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How To Synthesize The State Of Your Team and Inspire Confidence

What your manager really wants to know when they ask how things are going.

How do you decide what’s “Above the line?”

Read Time: 3 minutes 21 seconds

Greetings from 35,000 feet!

A common mistake that leaders make which undermines their credibility is delivering a confusing synthesis about the state of their team.

Some will give a general summary that lacks richness and suggests they don't know what's really on. Others will dive deep into the details, which might hint that they can't separate the important from the unimportant. The worst culprit blends the two haphazardly, leaving the recipient at best confused and at worst alarmed.

Why alarmed?

Because our words betray our thinking.

And if you can't explain clearly how you're organizing your people to deliver on their goals successfully, chances are you aren't doing a very good job leading them actually to do it either.

So what are the ingredients to a confidence-inspiring synthesis?

  • Structure

  • Judgment

  • Data

  • Honesty

Let's take them one at a time.

Structure

If you weren’t a McKinsey consultant or haven’t heard of the Pyramid Principle and SCQA, you might as well start here. Putting these pieces together will serve you well in almost any circumstance.

For specifically telling the story of what’s happening on my team, I tend to lean on a systems-thinking framework, something I call the "Anything Factory."

I believe anything can be simply explained through the lens of a factory.

  • What output is my factory designed to produce?

  • Is it producing it at that desired quality, quantity, and cost?

  • If not, what are the key problems preventing that output?

  • Do I have a plan to solve those problems?

  • Is that plan on track?

It follows a similar headline-key drivers-evidence setup, but answering those questions goes deeper inside the factory to show that I know what’s producing those outcomes.

Let’s try an example.

“Our sales team is tracking to meet our sales target for 2023. This is due to stronger-than-expected new sales offsetting slightly worse-than-expected customer retention. There are two problems contributing to our retention issue: 1) We unexpectedly lost our top customer success representative for Platinum accounts, and 2) The new software release was delayed by 1.5 months. We have promoted our top customer service rep to backfill the Platinum role and believe they’ll be fully up to speed in 3 weeks. The delayed release has now been deployed, and we’ve seen retention rates recover to forecasted levels since.”

While it might feel a bit structured, trust me that this little additional context is better than the headline alone or diving straight into the problems.

Judgment

This one is a little more art than science. But you need to understand what really matters in your factory and what is just noise. And the noisiest parts don’t often matter all that much, which is why you’re not investing in making them better.

Here are 4 questions I ask myself to hone in on what matters:

  • Is this the key bottleneck in the process?

  • Are the employees in my factory unhappy or unmotivated?

  • Have conditions changed that require me to redesign my factory?

  • Are there big risks that could put me out of business without a plan?

If any of the above get a Yes, they become important to address and include in my synthesis.

There may be others for your specific situation as well, but they should rise to the level of the questions above. Big. Meaningful. Above the line.

Data

Yes, you want to have an opinion about how things are going on, but it's best to have an opinion backed by data.

Here are my preferred sources (in order):

  • Purely objective Key Results (e.g., Sales)

  • Subjective measures from objective sources (e.g., Customer Satisfaction Scores)

  • Well-calibrated or understood subjective measures (e.g., Agile Burn Down Chart)

  • Subjective ratings based on a well-documented rubric (e.g., 360 Performance Review Grades)

Ideally, you can automate this data and have clear charts supporting your synthesis. For bonus points, you can show trends vs. targets (and/or baseline values) and color code to make tightly couple the data with the headline.

Honesty

This might feel obvious, but as you build your synthesis, you might be tempted to rationalize key problems as below the line.

Don’t.

It is exceptionally hard to run a perfect team. There are just too many factors beyond your control.

And when I get a synthesis that is all green, it makes me more skeptical of that leader, not more confident. I look harder since it’s apparent they’re missing something.

Name your problems. When things change, be quick to call it out. If you miss a target or deadline, own it.

I don't need my leaders to be perfect. I need them to be in command.

The name of the game for a great synthesis:

No surprises.

Save the Date

We’ve set the date to kick off our last MGMT Accelerator cohort for 2023. October 5th. We open enrollment to alumni referrals and our waitlist in advance of the general public. And with 400+ alumni and more than 750 people on the waitlist, we might hit our cap before ever getting that far. Don’t miss it.

Here’s what a few leaders from the last cohort had to say:

“This course will unlock your management skills in a concise and well-organized curriculum that opens you to think of what is possible and how you can make it happen. I am a new leader, and I think my mindset has changed through this course on how to think of different situations. Dave and Mars are great coaches and my most favorite piece was the 1-1 with Dave. I think this course will result in above 1000% improvement in how you lead your teams!”

Excellent, insightful, and practical content for managers. Dave and Marsden covered this course professionally and with care. The breakout rooms with each session encouraged connections among the participants. Highly recommended for new or seasoned managers.

“Incredibly helpful through developing frameworks and systems for new managers, reinforcing good habits for experienced managers, and provoking healthy reflection for all levels. Dave and Mar are great coaches and guides throughout!

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Dave

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