Manager Mailbag #1: Retention, unfair policies and no support8 min read
Welcome to the first ever edition of Manager Mailbag! This month, Brennan tackles strategies for dealing with employee retention, unfair work policies and lack of support from management.
This column is part of the new Hypercontext series, Manager Mailbag. Every month, we collect questions from managers about their greatest challenges and share advice on how to tackle them. In this first-ever edition, Hypercontext CEO and Co-Founder, Brennan McEachran, gives advice for anonymous questions submitted by Reddit users.
If you have your own questions you want to ask anonymously, you can fill out this form. We’d love to hear from you!
In this edition of Manager Mailbag, I answer the following questions:
- How do you retain your team if you don’t have the ability to reward great employees meaningfully?
- What do you do when you’re asked to enforce a policy you don’t agree with?
- How do you become a better manager without support from your own manager?
Q: How do you retain your team if you don’t have the ability to reward great employees meaningfully?
The first thing that’s important to point out here is that money isn’t the only meaningful way to motivate people.
While there’s no doubt it’s important, there are a lot of instances when people aren’t leaving their jobs because of more money. In the startup world, for example, we regularly see people take a massive pay cut in exchange for growth, impact, equity, etc.
To further the point, according to The State of High Performing Teams in Tech, once people are paid fairly, competitive salary doesn’t actually have a notable impact on retention.
So how do you motivate people outside of money? In general, when looking at how to motivate humans, we can boil it down to 3 key categories:
Reward of the hunt, reward of the self, reward of the tribe
- Reward of the hunt: This is the standard way we think about motivation — seeking material resources (aka, money). Since we want to look for other ways to motivate your team and you’re likely already familiar with the concept, let’s move on to the next.
- Reward of the self: Reward of the self is about achieving mastery — i.e. becoming really good at your job. For example, if you have someone on your team who aims to achieve inbox zero every day — that’s the type of person who feels rewarded by achieving mastery for themselves.
- Reward of the tribe: Reward of the tribe is what it sounds like — the reward of social recognition. A great example of this is social media. We feel a sense of accomplishment and reward by seeing our peers and friends engage with and like what we share. It makes us want to share more. It’s why those platforms alert you of new likes and comments and make those counts visible to everyone.
In the video below, I dive deeper into how exactly we implement reward of the self and reward of the tribe on the Hypercontext team.
But I’ll leave you with this: People are rarely only motivated by money. If it’s the case that your best employees are only motivated by money, and your company can’t offer that — you’re not hiring the right people. On the flip side, if all your work has to offer is a low income — and it’s time to start looking for a new job!
Q: What do you do when you’re asked to enforce a policy you don’t agree with?
To start, I’ll walk through the reasons this might have happened in the first place — because more often than not, I’ve been on the other end of this situation. 🙈
To me, the most ideal policy is no policies. I want everyone to be responsible, reasonable adults who make their own decisions. Unfortunately, as companies get bigger, there’s a need to implement policies.
An ideal policy is objective and allows the company to scale its decision-making. That’s exactly where this policy is failing. It was highly subjective and didn’t allow a decision to be made quickly. If the purpose of a policy is to make it easy and quick for everyone to make decisions without involving HR, why, in this case, did HR need to get involved? Probably 1 of 2 reasons:
- The policy still needs iterations. It’s not perfect yet, and they’re trying to fix gaps as they see them.
- They don’t want this to set a precedent. While you know it would make sense for your team member to use personal time in this situation, they’re probably worried others will take advantage of the precedent.
Regardless, it doesn’t make it right. So, what can you do? These are 3 steps you can take when you disagree with a policy at work:
- When you’re talking to your superior and HR, it’s perfectly okay to make your stance known. You can disagree and communicate that.
- But, whatever the decision is at the end of the discussion is the policy you must commit to and communicate to your team.
- If the discussion doesn’t change the policy, don’t get discouraged — there’s more you can do. While you might not be able to sway the policy in the limited time you have before your direct report needs to watch their sister’s kids, you can try to enact change going forward. I dive into how I’d approach that in the video below!
While it might take time and feel like a high effort, I’d try to make the changes you want to see at your company. That way, going forward, you don’t need to uphold an unfair policy you don’t agree with — and no one else is either.
Q3: How do you become a better manager without support from your own manager?
Most managers don’t know how to be good managers.
In fact, 38% of managers have never received management training. It’s a sad truth! That’s why in a lot of cases, it’s up to managers to take matters into their own hands.
Below are 4 things you can do to get more support (from your manager and elsewhere) and improve your management capabilities. I go more in-depth on how to apply them in this video.
1. Invest in reading
There’s a reason some of the most successful people in the world read a lot (cc Bill Gates). Books allow you to learn from managers who’ve taken the time to write an entire book — which takes an enormous amount of thought and effort. No chance you don’t get at least a few helpful insights.
2. Have one-on-ones
According to The State of High Performing teams in tech, the effective and most common cadence for one-on-ones is weekly for 30 minutes.
When I say have one-on-ones, I’m not only talking about one-on-ones with your direct report and manager. I’m also talking about lateral one-on-ones with your peers and skip levels with your manager’s boss.
But one-on-ones with your manager are particularly important — especially for managing up and exchanging feedback! If you’re struggling to get time with your boss, you want to put extra effort into demonstrating that you’re not going to waste their time. Here are a few things you can do :
- Send the agenda in advance
- Anticipate the information they’ll need and share it upfront
- At the end of the meeting, if it helped you, communicate that it was really valuable
In the video below, I dive into the importance of each one-on-one, and how to go about them.
3. Spend a lot of time on goals
By working on goals at the outset, it’ll help you carve out more autonomy.
Make sure your goals and key results are super clear so that even if you’re not talking to your manager often, you can stay aligned on the work you’re doing. That way it’s indisputable when you do a great job.
4. Build a peer network
Find people in similar roles, career stages and industries and meet with them regularly. This is a great opportunity to share your challenges, get a new perspective, cross-pollinate ideas, and build a network.
That network will only get more and more valuable as time goes on.
Peer groups exist in every industry! You just need to find them. Leaning on social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter is a great place to start.
Unfortunately, you’re not alone in feeling a lack of support. Your own manager probably doesn’t feel support either and their manager might not even feel support. It’s why we’re here doing manager mailbag and also why we built Hypercontext.
The good news? There are other places to turn! All in all, I would say try to find as many inputs of support as possible — starting with the 4 I outline above.
Thanks for sharing your questions with us! If you have challenges you’re dealing with and want advice, we’d love to hear from you.