Good Management and Good Parenting
My Dad once told me he became a better manager when I was a teenager. I didn’t appreciate the truth of that statement until I had kids of my own. The great thing about kids is they give you very direct and immediate feedback when you do a bad job setting expectations with them. If you want to have a really bad time parenting see what happens when you have a reward system that doesn’t make sense and isn’t applied consistently. Most of the battles I fight around screen time with my kids are because I haven’t stuck to my own rules.
The general approach is the same when you are in position of authority as a manager. Good management tends to resemble good parenting, and establishes a culture of trust and autonomy.
That being said, please don’t infantilize your employees. They are adults and deserve to be treated as such. You should not espouse the harmful platitudes about a business being a family, nor should you demand unconditional love. You cannot fire your children, but there will likely be a time when you have to perform layoffs at work (usually not of your choice, welcome to management, it’s hard).
If you can follow the guidelines around expectation setting you’ll find yourself with more time to effectively manage up and work with your peers, and not burn energy on counterproductive micromanagement strategies to get results from your team.
Setting rules and expectations on a team should be clear, consistent, and fair. You must achieve all three of those criteria if you want to establish a healthy team that trusts you and will will make good decisions without your direct input.
Clear expectations are unambiguous, easy to communicate, and have few exceptions.
“Production issues for the payments system our team owns should be treated as the highest priority and be handled immediately. Every minute of downtime costs the business $25,000.”
There’s no ambiguity about this statement. If the production system breaks the team needs to fix it. They don’t need to weigh other priorities, just take action. Providing the impact to the business reinforces why meeting this expectation of production uptime is important.
Consistent expectations mean that your team will take the correct action repeatedly and won’t debate what is actually valued.
“I know you spent the past four days putting in place a long term fix so the production issue from this week won’t happen again. I’ll make sure the delivery date for your current project is adjusted to accommodate this.”
The expectation about production uptime is consistently applied here. Preventing further outages takes priority over project work, and the team isn’t punished by having to overwork to meet a previous deadline. When faced with a future production issue there won’t be confusion about priorities.
Fair expectations foster healthy team relationships and won’t cause your team to resent you or each other.
“On call rotations are a full 7 days so the evening and weekend coverage is equal across the team. On call schedules outside of normal working hours will be paid since you are expected to have your laptop available and respond quickly. If you have a conflict outside of work please let me know so we can find somebody to swap shifts with.”
Nobody enjoys on call rotations, but it’s clear that the rotation here is fair, and that nobody on the team is receiving preferential treatment. Paying people for being on call outside of normal work hours reinforces that you value your employees and their time, and that they aren’t being forced to do unpaid work.
The effects of good expectation setting may not be immediate on your team, especially if there are issues with trust. It can take time to undo years of poor management from prior jobs. If you consistently reinforce your expectations you will build a foundation for a healthy and high performing team.