Rather than passively waiting for feedback from a manager on how we are doing, we should proactively seek not only information about what, specifically, we need to be doing to continue our growth momentum, but also how those in senior positions managed their own career and growth, because there is much to be learned from the experiences of others.
Depending on the individual relationships with a direct manager, these conversations may come quite naturally, but not everybody is comfortable engaging in these types of discussions with their superiors. Companies can create a platform that makes it easy for team members to engage with senior management, giving everyone in the company access to the entire leadership team, broadening the learning opportunity from beyond the direct managers, all the way up to the CEO.
In a past CEO role, I created a “First Thursdays” club, a voluntary, monthly lunch-and-learn conference call held the first Thursday of every month. Each month, a different member of our leadership team hosted the event. Team members from every department were invited to submit questions in advance for that leader, making it easier for the less assertive to participate silently on the call, while opening the session up for additional questions during the discussion. Leaders were asked personal and professional questions ranging from “why have you stayed here so long?” and “what was the worst professional mistake you ever made?” to “what’s the accomplishment of which you’re most proud?” and “did you struggle with deciding whether or not to come back after maternity leave?”
The leaders get the opportunity to show a more real, raw, less guarded side of their personality that few in the organization get to witness. This casual setting highlighted the depth of experience our leaders offer, enabled the team to see that the challenges they are facing are often akin to those their leadership team faced during the course of their career, and provided insights about how to overcome those obstacles.
Management can and should listen to requests for mentoring and communication and make themselves available, just as the team can and should take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. The platform was extremely well-received, as our conference rooms were packed each session, and NOT just because of the free pizza. At the request of our team members, we even recorded each session, so those that had conflicts could listen to the discussion when they had time.