees will be looking to you for reassurance and support as their manager. It’s in moments like these that it’s valuable to remind ourselves that work is a relationship for employees. And with all this uncertainty, it’s natural that they may be worried about the status of that relationship.

It’s on us as leaders to step up in this moment to create as much clarity and stability as we can.

Now is a good time to remember the relationship test. If you aren’t a regular reader of the blog or you want a refresher, here’s a longer post about the relationship test. In short, the relationship test is a reminder to treat the people we work with with the same care and intention as we would anyone in our life who is important to us.

For example, let’s say your employee is also your daughter. When you check in with her, you’d ask “How are you feeling?” or “Is everything going okay?” If she were struggling with something, you’d dedicate your time and attention to figuring out how to help her through it. Only once you’d gotten through that and felt confident that she’s okay would you even inquire about work.

If she’s feeling scared or facing a personal crisis, a question like “How are you coming on that deliverable?” or “How much time were you able to work today?” seems pretty shallow and insignificant.

The relationship test challenges you to mentally replace the person on the other end of any interaction you have with your team with someone you really love and care about. If you find that it makes you pause, then you probably need to reconsider your approach or intentions.

The bottom line is that we need to be checking in frequently with everyone right now. Your employees should be a priority.

What a Good Check-In Looks Like

When you are checking with people right now, focus on three simple things.

1. How is the human?

When you check in with your daughter or best friend, you start with something like, “How are you doing?” You want to know first that they are okay. And if not, that’s where you spend your time.

With employees, it might be helpful to use a bit more structure to the question than “How are you?” I’ve been experimenting with 3H check-in lately, and it has opened up some excellent conversations.

The 3H Check-in

  • How’s your head? How are you holding up mentally? What is most worrisome or distracting to you?
  • How’s your heart? How are feeling? What emotions are you experiencing? Where are you finding positive emotions right now?
  • How’s your health? Have you been taking care of yourself? Are you moving your body each day? Are you caring for your (and your families) wellness?

If you haven’t had conversations like this with your people in the past, have some patience as this might take some getting used to.

As you get better at it and it becomes more comfortable, you might want to consider using a 1-10 scale when you do a quick check-in. Saying your head is “4” is far more powerful than simply saying “I’m okay.”

Once you’ve talked about the human side of the experience right now, it’s appropriate to talk about work.

2. Is the work you are doing aligned with what’s needed most?

In most organizations, it feels like everything has gotten tossed upside down in the past two weeks. This has been confusing and disorienting for many employees and managers. What mattered most a few weeks ago, might not matter as much today. And something that didn’t matter much is now very important.

This means that as leaders, we need to help our employees recalibrate their work. Just this week, I’ve talked to a few people who have said that their biggest challenge right now is that they don’t know what to be working on.

Performance Check-In

  • What are the top three priorities/projects you are working on? In other words, what are you working on and how are you deciding what to work on? Find out if a person is clear on what to work on and what matters the most.
  • What are you most uncertain about right now? Where do you have the biggest questions related to what’s happening at work right now? It’s likely that some of their questions might be the same as yours, and you may not have answers. But it’s better to call those out and talk about them, admitting that you don’t know, than to leave those questions unaddressed.

Through this conversation, your goal is to help the employee find greater clarity about what he or she should be focused on in the day-to-day. It should also help the employee to understand how to make decisions about what to work on next if unsure.

In this conversation, it’s also important to acknowledge the challenges that newly remote workers are likely facing, particularly if they are tackling the schooling of their children at the same time. These employees might be struggling with the demands on their time and how to prioritize.

Keep in mind, particularly now, that the goal of performance management is the work output, not the number or quality of hours worked. By helping employees focus on what matters most in terms of work output, they can use the hours they have for greatest impact. If they can get 80 percent of their work done in half the time right now, that’s a win–particularly if they are working on what matters the most first.

3. Do you have the resources and support you need?

No employee check-in is complete without asking the employee what he or she needs to be successful. This is particularly important now.

In the past week, you have changed where people work, how they work, with whom they work, and maybe even when they work. That’s a lot for anyone to adjust to in such a short period of time. In my own experience, learning to work in a home office effectively took months, if not years, to figure out. That was in much less stressful times.

The process requires a lot of adjustment and adaptation. During that process, employees will need increased leadership and support from you. Below are a few questions to help you check in with the employees on what they need.

Resource and Support Check-In

  • What is your biggest work challenge right now? This single question should help you zero in on what issue needs the most attention. Pay close attention to the answer because it will tell you a lot about where the person needs the most support.
  • What tools or resources would make work easier right now? Depending on the situation, the answer to this question may range from protective gear to technology tools. You may not be able to fix or address their needs immediately, but by understanding the request, you can work on a solution.
  • How can I be most supportive to you? How often do they want to hear from you? What kind of information and feedback do they need? What kind of flexibility can you create for them?

The point here isn’t that you can magically fix everything. But you need to know where the issues and challenges are so that you can fix those you can and help them navigate around those you can’t.  Just having the conversation will create a sense of progress and control for both you and the employee.

Final Guidance

Stay close to your people. Use these questions to create meaningful conversations. When the chaos passes, you will emerge from this a stronger leader with a team that is loyal to and trusts you at an entirely new level.

A reminder: This is new terrain for all of us. It’s something none of us has seen or managed before.

I’m struggling to find the balance between working from home and managing my kids’ school day at the same time. I’m doing okay, but I’ve also worked from a home office for years, so I had that advantage going in. It’s still tough.

Every person you encounter is trying to figure out how to adapt in their own way. Some are struggling, some are managing it well, some are in denial that any of this is happening. As a leader, this is our moment to practice patience, grace, and forgiveness.

This is going to be messy as we find our way through it together. Be quick to forgive when others make mistakes or fall down; they are doing their best. Help them recover and then ask how you can help them going forward. This is not a time for judgment.

Your people need the best of you right now. Be there for them. Support them. Give them your time.

You can get your people through this.

 

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How Do You Repair Your Relationships?
How Do You Repair Your Relationships? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Among all the skills that are important to building great relationships, one of the most important is repair.

It’s also one of the most overlooked.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never thought of repair as a relationship skill. I don’t know that I ever had until I started doing research into how great relationships work.

Repair is what we do when we have a fracture in our relationship in order to ensure that it doesn’t become a full-on break. I’ll give you a few examples.

Repairing Relationships Before They Fully Fracture

When my oldest son Dylan was in high school, he (like most teens not excluding myself at that age) had developed quite the capacity for doing dumb things. Thankfully, he didn’t do any colossally dumb things. His specialty was the frequency of small ones.

This led to an expectation on my part. If something happened that could even possibly be linked back to one of his bad or thoughtless decisions, I assumed he was to blame and would often react accordingly.

I remember clearly one day when I made one of these assumptions. I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember going off the handle, accusing my son of being responsible and doling out some immediate consequences. He stormed out of the room and the moment ended.

Shortly afterward, I discovered that he hadn’t had anything to do with this particular incident. He was innocent. My reaction was based on his track record, not what actually happened. I could probably have justified my reaction by telling myself that I wouldn’t have reacted that way if not for all the other stuff he’d done. Thankfully, that’s not what I did. Instead, I apologized. I told him that I was sorry and that I had been unfair. I told him he deserved better than that and that I’d do better in the future.

He accepted my apology and the fracture I’d caused in our relationship and his trust in me was repaired.

I wish I could tell you that this was the only time I’d overreacted with him. It wasn’t. But each time it happened, I went straight to him with an apology.

Over time, he actually learned to do the same thing. When we had to enforce boundaries or tell him no on occasion, he was prone to overreaction. To his credit, once he calmed down, he’d come find me and/or his mother and apologize for how he reacted.

This ritual of repair was really important to us surviving high school together while maintaining a positive and supportive relationship. I shudder to think what our relationship might have looked like had we not been committed to this.

Repair Your Relationships at Home

My wife and I have a similar process for repair.

When we have arguments, which thankfully don’t happen often, it feels awful for both of us.

What we discovered over the years was that regardless of how much we disagree or how frustrated we were in the moment, there was only one right next step to take. A hug and an “I’m sorry.”

Before you go all “why are you always saying you are sorry?” on me, pump the brakes. In both of these cases, an apology is necessary.

Regardless of the argument we are having. Regardless of whether or not I am right (which my wife will tell you is very rare). And regardless of how justified I feel about my position on whatever the issue, I am sorry that I’ve made the person I love most in the world feel bad or hurt.

I’m also sorry that I wasn’t somehow able to approach the issue in a way that avoided the argument.

And I’m sorry that our relationship fractured in even a tiny, temporary way.

When we hug and say we are sorry, all of the tension and anger and frustration evaporates. It resets and grounds us in the strength of our bond. From there, we usually find it pretty easy to resolve our difference.

Another ritual we have is checking in with each other in a formal way. Since we are both committed to keeping our relationship in a good place, it only makes sense to sit down on occasion and really talk to one another about the relationship. This shared commitment and investment of time ensures that whenever something happens that doesn’t feel right to the other person, we can talk it through and address it.

The more I began to understand and recognize the skills of relationship repair, the more I realized how vital they are to sustaining any relationship over time.

I also began to realize how much of a gap this is for relationships at work.

When I reflect back on my own work experience, the consequence of the absence of repair is so clear. I could share with you multiple stories of relationships with bossed and peers that may have started positive or neutral but slowly degraded over time.

The Absence of Relationship Repair at Work

Here’s how it happens.

A snide comment in a meeting plus a short and seemingly critical email compounded by a perceived lack of support piling up over time. One tiny fracture after another going unacknowledged, unaddressed, and unrepaired.

Then one day it breaks.

Things are said that can’t be unsaid.

Actions are taken that can’t be undone.

And the course of your career is changed.

It’s all so unnecessary. If only we learned how to repair our relationships.

Granted, both parties need to be committed to the relationship in the first place. I think in most cases, people would rather be in positive relationships with their manager and coworkers than the alternative.

When we don’t practice repair at work, our relationships at and with work die the death of a thousand paper cuts. It’s slow and painful, and such a waste.

What Does It Look Like to Repair Your Work Relationships?

What does repair look like at work? Below are a few skills and approaches you can and should practice if you want to improve your work relationships.

  1. Commit yourself to having better relationships. To have the kind of relationships at work that make work more fulfilling and rewarding, you have to fully commit yourself to it. This means investing time with people. It also means being willing to do the uncomfortable and inconvenient things necessarily to repair relationships when they go off course.
  2. Apologize when you do damage. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or offend them. Say you are sorry and mean it, even when it wasn’t your intention to cause any harm in the first place. Beware that your ego will tell you that you don’t need to apologize because you didn’t do anything wrong and you certainly didn’t intend any damage. But if you care about relationships, do it anyway.
  3. Have the conversation. When someone does something that bothers or offends you, go talk to that person. I’ve had several people confront me at work about things I’ve said in a meeting or over email. In most cases, the way they took my comments was not what I intended, so I was thankful for the opportunity to clarify. In a few cases, they had taken it exactly as I had intended, and it triggered a conversation that allowed us to clear the air and make some amends to move forward. By taking on these conversations, we head off lingering resentment and the lasting damage to a relationship that can occur.
  4. Check in with the people who matter. This is among the many reasons that regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are so important. These conversations provide opportunities for repair.  To take full advantage of that opportunity, managers should do two things when they check in with employees. First, ask for feedback. A question like, “What can I do to be a better manager for you?” invites the kind of feedback that will help identify where fractures in the relationship may have occurred. Second, provide feedback when an employee does something to fracture the relationship. One of my favorite bosses once had to do this for me. I had publicly criticized one of her decisions in a meeting with my peers, and it had gotten back to her. She confronted me about it and explained that if we were to have a positive working relationship, we need to disagree privately but support each other publicly. It was a great learning experience for me.

The quality of our relationships drives the quality of our lives. If you want to be happier and more fulfilled at work and home, be committed not only to having relationships but to ensuring that you do the work to repair and sustain those relationships you value.

 

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Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement
Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Years ago, I was lucky to somehow find and read the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

The title alone was enough to pull me in. Crucial conversations is one thing, but fierce? That’s next level.

What I thought I was going to find were lessons on how to have different or better conversations. And, while there is some of that in the book, it’s soooo much more than that.

Having read it several times now, it doesn’t even feel adequate to call it by its title. The book is really about equipping you with the mindsets and tools to show up fiercely in your life. More specifically, it equips you with the mindsets and tools to navigate the moments in your life and career that feel scary and high stakes.

The moments that really count.

Fierce is about stepping into these moments, not without fear but with courage and vulnerability. What this book first helped me realize is that to get to what I truly wanted in life, I had to travel through these challenging moments not hide from them.

I learned in this book how to have really meaningful conversations with people that dive toward what really needs to be talked about.

I learned that the conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

The conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

I learned that my perspective on anything is colored by my own experience and what I am surrounded by. This means that someone else with different experiences and context can look at the same thing and see something different.

I learned how to create clarity about decision making in any group I happened to be a part of.

In retrospect, this book set the foundation for me to show up more fiercely and authentically in my relationships with others. The benefits for me over the years have been immeasurable.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Here’s why.

In order for an employee to be fully engaged at work, they need to feel that they are in a healthy, positive relationship with work.  This relationship is impacted by many things in their day-to-day experience of work, but few factors have a bigger impact than their relationship with their manager and coworkers.

When viewed through this lens, our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

Our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

When I started speaking and writing about work as a relationship, I was pretty optimistic (and maybe a little naive) that this insight alone would help us really move the needle on engagement. I thought that if I could just get managers and leaders to see work as a relationship with the employee, then they could start using all of their relationship skills to improve things right away.

After all, by the time you start managing people, you’ve been navigating relationships for a decade or two.  That’s a lot of relationship experience to call upon.

But…

This makes a huge assumption that we are generally good at relationships outside of work. I have come to realize that this just isn’t true.

Our divorce rates aren’t pretty historically. And there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a “loneliness epidemic.” According to one study, two in ten adults in the US and UK “say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated.”

These are just two data points suggesting that perhaps we have room to improve in the relationship department.

I’m coming to understand that our quest to solve employee engagement isn’t really about work. It’s about our lack of skill at having great relationships with others.

If I don’t have the tools or ability to foster a great relationship with my significant other or child or closest friend, then how likely is it that I can do it at work with people who I likely don’t know (or honestly care about) at the same level?

This has hit home for me over the past couple of years. A few of my close friends and family had to navigate some really tough circumstances–divorces, loss of a parent, physical illness, and more.

One of the things I realized in reflecting on being with these friends on this journey was how often I’d been with them (individually) and yet either avoided talking about the things that really mattered or shied away from asking a question that felt really important. Instead, we’d drink our beer and talk about work or sports, then go our separate ways.

I wish I had done better.

Even as someone who’s been studying and teaching relationship skills for years, I wasn’t showing up in these moments.

I wasn’t being fierce. I had to re-commit myself to those lessons I’d learned many years ago. I needed to ask the questions that felt a little scary because the conversation that follows are where amazing relationships grow.

I continue to work on it.

The reason I share this is that creating, building, and maintaining the best kind of relationships requires intentional efforts and knowledge of how to do it. When we do it right, the resulting relationships are powerful and fulfilling. It helps us satisfy our almost primal need for belonging and connection with others.

This feels like a tremendous opportunity for those of us who lead teams or are responsible for employee engagement efforts.

  • What if we deeply invested in our own abilities to form and foster great relationships as a way to give that gift to and model it for others?
  • What if we focused our efforts on teaching and coaching people in the skills and mindsets they need for better relationships?
  • What if we cultivated, celebrated, and rewarded relationship skills as our primary focus?

The role of the workplace is changing. It’s consuming a bigger chunk of our lives and identities all the time. Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

When we equip not only managers and leaders, but all employees, with the tools to form and maintain healthier relationships, we not only unlock greater engagement and performance at work, but we also send positive ripples throughout their lives.

  • Better communicators at work are better communicators at home.
  • Learning to trust at work also helps you learn to trust outside of work.
  • Embracing the value of diverse opinions at work may just help you survive and navigate successfully in an increasingly polarized society.
  • Becoming skilled at seeing others fully and expressing authentic appreciation will transform any relationship.

We’ve been scratching at the surface of this work for years without fully committing to it. It’s time for us to go all in.

I’m working on what this looks like from my end. What does it look like for you?

 

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Words of Gratitude #2: Start With the Most Important (A Love Letter to My Wife)
Words of Gratitude #2: Start With the Most Important (A Love Letter to My Wife) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


When I reflect on what I am grateful for, the first thing that comes to mind every time is my wife, Angie. Most of you know that she’s not just my wife and the mother of my children; she’s also my best friend AND my business partner. So, as I embark on this gratitude blog series, it seemed right to start with the most important person first.

Angie and I have a lot of dynamics to juggle in our life. Our kids are increasingly busy, our schedules are becoming more chaotic, the business continues to grow, and somehow we’re making it all work together.

As I have done research over the past few years on what makes human relationships work, it reinforced how lucky I am to have a partner in life like Ang. If I were to list all of the reasons why I am grateful for her, this blog post would be as long as a novel. So, I’ll just hit the high points today.

My Inspiration

I’m grateful that I am married to someone who inspires me. I’ve had a front-row seat to watch Angie emerge as a community leader and advocate of victims of abuse. She’s committed to making the world a better place and to use her past experiences to bring strength, courage, and hope to those who need it. I’m humbled by her commitment to this quest and it motivates me to be a better person.

I’m grateful to have a partner in life who accepts me as I am. No matter how weird or annoying or exhausting I may be sometimes, she has never made me feel as though I needed to change. For better or worse, she loves this weird combination of things that is uniquely me.

At the same time, I’m grateful to travel this journey with someone who continually helps me grow. Angie has a way of challenging me and pushing back that challenges me to reconsider or reflect without feeling defensive. I’ve learned so much from her and I know there is still so much yet for me to learn.

There are very few things in life more powerful than to have someone who believes in you….

I’m grateful that she believes in me, often more than I even believe in myself. Long before we were business partners officially, she was all in on my potential. Even when I struggled and failed, she never wavered. Even when we burned through all of our retirement savings to stay afloat while I floundered in a past business venture, she never wavered. There are very few things in life more powerful than to have someone who believes in you this way. It is a priceless gift and the only way I can possibly try to repay her is by believing in her the same way.

I am so lucky.

Finally, I’m grateful for everything she does for our family. She is the CEO, CFO, and COO of the Lauritsen household and that is a big job by itself. Since my job requires quite a lot of travel, she’s often left to man the ship without any backup. And she does this while also serving our community as an elected official and helping run a growing business. It’s a superhuman accomplishment each week to make this happen. And I am profoundly thankful for the immense work she does. I am so lucky.

Ang, there are no words big enough to express my gratitude to you or for you. I am amazed by you, inspired by you, and better because of you each day. I love you beyond measure. I appreciate you. And I can’t wait to travel the next leg of this journey of life with you.

Jason Lauritsen