In my latest stint at Meesho, I worked on some fantastic projects about which I will probably talk from time to time. But while taking leave from my team, which was an incredibly difficult task, I realized that there was something else I should be more proud of than my projects. It was the fact that I had managed and partially built a vertical (org) with diverse teams to be absolutely aligned to the org’s objectives. It was a motivated, engaged and committed team that would take ownership, and not just carry out the tasks. This was a team that looked forward to coming to work every day. And it is when the team members spoke that I consciously realized what were the things I had done right. Even if it feels like bragging I am going to record them for my own reference as well as for anyone who finds these useful. Most of these things are not extraordinary or out of the world. Any advice on managerial effectiveness you get would perhaps list them. So much so that they almost sound mundane or cliched. But their power is that they work.
I had direct reports, some of them with teams of their own, and also folks with a dotted line reporting – mostly in tech. My org included product, marketing, content, design, community, and ops folks.
Practices that worked
- Monthly 1:1s with direct reports: The company had not put this formally in place, but I started this practice nevertheless. I scheduled only 15 minutes for each conversation. Some people may find that too short, but that was mostly enough. And if in any 1:1, we realized that there was more stuff to be discussed, we scheduled it separately. Many a time nothing new comes out in these meetings, but just setting aside time for one builds trust and gives assurance to the team that their concerns and long-term aspirations would not be lost in the day-to-day grind of work. And then sometimes important things come out. I got to know things that were bothering people, things they would like to happen differently, or the direction they would like their career to go in. Most of the time, these things were addressable. Even when they were not, it made things a whole lot better to just explain to them why something can’t happen the way they want. Finally, this was the opportunity for me to give them ongoing feedback instead of piling it up for the yearly appraisal. It is super important to explicitly tell people what they are doing right. It can do wonders for their motivation and confidence. It is also important to give negative feedback on an ongoing basis and not pile them up for the time when it becomes so bad that it is unresolvable. If somebody’s performance does eventually become a problem, it should not come as a surprise to them. And the way to ensure that is having that feedback included regularly in 1:1s, which also gives them an opportunity to work on it.
- Weekly sync-up with a twist: There was a weekly sync-up with direct and dotted line reports. But the most important agenda here was not for me to get updates from the team (which also happened), but to give updates from my side to them. Almost everything I discussed with the leadership group or with my manager which could impact any of the team’s work at any point in time, I presented to the team in these meetings. It also included updates on the initiatives taken or launched by the different teams in the org. The team members usually explained the work that was done, but what I tried to ensure was that every other team understood what was being done and why. This means that developers, marketers, and ops folks were explained how A/B worked and why we did that, product people and developers were told how events were conducted and what determines the turnout, and developers and content people got to know how Facebook ads worked. It felt odd sometimes, but people do really want to know and they appreciate someone making an effort to help them do that.
There was an organization-wide exercise that was carried out, where everybody was supposed to call two users each and get feedback from them. In one of the weekly sync-ups, everyone shared what they had learned from the users. I used that opportunity to talk about the most prominent issues raised by the users and what other orgs in the company were doing about it. While the calling exercise was meant to inculcate user empathy in everyone, this discussion and information on what we are doing about the issues raised were important to give people confidence in the company they were working for.
General team updates were also provided in these weekly sync-ups, but anything that needed detailed discussion was scheduled separately.
- Ongoing communication: The communication did not wait for weekly sync-up. I used the org chat group to regularly update people on org’s activities, especially the outcomes of any recently launched projects and regular summaries of any ongoing problem we were working on.
- Monthly sync-up with the entire team: I started a monthly sync-up for people who were not my direct reports. The format and purpose were similar to the weekly sync-up with direct and dotted line reports. To keep everyone aligned to the org’s objectives as well as the company’s direction and to clearly communicate why things were done the way they were being done. A review of the user-calling exercise was done in one of these monthly meetings too with a similar conversation about what the company and other orgs were doing about the issues raised.
- Educate: Wherever possible, I tried to take time to answer *any* questions anyone in the team had and help them learn anything they wanted to learn. This resulted in explaining funnels and charts to the content and education team, explaining tech to the product team and explaining the concept of contribution margin to everyone who was interested. And wherever I didn’t have an answer, I communicated that and if possible pointed them to the right sources. Over time, this was expected to evolve in different team members taking up the responsibility of educating others in their areas of expertise.
One of the things that I hadn’t yet implemented, but would have liked to do was to keep some open 1:1 slots for anybody in the org to book, primarily for those who were not direct reports and hence didn’t have regular 1:1s with me. In G-Suite’s business accounts Google Calendar has this nifty feature which lets you designate some appointment slots in your calendar that anyone can book.
One overarching philosophy of managerial effectiveness for me is to know that each individual is different. And their differences need to be kept in mind, especially while managing the direct reports. An awareness of their unique strengths and weaknesses, or even eccentricities, can help foster a much more productive work relationship than would be possible in trying to treat everyone the same.
In my own experience, the one single biggest contributor to one’s job satisfaction is their relationship with their manager. If that relationship is good, even a mundane company and job work. If that relationship is not good, even the dream company and job won’t work. So, having succeeded in that area with at least a few people is very gratifying for me.