Progress. It’s a word that has driven man for generations to grow, develop, learn, and reach for the stars (sometimes even literally). It often feels stale and disheartening when progress isn’t being made. There’s a reason that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson have all invested in space travel; NASA stopped making progress and they were all inspired to push to advance mankind to space.
For us mere mortals, progress may not be measured on a societal scale, but we all still have goals. These goals are what drive us and motivate us to get up in the morning. As a manager, you are not only accountable to your own goals, but that of everyone on your team.
Do each of your team members make regular progress on their goals? Do projects drag on for months, or do they see results of the fruit of their labors on a regular basis? Whether you’re in sales, marketing, engineering, design or support, progress is hugely important to the mental well being of every team member.
The stakes for progress on your team couldn’t be higher. Engineers that don’t ship product for months have a high propensity for burn out. Employees in any department will become frustrated and seek challenges at new companies if they feel like they’re no longer growing, learning, and working on things they’re excited about.
As a manager, you need to help your team make progress: Ship. Close deals. Get wins. See results.
But how do you reliably do this? How do you get out in front of potential disaster?
How to ensure your team members are making regular progress
1) Remove Blockers
Few things are as frustrating as feeling like you can’t get your work done because of someone else. Waiting for decisions or dealing with someone who is a bottleneck in a work flow can quickly stall out even the most talented person’s ability to make progress.
As a manager, you can often be the cause of those blockers. Diffuse that source of frustration for your team as much as you can. A great lesson I learned from Jonathan Kay, CEO of Apptopia, is to regularly ask everyone on your team, “Am I blocking you?” and then follow through on anything they ask for you to help them with right away.
When you meet with your team, always ask them if they’re being blocked in any way. The more you can help remove the blockers (even when you’re not directly responsible), the more your team will be able to get done and feel productive.
2) Empower Your Team
Are you a dictator that rules with an iron fist, making every little decision for your team? Or do you delegate effectively to your team, trusting them to make decisions on their own in their areas of expertise?
As a manager, there are too many decisions to make to micromanage everyone. You become much more scalable (and less likely to block them), when you let your team make the little decisions in their jobs. You also are then empowering them to have ownership over their work and focused on accountability to you on the results.
Work with your team to set the goals and expectations, but trust them to do the work you hired them in the best way they see fit. If you can’t trust them to do so, you need to hire people you can trust.
3) Align goals
Every person has different motivations and interests. If you understand what their goals are, you can help them get on the right projects with the right responsibilities. When someone’s work is aligned with their personal and professional goals, you will see them operate at their highest possible performance level.
As a manager, you need to regularly talk about each team member’s goals and interests. Not only will they differ person to person, but they will also change over time. Yee Lee, VP of Engineering at TaskRabbit, reminds himself to check with every member of the engineering team at least every 3 months to see if their long term goals have changed (they often do for many reasons). This ensures that everyone is making progress on their goals and the company keeps everyone aligned with what their asked to do on the job.
4) Watch for warning signs
Every big problem started out as a small one. The more you can identify problems when they’re small, the more likely you are to avoid having to constantly triage major issues that will take up all the time you don’t have.
When projects are making less progress or dragging on, you can often tell based on a shift in morale. Look for signs that people are not as engaged in a project or seem to be growing in frustration. What seems small to you on the outside may be a big issue brewing for those on the inside on a project.
The best early warning is your one on ones. When you ask them how something is going one on one, they’re more likely to be candid than in a group and you can also dig a little deeper by asking revealing questions such as, “What’s the most frustrating part of our project you’re working on now?” Whatever you hear, act on it appropriately and you will not only diffuse the situation, but build trust in your team that they can bring important issues to you no matter the size.
5) Take no one for granted
It’s easy to think that someone who crushes it at their job will want to keep doing it forever. Unfortunately, times and motivations change for everyone and, if you’re not careful, you will lose people when those motivations shift.
You need a strong communication channel to keep your best people. If they trust you, they will tell you. Joe Stump, co-founder of Sprintly, had a great engineer who told Joe that he wanted to try something new (in his case, marketing). As much as Joe hated losing an engineer, he hated losing a talented team member even more, so Joe worked with the engineer to shift to a growth hacking role they were excited to do and the company needed.
As a manager, it’s easy to spend all your time on weaker team members or people that need the most mentorship. Don’t forget to check in on even your best talents or you may find out when it’s too late. This is why you should do one on ones with *everyone* on your team.
Your people are motivated by one word: Progress. Are you helping them get there?