How Trust Buys Bandwidth

October 5th, 2015 / Comments Off on How Trust Buys Bandwidth

In an earlier LinkedIn post on productivity, I wrote about how I save time by not doing coffee. That’s one of my personal productivity hacks, but I’ve found building trusted relationships with people on my team is the way to save exponential time.

Maybe that sounds obvious, but it wasn’t always so apparent to me. When I was a young manager, as someone who graduated from the school of hard knocks and had an untraditional rise through the ranks, I honestly believed that everyone was more talented and experienced than I was. I assumed everyone would do his or her job well, and with the dedication I expected. I trusted everything and everyone.

However, I quickly found it didn’t always work that way. I could not blindly trust everyone and people did not always live up to my expectations — especially if I didn’t clearly communicate with them! With that lesson, I built my “trust, but verify” tactic. That means I expect the best from everybody, but I invest in methods upfront to ensure we can achieve everything we set out to do. These methods take time, but are well worth the effort. The process looks like this:

Align around goals: Expectations must be clear. Make sure people know what they are doing and by when.

Establish regular check-ins: Touch points are key. Daily or weekly communications are necessary. Most managers ask for post-mortems to study how things went and learn from experience, but I also set up pre-checks to get verification in advance that things are on track and to minimize any surprises.

Encourage people to share concerns: I tell people problems are a good thing, not something to hide. I communicate that I expect people to ask for help early and often, and I create the cultural conditions for them to feel comfortable doing so. I’m like a network: if I ping you and I don’t hear back, I get nervous; I want the network pinging me with updates. If something was due Friday, but it won’t be ready until Monday, tell me ASAP so I can reset my expectations.

Be available, but set boundaries: I’m available for anything urgent (e.g. a site crash), but for anything non-urgent I offer time slots where I will be around to address any issues. This helps me from careening off course and allows me to stay focused on what I need to accomplish.

Ask questions: Instead of telling someone what to do, I ask them questions. This makes people feel less micro-managed and empowers them with the authority and control they desire.

There’s a famous, if somewhat contested, study in the engineering world that shows a 10-fold difference between the best programmers and the worst (despite the debate, the data confirms there is “an order of magnitude differences among programmers”). I’ve found that every trusted person accomplishes at least three times as much what the average person does, which results in me saving all that time, increased by every trusted person in my ecosystem.

By gaining more time, I get to work on other things I care about. I start new initiatives, ranging from a new project to a new company, and once it’s humming with a trusted leader at the helm, I add on something new or spend more time with my family. I often take Fridays off to spend with my wife and see my children as much as I can. I’ve learned what you gain from trusted relationships is beyond measure.

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