The Way We Work

oDesk’s weekly column brings you the latest news on hiring and managing teams, freelancing, and the future of work.

Week of 6/30/2014:

HBR | Good Managers Look Beyond Their “Usual Suspects”

When work needs to get done, no matter how large or small the project, managers tend to have their “go-to” people because they work well with this small group and have established trust with them.The problem is that this can create unintentional bottlenecks when this small group becomes overextended.

Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, recommends that managers stop and think about how to effectively expand their talent pool to yield meaningful results.He advises managers to participate in a simple roadmapping exercise where they look back at previous projects and identify who worked on them. If the same names repeatedly pop up, you’re likely a “usual suspects” manager.

If you’re concerned about your managerial habits, Ashkenas says you should ask yourself the following questions: “Are there other capable people who would welcome additional assignments? Perhaps some high potentials who are not being fully challenged? Is it possible to trust some other people outside of your ‘usual suspects’ circle?”

Forbes | Want To Be A Great Manager? Be Good Enough

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a column called “Rhapsody in Realism” and argued that we are, by nature, messy and conflict-ridden.

Brooks’ column focused on the implications these innate traits have on marriage, but Forbes contributor Todd Essig took it one step further to consider the implications these same traits have on the manager-managee relationship.

Borrowing findings from a study of more than 1,000 managers who were asked about their own experiences with managers they felt were the “best” and “worst,” Essig concluded that we as human beings are imperfect at home and at work.

He points this out to remind managers that accepting imperfection is part of achieving managerial excellence. Essentially, the best managers respect messy human nature.

Mashable | What Are the Most Common Mistakes New Managers Make?

Originally a response to a question on Quora, Ian McAllister, general manager and product leader at Amazon, shares his thoughts on common mistakes new managers make, and the things he would have done differently during his first weeks managing a team.

Listing dozens of things mistakes he’s made or observed, McAllister groups his thoughts into seven categories: performance management, career development, leadership, recruiting, hiring, organizational development, and visibility.

Some of his stand-out advice includes:

  • On performance management: “Documenting poor performance via email helps employees understand the gravity of the situation (‘This email summarizes the discussion we just had’), and it is also helpful to have on hand if it comes time to terminate the employee.”
  • On career development: “Every employee needs to be developed, either to support the career development (and retention) of strong performers, or to improve the performance of weaker employees. Every year you should try to raise every employee’s performance level.”
  • On leadership: “A successful leader is going to create growth and opportunity for their team. A leader who thinks small is unlikely to do either. Instead of planning how to grow your business 100%, plan how to grow it 10x or 100x.”

Fox Business | Overcoming 4 Big Challenges of Managing Remote Employees

Giving employees the freedom to work when and where they want is increasingly more than just a perk: a recent teleworking survey by collaboration software provider PGi found that 80 percent of U.S. knowledge workers are employed by companies that have a telecommuting program in place.

This shift in workplace dynamics means new challenges for managers, and Nicole Fallon highlights some of the biggest problems of having a mobile workforce: communication, trusting your employees, tracking productivity, and maintaining a unified company culture.

What news item caught your attention during the past week? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Amy Partridge

Communications Manager

Amy Partridge is the communications manager at Upwork. In this role, Amy is focused on supporting and accelerating Upwork’s global PR efforts. She brings with her a valuable combination of PR agency and client-side experience. Most recently, Amy was the communications director at tech startup Grubwithus. Amy holds a Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Communications.