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The Careerist – April 16, 2019

The Careerist: A Place at the Table

Photo: Rob Donnelly

How to make a good impression – and be more effective – once you’ve earned a role on the management committee.

Q: I’ve been promoted to manager at work and get to sit on the management committee. I’m hoping to make a difference in areas where the company feels a bit dysfunctional. However, the last two meetings have been rescheduled, and pushed back to when I’m traveling for work, despite me emailing to say that I would be unable to attend. After the last meeting I missed, significant changes to our benefits package were approved, and I would have liked to have had a voice there. How can I make sure I get to these meetings?

A: Congrats on the step up in title! But when it comes to the meetings, you might need to take a step back. That’s the counsel I got from Phyllis Horner, a Honolulu-based executive coach and the founder of Thriving Work Life Design (drphyllishorner.com).

“It’s important to take the longer view to build your influence both in and between the meetings,” says Horner, who has a doctorate in organizational psychology. “Imagine you’d been on the committee for a couple of years and then a new person showed up, demanding the meeting be held when he/she could be there.”

Committee sessions are often scheduled to accommodate a CEO, CFO or board member, and it’s probably no picnic for an administrative assistant to get this calendared to begin with. Right now, you can “observe, build relationships between meetings, and understand the connection between the committee’s functions and the corporate culture,” Horner says.

Find a mentor who is on the committee and take him or her to lunch. Ask questions like: What is the main purpose of the management committee? How should I get comments across without slowing things down? After all, some companies treat management committees as a place to openly hash out issues; others view them as a place where final decisions are made – and you’re expected to raise any concerns beforehand.

If meeting agendas are available in advance, research the issues. To use the benefits package as an example, Horner says, “you can visit with the presenters before the meeting to understand the reasons for changes. That’s a great idea anyway to show cross-functional leadership and interest in management committee topics.”

At the meetings themselves, Horner says, “Watch what others on the management committee do, how they interact and how they handle ideas raised, how they disagree or use caution.” In your early days on the committee, get the lay of the land, and build trust through your competence. “One final word,” says Horner. “Don’t mainly be on the committee to reduce dysfunction. That’s only part of your role, and some would say, the part that happens only after your voice rises in influence.”

Q: I want to be a good manager, but I get sidetracked by doing my real work. I have quarterly cost audits and sales reports to generate. How am I supposed to squeeze in time for coaching my team?

A: Being a manager IS your real work. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! I spoke with Bruce Tulgan, a Connecticut-based author, speaker and management consultant. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking (rainmakerthinking.com).

“Don’t fool yourself,” says Tulgan. “Thinking you don’t have time to manage is like thinking you don’t have time to exercise. Not providing guidance, direction and support to your employees causes problems to occur that never would have happened otherwise. It’s the No. 1 cause of rework.”

Think about Smokey the Bear’s tagline, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Management, says Tulgan, is a lot like fire prevention. In an undermanaged workplace, low performers are hiding out and collecting paychecks. High performers are frustrated and eyeing the door. In your current situation you’re already spending a lot of time communicating but it’s lacking in structure and substance. That’s why you’re constantly having to salvage resources or are stuck writing endless emails. Prevent “office fires” with regular, high substance communication.

“It’s a cadence of structured conversations,” says Tulgan. “Every direct report you have, you have to make time for them.” For some of your employees, once a week is fine, Tulgan says. “The people who are like: ‘Feedback? None for me, thanks!’ Well, those are the people you should probably talk to every day.”

These meetings aren’t a touch-base. It’s scheduled time for an engaged dialogue. Have your employees prep for these meetings in advance by having a simple format where they can submit any concerns prior to the meeting, in writing, suggests Tulgan. “You are teaching your people to manage and structure how they are thinking about their time with you.”

Get them in the habit of thinking about where they are and what decisions they need your help with, he says, adding that these aren’t gotcha meetings, or efforts at micromanagement. “You are clarifying expectations and giving course-correcting feedback,” Tulgan assures us. “It’s systematic. If you ask any professional about how they approach their work, they will tell you how they are systematic. Then you ask them their most valuable asset, and they’ll say it’s the people. And yet when I ask them, ‘How do you manage your people?’ They’ll say, ‘I wing it’ or something like, ‘I have a style.’”

Gather your team, and tell them: “Good news: I’m going to be a better manager. Here’s what that is going to look like. We’re going to have these meetings and prepare for them, and my role is to help provide support, guidance and direction. This is about helping spot problems and getting you what you need.”

“Most people want to succeed and want discussions on how to do that,” says Tulgan. “The idea that people want hands-off leadership is false. Yes, they want autonomy and creative freedom, but that is farther down the line. Guidance and direction upfront provide the space to have that autonomy.”

Q: Which is better, a huge network of contacts or a close circle of trusted advisors?

A: Hawaii’s business culture values personal connection, so having lots of people in your network is an advantage. However, this may also depend on your gender. Research out of Notre Dame suggests that for women, having a female-dominated inner circle, with two to three trusted associates, is linked with higher job placements. For men, the larger their network, the more likely they are to have high-ranking positions, regardless of the gender of their many contacts. Learn more at tinyurl.com/networksize.

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