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Lesson #8: Stop apologizing for things outside of your control
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Stop apologizing for things outside of your control
As managers we often find ourselves in less-than-desirable situations. Something broke. An employee is not performing to expectations. You have to make a judgment call that is going to make some happy and disappoint others. (Or hey, even disappoint everyone.)
This was the theme of last week, which is why I’m a week late sending this newsletter. As I navigated some difficult conversations, I found myself having to choose my words carefully. Why? Because we as managers need to be mindful about apologizing for things that are outside of our control.
There’s a difference between being empathetic to an evolving situation or change that resulted in disappointment or upset and taking responsibility for something you cannot possibly be responsible for. When situations like this occur, your team is looking to you for explanations you may not have.
When I encounter these scenarios, I try to follow these three steps:
Address the situation
Explain next steps
Address the situation. Acknowledge that you’re aware of what’s happening (or actions you yourself needed to take), and you know this impacts your team. Answer what questions you can. Be honest (if you can) about what you can and cannot answer, and whether or not you know what’s to come. Include others if they can answer questions that you cannot – just make sure you’re aligned on communications before going in.
Explain next steps. If there are follow-up actions to be taken, let your team know what to expect. If there aren’t any next steps, let them know.
Move forward. This is the one I often find the most difficult, because you may be ready to move on before your team is. If you want to help your team get focused again on business or the future, you must move forward yourself – which includes not bringing up or holding onto the past. Your team can’t move on if you don’t move on.
Here’s a hypothetical example.
Let’s say your team has been working for two months on a particular project. You just learned from senior leadership that the team must now halt their work and pivot to something entirely different due to changing priorities as a result of the macroeconomic environment. You know your team’s not going to be happy about this change, but it needs to be done. How do you run through this example as a manager?
Address the situation. I want to provide an update on our work streams moving forward. As you know, this macroeconomic climate has proven to be a challenge for many industries, and as a result, we as a company are shifting our focus from X to Y. To facilitate this transition, all work on Project XYZ needs to be put on hold so we can begin working on Project ABC. We are aiming to have this GA’d by DATE. You can read the PRD [here]. Does anyone have any immediate questions?
Explain next steps. I’m going to schedule a kickoff call for tomorrow morning to run through the PRD together. Please take time to read through it today so you can come prepared with questions.
Move forward. I acknowledge that this change is coming as a surprise after two months of focus, but this new project will set us up well for the future. If you’d like to ask me questions privately, you can either DM me or we can discuss during our next 1:1.
Overly simplified, of course, but hopefully you get the idea. The point is to get your point across, open up for questions, then focus on the future. You can hear your team out and listen to their frustrations (and empathize with them as you have likely been in this same situation before), but avoid apologizing when there’s nothing for which to apologize.
What I’m reading
I definitely aimed to read a business book each month, but I slowed down in February, so I’m still reading High Output Management.
Check out the full book list for recommendations and an ever-growing reading list.
Note: Links to books in this section are affiliate links to help support the purchase of the rest of my books :)
What I’m working on
Honestly? Keeping my own work streams intact. Things has been my best friend for the past month.
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