Go ahead, pop the champagne: guiding your teams through a tumultuous 2021 is worth celebrating. But as you bid the old year goodbye, it’s worth taking stock of the outdated beliefs that won’t serve you in the new one.
As you get ready to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, here are 5 management clichés worth dropping, too — so you can enter 2022 a stronger, more empathetic manager.
1. "Failure is not an option"
For most teams, hybrid is a completely new way of working, which means that no one has all the answers. Adopting an iterative mindset and being open to feedback, especially when people first start coming back to the office, will be key to driving performance, wellbeing, and trust.
Instead of discouraging mistakes or shutting down conversations about what could be improved, encourage your team to view mini-failures as learning opportunities. After all, by showing us what doesn’t work, failure helps us narrow in on what does—leading us to more innovative, effective processes and products.
Try this: As a manager, you can help your team get more comfortable with things going awry by modeling a constructive response. In a team setting, try raising a recent mishap, mistake, or decision that did not go as planned. Share what you learned, and then open the floor for feedback. Research shows that looking at setbacks as growth opportunities increases psychological safety and belonging.
2. “There is no ‘I’ in team”
A “one size fits all” approach to leadership usually ends up serving no one. Your team members will work at their best if you invest in understanding each individual’s unique talents and areas for improvement—and then assign tasks accordingly. You’ll also have a better chance of holding on to top talent: People who feel that their work utilizes their personal skills are 6.6x less likely to leave their organization.
Try this: To help your people leverage and develop their unique skillsets, set aside time in 1:1s to discuss what work they enjoy and what they’d like to learn over the coming months. Together, agree on:
- A valuable ability they’ll learn or further develop
- A plan to practice it on-the-job
- Why it’s important to their personal professional goals
These conversations are an effective way of helping your people “job craft,” or shape their roles into something more meaningful and satisfying. Job crafting is especially important for tenured employees, who are more likely to be bored of their current work and looking for novelty.
3. “Let’s circle back on this”
Hybrid work requires leaders to be more decisive than usual. While you should offer your people autonomy (aka don’t micromanage them!), you also shouldn’t shy away from putting a stake in the ground. Especially when it comes to team direction, policies, and values, make expectations and norms clear. Miscommunication is much more common when people aren’t in-person as often, so aim to avoid leaving things open-ended or vague when possible.
If you do need to gather more information or to speak with a few more people before landing on a decision, clearly outline (even if it’s just for yourself) your next steps and when you’ll follow-up again with a final answer.
Try this: The next time you notice a debate about what to do next dragging on, step in and make a decision. Carefully consider both sides of the argument (and make it clear you’re doing so), then help the team move on by making a call.
Being more decisive also means acting quickly to remove barriers to progress. In your next 1:1s, ask your reports, “Is there anything blocking your work?” If they identify something, do everything you can to either remove it—or help them navigate around it. By taking action, you’ll earn your team’s trust and help them avoid spinning their wheels. It’s a win-win.
4. “I hear what you’re saying, but...”
As attrition continues to climb, it’s clear that people won’t hesitate to leave their jobs in search of more supportive work cultures. It’s no longer enough to just ask for feedback, whether it’s via employee engagement surveys or in team meetings. Employees are looking for their managers to act on what they share.
Try this: Make it a habit to close the feedback loop. What does that look like? If someone on your team raises an issue or suggests an improvement, look into what steps you can take to address their comments. If it’s something within your control that you can change, be sure to follow-up with them and outline what actions you took as a direct result of their feedback.
If your team member’s feedback is focused on something that’s out of your control, let them know that, too—and provide as much transparency as you can about why you were unable to make improvements. Try saying something like, “I appreciate your suggestion, but because of ______, I can’t take action on it right now.”
5. “The customer is always right”
“They’re just yelling the entire time,” Marcus Brotherns, a worker who quit his fast food job in the summer of 2021 after too many encounters with angry customers, told NPR. “I never want to do something like this again.”
Prioritizing unreasonable customer demands at the expense of your employees’ safety and wellbeing will leave your workforce feeling unsupported—and make them much more likely to quit.
Employee trust levels are already at record lows: less than a third of employees think their employer cares about their wellbeing. No one wants to work a demeaning, demanding job where their manager doesn’t trust their judgment.
Try this: Once new hires have shown that they’re competent and motivated, trust them more than feels comfortable, especially when it comes to dealing with customers. Empower your people to offer solutions on a case-by-case basis. Employees need to know that when a customer is unfair or rude, management will have their back, and not automatically take the customer’s side. (Or worse, blame the employee for a customer interaction gone wrong for reasons beyond their control.)
When you say goodbye to these five outdated management clichés, you’re saying hello to the kind of supportive, effective work culture that top talent craves. And like the coming New Year, that’s a change worth celebrating.