How you can gain visibility without demanding regular updates,
When I headed up my previous company, eShare, I hovered over my staff, keeping everyone’s movements within my sight, acting like a helicopter manager.
Having built the business from scratch, I saw it as something precious and potentially perfect. I really wanted my customers to be happy and I wanted our product to be amazing. I wanted to deliver a fantastic service.
There was nothing wrong with having big aspirations for the company. But, as we got bigger, we started to hire people who, although they cared and wanted to do a good job, didn’t necessarily have the same zeal and all-48 consuming commitment that I had to making everything perfect.
It wasn’t that they didn’t want to do a great job; rather that they had a life outside the office and arguably a healthier perspective on work than I perhaps did.
But it wasn’t only that, they also had different views on how things should be done and in my passion for perfection I struggled to recognise this. This meant their great ideas for new ways of working often were overlooked or worse rebutted. When this happened we lost an opportunity to improve.
Every business needs diversity, and people with different opinions. But it can be hard to let go of control when you’re used to everything being and happening a certain way.
So at first my reaction was to maintain vigilance, poised as a quality controller to point out the small errors of people’s ways, the niggling little things they had overlooked or not quite done to my standards. And of course the more I looked, the more faults I found.
I was effectively filling the gaps left by my team and taking responsibility away from them. In so doing, I was creating more work for myself, and signalling to my staff that I didn’t really trust them. By watching over them, ready to point out their next mistake, I was robbing them of their chance to shine, or even to learn from their own errors. I was lucky I didn’t lose anyone; I must have made a few people’s lives a misery.
Eventually it dawned on me that my approach was not sustainable; that perhaps there was a common theme behind the issues I was encountering – and that the issue was more something I had not done: ie show the way with a manual for how to excel in the jobs that needed to be done – a clearly set-out process, documented in a way that people could easily understand, work from and check against.
The power of process
When I first started to develop my company (Process Bliss provides software to manage processes), I created a first version of the software product that was quite controlling. My goal was to create a basic product that would encapsulate a process, along with clear guidance and documents for employees to follow.
It would allow different people to complete different steps, and tick these off as they completed them – while crucially also providing scope for employees to explain why they may not have been able to complete some steps.
When we developed and launched the software, I was quite busy meddling in my business and checking up on everybody, making sure things were being done the way I wanted them to be. I thought I wanted to see reports of everything that was being done and anything that wasn’t.
But actually, with a solid process in place, this ceased to be necessary. I learned that once people are equipped with all the tools they need to do a good job, they don’t need overt supervision.
Assuming employees have bought into the process, and can see the benefits of it, they will start to take ownership of it. This in turn invites a new level of trust and reassurance. People want to be able to deliver something they can be proud of, which means they are likely to proactively report any issues with the process.
So, as a manager, you’re able to leave them to it. Before long, everything is running like clockwork, and the manager or business owner is free to focus on higher-level decision-making.
If process is implemented correctly, it should be possible to see status updates about how everything is going, removing the need for managers to keep chasing teams or individuals for updates – which in itself can cause stress (it’s the third most common cause of employee demotivation).
In a positive, process-enabled scenario, keeping key people in the loop should feel instinctive, because everyone desires – and wants to be seen to be working towards - the same outcome: success.
Alister Esam is an Innovator, Investor and CEO, and the author of The Dirty Word: The word that fills people with dread is the key to business freedom, out now.
How I Let Go Of Being A ‘Helicopter Manager’ With Processes