In my years working as a business co-founder, I am proud to say that in our tiny little bubble, I have managed to attract a few “potential” talents, and over time turned them into great candidates. 

Not to sound cliche, but I still remember a quote by Andrew Carnegie, the king of steel, from Dale Carnegie’s book. 

“Men are developed the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold; but one doesn’t go into the mine looking for dirt—one goes in looking for the gold.”

Andrew Carnegie


At the time when I was running our business, I couldn’t afford to bring in “top talent”, so I had to make my own. I stuck to Saudi students (in Japan) from the community around me. My only requirement was to show up on time. If the person keeps showing up, then there is a lot that can be done to build from there.


So how to get the best out of people working for you?

Three frameworks have to be considered.

You” (employer/manager), “them“, and the “interaction” between you both.

*The “interaction” part is practical advice, but also read the others to understand the underlying mindset.

 

Let’s start with “you”.

YOU

Believe

You have to absolutely believe that every person has the ability to become their best self if they:

A. Believe that themselves and take action.

B. Given an environment where they are encouraged to be that.

C. Given good guidance.

You can’t make A happen, but if you work hard to make B & C happen, they’ll eventually find their way around A.

Constantly think about where they fit

Relative to them, you see a bigger picture. Meaning that you have the foresight to estimate where can they fit. Or what can they become good at if they keep doing X. Surprisingly, many people don’t even give a thought about the people working for them.

Be their fan

Close your eyes and try to remember a time when someone looked at you and said “I believe you can do X” or “you are very good at Y”. As a fan, you have to know what they are good at.

Clarity about their work & growth expectations

As much as possible, be clear about why they are doing this certain work or project. What kind of areas can they become better at by doing this work?

Them

They have to show up every day and have the mentality to learn more. The more the merrier, but they don’t have to have except such a positive attitude.

 

Interactions

Now to the practical stuff. My routine is divided into the following.

First-day talk

The first-day talk is very critical in setting up the tone of how things will go, and what expectations are there. I do a few things on day 1:

Explain about the company in general. What general guidelines are there? Being candid here and unbiased in very important. Maybe you own the business so you want things to look good. Or you have been employed here for a while and you hate some things about the company or are biased toward people than others. Don’t force your perspective on them. It’s their right to build their perspective of the company. Your role is to deliver unbiased facts. Over time you can share more of your perspective. But for now, it is more about showing them around the ropes.

What is the job, work expectation, what is their part, and what is yours? Surprisingly, people don’t sit down to this simple step. This can save hours (even months) of unnecessary confusion. You might think that you are stating the obvious. But you have to understand that people come from all different backgrounds. Your company also has its norms. No two companies are the same (just like no two families are the same). Just go through this one by one. 

Responsibility expectations. This is part of the previous one actually but preferred to have it separate. In a new organization, especially with a fuzzy environment, people are not sure how to act. How much to give and for what they will be evaluated. After explaining all about the jobs and roles, be clear about what is the weight of their responsibilities. What they are responsible for? And how deep does that responsibility goes?

Always ask “How do you want to use the company to step up in life/career”, and listen very carefully. I too do say what do I want. This is one of the unusual, but I find it one of the best diffusers for future political plays and personal agendas. I know that not everyone is honest all the time, but just assume the good in people and go on with this. You have to be honest too for this to work. Listening here is of utmost importance. People will tell you WHY they are here (money, position, self-fulfillment, love company, love line of work…etc). You write that down somewhere and work your hardest to bring them that. That way you guarantee to have a satisfied team member. Not all the time do people know what they want, so give them time to answer this. And ask them repeatedly over time, as we see in the next step. 

The power of 1-on-1

Anything besides the projects. Having private 1on1 sit-downs, for 30min~1hour every few weeks is critical. The nature of these sit-downs is NOT, and I repeat, NOT to discuss ongoing projects. These have their own review times.

What I want to check in these 1on1s are:

  • General opinion about work
  • Are they satisfied with work? why
  • What projects that they felt exciting? And why?
  • What projects felt boring? And why?
  • What projects do they want to do more of?
  • What have they learned?
  • What do they see the trajectory of their career?
  • Are they having fun at work? Getting along with people? Made new friends? Want some introductions?
  • Do they feel like working here added value to them?
  • Do they feel they are adding value to the place/team?
  • Is there something I am supposed to provide but I am not?
  • Do they feel listened to?
  • Do they feel that their needs are being fulfilled (what they wanted to achieve or get out of the company)

Now and then, I would also ask for feedback about me (manager/employer)What do they think about my management style?

  • What do they like about it? And I should be doing more?
  • What do they dislike? And should be doing less?
  • How can I become a better manager for them?

When asking for feedback, people usually stumble and just say something general. It is critical to go deeper. How do you do that?

Ask for concrete examples when possible. Otherwise, you can evoke such emotions by asking questions that bring out specific emotions that might be tied to the experience. Like:

  • Is there a specific example you can give and explain?
  • Was there a moment that you felt angry/dissatisfied with me and why?
  • Was there a moment that you felt I should have helped you but didn’t?

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Generally, if you can ask these types of questions, you will always get much more in-depth answers. Here is a video from Tim Ferriss explaining part of this process of How to Ask Questions Better.
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Give responsibility and be clear about it

When you give a project/task to that person, make sure they:

Understand the task, the purpose of it and the outcome expected.

This is about the task. As has been iterated above, clarity at the beginning of any task makes the road much easy. I am a non-Japanese person working in a Japanese environment. Every word said to me could have a slightly different meaning than what I understood. Every word I say to someone else might be perceived differently than what I wanted to say. It might be a little bit intensified in my case, but that is general to human nature. 

Their role and responsibility.

This is about the person doing the task. Even though work gets into a routine after a while, tasks still have different needs (unless your workflow is almost 100% automated). Hence, keep clarifying the role and responsibility. 

Expectations about the level of involvement.

As a person giving the task, and as a person who wants to build leaders, you don’t want to micromanage your subordinates. It’s about finding the right balance. But this is a talk for a different topic. I want you to focus on clarifying how much is your level of involvement in the project. Are you going to help them out do part of the project? Going to review from time to time? Just going to check? This builds a sense of responsibility and trust. If you micromanage, you don’t trust your team. If you don’t manage, you are a bad manager. But if you give the right amount of responsibility and the right amount of freedom, people will appreciate that. I tend to believe the “people rise to the occasion”. You have to give them that occasion though.

Constant feedback

What has gone good, which has gone bad? Aside from the 1on1, this is after you finish each task, especially in the beginning phase. Just be straight forward about it. Praise what they did right, and explain WHY do you think it was done right, and what it shows. Also, explain where you think they could improve, and how can they do that. Give them an example of what you would have done if you were doing the task.

That being said, there are 3 very, very very very important things to keep in mind:

A) Always open the feedback conversation by explaining that there is nothing personal. We are going to talk about the work that has been done. This makes both parties look at things objectively.

B) I like to start by making the person who did the task explain the task. And I also ask them to analyze it on the spot. I these questions What do you think of the results? (Or what do you think of the design…etc) What problems did you run into? How did you solve them? What do you think you could have done better? What do you think needs improvements?

C) THEN, after I get all of that feedback from them, THEN AND ONLY THEN, do I start to give my feedback. If the thing that we are talking about concludes a few potential ways to execute, I explain that there are few ways to do it too.

Feedback is a very sensitive part of any conversation. Not all people like to hear other people shredding their work for them. So it is important to build confidence and look at things objectively. If the person doesn’t have analytical thinking, this is a good place to make it a habit for them to analyze their work and learn how to spot areas of improvement themselves. 

One last side note.

Some (a lot of?) people fear that if they teach what they have to other people, that they’ll take their jobs. There is a job-security thing going on in their head. This type of attitude destroys organizations and doesn’t build a good career in the long term. For me, when I share my knowledge and thoughts with my team, first and foremost, that person becomes better at their job. They learn a new skill. They are happy, their boss (me) is happy, the organization is happy. What more? I built trust with them because now they know I have their best interest at heart. What about taking your job? Your homework is to let other people learn how to do your job so that you spend your time learning other new things and rise up your career ladder.

One last LAST note.

I like to work with the conventional wisdom of “always hire people who are smarter than you”. I just assume that everyone is smarter than me in some way. Sometimes they just don’t know it, and this is where I start the journey with them to find their potential, and discover what area are they smarter than most people in, and build on that.

Cover photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

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