Back to one of my favorite topics today, communication. It’s the center of everything. It’s actually even more important than that in real estate. There’s nothing worse than implementing some amazing new office only to learn the business had decided to double their headcount and they won’t fit. Communication.
Sadly, one of the main reasons that communication breaks down is “too much work.” When people get busy they don’t want to “waste time in meetings” or “spend all day answering emails” or “stop and chat on the phone.” Said another way: they get too busy to communicate.
I’ll be the first to argue that many meetings are a waste of time. Some days it feels like many meetings are primarily a way for some people to appear busy without achieving anything at all. Other meetings feel like they are ripe with potential to achieve great outcomes only to be foiled by poor planning. Communication without thought is often worse than no communication at all. At least with no communication people may feel compelled to use their best judgment.
Communicating is the core component to every job. You need to be able to relay the thoughts in your head. You need to be able to convey the needs of your team. You need to be able to receive the current state of your partners. You need to be open to understanding your vendors. You need to be able to participate in group decisions.
On the surface, communication isn’t hard. But somehow most people fail at successful communication much of the time. Even successful communicators sometimes forget what to do.
All of us are impacted by the decisions of others. When we are children our lives are dictated by the decisions of parents, teachers and other adults. When we first start working, we are pushed by the decisions of managers. As we grow in our careers, we are still impacted by managers but often we also become impacted by the decisions of others outside of our direct line.
In real estate, this particular phenomenon is acutely experienced. If another group decides to grow by 100%, our job is to accommodate it. If HR decides there will be no more work-from-home, we have to ensure we still have enough seats. If a business decides that they need to open internationally, we’re on the frontlines helping find sites.
Our role is not to be directly part of these decisions and often we aren’t even consulted beforehand. These decisions directly impact our daily experience. It can be uncomfortable being at the whims of others that you neither report to or manage.
This discomfort is powerful because it is correct. Working for the decisions of others is more challenging than being fully accountable. At the end, your success is tied to the correctness of the original decision. Consultants and other service providers operate this way at all times. It actually enhances their authority in certain situations while allowing them to play the role of neutral arbitrator.
This discomfort from being driven by the decisions of others puts you in good places. The role of the neutral arbitrator is one of the most powerful in an organization. Yours becomes the voice that justifies and endorses the decisions or nudges them toward greater correctness. Embrace the role and you may find amazing things happen.
Good communications are hard to do. Over communicating can take up all your time. Under communicating can leave your team in confusion.
Figuring out the right line for their team is a manager’s primary job. People need information in order to make good decisions but they also don’t usually need incomplete, possibly wrong or sensitive information.
It is easy as a subordinate to take a lack of information to mean there isn’t a plan. Sometimes there isn’t a plan and you find out only too late. Usually, there is a plan and good reasons for limited information getting out until ready.
Delegation is often considered one of the signs of a good manager and leader. Ensuring that large tasks have shared delivery is often the only way to get things done.
But delegation has a dark side. Some people interpret the above paragraph as meaning that managers are supposed to only delegate and not own things themselves. This is where things become dangerous because instead of augmenting delivery capability, it removes that manager’s own delivery capacity.
The idea of player-coach is one I strongly endorse. Managers got to the role they are in now because they were good at something more than just overseeing the work of others. They received their promotions by proving they could do the job and understand it. Why would you then remove that from the team’s delivery capability?
Dangerous delegation is most obvious in a couple of key cases:
- Managers who own a process but delegate the outcomes to teams outside of their control. Processes cannot be separated from delivery.
- Managers who delegate everything to their team and do not personally own any outcomes. This behavior encourages teams to think that tasks aren’t actually important because otherwise, their manager would have a role.
- Managers who delegate outside of their team and use their team to only oversee the work of others. Similar to the ones above because ownership of outcomes is important to performance.
Do your best to not encourage dangerous delegation. It may look appropriate on the surface but leads to bureaucracy, lack of ownership and destruction of innovative culture.
It’s funny to watch the relationship between a plan that is called “easy” versus an implementation that is actually quite difficult. This phenomenon most often happens when people are trying to delegate a task that they won’t be taking on themselves.
Have you ever been told the phrase: “Don’t worry, this won’t take much of your time and we will keep it very simple.”
This phrase is an automatic red flag that something is going to take more time than expected and likely have a lot of complications. If this phrase isn’t accompanied by a good deal of detail and an approved workplan then there is a 99.9% likelihood you are being volunteered for something you don’t want.
As a manager, this is something you need to watch out that you don’t do yourself. It is easy to want to sell someone on a task you are delegating but it is rarely worthwhile to make a bad task seem better than it is. Down that road lies resentment and discontent.
I’ve been involved in a few workplace transformation projects in my career and all of them (without exception) begin with managers saying that it will never work for their team. “Sure, in principle, it could work for everyone else, but my team is different. We are all in the office every day, we’re already collaborative and changing how we do things will cost the company money.”
Whether managers intentionally don’t know the habits of their team or simply misunderstand how the work gets done, I’ve never encountered an initial meeting that went any other way. Even project sponsors and champions will fall back on the theory for their own “small” teams. It is an infallible rule of the workplace.
I’ve come to believe that most of this thinking comes down to incentives and expectations (don’t most things in life?). If a manager says that half of their team works from home 3 days a week yet there isn’t a work from home policy they could get in trouble from their bosses above them. If they delegate so much that they themselves work from home 4 days a week and don’t actually know how things happen in the office you get the same effect. Similarly, many teams may disguise their work patterns because they don’t want their boss to realize how often they work from places other than the office.
Much of it can also come down to the office safety net. Many people believe that as long as they have a desk with pictures of their family, pets, and vacations they have job security. Surely it is easier to lay off someone who isn’t assigned to a desk than someone who has a permanent seat? By keeping all the seats (regardless of impact on performance) they are protecting their people.
What they refuse to realize until after it is all said and done is that new workplaces often support teams better and create more flexibility. They don’t realize that refusing to participate comes off like they are going against corporate strategy (what real estate group drives through a workplace transformation without executive blessing?).
Different roles and positions require different approaches to getting things done. CEOs are ultimately in charge of everything that happens in a business but depending on the size of the business, the current business cycle and the degree of autonomy leaders under them have they may not choose to dictate how things are done. Many very effective leaders choose to drive action through influencing the behavior of those under them instead of forcing them to do things a certain way.
There are clear differences between telling someone to do something a certain way and making recommendations but leaving the ultimate decision to that person. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Additionally, some leaders are more prone to a certain style of management. Some, like Steve Jobs, have a desire to control the entire situation and drive their team in the direction of their desire. Others foster a greater degree of entrepreneurialism and let their teams set their own direction while putting in checks and balances to measure performance.
Then there are people who want to manage through control but don’t have the personality to make it successful. Many, many leaders have tried to emulate Steve Jobs only to discover that their teams rebelled or quit instead of following along. Similarly, many leaders have given their teams autonomy only to discover that their teams immediately and spectacularly fail, bringing everything down. Management style is as much about the managee as the manager.
As with so many things, the correct answer changes with time, team and goals. It takes true self-reflection and understanding to always get the right answer – and it is practically impossible to always get the right answer. Steve Jobs had to first fail at Apple with his management style before coming back to succeed. The past is not necessarily an indication of what the future holds.