On a recent panel at DigiPublish 2017, HarperCollins CMO Angela Tribelli said, “The thing that keeps me up at night is making sure we are investing enough in the marketers.”
Tribelli is smart to focus on her teams in an era where workers are less productive and more stressed, where the always-on, mobile internet has made it harder for teams to limit their working hours, where recruitment and retention activities are pressing and costly, and where more teams are distributed.
In the context of these disruptions to team dynamics and with increased pressure to deliver award-winning customer experiences, focusing on your people is the most important strategic investment a leader can make.
These three best practices for how to build and retain high-performance teams—without perks including free meals, ping-pong tables, and work-from-anywhere policies—will make a difference in your ability to meet your business goals.
1. Let Them Own It
Develop a culture where teams proactively make things happen and take on new challenges without being asked by giving team members autonomy, a sense of purpose, and role clarity. Prove your trust by devolving aspects of your budget to team members, giving them staff to manage, and having them own the process of setting their own goals. If teams feel like their work matters and that their boss trusts them, work quality and team retention will skyrocket.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to fostering a culture of ownership I’ve seen in working with large global brands has been a lack of role clarity. Consider using the Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RACI), a project management tool that assigns levels of accountability and involvement to team members in a transparent format. For each project or task, team members are assigned one of four roles: responsible (doer), accountable (approver), consulted (asked for input), and informed (kept in the loop). The process of doing so is valuable, itself, because it forces conversations about ownership that help teams to understand where to focus, and it provides leaders with the opportunity to encourage individuals to put their hands up and take on new responsibilities.
2. Leverage Differences
Work cultures are made stronger when people are cast in groupings that leverage the strengths of their differences. Workforces made up of people who have different skillsets, backgrounds, and belief systems tend to have a competitive business advantage.
Smart leaders will hire people who have different ideas, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, life experiences, skills, political views, neurology, and yes, race, gender, and sexuality. This requires that your organizational model supports conflict, engages everyone, and rewards team members who show respect for people they disagree with. That means putting in place tools and processes that enable these behaviors without creating a culture of groupthink. Two tools and processes to consider include:
• Critical response: Renowned dance choreographer Liz Lerman created a feedback process called Critical Response as a structured way to provide feedback in a safe and supportive framework. Her method has a distinct set of steps: initial, non-judgmental responses from those providing feedback; questions from the presenter; questions from those providing feedback; and finally, opinions that are prefaced with a request for permission to give the feedback. I’ve used this as a structure for running creative and code reviews and even performance reviews of individuals. Following her process allows space for differing opinions while weeding out anything that isn’t core to the work itself.
• The Ladder of Inference: In organizations that see difference as a business advantage, it is crucial to have a process for team members to build awareness of their own inherent biases and avoid these in communications. The Ladder of Inference lays out a series of seven steps that describe the process we use in thinking through a problem, deciding how to respond to a conflict, or reflecting on a piece of work. Each step in the thinking process represents a rung on the ladder from reality and facts through to actions. Training teams in how to use the ladder and challenging team members when they jump to conclusions that are biased will add a level of safety to team dynamics that allows people who have very different backgrounds to work together. This helpful infographic gives an overview of how to use it.
It can be overwhelming to know where to focus given the pace of change in the number of tools, channels, and tactics available to business leaders. Rather than trying to do everything, smart leaders are embedding processes that place a relentless focus on prioritization.
Use the four main levers you have available to you as you prioritize work: scope, quality, speed, and cost. Institute weekly (or daily) meetings where you review priorities with your team, estimate the level of effort, cost, and time involved in each item, and then determine which items to focus on. Increase productivity by creating a backlog of all of the priorities (at the project and task level, if possible) in a cloud-based tool (Google Sheets or a more sophisticated tool such as JIRA or AHA) and enforce a policy of honesty and transparency that doesn’t punish someone for misestimating.
As you prioritize, don’t be driven by only one of your four levers, but rather have a healthy mix. Sometimes speed is better than quality because it allows you to understand how a tactic or project performs before spending time and money perfecting something that is unproven. And sometimes it is better to trim the scope of your ambitions to get something of high quality out the door.
Build A Culture Of Purpose
These recommendations are all about building a culture of purpose in the work we do in order to allow leaders to operate effectively and efficiently in the chaos of the modern business environment. Investing the time on your people and processes will result in better work, a more enjoyable working environment, and better retention, and it will allow you to keep pace with changes in business dynamics.
As our business ambitions increase and our marketing imperatives expand, leaders who are not only highly skilled but also have strong social skills will put the focus where it belongs: on their people.