Years ago I learned the importance of setting expectations between managers & new employees through the tough lesson of not asking the right questions on management style of a new employee. I had managed an employee through a 16 week full time summer contract and they were one of the most pessimistic people I had ever worked with. I felt like I was constantly trying to keep him and his teammates motivated as his attitude seeped onto others. At the end of the program, I sat down with the employee to do their evaluation and so many discussions points came out I wish I had known from day 1. I realized I was trying to drive positivity and results by challenges and incentives – I thought this was motivating to him as had a very competitive nature & always rose to win the challenge. In the review, it came out that he didn’t feel motivated on the program as he wanted increased responsibility to grow additional skills. At first I was frustrated with him – why didn’t he tell me this at some point over the 16 week program? Then, I stepped back and realized that as his manager, this onus was on ME to ask the right questions!
Though it was a tough 16 weeks, I learned a very important lesson that summer as a new people manager. I now believe that as a manager you should be a chameleon and adapt your management style to those that report to you. From this situation, I developed something I call the “Manager Contract.” It is a 2 page document that everyone I work with fills in as it facilitates a discussion on what we both need to have a successful working relationship. I personalize them to each and every direct report.
The document is broken into 2 sections: section 1 is on expectations for each of us in our roles and section 2 is open ended questions around the topic of personalized coaching. In the expectation section, it reviews the top 15-20 expectations I have for that person in their role. This includes things like answering voicemails/emails within 24 hours and then specifics about team management, problem solving, being a role model etc. Following my expectations on them, it then reviews the expectations they should have of me as their manager. This is a 2-way relationship after all!
My favourite part of the contract is actually part 2, which is about personalized management. I typically keep these open ended questions the same for all direct reports though may edit out a few if that employee is not a people manager. I ask questions like:
- My best working environment includes
- I need the following from my manager
- My goal in my role is
- My personal career goal is
- My strengths are
- My growth opportunities are
- I will be the following type of leader
I then include a section where I, the manager, answer similar questions about:
- My best working environment includes
- I need from those who report to me
- I will help you achieve your goals/successes by
The process is that I create the template of the contract and then forward it to my direct report to personalize and send back to me. We then have a meeting to walk through the document and set ourselves up for success in our new working relationship. This is a living breathing document so if one member feels the other isn’t keeping up their end of the bargain, then we can pull it out and review; we also refresh/update the contract every 6 months as projects and priorities change.
I learned my lesson about asking the right questions a LONG time ago and for over 7 years I have had a management contract with every single direct report. I now use the contract more as a reminder of the right questions for myself but use it as a great tool for all of my direct reports who are managers as it sets them up for success with new direct reports.
What do you do to set up new managers and direct reports for success? Do you coach your teams to ask the right questions? Do you want your managers to tailor their style to direct reports or vice versa? Remember templates act as a guide and are a great training tool for new managers!