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A Manager’s New Year’s Resolutions by Caroline Simard, Vice President of Research and Executive Programs

It’s only a few days in January, and I’ve heard from a lot of people on their resolutions: lose weight, be more organized, exercise more, get more sleep, and the quintessential Silicon Valley resolution, “break the blackberry habit” or “check email less often in the evenings.”  

It’s only a few days in January, and I’ve heard from a lot of people on their resolutions: lose weight, be more organized, exercise more, get more sleep, and the quintessential Silicon Valley resolution, “break the blackberry habit” or “check email less often in the evenings.”

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These are laudable goals, made by very driven people. What is surprising, though, is that most people’s resolutions rarely have anything to do with work, where those who are employed spend at least half of their waking time. Here are a few simple and easily attainable goals for managers who wish to enhance their ability to recruit, retain, and advance talent, leading to greater organizational success.

 

  1. Mentor others

This does not involve a very large time commitment. It can be done in a monthly meeting, a quarterly meeting, or even through email. The benefits of mentoring for your company will be greater employee satisfaction, engagement, and advancement. For you, the benefit will be cross-functional collaborative networks, access to new talent and new ideas in the organization, and enhanced performance in your team. Your modeling the behavior will also encourage your direct reports to seek a mentor and to mentor others and each other. Try to mentor someone who is not exactly like you and you will learn more in the process. Women and minorities are less likely to already have access to mentors, and reaching out to minority talent in mentoring is critical to their retention and advancement.

 

  1. Model workplace sanity

2009 was The Year of The Downturn (and for many, “The Year of The Layoff”).  Those who are still employed ended the year battered, bruised, and exhausted, with unprecedented workloads. In a previous post, I discussed the research showing that there past economic downturns have led to talent flights, and how this flight risk is especially high for women. This one will be no exception. One study found that workplace overload is the second predictor of turnover after financial rewards — and let’s face it, despite signs of recovery, most companies can’t count on keeping talent by throwing money at the problem these days. Modeling workplace sanity means, first and foremost, giving employees adequate resources to achieve their goals –  this 2006 article in the Ivey Business Journal says it well: “not giving people the knowledge and tools to be successful is unethical and demotivating.” In the wake of the economic downturn, many employees have felt like flexibility, sick time, vacation, and adequate resources to meet expanded deliverables have become a rare commodity. This leads to disengagement and ultimately turnover. Bonus: this resolution can be merged easily with the ones regarding health, sleep, and breaking the blackberry/email habits.

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  1. Listen.

This resolution is both very easy to implement and very hard to keep going. On the plus side, it’s measurable – you know when you are doing it (how many times have you deliberately shut up today?). On the down side, the high-tech work cultures many managers live in reward assertiveness and speaking up above all else – I have written extensively on this blog and elsewhere about the “Type A,” assertive culture of many high-tech organizations and how it can alienate diverse talent and hinder innovation. The word “soft skills” is the object of smirks in many organizational cultures, and yet, the ability to listen to employees and foster diverse communication styles within your group is critical to extracting the best ideas from your team and for employee retention. Listen to employees consistently. Seek out opinions from employees who do not speak as often and may shy away from expressing diverging opinions. Here’s another plus: listening involves putting a stop to multi-tasking in meetings and helps you meet the resolution of breaking the blackberry/constant email checking habit. As Stanford Professor Bob Sutton says on his blog, “Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.”

 

  1. Recognize

Employee recognition has never been more important – it’s a powerful currency in an economic environment where cash incentives are rare. Organizations and managers focus too much on the negative, especially in an environment where people feel like they are playing a layoff survivor game. In a high-tech culture, recognition for one’s contributions is one of the most important currencies for retention. A report by Blessing White on Managing Technical Professionals found that getting appropriately recognized for accomplishments and successes was of foremost importance for technical employees.

 

  1. Acknowledge your power and the importance of your role.

The more I read about human capital, diversity, innovation, and high-performing organizations, the more I am convinced that good people management is perhaps both the most underrated and most important skill for the 21st century. I have talked to countless technology employees, especially technical women, who said that “having a manager who ‘gets it’ was the most important difference between a fantastic work experience and a hellish one. “Getting it” means understanding what your employees need to be successful, and how these needs vary for different employees. It also involves being aware of your own limitations and biases and striving to establish a fair work environment. A past report by the Level Playing Field Institute found that women and underrepresented minorities were less likely to be experiencing their workplace as fair, and were less likely to feel like their immediate supervisors were doing a good job in creating a fair work environment. A manager’s role, as Jeff Pfeffer puts it, is to build a sustainable organization – from a human perspective.

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