Kompany Kool-Aid

Before I became a manager, I took an excellent class offered internally at EMC called Exploring a Career in Management. The high point wasn’t the content, but rather the frank discussions that took place between the attendees and the instructor (I’ve found this to be true of most “soft skills” classes).

One topic was that as a manager, you are the face of the company (in this case, EMC) to the people on your team. And that requires, if you’re going to have any sort of personal integrity, some amount of buy-in on your part of what the company stands for.

Well into my second year as a manager, I tell you this comes up all the time: at review time, during compensation discussions, during conversations about product strategy, and more.

The people on your team have mental profiles of you, their team, their management chain, the whole company. When you act, consider the consequences of that action on those profiles. If your own management is moving in a direction you disagree with, and someone on your team expresses some concern as well, think of the different things that can happen as you deal with the situation:

  • “My manager is stupid.” You blindly promote the company line, refusing to listen to reason as your team member argues against it. They decide you are stupid. Now you’ve undermined your own credibility, and done nothing to improve anyone else’s.
  • “My manager is weak.” You talk about how you hate the idea too, but you’re powerless to change it. Now they think you’re weak, and the company is stupid and stubborn.
  • “My manager has no integrity.” You come at them with “You know it’s bad, I know it’s bad, let’s just play along and get our paychecks.” You’ve completely sold yourself out here. They have no reason to think you have any backbone, and they have no reason to care one inch about the company.
  • “My manager cares, and my company is trying.” This is what you want. They have to know that you care about the topic, but that you also care about making the business work. You can’t paint yourself into a corner with “wait until we win this fight” because you might not win. But just as importantly, you don’t want to lie to your team and tell them you’re convinced, because you’re not, and nobody wins when you have to trick people into doing their job.

That last state requires a lot of work. You’ve got to be working the environment constantly, trying to engage honestly with your surroundings to determine the real reason behind the direction, trying to push for change if it’s necessary, trying to learn enough about what’s going on to honestly buy in. It requires a lot of trust, trust that it’s okay to speak your mind, trust that it’s okay for an organization to take risks, trust that even if people aren’t convinced, there’s a level of buy-in.

You have to reach a point where you can be honest about how you feel, honest about the things going on in the group, and yet not undermine the organization’s credibility nor your own.

Image of Kool Aid pitcher as used in advertisingYou might, in the end, still disagree. But you have to care and agree enough to honestly want to give it your best shot.

This is the real challenging swallow. It’s not a blind “I drink everything the company gives me, yummy!” It requires effort and initiative and assumes, in the end, that the people that surround you are rational and interested in seeing the best results. But if that’s not the case, maybe you have bigger problems….