There’s this fantastic time in a business owner or manager’s career when you get to a place that your team is big or complex enough that you need to hire someone that has expertise that you simply do not have.
This is a HUGE congratulations moment! Not everyone gets to a point where this is a necessity and it means such good things about your leadership and business savvy up to this point.
However, this point when you need to start setting goals, having career development conversations, giving feedback and instruction to someone who has a different set of skills, background and aspirations than you is challenging.
There’s even a good chance that at times it feels like you don’t even speak the same language (I’m looking at you software developers!)
So what to do?
Two things you have to become exceptional at are (1) Being able to articulate Results and Team Culture and (2) Giving Feedback that is based in a willingness to be wrong.
Let me dig into these in a little more detail to explain what I mean.
1. Articulating Results and Team Culture
So let’s define these first.
Results = What are the deliverables or accomplishments that a person in this role must achieve, by what time frames, to be meeting expectations?
Team Culture = What are the behaviours and ‘way we work’ that are ok and not ok in this team?
If you can answer those two questions to your new team member, you’re good to go.
Here’s the uncomfortable but true part: You do NOT actually need to know the everyday intricacies of your team member’s work. In fact, if you’re feeling that pull, that’s probably more your own baggage, concerns and insecurities coming out to play, not an actual business need - and yes I’m speaking from experience here.
You don’t need to understand the exact process they follow or the tools they use. You just have to understand WHY you have this role in the team, the outcomes they need to hit, and the way someone is expected to behave in the team.
So an example of this would be:
Result = Create visuals to support our clients social media post schedule using appropriate technology, at least 1 week prior to the content needing to be scheduled.
Team Culture = Always assume a positive and generous intent. So when a colleague doesn’t do their part of a project on time, you approach and speak to them directly with an open mind rather than gossiping or escalating to management right away.
And remember, goals are NOT intended to be infallible and never edited. So don’t get into a twist of crafting the PERFECT goal - it doesn’t exist and it’s a waste of your time and energy to aim for that.
Instead work with your team member to agree what deliverables are realistic given the timeframes, and then WHEN goals are missed (because let’s be honest, no one is perfect), you can have a grown up conversation about what happened without needing to know the intricacies of their technical work. (See point 2 below!)
2. Willing To Be ‘Wrong’ When Giving Feedback
The second piece of course is that you have to now be willing to give feedback in a very brave and vulnerable way - you have to give feedback not knowing if you’re actually right or not. You have to give it in a curious, thoughtful, open to learning more about the situation way.
This is not easy when, as a leader, we’ve become very comfortable in our role as ‘expert of all things’… or even more dangerous we’ve tied up our self worth with being able to solve all of the problems.
So the trick here is to follow the age old template of great feedback, (what happened and why it matters) with a clear intent to have a conversation rather than impart a message. An example of this could be:
“Hey Tim, we agreed you would have those social media posts for our client done and scheduled by end of day Friday. I noticed they haven’t been scheduled yet. Can you walk me through what’s going on with the account and any next steps?”
And from here, it’s a conversation between two grown ups about clarity on expectations, deliverables, client needs, etc and so on.
This is a tough transition for leaders, I totally get it, it’s uncomfortable, feels vulnerable and edgy, but it’s such an important part of stretching from a individual contributer to a leader.
And if you’re going to grow your company or your team’s remit, this is not optional. You have to start practicing these skills now or your leadership simply will not be sustainable or scalable.