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I wrote an article awhile ago about some mistakes I'd made, and what I learned from them.
In the article, I'd asked if people could let me know if they'd like more articles about the ways I've screwed up, and what I learned from it. Many of you replied, and said that you'd appreciate another rendition.
I'd like to pretend that it's hard to think of other mistakes I've made, but that is certainly not true. Again, if you appreciate this article, let me know, there's more where it came from.
The time I repeatedly rescheduled an employee's one-on-ones.
Amusingly, there have been some big LinkedIn and Twitter threads on this topic recently.
I was busy. Very busy. I do it to myself of course. I over commit myself. I can optimistically say that it's because I feel proud of myself when I achieve a lot. I can pessimistically say that it's a character trait I need to work on.
Anyway, I was working on many projects.
I had many meetings on my calendar. I was frequently double or triple booked. When new important meetings were scheduled, I would have to spend time moving any other important conflicts. This ate up an unfortunate amount of my personal time. I wasn't yet senior enough at Amazon to warrant an executive assistant to manage my calendar.
When you're looking to reschedule meetings, the easiest ones to reschedule are those with a single employee.
This employee in particular was at a popular time slot, so their one-on-one meetings for many weeks in a row were rescheduled. I didn't cancel them, but they hopped around my calendar.
A few weeks later, he wrote in some 360 feedback that he was feeling some combination of offended and undervalued because I didn't prioritize his one-on-one meeting.
To be clear, from my point of view I didn't view his meeting as any less valuable than other meetings, it was simply easier to reschedule. Perhaps more importantly, I never would have wanted to send a negative signal like that to an employee.
As a senior manager, many meetings were rescheduled every day. I didn't think twice about a meeting moving. I simply drove my day off of my current calendar, wherever meetings landed. Yet it impacted this employee. And regardless of my intentions, that impact was real to that employee.
I let the employee know that I heard his concern, and I apologized. I moved his recurring meeting to a time which was less likely to have conflicts, and told him that I'd do my best to always protect that time slot from rescheduling. He understood, and said he appreciated that I responded to his feedback.
This one was rife with lessons. Three things come to mind.
Lesson One? Employees aren't all the same. Listen carefully to everyone individually.
When I received this 360 feedback, I was worried. I quickly contacted multiple other employees, and said that I had noticed I rescheduled their one-on-ones frequently, and I felt bad. I explained that I didn't intend to send them a signal that their meeting wasn't important.
Every single one insisted they hadn't noticed, and didn't care.
They weren't wrong. The other employee wasn't wrong. Everyone is simply different. I personally didn't care if my meetings were rescheduled, but I made a mistaken assumption that everyone felt the same way.
Assuming all people react the same way is a recipe for disaster. How each person feels is what matters. I put forth extra effort to listen closely to how people feel, because I don't know how my words or actions may have an unintended consequence.
Lesson Two? Employees hold things inside. You need ways of pulling out feedback and feelings.
I'd like to believe that I'm not anywhere close to a scary manager. My team repeatedly pulls pranks on me, and seemingly enjoys having a close relationship. I'm invited to parties, and still chat with some people many years later.
This employee was someone I talked to socially as well. Still, I didn't hear about their feelings until a 360 review.
This is something I've put specific effort into. While I know I can do better, I try to actively get feedback from employees regularly. Things like, "On a scale from 1 to 10, how are you feeling about your job right now?" Which work oddly well.
Lesson Three? Without intending it, your actions often send messages. Be very careful what you're messaging.
Rescheduling a one-on-one seemed like a simple mechanical step, but it sent a message to at least one employee that I cared less for them.
I frequently take the shortest path to solve a problem. But I've learned through situations like this that the shortest path can have emotional consequences.
For another quick example, I had some technical questions for one of my engineers, so I asked him into my office a couple of days in a row for discussions. His manager felt uncomfortable that she wasn't informed about what was going on, or asked for her advice. All she saw was her manager asking her most senior employee into multiple private meetings.
It hadn't occurred to me (with my head tasked with problem solving) that from her point of view, this could feel excluding, and concerning.
Thinking carefully about how everyone will perceive your actions takes a bit of effort, but has rewards in the long run.