Why a People Manager’s Success Depends on the “Spice Girls Question”
If you have been successful in the past two and a half years as a people manager at a startup company, give yourself a chance.
There have been new challenges constantly – first, facing support teams remotely during Covid, and now managing mixed settings as some employees return to the office. Recently, managers are being tested by cautious investors and the possibility of a challenging environment for raising funds in the future.
So how can managers better prepare themselves and support their teams during times of change? In my experience, there are five main aspects a people manager needs to bring to the table.
The People Manager needs to understand and communicate the vision of the organization
As a people manager, your job is to speak on behalf of the company. You need to understand and own the vision, mission, and strategy. You have to see yourself as an employer and not as an employee. It is critical to stay informed and actively attend all forums relevant to your business by regularly checking all relevant communication channels, such as Slack, and keeping your team informed. You cannot help your team understand key organizational decisions during times of change if you are not aware of what is going on.
Delegating and empowering your team is your main job
As a People Manager, you will have to deliver results through your team. Therefore, delegating and empowering your team is your main job. In times of change, delegating means being agile and staying closer to your team. There will be more iterations, and more openness to feedback in both directions will be essential – from the team to the people manager and back.
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In order to be empowered, you need support. And support is as individual as your team members. Some of them prefer to share ideas with you, while others like to present results and get feedback. To reach this individual level of support, ask the right questions to your team members: “What do you expect from me?” “What is the best way to deal with you?” This includes managing people when they are not performing well.
Be fair and transparent and act quickly when it is not the right person
If someone isn’t the right fit, you need to break up. Personally, I don’t believe in performance improvement software. In my experience you can get performance back a little bit back on track but not sustainably. Instead, I recommend making quick clear cuts. If the performance is low, your team member is either not in the right role or not in the right company. that’s good. But you have to do something about it, because everyone involved in the process suffers. Be fair, transparent and act quickly.
The ‘solution’ mindset
Your job as a people manager at a startup is to enjoy constantly solving problems. And these days people managers have to solve more problems than usual. If you are flexible and focused on finding solutions, challenges will seem like adventures to you, not challenges.
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Problem solving requires—and most importantly—continually prioritizing and focusing. As an executive team, we come to this focus with what we call the “Spice Girls Question”: Tell me what you want, what do you really want? Good results and quarterly results also give focus and transparency to the objectives.
As a People Manager, be human and take care of yourself
Although your team may face challenges, remember to take your well-being into consideration. Be open about your personal struggles and know that it’s perfectly acceptable to show weakness. You don’t need to pretend you have all the answers – quite the contrary. Be a role model and reach out to others for support. This is something I can highly recommend in good times and difficult: Seek support from your current or former colleagues or managers. Talk to other managers in your network and find out how they handle it.
Really great managers have both empathy and empathy — whether they come from it naturally or they develop these skills. These abilities are essential during tough times like these. And despite the uncertainty, you can give employees the certainty that they can always expect transparency, support, and care from you as a manager.
Julia Karloff Winkelmann is the chief choreographer.