Actions to take: Follow the advice from past onboarding posts. In particular, spend time during weekly check-in meetings describing expectations for new employees who work under you. Read these scripts to help you develop those thoughts. Do not copy these scripts verbatim. Rather, use them as inspiration to develop scripts that are unique to your own management style and priorities.
Note: The following introduction will appear at the beginning of all four Onboarding Meeting Script posts.
Back in April of this year, I wrote two posts about the boss's job when it comes to onboarding a new employee (Onboarding New Employees - Part 1 and Onboarding New Employees - Part 2). These quickly became some of the most viewed pages on better-boss.com. That is no doubt in part due to the hour-long podcast episode I had with ELGL Director Kirsten Wyatt on the subject.
As part of a weekly onboarding check-in meeting, I encourage managers to spend time laying out big-picture expectations for their employees as explicitly as possible. Multiple times in my career, I have received positive, unsolicited feedback that I must keep doing this part of the onboarding check-in. I have also never met another manager who does it.
In the linked materials above, I talk about this step in some detail. I don't think people can picture it very well without having seen it themselves. This short series is an attempt to rectify that. These scripts are exactly what I use when I deliver expectations "speeches" to my new employees during our check-in meetings. Please keep a few things in mind:
- These are scripts. The nuance of tone, body language, eye contact, and minor improvisation depending on the employee's reactions are not conveyed here.
- These are intended as example, not as a finished product for the reader. They are written to describe my managerial priorities and expectations. To have real meaning, your scripts need to be your own. Take inspiration from these, but I encourage you not to copy them verbatim.
- These are written assuming that the new employee is a manager themselves. Most of the content stays the same (excepting script #4), but not all. Not only should you write scripts to match your management, you should tweak them to match the new employee's position.
Onboarding Script #4: Disagreeing and Following Directives
When you ask me for my thoughts, or when I give them without you asking, or when we talk about how to do a thing, or when I give you feedback, these are my beliefs about best practices. I am not special, I am not all-knowing. Every couple of years I look back and realize how stupid I was. That said, I am teaching you to the best of my ability how to interact with me as my direct report and how I think you should interact with others. There may be things we fundamentally disagree on when it comes to how to conduct yourself.
To use the “ask questions” talk from last week as an example, a person may believe that managers cannot be respected if they show too much ignorance. That’s fine. It’s not really my job to manage an employee’s beliefs. However, it is my job to manage behaviors. I believe the correct behavior is to ask questions early and often, so that is my instruction to the managers under me.
When we disagree, I would like you to try to change my mind. I enjoy and encourage those conversations. It helps me question my own assumptions and examine the reasons behind my beliefs. Those conversations sometimes make me change my mind, but even when they don’t, they are valuable for helping me understand your perspective. If you do initiate such a conversation, I expect you to come to that discussion open to the possibility that I will change your mind. While that discussion is ongoing, I expect you to conform to my instructions. If we close the topic and my mind is unchanged, I expect you to conform to my instructions.
Let me explain what I mean by “conform to my instructions”. After a final decision is made, I expect you to act as if the final decision is what you would have decided if you yourself had been the one to make the decision. A year from now, if your direct reports were to reflect on all your communication, they should not be able to pick out the decisions you still disagreed with at the time of implementation. Can you picture what that looks like? This may sound like an inappropriately high bar to clear. I admit that this is an ideal that I don’t always reach myself. Many managers would balk at the idea that I am asking you to so thoroughly “tow the company line.”
Let me show you why this is the expectation. Imagine for a moment that your team was deciding between choice A and choice B about a workflow, and it was evenly split. You decide to go with choice A. Would you be okay if the folks who wanted choice B decided skate by with half-effort during the implementation of choice A? Or do you expect them to put their full effort into choice A?
Your job is communicating. If you put anything less than your full effort into that communication, you are committing the managerial version of skating by. You wouldn’t put up with it from your people, and I won’t put up with it from you. Is that convincing/do you have thoughts on that?
There’s another reason why you need to act as if you are in 100% agreement, even if you are not internally: You ARE the company to your direct reports. People talk about “the company” like it is this amorphous outside entity that pushed dictates down from on-high. It’s just us. Both in a legal sense and in a “that’s really how they view you” sense, you are the company for your direct reports. If you say or imply “they” made this decision but “I” don’t agree, it is as though the company has multiple personality disorder. You might as well say “I made this decision, but I don’t agree”. It is nonsense. By the way, implying to your employees that you disagree with a finalized decision also makes you look ineffective—they will see you as powerless to influence decisions in a meaningful way.
Quick recap on this section: after the decision is final, the unchosen alternative vanishes. If it is a decision you initially disagreed with, you enact and communicate the decision with exactly the same effort and sincerity as you would if were in full support from the outset. No one should be able to tell the difference. This goes for all company directives, from me or from above me.
Let me tie these two ideas together, disagreeing with a decision and supporting the decision once it is final. You must disagree, fully and completely and with all of your energy, in order to support the decision. If you really push, ask me those hard questions, I’ll get the chance to answer. I’ll be able to forward your concerns up the chain if I can’t answer. You’ll know for certain that somebody at least thought about your worries, and you’ll have some sort of response from me. Then, when your people push back (and they’ll have the same concerns you do), you’ll be able to say “I know what you mean. I had the same thoughts. Here’s how Ben helped me see that this is the right decision” or whatever. The point is, you’ll be more comfortable sincerely supporting decision. Does that make sense?
A couple more reasons why you need to disagree before the decision is final: The first idea during decision-making is rarely the best idea. Some form of disagreement has to happen to get past the first idea. I personally need people to disagree with me. I know what I sound like. I sound like a guy who thinks he knows everything. When you hear that guy talk, you assume there’s no convincing him, so why waste your breath. We need to work together to make sure I’m not that guy.
There will come a time when I’m not your manager any longer, at which point you’re free to conduct yourself however you like. I hope and truly believe that my management style will teach you successful behaviors that you can agree with. But if you do disagree, remember:
- You are expected to conform to my instructions after a decision is final
- I welcome attempts to change my mind before the decision is final
- If all else fails, this is a temporary problem that will disappear when we stop working together