3 Things You Can Do When You Don’t Have Time for Coaching

This post first appeared on BostInno.

“When we started our company, we were scrappy and lean. We hired a bunch of people in their early 20s with tons of hustle. Now we’re growing like crazy, and they’re in over their heads. It’s really not their fault – they’ve taken on more responsibility, we want to help them grow, but no one has the time for coaching.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with startups.

We invest so much time and energy in staying ahead of the market by developing new product features. Yet over and over again, we lag in developing our people. We wait until the pain is acute, when attrition skyrockets and people start leaving for better opportunities, or employee engagement and happiness hit rock bottom. Remember who builds those product features – people.

One thing’s for sure: employees often feel the pain before their leaders do. A Deloitte study of millennials noted that among employees who are likely to leave their employers within the next two years, 71 percent are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed. SHRM reports that the direct replacement costs of employee turnover can run as high as 50% – 60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary. That’s a whole lotta Benjamins.

When the reality finally hits us in the face like a bucket of cold ice water, managers get all the love. We double-down on sending managers to workshops and conferences and investing in coaches – but what about individual contributors? Plenty of employees deliberately choose an individual contributor path (HubSpot’s Pamela Vaughan wrote a great article about this). Others are high performers on the road to future management roles. They’re not managers, but they are leaders. And they’re critical to a company’s success.

Boston startups are starting to take note. Companies and programs like Intelligent.ly EMERGE are stepping up to shine a light on the importance of developing our city’s next-generation of leaders. I’m a co-founder of Intelligent.ly; at the last Emerge event, I heard from a handful of Boston’s best tech recruiters and leaders.

HubSpot’s Katie Burke shared her perspective: “One of the most critical steps in retaining top talent in Boston is ensuring that rising stars in the tech community receive the training, support and network they need to grow personally and professionally in their careers.” They’re not alone.

Loren Boyce, Director of Talent at Yesware echoed the focus on investing in personal development for individual contributors, “We are all-in when it comes to providing resources and experiences that help our employees reach their professional potential.”

What can you and your company do to develop these leaders? Here are three tips:

Start a Conversation

The first step to developing individual contributors is understanding how they want to grow. Let your team members know that you want to support their personal development. Set up a 1:1 to talk through their personal goals, and together, consider the resources you can help provide. This might mean connecting them with mentorship opportunities or investing in skills training. You won’t know until you ask.

Self-Assess

Experts go back and forth on the science and applicability of the various personality tests that dominate leadership development conversations. My perspective is that if they help you better understand something about yourself – your strengths, and the way you operate – it’s a win for everyone. 16Personalities provides a simple and free personality test based on the Myer-Briggs approach. Encourage your team members to learn from the insight that resonates for them…and don’t stress about the areas that don’t.

Organize a Leadership Lunch & Learn

Consider how many individual contributors you could reach with solid leadership advice if you leveraged your internal team to set up a weekly or monthly Leadership Lunch & Learn. Invite respected leaders from inside your company to share leadership advice and tips that helped them through their own careers.

Close your eyes. Think about all the individual contributors in your company. Consider what you could achieve if they truly had the coaching they need to fulfill their leadership potential. Now envision them walking out the door because you don’t have time to support them. Scary, right?

It’s Not Easy Being Green: A Millennial’s Guide to Leadership

Big news, guys. This month marked my first ever work anniversary. There was blood, sweat, and more tears than I’d care to admit, but here I am, one year after signing onto my role as Intelligent.ly’s Content & Community Specialist. For most seasoned professionals, this is no magnificent feat, but my fellow Millennials (and Kermit the Frog) know that it’s not easy being green.

If television has taught me anything, it’s that most 23-year old Communication Studies majors are doomed for years of frustration and debt before having a job they love. I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. In hindsight, before joining Intelligent.ly, I was naive to the monumental importance of leadership. The simple truth is leadership can’t be taught in college; it’s learned from experience – and many of us don’t get direct access to learn from strong leaders early on in our careers.

After 31 Exchange sessions, 2 EMERGE workshops, and an endless supply of leadership inspiration from the Boston community, I’m by no means a guru. But I have learned a thing or two about what makes organizations and teams successful from 500 people across 50 startups:

Know yourself: This is Day 1 of Exchange, and it’s critical for us youngsters. In a sea of resumes, self-awareness can be the thing that sets you apart from the pack (Whitney Johnson calls this the “competitive advantage”). Knowing your strengths and your weaknesses will allow you to find areas you can really shine, and generate baselines for meaningful growth. It also helps to know how you like to be communicated with, and what truly motivates you.

And, know your team: We spend so much time working that our teams become like our families. To keep frustrations low and productivity high, it’s important to know what each member loves, makes them tick, and how they learn best. So many lapses in productivity are caused by miscommunication. Ask each member what they need from you, in terms of communication. You can use this blueprint to share each other’s quirks!

Conflict is good: Startup life can be emotionally taxing, and conflict is inevitable. Create an open environment with your team by being vulnerable, sharing your challenges, and consequently creating trust to ensure healthy conflict. This means everyone’s perspective is valued and team members are open to growth.

Ask for help: Spoiler alert: at 23, I still don’t have all the answers. And that’s okay. No one expects you to. Give yourself a break, and lean on others for advice and best practices. Our program, participants and guest speakers alike talk about the importance of having a meaningful network. At Exchange, we have participating managers ask their peers for advice. Create your own web of trusted individuals you can ask for help, and learn from them.

Lack of experience ≠ lack of leadership: This one was an eye-opener for me. I spent months diminishing my own opinions, firmly believing that those with more experience knew better. I’m still working on it, but I’m slowly learning that you can be a leader…even if you were born in the ‘90s. You were hired for a reason, and your opinion matters, if nothing else to provide a new perspective.

Create your own path: What I love about my role at Intelligent.ly is that it’s not set in stone. I’m young; I don’t know what I want yet. I have no 5-year plan. And startups are the perfect place for that. My role (and yours) can become whatever you want it to be, if you prove you’re worthy of the reward.

Whitney Johnson’s Secrets to Disrupting Your Career

When you find something that works, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. But the most successful startups aren’t the ones that find a recipe for success and stick with it–they’re the ones that constantly aspire for more, iterating and innovating in powerful new directions that leverage their core capabilities to disrupt stale models.

According to Johnson, personal disruption is “the act of using a practice employed by companies—wherein a product deemed inferior by the market leader eventually upends the industry—and applying it to you as an individual.” Her concept of disruptive innovation is rooted in the S-curve (see image below), with three distinct parts: competence (gaining your footing), confidence (thriving), and mastery (comfort).

Whitney Johnson_Disrupt Yourself

The S-curve of disruptive innovation

Disruption is Whitney Johnson’s bread and butter. As an Author, Speaker, Advisor, and one of the 50 Top Management Thinkers of the World, she knows what it takes to harness the power of disruptive innovation to make amazing things happen. In November, Johnson joined us for Intelligent.ly EMERGE, a one-day leadership workshop designed to help individual contributors become effective influencers, for powerful keynote about investing in continuous innovation.

We caught up with Johnson to tap into her knowledge about how to stay fresh:

You’ve said that when things become easy and you’re not feeling challenged or learning new things, it’s time to jump to a new curve. Do you have advice on how to know WHAT to jump to?

Analyze how what you do well maps to what others want done by answering:

  1. Are there stakeholders whose needs are not being met? What are they?
  2. Are there a lot of people trying meet those needs (e.g. 50 people applying for a job), or has there ever been a job posting (e.g you’d create a job) for a need that isn’t being met?
  3. Does this need you want to meet leverage your distinctiveness (what you do remarkably, uniquely well)? As in, it’s so easy for you, you don’t value it because it’s as natural as breathing?

The whole point of disruption is to move up the y-axis of success over the x-axis of time. When you disrupt yourself you are making the conscious decision to move down the y-axis, on the premise that the slope of your next curve will be even steeper, leading to another period of rapid growth.

Jumping from secretary to investment banker to analyst to investor had to have been daunting. How did you channel fear to help you grow vs. letting it become a constraint?

It’s pretty easy to talk about this after the fact. So, what I’m about to say makes these moves sound much tidier than they were. That said––A constraint simply defined is something that you bump up against, and in bumping, you get information. Like a skateboarder. They learn quickly because they receive fast and useful feedback. Fear is typically characterized as a foe, but it’s also a friend. Follow your fear and you’ll know what matters to you. In this way, rather than a check on your progress, it becomes a tool of creating you.

Regarding pursuing market risks (vs. competitive risks) – is this possible to do inside an established company? How can individuals pioneer a new idea effectively?

Even inside of a large company there are ideas people haven’t had and projects people don’t want to take on. These are opportunities for taking on market risk. Think about Intuit’s Fasal. When they wanted to make a difference in India there were lots of routes Intuit could have taken. Instead they sent three engineers to rural India for three weeks and said figure something out.

One day during a torrential downpour that found themselves at a bus stop with local farmers. As they chatted they discovered the farmers didn’t have access to commodity prices. Having found a problem to solve, they could have now thrown a lot of money at it. But they didn’t. They just started manually texting price and buyer information, iterating their way to a solution. Notice how this process was so low-cost, so low-risk, so where -no-one -else-was-playing, the odds of it getting quashed, were practically zero.

Because Intuit encouraged its people to play where no one else was, which also included very few resources––until they knew they had something that worked––today there is a service known as Fasal, a sophisticated text-messaged based platform, helping farmers get the best price. Over 2 million users who enjoy more than 20% increase in their bottom line.

Boston has an “Innovation District,” and is increasingly becoming known as a leading city for innovation. Do you think the word “innovation” is becoming overused? What do you want people to understand about the meaning at its root?

In my experience, when someone uses the word innovation, they are signaling they want to try something new. Wanting to improve, to do better and be better, is always good. Always. Where I think we get tripped up is when you and I attach different meanings to this word.

My definition? Innovation is about moving from stuck to unstuck. There are lots of ways to do that. The frameworks of disruption are one. Which is why I wrote Disrupt Yourself. I wanted to convey that companies don’t disrupt, people do. Here’s how. In 7 steps. My hope is this: That I have made a strong enough case around the ‘how’ that we can move forward together on the ‘do’.

Ready to invest in developing innovative leaders inside your company? Enroll in the next Intelligent.ly EMERGE workshop on March 9th!

4 Ways to Drive
Your Career Forward

Innovative startups all have one thing in common – they’re disruptive. Whether they’re revolutionizing inbound marketing like HubSpot, improving the way fundraisers connect with their donors like EverTrue, or pioneering cloud security like Carbonite, Boston-based companies are practicing disruptive innovation now more than ever.

Disruption should be Whitney Johnson’s middle name. Author, speaker, advisor, and one of the 50 Top Management Thinkers of the World, she is a leading force is conveying the power of disruption to transform people and companies. On November 12th, Johnson joined Intelligent.ly EMERGE, a one-day leadership workshop designed to help individual contributors become effective influencers. Through a powerful talk delivered to some of Boston’s top companies, she reminded the group that behind every great company are innovative leaders who turning new ideas into reality.

When she left Wall Street at the height of her career, everyone thought Johnson crazy to abandon prestige and stability, in favor of a new, more emotionally fulfilling challenge. It certainly wasn’t the usual corporate trajectory; but, it was a disruptive course, that would fulfill this need.

Her theory of disruptive innovation is simple: the most successful innovations are those that create new markets. They play where no one else is playing…yet.

We asked emerging leaders who attended the EMERGE workshop what they took away from Johnson’s talk, and how they (and you!) can put them into action:

Sam Diters_EverTrue Exploit Your Superpower
Sam Diters, Strategic Customer Success Manager, EverTrue
It’s important to understand your strengths and take calculated risks. We can all fall victim to complacency. Whitney helped remind me that striving to grow through challenging myself is one of the only ways to reach my ultimate goals.”

 

Push Yourself Beyond Comfortable LimitsLauren Stenstream_Carbonite
Lauren Stenstream, Senior Accountant, Carbonite
The theory that both failure and lack of fulfillment in your career can be driving forces for innovation and success inspired me. Focusing in on areas where I can provide the most value has been critical in strategically planning my future.”

 

Kate Connors_MetisTake a Risk – A Market Risk
Kate Connors, Senior Account Executive, Metis Communications
Whitney Johnson not only challenged me to be disruptive in my career, but also to help my clients become more disruptive in their industries. I’m challenging myself to find industry needs that aren’t being filled and help my clients address them with a tone and approach tailored to reach the members of their audiences.”

 

Amanda Iglesias_HubSpotFind your Other Half
Amanda Iglesias, Product Manager, HubSpot
“In order to accelerate the progress of some of the projects I manage, I am evaluating them to determine what skills are required to make them successful. My goal is to identify folks who I partner with across our business who bring other strengths to the table.”

Want more strong insights from Whitney Johnson? Stay tuned for the release of her keynote!

Ready to help your team become effective influencers who drive innovation? Send them to the next EMERGE workshop on March 9th, and follow us on Twitter for a daily dose of leadership inspiration.

Intelligent.ly Insights: Greg Raiz

Intelligent.ly Insights

Greg RaizThis week’s insights are brought to you by Greg Raiz, CEO of Raizlabs, an app company that’s been leading leading in mobile software development since before the launch of the iTunes App Store in 2008.

You may not have met Greg, but we bet you’ve met some of the essential apps he and his team have created, apps like HubSpot, Bloomingdale’s, Rue La La, and RunKeeper, to name a few. Greg approaches app development like he does his team: methodically. Raizlabs is known for their exceptional product management, creative design services, and impeccable execution. But that’s not the only thing that’s driving Raizlabs’ unprecedented growth—it’s their commitment to their people. Building the right team, capitalizing on each person’s skills, and promoting innovation from within…it’s all about the people.

As your team grows, how do you ensure that you all remain aligned around a central vision?

We’ve spent a fair bit of time this year thinking about the culture of the company and how we can align the entire company around a vision and mission. Everyone wants to make a difference and feel that their work is important. We started by creating a high-level vision that we could rally around. It was important that the vision would stand the test of time and allow the organization some flexibility. Our vision statement of “shaping the world through great software” has led us to explore the values that our company felt were necessary for us to execute that vision. These values now guide most of the decisions we make from hiring, to the projects that we take, to the regular feedback we give to one another. Keeping the vision and values central to our process serves as a natural reminder for us. 

What’s one strategy or tactic that you consistently use to support the growth of your team.

Trust, but verify. I think it’s great to give your team a lot of trust and autonomy to grow, experiment and occasionally fail. The key is putting in your own checks to make sure they aren’t failing too much. Keeping track and closing the loop gives you the opportunity to give the person a pat on the back if they did a good job or a nudge in the right direction without micro-managing.

In your opinion, what is the primary role of a manager?

My primary role as a manager is setting up situations where people can be successful. This cuts across a number of things including hiring, company culture, tools and procedures. If I’m doing my job then the team can execute and do great work and it feels effortless. A mentor of mine explained it best; your team is a train, they are rolling along. It’s your job to make sure they have plenty of track and no hazards in the way.

How do you ensure that you stay in lock step communication with your team?

This has been an increasing challenge as the team has grown. It’s easy to stay in lock step with five people but hard to stay in lock step with 50. We have a company Town Hall meeting each week so everyone can get up to speed on the entire business with minimal overhead. Beyond this, I try to have regular conversations with both leads and individual contributors. This helps keep me stay grounded with what’s really going on at the company.

How do you continue to evolve as a leader?

As a leader, your job is constantly changing. One day you’re thinking about hiring, the next you’re dealing with technology questions. The key for me to evolve as a leader is to constantly question if the things I’ve done before continue to make sense as the company grows and changes. The way our company did projects stopped making sense at a certain size and scale. We had to unlearn certain habits and learn new ones. Growth as a leader is being open to change and adapting how I do things as the organization grows.

Greg Raiz founded Raizlabs in 2001, after getting his start at Microsoft. Since then, he’s been working toward his vision of building incredible software, and has helped over 100 companies improve the way they connect with their markets. Raizlabs was named one of Inc.’s 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in 2014.

Want to learn leadership skills from more startup vets? Enroll in Intelligent.ly Exchange!