With 15 years of experience in the Information Technology field, and 10 of those years focused on leadership, I’ve learned first hand the value of investing in people and setting them up for success. Before joining Mediacurrent, I started a QA department from scratch and grew it to its current size. Prior to that, I built an IT team. If you're an incoming leader, here's how to start building your own QA/IT department.
Too Busy to Hire?
So you have established your department, written some procedures and notice things are improving. You are now ready for your first hire. Well at least you think you are, but how do you know?
First we want to begin to examine your workload. With an additional hire, will you have enough of a break both financially and timewise to properly lead a department? Not only is it important to set yourself up for success, but you also need to properly invest in whoever you hire to set them up to succeed. An absent leader is a source of frustration for departmental team members and can lead to a high turnover rate, or simply poor decision making due to lack of a shared vision.
Communicate to Build Trust
That being said, though it is good for a leader to be active in their employees work life, there is a strong difference between leading and micro managing. If you constantly ask, “what are you working on? Why are you doing it like that? When will you be done?” You come off as pestering which will only lead to your employee becoming more and more frustrated.
Why is that bad? You need the information and they report to you, right? Well, let’s first break down the language and meaning behind it. You hired them because you feel they are competent in their role and you trust their abilities. When you barrade them with questions or directions on a day to day basis, then you portray a lack of “said” trust which degrades the employee on a professional level and can build resentment.
A better way to communicate is to schedule checkins with the employee at a time that best suits your business, whether it be daily, weekly or monthly intervals. Allow the employee the chance to bring issues, road blocks and general project updates to you before you go fishing for the status updates. By doing this you allow the person to act within a professional manner and over time learn what information you want and how you want it, all without making them feel like they are under your thumb, so to speak.
If you haven’t noticed yet, the running theme to running a successful department is building that foundation of trust with your employees. When they know you trust them and their work ethics, they will work harder and more efficiently. Also, with your already busy schedule you don’t want to form a dependency to where an employee feels they need to check with you before doing anything.
Balance Management and Leadership
Earlier, I said not to be a leader who is never around, and then I talked about not being there too much. So what is the balance? Well again you want to setup checkins with your employees in either 1 on 1 or group setting to gather the input/update, but that isn’t enough. Make sure you have an open door policy so that employees know they have someone to go to should an issue arise needing attention. If you are unable to maintain a constant open door, that is understandable, but you need to at least attempt to keep a designated time open on your calendar for employees to reach out and be heard. Finding that balance is something you will have to approach carefully as different employee personalities require different levels of availability and leadership.
Now you have established yourself as a leader who is there for their employees but is not a micromanager. This is good for the most part, but what happens when you need to implement discipline or correct behavior? You need to take a position of authority but you don’t want to destroy all of the trust you have built up. This is where a coaching style of leadership comes into play.
Play The Role of The “Coaching Manager”
When you correct a behavior, it is best to not immediately (unless absolutely necessary) correct the employee. If you do this, it will almost always come off as a knee jerk reaction and it doesn’t give you enough time to take all factors of what caused the incident into consideration. At the same time, you can not wait too long or you risk the employee losing sight of all the contributors to their behavior. The best example comes from a book The Coaching Manager. If something were to happen in a hospital’s operating room, the doctor can’t snap at the nurse right away nor can they wait until the next day to come down on them. The best time to discuss the issue is after everything is calmed down, in the hallway on the same day.
It is different with every employee but the one constant to remember as a “coaching manager” is to allow the employee to come up with the way it “should” have happened. No, I don’t mean let the employee dictate your decision, but instead lead them to the choice you believe they should have made instead by asking them the right questions, “What do you think went well? What do you think went wrong? How could you have handled that differently?” etc. In situations like this that are hopefully few and far between it is okay to ask this style of question and still not come across as a micromanager. This method helps the employee realize for themselves how they should have acted, maintain professionalism and in turn will commit it to memory far better than if you were to bark orders at them.
In closing, it is about being a servant leader, a person who is there when their employees need them, who treats them as the trusted professionals they are and by doing so will earn the trust of your department that you have their best interest in mind and are setting them up for success. Accomplish this, and you will find that employees will work harder, smarter and show true passion for what they are doing because they know the impact they can make.
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