How to Develop the Next Generation of Leaders in Your Organization

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

How do you handle tough management situations at work? Is that how other managers around you handle it? Does every manager have their own system or are there some standards or best practices everyone in the company follows?  Who do people look to for an example of how to act when they're leading?

It's great to give people the independence to make their own decisions, but when it comes to managing teams, it really helps to standardize parts of what's done.  It benefits leaders, managers, and team members new and experienced in quite a few ways. As Ben Horowitz wrote,

"Absent a well-designed communication architecture, information and ideas will stagnate and your company will degenerate into a bad place to work." - Ben Horowitz

No one wants their company to be a bad place to work, so let's take a look at how standardizing management can help as your future leaders are tasked with leading your company from the example you and others set.

Why You Should Standardize Management

1) Coaching is given and received more easily.

If you have some consistent practices that are exemplified by all your leaders, then it's easier to coach and develop your people; you'll know when there's red flags based on a deviation from them and it will be easier for everyone to pick up best practices they hear and see consistently.

Also, when coaching managers, it will be easier to provide examples by you or others if everyone generally handles things the same way. If you're often hearing, "...but <another manager> did it this way" too often, your company probably has inconsistent management approaches and you're missing out on the potential advantages of some standardization.

2) Team changes and transitions are smoother.

Ever done a reorganization of a team or department? There's usually some upheaval and discomfort for the team members being shuffled around.

A good manager builds a strong working relationship with their team members and a reorg disrupts that. It can force team members to start over on their working relationships and lose valuable progress on their goals and efforts.

If everyone has similar management practices, team restructurings, and reorganizations can be less traumatic to your team; they can count on a few things being the same, even as their manager is changing. It can also makes it easier for one manager to hand off to another; if you have similar approaches, coming up to speed on each team member can happen a lot more quickly and maybe even allow you to pick up right where they left off.

3) New hire expectations can be managed more effectively.

As people mature in their careers, culture and work environments become more important to many in their decision making process when job hunting. They see through perks like free food, discount gym memberships, and a beer fridge, and realize what really matters is how they're treated and what management values. No perk can trump a toxic work environment.

When you have standardized management practices across your organization, it's much easier to make promises that will be kept in what any new hire can expect. This is especially important in situations where someone is joining without a clear picture of their specific role or who they'll be reporting to (like say an engineer going through Facebook's bootcamp).

Just having any standards can be a positive sign if someone is coming from another company that was poorly managed. It will also build confidence for the job candidate if they can ask employees at your company about management and get consistent, positive answers.

4) Ideas move faster both up and down your organization.

If you need to shop an idea for feedback from a team or get their buy in, it's important to move relatively quickly; the sooner it can be communicated, the less rumors will spread ahead of the discussion and the more "in the loop" people will feel.

If communication processes are clear and understood, it's easier to predict how quickly and effectively the information will spread. A great example comes from serial entrepreneur, Michael Wolfe, who talks about how you can use weekly 1 on 1s to get buy in and feedback when he wrote:

Imagine that in your Monday management meeting, your CEO tells the executive team that he is concerned about slowing revenue growth. He wants to create a new plan by next Monday that slows spending growth. You take a note to work the problem with your team. Your week may then look like this:

You shared the problem with your team, worked it with them in your 1-1's, then came prepared with a new plan the following Monday.

Because Michael had the standard of weekly one-on-ones, he was able to get everyone involved and help with the problem quickly and with less drama, because as Michael wrote, he:

  • Did not have to scramble – you used meeting time that you already had scheduled.
  • Did not panic anyone – you didn't have to schedule any last-minute emergency meetings.
  • Gave your team time to generate ideas and contribute.
  • Got a pulse on how your team is feeling and soothed concerns they may have.

When you know your managers's patterns for handling various situations and communicating with their teams, you'll be more confident in when and what results you'll get.

5) More focus comes thanks to the removal of variables.

We aren't robots and no one expects you to churn out clones of yourself either as you develop managers and leaders in your organization. However, with a few standards for people to follow and uphold, you remove a variable you have to calculate for.

If you there's consistency on how often your leaders are meeting with their teams, the tools they use, and a few best practices most people follow, you can focus on the many other challenges and "soft skills" you need to coach people on.

Most people getting into management have no formal training, so any guide rails they can follow will help, whether it be a great tool or the consistent practices they see every manager around them follow (i.e.- "I just did what my manager did for me."). You can then help fill in the gaps through coaching, and directing them to other resources.

6) Train your next generation of leaders more easily.

If every new manager has to find their own way and literally make up their methods from scratch, you will spend a lot of time saving people from drowning in the deep end. If you've ever done something new without help before, you know it's easy to not only make rookie mistakes, but create convoluted, over-engineered solutions to problems many have already solved.

On the other hand, if there's a few key practices you insist on and lead by example, you can ensure your newest leaders start off on the right foot. This can be as simple as making sure they have regular one-on-ones with their teams and stressing why they shouldn't cancel them. It can also go much further into how conflicts are resolved, information is disseminated, etc.

The key is to realize that employees talk to each other, even when they're not on the same team.  If they hear everyone is getting the same things from their managers, they're more likely to do the same when they're called to lead as well. If it seems like everyone makes up their own processes, then they will, too.

7) Develop a shared language.

If everyone is following a few agreed upon standards, then you will develop a shared language that you can use to communicate problems. This can make coaching and communication much easier as everyone knows what various issues mean. It can also then set up individual contributors to be already familiar with what to expect whether they change teams or start leading one of their own.

A shared language will also help across the company; if one person asks a question about an approach or process, it's more likely to then be applicable to others. You can then answer the same question for multiple people instead of every issue feeling like it's a one-off anwer.

But how do you standardize?

Whatever culture you have or want to cultivate, you have the opportunity to nurture it by how you spend your time and the things you do or do not standardize. Here's a few ideas to get you started on bringing better, standardized management to your organization:

1) Weekly or bi-weekly one-on-ones for everyone.

One-on-ones are a unique opportunity to learn so much about what's important to every team member. You may think you know them because you have team social events and task-based meetings, but you're likely missing a lot. As Andy Grove captured so well in his quote on one-on-ones, the payoff is huge:

"Ninety minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinate's work for two weeks, or for some eighty-plus hours, and also upgrade your understanding of what he's doing." - Andy Grove

For small teams, a weekly one-on-one can be a game changer for morale and team cohesiveness as problems will be fixed sooner and interpersonal issues diffused faster. For larger teams (7 or more) biweekly one-on-ones can give similar benefits without the manager drowning in meetings.  Making sure everyone in your company experiences this benefit can be huge.

2) Don't let one-on-ones be status updates or canceled regularly.

One-on-ones only work if you actually have them. When a manager cancels a one-on-one, they signal that other things are more important than the team member.  Setting the standard (and leading by example) that the one-on-one is a sacred spot on your calendar and rescheduled, not canceled, when emergency strikes says a lot to team members about how they're valued.

As important is then what you discuss. If one-on-ones are allowed to be status updates, then you miss out on all the valuable learning that can come by making the meeting all about the team member. As Ben Horowitz writes:

"The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee's meeting...This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other mechanisms."

If you're looking for a good starting point, take a look at these 101 questions you can ask in a 1 on 1.

3) Teach leaders how to handle tough situations.

Being a manager is a lot more than getting to make more decisions. There are often difficult situations to resolve and tough conversations to be had.  Especially for new managers and those in roles with increasing responsibility, the need for help can be critical. Poorly handling a situation can have long term damage on not just their relationship with that employee or team, but how those people view the entire company.

This is why Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, runs management training seminars. As Bloomberg reported last year,

At least four times a year, Costolo leads a two-day "Managing at Twitter” seminar, including role-playing difficult situations, whiteboard brainstorming and readings from former Intel Corp. (INTC) CEO Andy Grove's book "High Output Management.”

Do you know how your managers handle tough problems?

4) Demonstrate the value of focus.

It's easy to get pulled into reactive management. Constantly fighting the next fire and focusing on problems can feel like the right thing to do, but if it's at the expense of long term planning and seizing opportunities, you'll lose out. As legendary leadership author Peter Drucker wrote:

"[Leaders] need to learn to feed their opportunities and starve their problems. They need to work on making strength productive. They need to concentrate and to set priorities instead of trying to do a little bit of everything."  - Peter Drucker

Helping your managers get out of the weeds and invest time in the things that will pay long term dividends. That mindset is unlikely to happen by accident.

5) Remember the impact every manager has.

Just because you're not CEO doesn't mean you cannot have a major impact.  Whether leading by example, taking care of your team, or just focusing on the right things, each manager has to believe in their influence and importance. As Andy Grove wrote:

"As a middle manager, of any sort, you are in effect a chief executive of an organization yourself….As a micro CEO, you can improve your own and your group's performance and productivity, whether or not the rest of the company follows suit."

Don't let yourself or any of the people you lead get discouraged by anything they can't change. Instead, help them focus on what they can do to make things great for them and their teams.

How have you standardized leadership in your company?

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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