The En­tre­pre­neur­ial Mind­set @Work

Rotman Management Magazine - - FROM THE EDITOR - - Farhan Thawar

Early in my ca­reer, when I was work­ing at Tril­ogy Soft­ware, one of my fel­low man­agers was never at his desk. When I did see him, he seemed to be do­ing re­ally ran­dom things — talk­ing to one per­son, go­ing for cof­fee with another, or just stand­ing around look­ing at peo­ple. And yet, his teams per­formed ex­cel­lently. I won­dered if luck had be­stowed upon him a pack of A-play­ers — en­abling him to get by do­ing noth­ing as a man­ager.

For a while, I be­lieved he was hope­less; but then I dis­cov­ered some­thing pow­er­ful: This in­di­vid­ual spent all of his time help­ing peo­ple. Those osten­si­bly ran­dom ac­tiv­i­ties I had noted were his way of un­block­ing his team and paving their way to suc­cess.

I soon changed my own be­hav­iour and started to ‘work for’ my team — and I’ve car­ried that prac­tice through­out my ca­reer. Whether I man­age five (as I did at first) or 300 (as I did at Xtreme Labs), my main goal is to help peo­ple do their jobs. I al­ways vol­un­teer for the un­pop­u­lar jobs; and if my peo­ple are blocked, I work as hard as I can to un­block them. To an out­sider, it might look like I’m not do­ing much, but the value ac­cru­ing to the com­pany is tremen­dous. There are three main rea­sons:

1) To be creative, your peo­ple need a thresh­old level of re­spon­si­bil­ity

In or­der for some­one to do her best work, she needs to feel and un­der­stand the prob­lem. She’ll never grow wings if she’s never forced to fly. The con­flict and strug­gle of fix­ing one’s own prob­lems is the key to cre­ativ­ity. This is why peo­ple should work for them­selves and only ask for help from man­agers when they need it. This way, the com­pany ben­e­fits by hav­ing far more peo­ple work­ing on creative so­lu­tions to prob­lems. Com­mand-and-con­trol works for or­ga­ni­za­tions like the army, but not for knowl­edge work­ers: You need each of your peo­ple to spread their wings.

2) Your peo­ple need mis­sions and au­thor­ity to reach peak pro­duc­tiv­ity

Peo­ple have to shed their chains to do good work. A typ­i­cal

man­ager might give her sub­or­di­nate a task and mi­cro­man­age un­til it looks like what they want. I pre­fer to ask my peo­ple to build some­thing that solves the pain. For ex­am­ple, I asked one of our Help­ful prod­uct de­sign­ers to help solve a pain point: Some users wanted to use the app, but they didn’t use their phones. The mis­sion was to build web func­tion­al­ity for ev­ery­thing into our app. The out­put looked noth­ing like what I ex­pected; but it was fan­tas­tic.

3) Mis­takes are how peo­ple learn — and how you learn

As a man­ager, your job is not to pre­vent peo­ple from mak­ing mis­takes. Don’t worry about mis­takes. In re­al­ity, there are ex­tremely few cat­a­strophic mis­takes that peo­ple can make. Your job is to set a tone that mak­ing mis­takes is okay — as long as peo­ple learn from them. Make your own mis­takes. Bring a mind­set of learn­ing to ev­ery­thing. Ex­plic­itly call it out: ‘I thought X was right, but turns out I was wrong and Y is bet­ter.’

I have learned that you have to ex­plic­itly and em­phat­i­cally ad­ver­tise your own mis­takes. At Piv­otal, I once called some­one by the wrong name and a col­league said, “Woah, you make mis­takes!” I was floored. Did he think I never make mis­takes? Clearly, my mis­take was to not show­case my mis­takes. Do­ing so helps peo­ple get rid of their fear — un­leash­ing au­ton­omy and cre­ativ­ity.

Con­clu­sion: Your org chart is up­side-down. Flip it.

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