Rob Catalano is passionate about helping companies succeed – by leveraging technology to make employees successful. As a founding employee, Rob spent the past ten years at Achievers in three different countries. With his unique experience in HR Technology, Rob co-founded WorkTango – a platform that helps managers build authentic relationships and trust with their employees and create high performing teams.

Have you ever asked past employees you’ve managed what they REALLY thought about you back in the day? 

I decided to reach out and ask my direct reports in the past (that I have current contact information for) what they thought about my management practices. 

A little bit scary, but I did it because I’ve been reflecting A LOT on my career as a manager/leader.

I’ve been managing employees in different capacities for over 17 years with teams as small as one employee and as large as twenty-one.

I’d like to think that I’ve been relatively successful at it, but I know I haven’t been perfect – in fact, far from it. I’ve let people down. I’ve let teams down.

But at the end of the day I’d like to think that the positives outweigh the negatives based on previous feedback and successes of the teams and companies I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of. 

So as much as I reflect on outcomes, I am also very interested in approach.

I asked for more details and want to share them with the leadership community. These approaches aren’t groundbreaking and I didn’t invent them, but they work for me and I still do most of them today.

Brutal Facts

This concept comes from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great and gathers the whole team to identify what are brutal facts from the previous quarter that are causing issues.

They are identified anonymously and then prioritized collectively as a team.

We take the top three to five issues (of a larger list – I’ve seen it as long as 15) and clarify them, discuss what would improve things, who’s accountable for making the changes, and by when.  

Why I do it

It allows me to ‘air out the dirty laundry’ and understand what the real problems are.

Most people think this is a bitch-session, but I’d rather they bitch to me so I know about it than being in the dark. It’s really offers the ability to identify, prioritize, and let the team understand that I genuinely want to make things better for the team and will listen and act.

Don’t hesitate to ask your team where things suck or where you suck – avoiding that is easy, but leaving it alone only gets worse.

“Brutal Facts was such a great outlet. I've never had that type of anonymous submission and then discussion. It wasn't just an outlet but something that was always followed up on. Brutal Facts was exactly what the team needed to come back together.”

Painted Picture

I’m a big believer in defining what success looks like in order to get there.

Cameron Herold is a CEO Mentor and Coach and taught me the concept of a Painted Picture that really helped drive it home for me. It is a document that identifies what your world would look like at a certain date in the future.

Each team member writes a document identifying what their vision is relating to their expertise or focus – basically what the end the year will look like including successes, metrics, initiatives, make-up of the team… everything.

I amalgamate it all into one painted picture for the team. It is our roadmap for the future.

Why I do it

It allows everyone to contribute to defining the focus and future of the team’s success.

Not many people love planning, but coming together to create this document gets people enthused and able to leave their footprint. It allows the whole team to be forward thinking about improving their individual world. 

Tip: don’t worry about the HOW – just focus on the WHAT. The team can figure out ‘how’ later.

Daily team meetings and weekly 1-on-1s

Not a new concept given today’s agile workplace environment, but I have a daily meeting with my team and weekly 1-on-1s with each of my direct reports. Rarely missed.

Why I do it

Bringing the team together for a quick meeting each day offers insight into what is happening within the team, allows us to prioritize the day, and deal with any roadblocks immediately.

These are structured conversations that have their own separate agendas, but each meeting I run has two important elements: Priorities and Recognition.

If employees can have autonomy to offer value to your company, why stand in the way?

Priorities are important to make sure employees are focused on short-term commitments they make towards their larger goals.

I use the concept of “Top 1s” which is the most important thing that will be focused on that day or week. And don’t be confused about this being micro-management, it is a conscious attempt to reflect on working on the most important things and allows me the opportunity to support employees where I can.

Recognition requires each employee to recognize a colleague during our team meetings. As a manager, it’s tough to know what the team is doing all the time and it offers me the opportunity to know who’s providing value to the team.   

Thinking of conducting 1-on-1s with your team or want some pointers? Check out a mini-guide to 1-on-1 meetings I’ve posted in the past. Also, don’t make them status updates – also include discussions around personal growth.

“You asked how we were doing and opened it up for the person to speak about their professional or private life. I think understanding context behind some of the actions people make is crucial to helping/guiding them in the future.”

I “incessantly discussed metrics” and goals

Self-explanatory, but in team meetings and on dashboards in the office our major KPIs were always posted and top of mind.

Why I do it

It’s important to have our eye on the metrics because in many teams, very few employees are actually accountable for the numbers, and the rest have tasks and goals that roll up to impacting those metrics.

The additional advice I offer the team is ‘if you can defend it, do it.’

Every employee needs to understand how their individual role impacts the overall success of the team.

Hire slow. Fire fast.

Pretty clear… hire based on the matched passions of the employee and team, fit for the purpose of your team and the role, and ensure new employees embrace the current culture. More importantly, when it doesn’t work out, end it quick.

Why I do it

If you don’t end a disruptive or unproductive employee quickly it only gets worse. I have learned this the hard way and was terrible at this early in my career. There are many excuses to not cut ties, but if it’s not going to work, move on quickly.

Stay out of their way

Not completely out of the way, but if employees are passionate about something that isn’t completely off message/track, isn’t illegal, and offers value to the company or customer – go do it and don’t ask.

The additional advice I offer the team is ‘if you can defend it, do it.’

Which means that you’ll eventually have to explain why you did it and you need sound reasoning.

Why I do it?

If you haven’t seen it, watch Dan Pink’s video about the three factors that drive employee success: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

If employees can have autonomy to offer value to your company, why stand in the way? This is similar to Google offering 10% of time to all employees to work on anything they want. The freedom translates into creativity and ownership. 

Every employee needs to understand how their individual role impacts the overall success of the team

“Your strong ability to TRUST in us and our capabilities. You weren't afraid to let us run with crazy ideas.”

As a manager, I’m always tinkering with approaches but these apparently stood out as different than what employees have seen in the past.

I’ve stayed true to these approaches, but have definitely faltered through experimenting and altering things throughout the years.

So why am I sharing this feedback?

It is because managing direct reports in the workplace can be a tough job and I want to (hopefully) offer a new perspective on approaches for new and tenured managers out there.

But as tough as it is, management can also be VERY rewarding.

It’s an awesome feeling seeing someone on your team accomplish a goal, overcome a challenge, do something great personally, or just see the impact they make. It’s like being a coach of a sports team – nothing feels better when your team wins.

I’ve been thinking about all of this lately especially with co-founding WorkTango and am hoping that sharing this feedback helps managers be better leaders and stars in their own companies. Hopefully this offers some good ‘food-for-thought’ for managers out there.