Organizational health lies in being able to work together.

As a manager, our job is to try as much as we can to drive balance and clarity.

A happy, driven team sees the wider purpose of their work and also feels empowered to execute tasks individually.

“You can’t call yourself a leader by coming into a situation that is by nature uncertain, ambiguous—and create confusion. You have to create clarity where none exists.” —Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

I have never seen employees more demoralized than when they’re unsure where their career is headed and whether their title or compensation is fair. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and can lead to burnout. It’s also incredibly distracting. Who can get their job done when they have no clue if what they’re doing is valued?

Our collective aim as managers should be taking the careers of our employees as seriously as we do the team’s technical/work processes.

If you’re strong and care about your team as people, it can feel unnatural to teach someone to advocate for themselves instead of moving things out of their way.

The first part of building healthy teams is admitting you won’t know everything, and this may be a time where you need to listen more than you talk.

The culture of your team is only as strong as the worst behavior it tolerates. It’s your job to speak up.

It’s best if a manager learns an employee’s Ultimate Goals early on. Where do they see themselves in five years? What kind of work do they like to do most? What environments do they work in best and which ones are the most difficult? A manager can’t always facilitate the ideal situation, but having this information is still extremely valuable for cultivating a person’s career trajectory, for the work that needs to be done, and for a general understanding of what will keep people working well together.

Career ladders alone will not create clarity—as managers, we need to put them into action.

On career ladders:

  • To get to “senior,” you’re the best “you” you can be — you perform your role exceedingly well, and you’ve reached a high potential for your own output.
  • To get to “staff,” your focus is really to expand beyond yourself. You start teaching people the great things you’ve learned and help serve their needs.
  • To get to “principal,” you’re creating systems that scale beyond yourself. You’re no longer helping folks operate like you — you’re helping them where they are. A lot of your activities are related to enabling the success of everyone around you.

I typically have an employee read aloud every list item in their current role to me, then self-assess the progress they’ve made on each item. I sound off a bit. We generally align; people tend to be fair and honest about their progress. I personally think it’s important that the employee read their list to me instead of the other way around. There’s a sense of ownership that way.

It’s tempting to think that over-performers need less guidance, but I’ve found that they tend to need more clarity on tasks, not less, in order to define scope and help point them in a good direction.

I’ve also seen underperformers turn around after the career laddering process. What one might see as a lazy quality in a person might actually be a symptom of misalignment with the purpose of the tasks. A career ladder helps them recognize what, when, why, and how the things they’re working on fit into the bigger picture.

Ask your team members how they prefer to get feedback, and listen to the answer. The more they are in tune with their own state of mind, the better they think critically and communicate.

If you’re inviting everyone to meetings out of fear of hurt feelings, it’s likely not a problem with your meetings, and more a sign that roles and responsibilities aren’t clear for everyone.

It’s the job of a manager to disambiguate healthy conflict from attack, so that respectful discourse is encouraged.

“You have to know your preferences well, because no matter what you do, someone will tell you you’re wrong.”