When it comes to kickstarting a relationship, few things have more impact than having an open discussion about expectations.
One of the most impactful things you can do as a manager, no matter your level of experience, is to have conversations with the people who work with you about expectations. In their most basic form, those conversations might look something like this:
That’s easy enough in theory, sure, but when the time comes to sit down and do it, those conversations become more difficult. Why? For many, it’s because they don’t know how to approach the conversation or where to start. Most often it’s because we feel uncomfortable. Which is why so many of these conversations go unhad or get, as my mother might say, “forgotten on purpose.”
In a previous position, I had an experience with a team member that taught me a lot about how important these conversations really are. When this person first joined my team, they came and expressed to me sentiments of, “I got this. I’ll figure things out. Don’t worry about me.” Instead of taking time one-on-one to talk about things like key responsibilities, team priorities, or interdepartmental work requirements, I chose to go along with it. “We’ll solve any problems as they come,” I thought.
That decision put a strain on our relationship from day one, without either one of us realizing it. As time went on, corrective conversations became a regular part of our working together, most of which could have been avoided had we sat down together at the start and asked each other some simple, powerful questions.
Fast forward now to a more recent experience hiring a new developer, Chris, to join our growing team at Campfire. During the onboarding process, Steve Arntz (Campfire CEO) and I talked about what I could do to make sure we were on the same page from day one. I wanted to uncover the questions, concerns, critique, and anything else that could hinder our work together.
While it might not have crossed my mind at the time, I’m sure the experience I mentioned previously played a part in what I did next. I opened a Google doc, wrote down three simple questions, and sent it off.
At the top of the document, I answered the same three questions about him. I opened up about my hopes for him to own certain aspects of our development roadmap, my expectations for our communication habits, and my fears of managing him in ways he didn’t appreciate or need.
His first day, he took some time to answer the questions and at the end of the day, we talked about our answers. We opened our documents and went through them together. We didn’t talk about every point we had written down and the conversation wasn’t long, but the points we did talk about were incredibly productive and eye opening.
Here’s what that experience taught me:
1. Manager/Report relationships begin with the manager
There’s a reason the document I shared with Chris starts with my own hopes, expectations, and fears instead of asking for his. In order to ask Chris to be open with me, I need to be open with him first. The best way to lead is by example; and as a leader myself, I believe that.
Now, it’s not uncommon for a report to take the stance of, “I’ll figure things out. Don’t worry about it.” It’s also not uncommon for managers to sit back and allow that thought process to take root. In doing this, we think we’re building a culture of productivity and independence when in reality we’re creating relationships where corrective behavior becomes both necessary and frequent and unsaid thoughts and feelings dam communication, collaboration, and ultimately, success.
By starting with the hopes, expectations, and fears document, our relationship got off on the right foot. It opened up strong communication channels between us, despite us both being natural introverts, and allows us to address each other directly without fear of hurting each other’s feelings or disrupting each other’s work. We understand each other, which means we understand how to do our best work together.
Even more importantly, we have a relationship built on real information rather than assumptions.
2. You cannot manage a person without knowing them first
As a manager, it’s tempting to adopt a mindset of “Let’s wait and see what happens. If it becomes an issue, then we’ll address it” as it relates to your people’s work habits. Understanding how and when every single one of your reports prefers to work takes an enormous amount of time and effort. Or at least, I thought it did. I don’t think that anymore.
At Campfire, we created what we call the Campfire user guide. It’s a one page template for managers to give to their employees to learn exactly how they do their best work. Things like their preferred communication style, what their personal struggles are, and how they like to receive feedback.
When Chris came on board, I had him fill out the user guide for me to get to know him further. When he did, two sections stood out: “My biggest needs” and “Things I love”. From these two sections alone, Chris told me things like how often I should be checking in, what type of projects he would enjoy the most, and what his work ethic would be like every single day.
3. The best managers use the best tools
Not all managers have the same strengths, habits, or characteristics, all of us still figuring out how to lead people. For a lot of managers, sitting down with a report one on one and having the type of conversation necessary to start your relationship off right is uncomfortable. I was one of those managers.
When Chris joined Campfire, I knew I had to do something different than I had in the past, which is why the hopes, expectations, and fears document was born. It’s amazing how something as simple as a word document with six open-ended prompts turned what used to be a daunting, uncomfortable conversation into a powerful discussion driven by a real desire to work together in the best ways possible. It isn’t anything revolutionary. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s simple.
It’s simplicity that gives the hopes, expectations, and fears activity and the Campfire user guide their power. Both are designed to make the hard conversations easier and the most important relationships stronger. They’re meant to create a safe space that brings people closer together in a warm, inviting way.
Sort of like, oh I don’t know, a Campfire.
Open a copy of "Hopes, Expectations, and Fears" | Download "The Campfire User Guide"