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So You’re Younger Than Your Direct Reports…

We frequently talk to managers who find it challenging to have direct reports who are older or more experienced than they are. We’re taught from a young age to “respect our elders,” which actually means to defer to them. With this kind of conditioning, it can feel awkward to be in a position of authority over these folks.

Here’s a question one of our podcast listeners sent in along these lines:

I’m a young startup CEO, and both my Director of Operations and Production Manager are 20 years (+/-) older than me. I know this is not abnormal, however I will note that my Director of Ops is also an investor in the company so the dynamic can be challenging. I try to approach these relationships with the mindset that I am learning from them, while at the same time leading the company’s direction. What advice do you have on managing employees and partners who are older than you?

First and most important, thanks for listening and thanks for giving us a chance to be helpful. Kim and I got in this business for that reason: to be helpful, so we’re excited when those opportunities present!

Now let’s get into your question.

When I was in the Marines, on day one I was managing a 40 person organization, which included one or two crusty, roughneck guys with a lot more experience than me. Worse, it’s traditional in the Marines for the enlisted guys to gently mock new lieutenants with wonderful nicknames like “butter bars” and “boot.” In fact, to this day, my Marines will once in awhile make a “boot” joke at my expense on Facebook. Of course, I love it — it’s now a term of endearment.

Anyway, my point is that I have very direct experience with this.

I am pretty sure there have been other stops in my career in which I have had to manage people older than me, but I’m not sure, and that’s really my first piece of advice: You have to let the age or experience difference go. Ignore it. Pretend it’s not there. The more this is featured in your brain, the more you are likely to manifest as apologetic or an imposter.

I admire your humility in wanting to learn from your reports. We give this advice to every manager, irrespective of any age dynamics at play. Good managers routinely ask their people for feedback, routinely learn from those people. It’s generally more a function of the fact that those folks are “closer to the facts” than that they have more experience, but the outcome is the same. Good leaders listen carefully to their teams and learn from them. Well done.


In the end, you, as a manager, have to

1. give feedback

2. build a great team

both in service to

3. driving results

The ages of your direct reports have no bearing on whether they are achieving results. If you focus your conversations on the objectives and key results of your company and the objectives and key results of your Director of Ops and Production Manager, you’ll see exactly how quickly your age becomes irrelevant.

Having a direct report as an investor is tricky. However, I’m just going to guess that he/she doesn’t own a huge portion of the equity and is not on the board, in which case, he/she is a shareholder just like any other employee. In managing the day-to-day operations of the business, the position of your Director of Ops as an investor has no bearing on your expectations of him/her and the results he/she is expected to attain.

So, to summarize the advice here… As much as possible, stop thinking about the fact that these direct reports are older or more experienced than you are. Instead, focus on communicating clear expectations for results, evaluating those results, and creating accountability for the results. This is what really matters, and it will hopefully help relieve the tension you feel.

Let us know how it goes!

6 Key Lessons for Every New Manager

CONGRATULATIONS! You’re now a manager! You’ve worked hard, done well and been promoted to lead a team. That in and of itself is a HUGE accomplishment. But it’s only the beginning. Because now you need to figure out how the heck you’re going to actually be a successful, inspirational, motivational leader. That, my friend, is no small task. In fact, I am not sure that there exists a more jarring transition than the transition from individual contributor to manager.

I tend to summarize the issue very bluntly: The activities that made you a successful individual contributor yesterday LOOK NOTHING LIKE the activities that will make you successful as a manager today. I mean that exactly as written.

The problem, of course, is that we tend to promote people into management roles because they were one of the top, if not the top individual contributor. Based on my blunt summary (AKA my blummary), this would be an extremely arbitrary criteria since the activities that made you successful yesterday are not the same ones that will make you successful now.

This transition, then, also represents for so many an extremely specific example of the Peter Principle, selecting a candidate for a position based on their performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. This principle is exacerbated by the fact that very, very few companies invest enough to ramp up their new and mid-level managers.

Well lucky for you, Candor has come along to help. A good friend of mine, Dan Greene, shares a passion for getting involved with new managers and helping them find their footing. Like me, Dan started his leadership career as a Military officer. He spent a few years in the commercial aviation business after his 11 years in the Navy and then moved into the Tech world. Over the past decade, both Dan and I led large teams within the advertising businesses at Google and then Twitter. I turned to him to write this post with me so that we could produce the best handful of tips to help you succeed. This isn’t a comprehensive list of management how-to’s. It’s simply a description of the top 6 lessons that we feel any new manager should keep in mind as they ramp up in their first few days, weeks and months.

So here’s to you, new(ish) manager! We hope you’ll find these practical tips helpful.

Lesson #1 – You are not an individual contributor anymore

I asked one of our engineers, Matt Dailey, who made a transition from individual contributor to manager at Palantir, “Based on that transition at Palantir, what are your top two tips for new managers?” His answer was “First, I needed to ditch my individual contributor (IC) responsibilities.” Managing a team is a full-time job. If it’s not a full time job to manage a team, then there probably shouldn’t be a manager for that team.

Because you were likely the top individual contributor, it seems intuitive that you should retain some of that work. I think this is a very bad practice, and here’s why:

It doesn’t scale.

If you keep meaningful IC responsibilities instead of delegating, you will struggle to scale.

If you’re doing IC work, who is coaching Steve? Who is making sure the team is focused on the right priorities today (see below)? Who is helping remove obstacles and blockers to help folks on the team have more success? Who is reaching out to cross-functional partners to make sure teams are coordinating their efforts and operating in an aligned way?

I think you get my point.

It’s like robbing your team.

Something we believe deeply is that when you become a manager, you must prioritize your team’s growth, development, success, and needs above your own. Not in a lip-servicey kind of way, but truly in every fiber of your being. I personally take some cues from Service Leadership here, but this is really mostly a philosophy I brought with me out of the Marine Corps. It’s true that officers eat last. The insight here is that every single time you take on an important, complex, high impact deliverable, you are robbing people on your team from not only the growth and development that would come with them being front and center on that project, but also robbing them of a scarce high visibility opportunity. Sometimes people say, “well that’s just not realistic, those people are too busy” or “we have too much to do.” When I hear that, the first thing I think is “ok, then that team is most likely not prioritizing well.”

So here’s the tip: Look carefully at your IC responsibilities. Identify what is truly important, given the goals you just articulated, and identify what is not. Work with people on the team to distribute the important stuff to them, and work with them to trade-off other less important work that they might be pursuing.

Distribute the truly important individual contributor responsibilities to the people on your team.

Some companies follow the practice that new managers carry a lot of individual contributor responsibilities. My advice is for you to start to actively look for opportunities to delegate meaty opportunities to the folks on your team, start talking to your manager immediately about the risks of retaining too many IC responsibilities, and gradually work your way out of those responsibilities as time goes on. You *will* become a better manager. This is not easy to do, but that’s the mental model I recommend.

Lesson #2 – You have to truly care about your team(s)

It’s easy to use rank or positional authority to direct your teams and order people around, but that’s not leadership. To truly lead, you have to motivate and inspire, not direct. To motivate and inspire, you must earn your people’s trust. So, the question is, how do you earn someone’s trust?

Develop relationships

The first step is to develop relationships. People trust people that they know. So, take the time to get to know them. Engage with your team. Build connections with people. Get to know your people and let them get to know you. For example, find out what their hopes and dreams, goals and career objectives are. And make sure they know the same about you (relationships go both ways).

You can build these relationships through one on one sessions. You can build them informally by sitting with and working with your people. You can build them through hosting lunches and social events. You can use whatever works for you and your team and your culture. But no matter how you do it, get to know your people!

Show You Care Personally

The next step is to show your people that you care about them. People trust leaders when they know those leaders truly care about their best interests. This is no small task! Caring means that you put their needs first. You are in fact “in-service” to your own team… not the other way around. You can show you care by:

  • Helping them develop. Make time to coach and deliver strong and actionable feedback.
  • Helping them solve problems and removing obstacles for them.
  • Giving them credit and praise and making sure they shine whenever applicable.
  • Making time for them when you don’t have time to make!

Remember, this section is all about building trust with your teams by building relationships and showing them that you truly care. If you don’t care, they’ll know it. You cannot fake this! If they know you don’t care, they won’t trust you. If they don’t trust you, you can’t inspire them and if you can’t inspire, you cannot lead them. So if you don’t care, you can’t lead. Also remember that building strong relationships is the foundation for trust. People follow leaders that they trust. So build strong relationships to enable trust and unlock your leadership potential.

Lesson #3 – You gotta have a plan

Our engineer Matt’s second thought about his transition to becoming a manager was “I needed to clarify the team’s objectives.”

Of course, if you’ve transitioned into a management role recently – or are about to – you most likely inherited (will inherit) an operating team. This step, as Matt described it, is actually to try to understand “what the guy before me had the team working towards.” The team might be on the right path, but it also might not be. A few steps to follow:

Absolutely understand what the team thinks its objectives are

… by asking them. It might be tempting to think “oh, now that I’m a manager I’m supposed to know a lot of stuff, so I should know the team’s objectives.” Nonsense. A couple questions to ask individuals:

  • What are your goals for the quarter?
  • What do you believe our team’s goals are for the quarter?

Absolutely understand what key stakeholders think the team’s objectives should be

… by asking them. What does your new boss think the team should be achieving? What do your key cross-functional partners think the team should be achieving? What do the people ON THE TEAM think they should be achieving? A simple question for all of these people:

  • “I’m working through the team’s goals (OKRs, KPIs), and I am wondering, if you were setting the team’s goals for this/next quarter, what would your top 2 or 3 goals be?”

Rationalize what you learn and publish clear OKRs

As we’ve mentioned before, OKRs are “Objectives and Key Results” – or goals. Ultimately, you are responsible for the team’s delivery or lack of delivery, so the final OKRs will be your decision.

Having done your diligence by checking in with the team and stakeholders, you’re in a great place to paint a 360 degree picture of expectations of the team. But be wary of excessive compromise, ie the Nebraska Problem (you want to vacation in Vermont, your partner wants to vacation at Lake Tahoe, and to compromise, you settle on Nebraska, which is in between the two).

Good OKRs are measurable or binary, and they leave no ambiguity in the mind of the reader whether there was success or failure.

I like publishing OKRs in Google Spreadsheets with a description of the goal, a spot for notes, and a place to grade. Pretty simple. Distribute this sheet to the team so they know the team’s goals.

It’s also important that every person and every team has their own OKRs. So, not only should your team have clear goals, you and each individual also should have your own personal goals for the quarter. And we recommend listing and publishing all OKRs / Goals in a single doc so that everyone on the team knows and understands the focus areas, objectives and goals of all team members.

The final step – give your team visibility into your boss’ goals so they can see how their work supports a larger picture.

Lesson #4 – Ruthless Prioritization

Oftentimes, if you’ve just taken over a team, you’re freaking out a little. You think, incorrectly, that the path to success is to be able to show a mountain of awesome stuff your team accomplished. With this approach you will wear your team out, make them miserable, and while you might actually find a little bit of short-term success, you will not be able to sustain it.

The answer is to prioritize. If you have more than three priorities you have none. Just in case you’re thinking, “OK, Russ, but I can probably sneak in a 4th or 5th,” I’d say rethink.

One of our podcast listeners, Paige, wrote in and in our exchange mentioned, “Fun fact, the word ‘priorities’ is a modern word… before recently there was never a word that was the plural of priority – you only had ONE priority.” In other words, I think I’m being generous in giving you 3. :) Don’t let your insecure overachiever get the best of you. 3 priorities, no more.

How do you prioritize?

Great news! By carefully crafting your team’s goals, you have already taken the most important step toward prioritizing. In some ways, the team’s goals are the team’s priorities for the quarter, but I think priorities have to be actively traded each week and even each day. This is actually pretty hard to do. Prioritizing is a cognitively intensive process that people tend to naturally avoid. If you’re interested in learning the details, check out the “Prioritize Prioritizing” chapter in Your Brain at Work.

A very simple prescription is to hold a daily standup meeting. In this meeting, each person articulates their top 3 priorities for the day. A few pointers on this:

Take notes

Use a Google doc to capture and commemorate each person’s priorities. Ask folks to drop into this doc no more than 3 priorities for the day prior to the standup.

Avoid the arms race

The moment one person goes to 4 priorities, you’ve got yourself an arms race. “Oh, well Sally had 4 yesterday and now it looks like she is working harder than me, so I’ll put in 4 today.” If someone drops in 4 priorities, ask them, “What are your top 3?” and delete the 4th.

Be intentional about time of day

I recommend holding standup meetings at the earliest possible hour of the day, given your team’s working style. People have many different perspectives here, even in our own company, but the logic is that if you are prioritizing for the day, and part of the objective of the meeting is to provide transparency to all team members on each other’s priorities, then it makes the most sense to articulate and share those priorities first thing that day.

Monday is double duty

Consider using the Monday standup to articulate not only Monday’s priorities, but also the priorities for the week. Weekly priorities should have a clear tie to the quarterly goals — you only have 13 weeks in a quarter, so you can’t afford to let a whole week go by without progress towards your quarterly goals.

Lesson #5 – Don’t Be Soft on Crime

In episode 3 of our podcast, Dick Costolo, founder of and former CEO of Twitter, says, “Managing by trying to be liked is the path to ruin.”

If there is one problem I have seen new managers make more than any other, it’s that they do not channel their inner McGruff The Crime Dog, and they are far too soft on crime.

Think about the best coaches and teachers that you had in school. Think about what made them truly great. Chances are you were motivated and inspired, but you were also challenged, you were pushed, and you learned a TON. No one wants a push-over for a coach or a teacher or a manager. They want someone that will set high standards, who help them grow and achieve more than they thought possible, and who will do all of that in a way that shows they care. That means being a great manager doesn’t necessarily mean being everyone’s best friend. It means you’re going have to be tough when tough is needed and you’re going to have deliver difficult and constructive feedback when called for.

Guess what? People sometimes struggle, and sometimes you need to criticize their work and their behavior. Guess what else? People sometimes fail to make the changes you think they need to make.

Both of these realities are very difficult for new managers to grasp for a few reasons:

Thinking you can save everyone

You were almost certainly a strong individual contributor. You think that if you can just get Jeff to do this thing like you did, he’ll be ok. Sometimes, you even do the work for Jeff. Wrong answer, folks! – See Lesson #1.

Lacking confidence to act

You’re new, you’re off balance, and you’re not sure if you can hold people’s feet to the fire. You must. The purpose of critical feedback is to help people improve. By not acting, you are not helping people become more successful, the most important thing you can do for the people on your team.

Wanting to be liked

Giving tough feedback and holding folks accountable is uncomfortable… for everyone. You fear an emotional response. You fear being complained about at the water cooler. Well, those things are part of the gig.

Not wanting to hurt morale

You think that by holding Jane’s feet to the fire, you’ll upset her and since the team likes Jane, upsetting her will hurt morale. This is almost always wrong. Popular as Jane is, usually the team is troubled by the fact that she’s coming up short. They’re having to pick up the slack, and you’re not doing anything about it. By not getting Jane what she needs, critical feedback, you are hurting morale far more.

And here’s the ugly truth, noob. Someday you will have to fire someone. I promise you that day will be the worst day of your career. Always remember that it’s not fair to that person or the rest of the team to allow someone to continue in a role and struggle. You have to intervene swiftly. To feel better prepared, take time early in your tenure to find someone in HR who can teach you about how the company thinks about this stuff. Usually this person is an “HRBP” – Human Resources Business Partner or someone with broad HR responsibilities.  It’s important to flag to this person your concerns and collaborate with them on next steps.

Lesson #6 – Set the pace, set the tempo, lead by example!

OK, this is the last tip. We promise! Leading by example. On the surface, it’s simple… always always always lead by example! Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find some complexity.

Part of leading effectively is having the respect of your team. It’s very hard to gain or maintain that respect if you don’t set the right example and lead from the front. What do we mean by that? It falls into a few categories:

Technical Competency

You have to know and understand as much as you can about what your people know and do! Know the product, know the roles, know the operations. You need to understand what your people are doing day to day and understand what you’re asking them to do at any given time. Don’t ever ask your people to do something you haven’t done or wouldn’t do. And whenever you can, roll your sleeves up and get your hands “into the work,” along with your people. Walk the walk and talk the talk! You’ll build a tremendous amount of respect from your teams by focusing your energy in this way.

Effort & Energy

The team is fueled by your energy and your mood. If you bring low energy and a bad mood to work, that’s what the team will feed on. And that’s the kind of performance you’ll get from them. The fact is, you lose the right to have a bad day when you pin on your manager stripes. You have to be able to compartmentalize your problems, and bring your enthusiastic “A game” each and every day. This isn’t an easy task by any stretch. But that’s why you get paid the big bucks, why you’ve been given the privilege to lead. So, suck it up and be mentally and emotionally tough. Leadership is HARD. Being a great leader is even harder. You have to accept and be comfortable with that fact. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of commitment to be a great leader.


Here’s something that all too many leaders forget or never actually understand: when you are in a position of leadership, everything you do is a leadership action. What you do, what you say, what you think, what people think you think and how they perceive you as a result — it all matters! Everything you do counts as a leadership action and you must set the right example as often as possible. That means you’re always setting an example, on the job and off. As a leader you’re never really off duty. What you do at home, out in town, off the job, or on the job — it all counts. And you’re always setting an example. If you want to maintain the respect of your team and as a result maintain your ability to lead and manage them, you need to set the right example all the time!

You can do this!

One article with 6 lessons and tips on how to lead certainly doesn’t cover the entire corpus of leadership. There’s no way we can teach you everything you need to know and understand in one article. What we’ve tried to do here is pull together the top 6 things we think every new manager MUST understand if they’re going to be remotely successful in their new jobs as leaders.

We encourage you to read through and think about everything we’ve written here. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about these concepts with other more experienced managers that you know. See what they have to say about the most important things you need to know as you start your management career. Let us know what you think, what you learn, and what questions you have!

Leadership and management is an amazingly rewarding career path, but to do it right requires a tremendous amount of energy; a refined, robust and specific set of skills and knowledge; and a ton of practice.


This post was co-authored by Dan Greene.

Dan is currently an independent leadership consultant, writer, and speaker. Over the course of his career, he has held a variety of roles in general management, operations management, and sales & business leadership. Dan was previously the Vice President of U.S. Sales at Twitter, spent 6 years leading teams at Google, and was the VP of Business Operations for an aviation startup company. Dan graduated from the United States Naval Academy and spent the first 11 years of his career serving as a carrier-based Navy fighter pilot & operations director before earning his MBA from UCLA. He lives in Willow Glen, CA with his wife, Karen, his three kids, and his yellow lab “Scout”.

Resolve to Be a Better Leader in 2017

It’s that time of year. A time for new beginnings. A time for renewal and resolution. Like many, you may be feeling inspired and committed to a set of New Year’s Resolutions. But have you committed to any that will help you be a better leader in 2017?

Maybe you’re not sure where to start, what leadership resolutions to choose. John Farmer, one of our engineers, and I developed a list of “Leadership New Year Resolutions” to help you start thinking about this. We recommend picking one, at most two, and truly resolving to do it better.

We’ve organized these resolutions around the 3 core responsibilities of a manager:

  1. Giving and receiving feedback
  2. Building a high-performing team

Which are both in service of:

  1. Driving better results

Feedback Resolutions

1. Listen more and be comfortable with silence

Have you ever counted how many ears you have and compared that to the number of mouths you have? For most people that is a 2:1 ratio – twice as many ears as mouths.

When you talk, you only repeat what you already know, but if you listen you may learn something new.

(Dalai Lama, big hitter.)

Resolve to listen more so that you can truly hear and learn more from the people on your team. Here’s an Andy Grove inspired process for soliciting their feedback. You must adjust your mindset and truly believe that the people on your team have a lot to teach you, and then you must listen!

2. Embark on a listening tour

It’s not just the people on your team that can teach you a lot. You probably work closely with peers as well, those who share your boss or cross-functional collaborators. Have you heard from them recently?
Resolve to ask ten peers how you can improve. Buckle up. I recommend specifically steering clear of “what am I doing well?” and just ask the question, “what can my team or I do better?” Remember to truly listen.

And here’s the trick – Don’t get mad, get curious. Understand going in that you might hear some difficult-to-hear things. That’s GREAT! Would you rather have those things whispered behind your back or show up suddenly on a peer review? Or would you rather go out there and hear them face to face and get a chance to improve?


3. Give more praise

Too many managers do praise poorly, if they do it at all. Praise is not about making someone feel good. Praise’s purpose is to show people what success looks like, what to do more of. Roanne Daniels at Bain Capital says beautifully, “Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.”

Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.

Resolve to give (approximately) 3 instances of praise for every instance of criticism. This will be easy once you form the habit. Think about this: you’re not walking around firing everyone on your team, which means they’re doing an awful lot more well than not. Take the time to see and immediately communicate those good things in 1-3 minute, informal conversations.

4. Ask your employees how happy and productive they feel at the end of each week

One of the great services you can provide to your employees is being a blocker eliminator. Sometimes your folks experience real blockers and sometimes they perceive blockers. In both cases, it will be hard for you to be helpful if you don’t know how the person is currently feeling.

Resolve to ask, “how productive were you this week?” to uncover and discuss blockers. Also ask, “how happy are you?” to understand the things either frustrating or enriching your team members. This will give you a chance to go all Darth-Vader-in-Rogue-One on those frustrating items and the opportunity to double down on those sources of happiness.


Resolutions for Building a Stronger Team

1. Let your directs fully own the agenda for your 1:1s

Not long ago, we posted an article about holding effective 1:1s. The idea that your employee owns the agenda is a simple, symbolic practice that helps them feel ownership and autonomy for their work and their time.

Resolve to give your employees this responsibility, as a way of saying, “You tell me what’s important.” Of course, you can coach and guide them over time to help refine their thinking about what’s important. Remember that Steve Jobs said “we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”

2. Understand your employees’ long term career aspirations

Part of your job as a manager is to help your employees grow. Have you ever asked yourself the question, though, “grow into what?” How can you hope to offer a shred of relevant career advice to your people if you don’t understand their dreams?

Resolve to ask your employees, “What do you see yourself doing at the pinnacle of your career – when you are happy, challenged and not longing for anything else?” And then listen. And listen. Ask clarifying questions. Push for a few dreams, not just one. Do not accept incremental steps that don’t sound like dreams. ONLY AFTER you understand their dreams – blurry, foggy versions of the dream – use three questions to bring them into focus. What’s the role? What’s the industry? What’s the size of company? Write these vision statements down. They’re gold.


Check out this video for a bit more on helping your employees grow.

Resolutions for Achieving Results

1. Delegate decision making

Your team will execute better and faster if you devolve decision-making responsibility deeper into your organization. You’re probably less likely to do as good a job as the people closest to the facts. Also, every time you make decisions for your team, realize you are robbing your employees of a chance for both growth and visibility. Finally, you can never scale as a manager if you continue to act like an individual contributor. Let it go. They will deliver.

Resolve to delegate more important stuff to your team. Focus more on what, not how, by making sure that your team has clear, measurable goals each quarter. Push decisions “into the facts”– explicitly identify who the decider is for key decisions, and make sure that person has what they need to decide.

2. Tighten up your meetings

The more time you and your team spend in ineffective meetings, the less time you spend on achieving important results. Ever felt like a meeting had way too many people in it, or that it was taking much longer than it needed to? Ever been a part of a meeting where half the room is trying to make a decision and half the room is just debating? These situations are a huge waste of time and a source of frustration for everyone.

Resolve to publish an agenda for your meetings. (Google Spreadsheets is great for this) Make it clear exactly what the objective is for each agenda item. You might use these objectives:

  • Relate = pass on information, ie “there will be fire drill today at 1:30PM”
  • Solve = brainstorming and problem solving. Debate lives here.
  • Decide = make a decision.

Clarifying the objective of an agenda item helps all attendees know what you’re trying to get done and can help identify who needs to attend. You can also set a time limit for each agenda item. Meetings should only take the time that they need – if a meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes and you are done in 45, CELEBRATE the fact that everyone gets back 15 minutes.


The Gimme/Candor-plug Resolution

Of course, we all know that resolutions often only last about six weeks into the year. It’s hard to change your behavior. And we want to help you continue your commitment to being a better leader throughout the year.

Resolve to listen to the Radical Candor podcast for weekly leadership lessons, inspiration and tips. Subscribe in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or sign up here to get email notifications.

Also resolve to read Candor’s monthly newsletter for more stories and advice. Subscribe here.


Which of these resolutions will you commit to in 2017? Do you have other leadership resolutions? Tell us about them in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you!


Why Feedback Helps Teams Achieve Results

Most people don’t have any problem imagining how quality feedback can improve a relationship between two co-workers, and specifically, how it improves the relationship between managers and their direct reports. It just makes sense!

The relationship between feedback and operating results, though, is often less clear in the minds of the customers that I talk to every week. Can feedback actually have a direct impact on the success of a company? To answer that question, let’s first look at the relationship between feedback, engagement, and attrition.

Feedback and Engagement

I talk to something like 5-10 companies every week, who have reached out to ask for our help. My first question is always “What problems do you think Candor can help you with?”

If it’s a large company, the response might sound something like this, “We just finished our company-wide engagement survey, and it looks like our lower and middle-level managers are causing us some big engagement problems. Through the survey and in follow-on focus groups, we see that the engagement problems stem from managers not providing high quality feedback, and in many cases not providing feedback at all.”

Small and growing companies say things a bit differently, “We used to all fit it one room. The common purpose was so clear, and it was just about getting stuff done. We criticized the work, and everyone understood it was to get better and we moved on. Recently, as we’ve spread out more as a team, and inserted a middle layer of management, I feel like we’re losing our feedback culture and degrading engagement. We’re starting to become too nice.”

I hear these types of concerns all the time, touching on the intersection of feedback and engagement. Here’s why I think this pain is so acute:

If you think about an employee’s relationship with – and engagement in – a company, there are many facets to it, but I want to briefly discuss the three relationships that I think are most powerful and most sticky.

Peer Relationships

In most companies, it’s very common for people to say that they absolutely love the people they work with. I recall in engagement surveys at Twitter in which these “how are your peers?” type questions often got >95% score, which means that 95% of people said that they loved the people around them. Same result at Google. This relationship with peers is usually an important source of engagement and retention.

Relationship to The Mission

Sometimes people really do connect with the nameless, faceless corporation, often out of a connection with that company’s purpose or mission. Just for fun, the next time you bump into someone who says they worked for Google, ask them Google’s mission. I will guarantee they can rattle it off without hesitation because those of us who worked there all connected so deeply with that purpose. This relationship with the company’s mission is another meaningful source of engagement and retention.

Relationship to the Boss

This is where we are focused like a laser because in a lot of ways, the boss IS the company. In fact when a boss communicates with an employee, as any employment attorney will tell you, that boss quite literally IS the company. Bosses or managers also have a unique power to keep people happy, engaged, and present when one of the other two relationships (above) is lacking, and they have the power to drive someone out even when the other two are very strong. It’s such a cliche, but still worth stating: People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.


So, it should be no surprise just how much of an effect that the boss:employee relationship has on employee engagement. And the foundation of that relationship is based on the interactions between boss and employee. Does the boss show that they Care Personally for the employee? Do they Challenge the employee Directly? This comes across particularly strongly in the feedback culture the boss creates, as crystallized in this quote from Ben Horowitz:

Giving feedback turns out to be the unnatural atomic building block atop which the unnatural skill set of the management gets built.

Feedback is THE crucial ingredient in developing a strong relationship, and that relationship seems to have the most explanatory power in determining someone’s engagement, and therefore ultimately, someone’s decision to stay or punch out.


Said more simply: More frequent and better feedback leads to higher engagement which leads to higher retention.

Feedback and Core Operating Results

“We don’t need all this touchy feely stuff, we just need to get stuff done.” – many ill-informed senior executives

We’ve established that a huge input into the boss:employee relationship is frequent and quality feedback. Many people will agree but then not actually give regular feedback. There are a bunch of reasons for that: Feedback takes time, bosses fear an adverse reaction, they forget, etc. There are also a LOT of people who say something like “We don’t have time for all this feedback. We’re too busy trying to get stuff done.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

First, a few assumptions:

  1. Let’s assume for a second that the company you work for has clear goals – maybe OKRs or KPIs – that are set every quarter to establish what you want to get done. These goals are tracked and there’s an open, candid conversation around where things went well and where they didn’t.
  2. Let’s further assume that sub teams within the company all also have quarterly goals and that those goals ladder up to the corporate goals.
  3. Third assumption – each person on a team has goals that align with the team’s goals and therefore ultimately the company’s goals.
  4. Finally, let’s assume that the work a person is taking on in any given time period – a day, week, or month – directly supports his or her goals, and therefore directly supports the team’s goals, which in turn support the company’s goals.

So now we’ve established that getting stuff done = achieving company goals. If you don’t operate this way, you should think about operating this way.

Now let’s talk about feedback. We divide feedback into two main parts: praise and criticism. People have a bunch of reasons why they find each of these to be difficult. Something that can galvanize a leader toward taking action and giving more feedback is giving clarity on the purpose of feedback — specifically, the purpose of praise and criticism.



Both praise and criticism should be given with the intent of helping someone find more success because that is their highest leverage purpose.

So, under our assumptions above, each person is working towards goals that support the results the company wants to achieve. And now we have established that if a person gets more feedback – both praise and criticism – they will know what to do more of and what to do better, which means they will find more success in their work. So it should now be clear as a bell that immediate, impromptu, MUCH more frequent feedback will directly impact the individual’s (and therefore the team’s and therefore the company’s) ability to achieve results. And so feedback is therefore one of the highest leverage activities a manager can engage in. No excuses. Giving feedback IS getting stuff done.


We want to hear your stories! Tell us about a time when you experienced the direct impact that feedback can have on results.

How to Have Effective 1:1s

There are a lot of ways to think about holding one-on-one meetings (1:1s) with the people on your teams. Heck, here at Candor, Inc. we don’t even fully agree on one exact prescription. We have a few tips below for thinking about how to have effective 1:1s.

Have them

Have regular 1:1s.

I have to start at the beginning here, because it’s simply not the case that all managers are holding regular 1:1s. This is a cardinal sin. 1:1s are quiet, focused collaboration time for employees and bosses to connect. It’s also the most important chance for you to hear from your employee, and it’s their time, not yours. As a senior or junior manager, you must create the space for this.

I’ve historically held my 1:1s for 1 hour every week, and had a high bar for canceling or rescheduling. Currently, Elisse – our outstanding Marketing Director – and I have our 1:1 every other week for an hour. The reason for bi-weekly versus weekly is that we work very closely together – literally a couple feet from each other – all day every day, and we just don’t need to carve out that formal time every single week. But, if Elisse wanted the 1:1 to be an hour every week, I would respect that request, and adjust my schedule to accommodate her needs, no questions asked.

Be on time.

The 1:1 is really not your time, Ms. Manager… it’s their time. Being late is disrespectful. Constantly prioritizing “something else” – email, other meetings, etc. suggests that this particular 1:1 meeting is not as important to you as these other things. Remember, as a manager, in many ways, you represent the company to the employee. Think about the message that you and the company are sending to someone that their time is not that important to you. How do you think this will affect their engagement? (hint: not well)

Change the setting here and there.

Occasionally, go for a walk and have your 1:1. Occasionally, go get coffee. Go sit in the courtyard. Get lunch or breakfast or dinner. Most often, it’s probably easiest and most efficient to grab or schedule a room and get right into it. Every once in awhile, though, offer to change the setting. Think of it as a chance to interact with your team member more as a human being than as just the stodgy old boss.

It’s OK to cancel.

“If there’s nothing to discuss, it’s ok to cancel. People, too often, view 1:1s as mandatory, but it’s refreshing when you both acknowledge that things are ok for now, or the time may be better spent other ways… and you can do this as long as you both agree not to take a request to cancel personally.” – Ben Saitz, Chief Customer Officer at RocketFuel. Cancel occasionally, when you both agree, but beware not to do this regularly. See Have Them above.

Two Ears, One Mouth

They own the agenda… mostly

There is a reason you were given two ears to hear and one mouth to speak. You learn a heck of a lot more listening than talking. Use this as your guide to having an effective 1:1.

I think it’s pretty important that your employee owns the agenda. You might set some guidelines for things that you request to be in the agenda. Then again, you might not. An example of something that you might request is a regular update on their OKRs, KPIs, etc., and maybe you’ll ask that they communicate any blockers that you might be able to help with. Not crazy.

But I think the idea that your employee owns the agenda is a simple, symbolic practice that helps them feel ownership and autonomy for their work and their time. You’re saying, “You tell me what’s important,” and of course you can coach and guide them to help refine over time what’s important. Remember that Steve Jobs said “we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”

Have a Doc

I like the idea of using a Google Doc, or other shared doc, for a few reasons:

  1. A shared doc is easily accessible pretty much everywhere – across devices, even without a network connection if you choose the “Available offline” option.
  2. A shared doc is a great way to capture action items, what’s said, what’s decided, what’s due, etc. to help us remember these important things amid our busy-as-hell lives.
  3. A shared doc enables manager preparation – just because your employee is driving the agenda, doesn’t mean you need to be surprised! You could agree that the agenda is developed an hour or two in advance and take time to see what’s coming and prep.
  4. It allows you to keep a running archive of 1:1 content that could come in handy down the line for any number of reasons.

Three high leverage agenda items for your 1:1s

While the specific agenda items for a 1:1 should be set by your employee, it’s still ok to help structure the agenda to make the time as productive as possible. Many junior employees may be unsure as to what they should cover in the 1:1. Here are some topics to consider working into your 1:1s:


While I don’t recommend using a 1:1 for simple work status updates (those can easily be accomplished via email), it is entirely appropriate to include “Progress toward goals” as a standing agenda item in a 1:1. Your team member has quarterly goals – ie KPIs or OKRs – that are closely tied to the goals of the team and the company, and it’s very productive to understand the results that your team member is achieving. In the spirit, though, of allowing the employee to own the agenda, give him or her the autonomy to tee up the discussion and prioritize the specific items to cover. That week might be all good news, or maybe that week there’s a blocker that he she needs help with. Perhaps the employee just wants some advice on a problem they are working through. Be there to support them in the achievement of their goals and enable them to determine how you do that.

Career Development

We have developed a very robust Career Conversation methodology here (more on it in later posts). Once a Career Action Plan is developed, allow space in the 1:1 to talk about and follow up on action items. Making this a habit like brushing and flossing will mean that you are investing in your folks in a differentiated way. Kevin Sheridan says in his LinkedIn post about the Top 3 Reasons Employees Quit, “[Managers] do not regularly meet with their direct reports to discuss Career Development, Learning, and Promotion Opportunities.” Regular investment in growth and development helps everyone – helps your employee grow towards their dreams, helps the team and company improve, and it helps your relationship with your employee.

Feedback: Get It, Don’t Give it

The 1:1 is not the place for the manager to give feedback to the employee. That’s not a typo. Recall that we favor short bursts – a few minutes – of feedback given immediately after the specific situation or event.

Instead think about the 1:1 as a chance to get feedback from your employees. If you want to build a culture of feedback, the best place to start is here. Follow our steps to get people to open up and prove you can take and that you value tough feedback: ask your go-to question, stay silent until your employee has the chance to answer, listen with the intent to understand not to cross-examine, and then reward the candor.

My co-founder, Kim, uses another approach, which can substitute or complement the above. She asks her direct reports to structure their 1:1 agendas by answering these questions:

  1. What’s on your mind this week?
  2. How happy were you this past week?
  3. How productive were you this past week?
  4. What feedback do you have for me?

For the record, Ben, quoted above, also favors an open-ended question style for his 1:1s. Questions are a great way to help guide your employee’s thinking about the 1:1 agenda. But, I’ve found that when working with more senior employees, it also works well to leave it entirely up to them and trust that they’ll prioritize the appropriate agenda items.

So remember, supercharge your 1:1s with your employees by making sure you have them, using the time to listen and learn what is important to your employee, and giving your employee ownership of the agenda (with some guidance on key topics to cover).

4 Ways to Help New Managers Succeed

I’ve had a 22 year operational management career, and naturally, I’ve had a lot of new managers in my organizations over the years. ‘New managers,’ in this case, means ‘new-to-management’ not so much ‘new-to-me’ or ‘new-to-the-org.’ I’m talking specifically about people new to the practice of management. Oh yeah, I was also a new manager once, many moons ago as a young Lieutenant in the US Marines.

So I really understand the struggles and challenges of being a new manager.

“Ask any new manager about the early days of being a boss—indeed, ask any senior executive to recall how he or she felt as a new manager. If you get an honest answer, you’ll hear a tale of disorientation and, for some, overwhelming confusion.”

From Becoming the Boss by Linda Hill, Harvard Business Review, 2007

One day, you’re an individual contributor, and likely, you’re a successful one because that is what typically earns you the opportunity to become a manager. Suddenly you’re promoted or get a new job as a manager. That’s great! The thing is, though, that what got you here with success, won’t get you continued success as a manager. I mean this quite literally.

The activities that led to success as an individual contributor LOOK NOTHING LIKE the activities that will lead to success as a manager.

They do not resemble one another at all. No hyperbole.

But despite this, new managers receive very little coaching on how to be successful in their new role.

“And as I neared the end of my corporate days, I realized I’d received much more management training in the last five years than I did in the first 20 years — when I really needed it — combined.”

From Why Do We Spend So Much Developing Senior Leaders and So Little Training New Managers? by Victor Lipman, Harvard Business Review, 2016

As I’ve talked to 100s of customers and prospects at Candor, Inc., the single most common concerns raised by senior leaders and HR pros alike has been “We have a ‘new manager’ problem that we badly need help with.” These companies are often communicating huge front line employee engagement issues related to the performance of their middle and entry level of management. This isn’t a huge surprise. Companies often invest extraordinary sums of money to have famous authors come in to distribute brain candy and consultants to build cohesive senior executive teams. But in so many of the companies I’ve seen, the investment level in training new and middle level managers is not remotely close.

The theory of senior level investment, according to Lipman, has to do with the leverage exerted upon the organization by a relatively small number of leaders. One C-Level person has massive impact on an org. Gotta fix that guy! That gal needs to improve! It is also often the case, though, that the front line and middle layer managers, in aggregate, have at least as much leverage on the organization and directly results in costly turnover and ineffective performance.

I think this problem is enormous and and not close to resolved. To get our own conversation going, here are some of the key areas I’ve seen new managers routinely struggle with:

  • Giving feedback
  • Helping their team grow
  • Driving team results
  • Formal performance management

Here are some ideas for how manager-focused L&D (Learning and Development) and senior executives can better mentor new managers in these areas.

1. Teach New Managers to Be More Than Cheerleaders

When it comes to giving feedback to their teams, new managers spend so much time in Ruinous Empathy that they should have to pay rent to Ruinous Empathy. They become cheerleaders, with refrains of “Go Team!” and “We are mighty”, almost complete with pom-poms. Like cheerleaders, new managers aren’t yelling, “R-U-N play-action more because that is the best way to exploit their over-aggressive linebackers!”


New managers perhaps don’t feel like they have the cachet or capital to challenge their teams too directly. Perhaps the new manager is trying logically to avoid micromanagement. It could also be that the new manager is flat-out conflict averse and struggles to issue a direct challenge no matter how justified. Indeed, it is human nature that the more difficult the conversation, the less clear we become. In either case, the manager is doing the individual and the remainder of the team a disservice by not clearly articulating performance problems.

New managers also become cheerleaders with their praise. They offer non-specific praise such as “Great job!” intended to make friends and to make people feel good. Often, the new manager is far too concerned with being liked versus being respected or competent. It’s normal to want to be liked. The manager’s job, of course, is to help the team be more successful and being liked may very well not fit into that plan.

We can help new managers avoid these natural tendencies by teaching them what good feedback looks like. An easy first step is to have them watch our Radical Candor video, listen to Kim’s First Round talk, and read some of the feedback articles on our site.

They’ll learn that when things aren’t going as well as hoped, they should “Just say it!” They’ll learn that giving criticism that is kind and clear is far more helpful than not saying it at all.

It’s also important for new managers to learn that showing you Care Personally does not simply mean to give more praise — praise is not the way to turn all direct challenges into Radical Candor. Managers should avoid the feedback sandwich – putting a piece of praise around a tough message – for two reasons. First, the praise is usually meaningless – very general, not particularly sincere. Second, and much more importantly, leading with praise in delivering a tough message confuses and dilutes the tough message.

When it comes to giving praise, new managers need to learn how to be more impactful. For example, when they give specific praise – praise that includes a clear articulation of what was achieved and why that achievement matters – they can help people to see and feel what success looks like in the organization. The Positive Coaching Alliance teaches us that “positive is powerful,” but are careful to say that generic, non-specific praise is just as useless for little kids as it is for adults. I’ve found similar results in the organizations I’ve run and in the little league teams I’ve coached.

We can also help new managers learn that more often than not, their team will actually prefer getting direct challenges. By providing a way for team members to gauge new managers’ feedback, they’ll get a strong message as to whether people think they’re pulling their punches.

2. Help New Managers Enable Their People’s Futures

New Managers tend to really struggle with helping their team grow because they are generally not taught how to have Career Conversations.

Great managers help bring some intentionality, structure, and accountability to the process of career planning for their people, by understanding the employee’s past and future, which then enables the employee to take relevant action right now.

You can help new managers, and their teams, simply by providing basic training on Career Conversations. We’ll be bringing a bunch more content soon about the details of how to have good Career Conversations, so watch this space for additional resources.

3. Guide New Managers in Setting Expectations for and Driving Performance

Many new managers find themselves in difficult performance management situations because they haven’t clearly articulated standards for performance and they don’t always follow a sound process for delivering results. It’s difficult for the team to succeed if they don’t know what the expectations are.

Help new managers set expectations by coaching them on how to set goals – or OKRs – in collaboration with team members. OKR means Objectives and Key Results. In case you’re not totally familiar, Betterworks does a nice job defining OKR basics here. Even our tiny company, Candor, Inc. has a set of objectives for end of year 2017 and 2016, and supporting key results under each! These objectives are aligned to the company’s envisioned outcomes, in our case, profitability or a successful Series A. Managers should set OKRs collaboratively with the team, not dictate them to the team. Teach new managers to check that their team’s OKRs support the goals of both the company and the higher organization.

Driving results is hard. We’ve developed a process for helping drive better results more consistently. This process is a loop and operates conceptually like Boyd’s Cycle.



Your team should know what the company is trying to achieve, and they likely have some of the best ideas for what your team should be achieving. First, listen to their ideas in trying to figure out what results your team should be pursuing.


Remember that new ideas are fragile and therefore easily squished. A critical role a manager can play is to augment the voice of their team by helping the team clarify their ideas and by clarifying the manager’s own understanding of the ideas.


Allowing the team time and space to publicly debate the ideas is a critical step. Guidelines for good debate include making the discussion about the ideas and not about egos. It’s about finding the best answer together, not about who won the debate.


The manager doesn’t always need to decide, but the manager needs to make certain that the decider is clearly identified and that a decision gets made. If there are any follow up items or other process points, such as specific stakeholder checkins, for making a decision, the manager needs to make sure those are articulated.


Not everyone required to achieve results will have been involved in each step of this process. That’s ok, but those people need to be brought along after the decision is made.


Now it’s go time. Time to stop talking and start working. One of the great benefits of carefully abiding by the preceding process is that now the team can execute with great autonomy and purpose with buy-in and understanding.


Your team’s execution changes the context and uncovers new variables. The new context needs to be observed and understood and then used to feed the process again. Your team will have the best information; time to listen and go around the wheel again.

This is hard work, and in leading a team, managers should try to execute this cycle quickly but thoroughly to improve their ability to drive results. L&D can help new managers learn and understand this process by providing training resources and ongoing support. Watch this space for resources you can use to teach our “Get Stuff Done” results wheel!

4. Encourage New Managers to Utilize Formal Performance Management

I’ve seen this scenario far too often: The new manager sticks their neck out for an obvious under performer. They think they can coach everyone out of the problem. They think, because they were successful as an individual contributor, they can coach anyone out of a performance funk.

Of course, coaching is the right first step. It’s a great start. Good performance-related coaching includes a clear expectation for improvement and a clear timeline for improvement. I recommend that a manager start here and then re-assess the performance gap.

The problem arises as the coaching doesn’t take. After one or two cycles of accountable performance coaching, it’s time to move to a more formal process. The recommendation might sound aggressive, but I don’t think so, for a couple reasons:

  1. The new manager often struggles to identify that breaking point (when to move to a formal process) on their own. Even if they are able to identify when it’s time for more aggressive action, a concern about being wrong about their coaching often prevents them from acting. Beyond that, many organizations starve young managers of critical support from Human Resources Business Partners (HRBPs), who could help the manager find their footing and get control of the performance management problem. Without this support, a formal management process is the best way for new managers to navigate these difficult situations.
  2. I believe deeply that the formal Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a gift of clarity for the under-performer. It serves to clarify in writing the specific performance issues in a way that all critical stakeholders can understand – most importantly, the person struggling with performance. This answer is obvious when written at a distance and in theory in a blog post. But new managers often resist PIPs because of an excessive focus on the last line, which is often something like “failure to comply within 60 days will result in termination.” This line is more of a “cover-your-butt” tool to fire someone; using PIPs solely for this purpose is a huge miss. The rest of the document should be viewed as a great clarifying exercise. If you believe the harder the conversation, the less clear you are, then clarifying performance gaps and success criteria via a PIP is the greatest gift any manager – and especially a new one – can give a struggling team member.

L&D and senior executives can and should ensure that new managers know when and how to make use of formal performance management processes in their organization.


Does your company have any great training programs for new managers? What other areas have you seen present challenges for new managers?

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