Tag Archives: manager

Are You a Manager or a Leader?

I raised two boys, or, maybe more correctly, they raised me. I was lucky – at the end of the process I have “two sons” who make me proud and whom I love dearly. I was unprepared to be a parent when I became one, but through trial and error, the grace of God and some blind luck I survived. As I reflect back on the experience, I also got a “PhD” in management and leadership. I now realize that parenting, like business, gives the organizational “parent” the opportunity to react to behavior or influence the growth, development and maturation of the child.

As I ponder the process of change and growth in the marketplace and in organizations that serve this global economy, I see parallels. Change is the transition from today through tomorrows. How we address this determines the success – ours and our organizations’ and their members’.

Will we react and manage the behavior of our followers and the change that comes at us, or will we be a leader and design the future we want and grow the people who are our organization?

In a conversation with a friend named Beau (he’s twice the parent I am; he and his wife, Kaci, are raising four children and doing a great job) we concluded that the world of parenting is a great laboratory for management and leadership issues. Consider babies and their crying as a metaphor for the people in your organization.

Babies cry when they are hungry or wet or have some other discomfort that needs fixing. They can’t effectively articulate their issue, but they can manipulate us as the caregiver (manager/leader) through their whining until we solve their problems (and ours, by quieting them). Let’s compare two options: pacifiers and breastfeeding.

Pacifiers have no nutritional value, of course, and left to pacifiers alone a child will starve to death. (In some countries a pacifier is called a “dummy.” Think about that.)

See also: Key Difference in Leaders vs. Managers  

Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is the safest, best and most natural means of nurturing a child. Breast milk alone can sustain a child for the first six months of life. Breast milk and breast feeding are about growing together – a most intimate link between the mother and child. Breast feeding is not about quieting a child but about developing that child. It is a living system. It is the best.

As the head of your own organization, you know that change happens. It makes you tired, sometimes overwhelmed and causes great discomfort in the people you call your team or family. Do you manage the change by handing each “whiner” a pacifier just so the person will shut up and get back to work and leave you alone? Do you accept the responsibility of leadership and do what needs to be done to design tomorrow?

Do you take the time to grow each team member, quieting the person through intimacy and nourishment, making the person better-prepared for tomorrow?

Remember: A pacifier alone will ensure starving, while “breastfeeding” will guarantee growth.

The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager

Entrepreneurs are doers. One of the strengths of successful entrepreneurs is that they get things done. However, relying solely on their own capabilities is limiting.

We only have so much time, energy, creativity and intelligence; it is a finite game. To realize the fullness of our potential, we have to harness the time, energy, creativity and intelligence of others. We need to be playing an infinite game.

To do so, we must learn to lead and manage.

In this complex and ever-changing world in which we live, we typically are dependent on others to get the results we want. As an entrepreneur grows his or her business, the interdependencies multiply. Entrepreneurs have to trust others — and other people have to trust them.

See also: 6 Tech Rules That Will Govern the Future  

The starting point is leadership. My friend and colleague Dr. Herb Koplowitz defines leadership as follows:

“Leadership is the ability to set a direction and coordinate the actions of others in implementing it.”

Leadership is primarily concerned with vision and strategy. Vision is the direction toward which you want to take your business. Strategy is the clear plan of action to get there. Management is concerned primarily with accountability and authority. The challenge for many entrepreneurs is that they lack clarity around their vision; they lack strategy to build the right structure; and they have never learned how to exercise authority or hold people accountable.

For the entrepreneur, the ability to create highly productive working relationships that can fulfill their vision depends on three factors:

  • Effectiveness: Doing the right things to reach their strategic goals.
  • Efficiency: Doing things right to optimize the use of resources and to reduce costs.
  • Trust: Creating a positive working environment where people feel safe, respected and valued for their contributions.

As a leader and manager, it is important to take the time to develop and implement a business plan that includes:

  • A well-articulated vision (where do you want your business to be in five years?)
  • A clear strategy to reach that vision (what needs to happen to fulfill your vision?)
  • A formal organization structure designed to implement your strategy (who and what do you need to support your strategy and achieve your vision?)
  • Staffing and managerial leadership practices to maximize effectiveness, efficiency and trust (how do you need to transform the way you lead your business?)

See also: Incumbents, Insurtechs Must Collaborate  

To take your business to the next level, you need to be a leader and a manager.

4 Tips: How to Be a Manager, Not a Doer

No one can deny the great feeling you experience after earning that promotion. Not only does it validate the hard work you’ve done, but it’s proof that you excel at your job. It means that your organization values your contributions and believes that you’re ready to take on more responsibility.

Ready for the bad news? Being an effective manager is tough. Whether you were a claims representative, an underwriter, an agent or a broker, or serving in any other role in which you were an individual contributor on a larger team, your new role is entirely different. Your new responsibilities–managing and leading others–requires a whole different skill set that you likely never learned before.

See also: How to Unlock Group Insurance Market

It’s an all-too-common story. Studies say that up to 50% of new#managers fail within their first year on the job. Gallup says that only one in 10 people possesses the talent to manage. And there’s the notorious Peter principle–the idea that employees are promoted until they are no longer good at their jobs–a particularly common pitfall for first-time managers.

Those intimidating stats show just how jarring the transition to #management is for many people. But don’t let them scare you. Instead, use them as a reminder that, as a manager, you need to begin thinking differently about your job, your role and your skills.

Making a Successful Transition

Repeat after me: “It’s no longer my job to get things done. It’s now my job to make sure that things get done.”

This is undoubtedly the hardest concept for a star performer turned manager to grasp. It’s a subtle distinction, but understanding the difference could make or break your career as a manager. You’re no longer a doer–you’re a leader. The emphasis is no longer on working harder, it’s on working smarter. If you’re staying late to correct and touch up claims long after your employees have gone home, you may be working hard, but you’re not effectively managing your team.

It’s a big mindset adjustment. But once you start thinking in those terms, you’ll start utilizing more effective and sustainable management practices and be a better boss as a result. Here are four more ideas to help keep you on track as you go from doer to manager.

1. Don’t solve every problem. If you’ve worked in your role long enough, chances are that you have the solutions to a lot of problems that creep up. In the past, your job was to solve them and move on. As a manager, your job is more to give your employees the skills and understanding they need to solve problems and keep them from coming up again. Approach every new scenario with direct reports as if you’re their teacher.

2. Study up. There’s a reason so many books are written on management. Most of them focus on what makes great leaders, not what makes great first-time managers, but regardless, management isn’t a natural skill for most people. Find reliable sources that teach you more about what it takes to be an effective manager and leader, whether it’s a book or two you can read over the summer or a comprehensive training session on management, like our Management Education at the Wisconsin School of Business program being held this October.

See also: How to Find, Keep Good Service Reps

3. Check your relationships. You may suddenly find yourself managing your long-time lunch buddy. Maybe your former boss is now a peer. How you handle these evolving relationships is key to your success as a first-time manager. In the Gallup study, researchers list five traits all great managers share. Notice that they all revolve around successfully handling relationships on the job:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action, and they engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

4. Don’t stop at managing. Once you’re a successful manager, you’re ready for the next challenge–becoming a leader. Managers are tactical. They put systems and logistics in place to make sure that things get done. Leaders are inspirational. They motivate and engage their teams to work hard and find new ways to get things done. Not all managers can be great leaders, but all leaders must possess at least a basic skill for managing. Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sums up the distinction nicely: “Management works in the system. Leadership works on the system.”

Dear Founders: Are You Listening?

Since my last post, “Distribution is 80% of your problem,” I have had the opportunity to speak in-depth with several terrific start-up founders about some of the incredible things they are doing and why things are not going so well. Several of their stories remind me of another big lesson I have learned over the years: We entrepreneurs often mistake “listening” as “waiting to talk,” until it’s too late.

A Little Knowledge (About Your Users) Is a Dangerous Thing

All the stories have a similar theme: We launched our product, and we got 10,000-plus users (or 100-plus small paying customers) using unscalable ways. Now, we are not sure of what to do next.

One founder I communicated with had talked to hundreds of her paying users and managed to convince herself that her market was women who want to make sure their kids don’t get too much unsupervised screen time. We talked to the company’s users and discovered that, in fact, the core group that loved the app were working women who want to keep track of their kids and know they are safe after school. Whenever this start-up had spoken to its user, it heard the answer it wanted to hear, not what the users were saying. The lesson learned here was about waiting to tell users what they “should” be doing with the app.

Another app — one that got to 20,000 users quickly with a small amount of seed money — found, once we dug deep, that fewer than 150 of their users were active weekly. The start-up had no idea who these 150 users were or what, specifically, they were doing with the product. After 20 user interviews, we discovered the start-up’s core use case was far from what the company thought it was and that the product was too hard to use. For far too long, the start-up was convinced its technology would change the world, especially because 20,000 users seemed to be using the product.

A third, B2B-focused start-up I recently spent time with has more than 100 paying users but has stalled growth and usage numbers. When I asked the company to tell me who its users were and what pain point it was solving, I kept getting back a laundry list of features and user personas instead. When the company dug deeper and spoke to users, it found that, of the 27 features, users are using two and that no one had discovered the three the company thinks are the real killer benefits. We realized the company’s model needs to shift away from “my users are using the wrong features and should have discovered the ‘right ones.'” As a start-up, you don’t get to tell users what scenarios and which features they should use your product for; consumers will tell you by using whatever they find useful.

Apple May Not Need to Talk to Users, But the Rest of Us Do

As a founder, you start with a hypothesis. You have all these incredible suppositions on how you will change the world with your product. You may think you can get away with: “My users do not know what they are doing. I will tell them what they should do. It works for Apple (or so goes the myth) so it will work for me — let’s just ignore users.” Believe me, those kinds of companies are black swans. For the rest of us, our users matter—who they are, what they use our products for and what they ignore.

This is for two basic reasons:

  1. Product/Market Fit: Unless we know and understand our users (or potential users), our incoming hypothesis of the value our product provides is literally that —a hypothesis. Sure, some people may not get it, and some may just dismiss it. But without a group of people who buy into the value we hypothesize that we can provide and who agree to become ecstatic users of our product, we probably did not have a real hypothesis to begin with, just a supposition that is wrong.
  2. Go-to-market: The more detail we can find out about users, the more we can figure out how to go after them in a tight, focused way. Going after moms who want to limit unsupervised screen time is very different from attracting busy working moms who really want to know where their kids are after school. The two are different products, have different features and have a different go-to-market.

One potential red herring during the early days comes when you manage to attract a chunk of users quickly. You can easily get deluded by the numbers — they’re like inventory, they hide a lot of problems. You convince yourself that what you’re doing can’t be wrong if 20,000 users think you’re right. The fact is that these 20,000 people do not think you are right ;  you somehow managed to “get” them, and they experimented with your product hoping to find something of use. 200 of those users might think you are onto something, but you don’t know who those 200 are. If you understood what those 200 really like about your product, you might be able to find the next 20,000 users who are really right for you.

What to Avoid When You Do Decide to Talk to Users

  1. Don’t defend what you have built and try to convince them you are right;
  2. Don’t keep coming back to your vision and what will come later or focus on product features they should be using;
  3. Don’t make a sales pitch about your company and yourself, make it about them and their real reaction to your product—even if it means you have to throw everything away and start over again.

If you do not do these things, you have not really listened to your users—you have just waited for your turn to talk and convinced yourself you understand your users.

A FRAMEWORK FOR WHEN TO LISTEN TO USERS–AND HOW 

Here’s a framework I have developed over the years about when and how to listen to users:

The First 500 Users

Those first 500 users are the most important people in your journey. You need to do more than just talk to them, you need to build a solid relationship with them — they are the foundation of your product.

In my previous start-up, a career marketplace, I personally introduced my early adopters to friendly hiring managers at many companies and helped them land a job. A lot of those early customers are now my Facebook friends. Some of them even became our ambassadors and had equity in the company.

Those first users add immense value. They  validate your hypothesis, refine your ideas, recruit more users and test new features, on top of a whole lot more. And they are also very forgiving to defects, crashes, bad user experience (UX), everything.

I used to schedule as many phone calls with them as I could. In every conversation, I would first show what we were working on (in detail) and get their feedback. I would then open up  and  ask about what they were doing with the product, why they chose it over others, how they found it added value, what related issues they had that we could help with, among other questions. I logged every conversation.

Listening Is Hard to Do—For Founders in Particular

Most of the time when we think we’re listening, we are actually just waiting for our turn to talk. Here are three reasons why:

  1. We are always busy talking — to ourselves. Even when we are obviously talking to someone else, we are also internally talking to ourselves. So listening genuinely — muting your internal conversation and giving someone your full attention — is hard.
  2. For founders, listening genuinely is harder. Most entrepreneurs have their product, features, ideas and vision so deeply ingrained that, when they talk to users, entrepreneurs are always defending things they find users having problems with . (“But you didn’t see the profile page; the settings let you change this,” “There are so many cool things you can do, didn’t you see this feature?,” “We’ll get to that in Version 3,” “Wait, no, you don’t understand, that’s where the puck is going,” etc.)
  3. It is not easy for people to articulate what they are thinking. To really understand what users are saying, you have to read between the lines. Even if you lead with your world view, you really have to listen to users’ views carefully — both what is said and what is not.

Talking to users requires real effort . Be aware of that and start focusing on your first 500 users. Treat your early adopters with special respect — make them feel special and take care of them beyond just the product.

Beyond the First 500 Users

Moving forward with your customer base requires using other techniques (in addition to real conversations) that are still important. One such tactic is talking through the product,  provoking conversations with product experiments.

An example of this would be radically changing your on-boarding — drop everything and get them in — for a small set of users and seeing what happens. Remove a feature you think is not useful and wait for users to complain. Removing things temporarily is the best way to test if they are really valuable.

It also helps to create ancillary products  ( quick prototypes )  to test value outside your core product. As you learn more about your users, you will start to see more value propositions, some that align with your vision and some that don’t.

Until you are truly convinced you have product-market fit, do not be shy about running small experiments on the side to keep testing different ideas. Use conversations to create hypotheses, and experiment quickly.

Another technique is to always ask, “What else would you want this product to do for you?” in every support email. My start-up once introduced a critical defect in our iPhone app that led to hundreds of support emails. Adding that one question uncovered several hundred feature requests, including a lot we had not thought about.

Talking to users as you scale is more than just about having conversations. Lead with a hypothesis, measure, iterate, run side experiments continuously to test.

Dear founder, do not wait to talk to your users until it’s too late.

And when you do, listen. Don’t just wait to talk.

risks

Why Do Some Take Risks, Others Not?

Every time you breathe, you take a risk. But, usually, the potential for harm is greater if you don’t breathe. (There are exceptions, such as when your head is under water without a breathing mask.) Every time you make a decision, you take a risk; we take risk all the time, in pretty much every facet of our personal and professional lives.

But, when faced with the same situation, people will act differently from one another. A person may assess the risk differently from someone else. He may make a different decision regarding whether the risk is acceptable and which fork in the road he should take to address it.

In risk management, it’s fine to have defined risk criteria or appetite statements, but these rarely cover every decision a manager has to make. So, the manager has to make a decision based on what she thinks is best.

A number of experts will point to risk culture as the answer to this variance in decision-making. The experts seem to believe that some organizations are more risk-averse than others. But organizations are composed of people—different people in leadership roles with different backgrounds, experiences and biases. Organizations are not homogeneous. In fact, sections of an organization are not staffed with people who are identical in their attitude toward risk.

For example, on whether to select vendor A, B, C or a combination of the three, different people are likely to make different decisions. Manager X may have had a bad experience at another company with vendor A, while Manager Y used to work for that vendor. Manager Z may have lived through a disastrous experience where a sole-source vendor failed, so she will opt for a combination of two or more vendors. Manager Y may have just suffered a loss on the stock market that affects his desire to take risk, while Manager X has just heard he is a grandparent again. Even something such as a state of mind can influence a risk decision.

It’s not only that different people make different decisions in the same situation but that each person may make different decisions at different times. This is important because, as risk professionals, we want decision-makers to only take the level of risk that top management and the board desires.

To have consistent decisions on risk, we need to know the temperature and overall health of the organization and its decision-makers. We need to answer these questions:

  • Who are we relying on to take the risks that matter most to the organization’s success?
  • How can we obtain assurance that they understand the desired level of risk?
  • How can we obtain assurance that they will act as we desire?
  • How will we know when their risk attitude changes?

A survey will, perhaps, give you a moment-in-time view. However, people change. Managers and executives leave, new ones join and people’s perspective and desire to take risk changes, especially if they see their compensation or termination is likely to be affected by their decision.

This is a complex issue that risk professionals need to understand and assess within, and across, their organization.

Richard Anderson and I will be discussing this in our Risk Conversations coming up in April in London and Chicago. Details are at www.riskreimagined.com.

In the meantime, how do you address this variability? How do you know that your decision-makers will take the desired level of risk?