What I’ve Learned About Not Managing People

The Art of Letting Go and Fighting the Urge to Control

I stopped dieting for weight loss purposes 15 years ago. My brain finally understood what I knew all along; diets deplete willpower, make you fat, unhealthy and unhappy.

Instead of dieting, I’ve been doing the obvious — eat what I want, when I want it, in a balanced way. The results are as expected; better health and consistent weight for over a decade. No restrictions, no stress.

There are a lot of things in life that work the same way. Intellectually we understand a wide range of facts and theories; however, it can take decades before we can truly put that knowledge into practice.

Why is that? I think there are many reasons, but one powerful reason is our ability to rationalize everything. We convince ourselves that it can’t be that easy.

But, it is.

Business practices are the same. There is so much common sense and wisdom around us but we choose to make things complicated, potentially out of fear. After all, it can’t be that easy, right?

Here’s an example of a business practice that makes total sense but is hard to find in most working environments. For a bit of context, our team is small and distributed. We have team members in six different countries and time zones.

You know what’s complicated? Trying to control people and their work.

You know what’s easy? Providing total freedom.

One of the wonderful things about building a remote company is that you have to learn to reject the urge to control people. Instead, you have to build real trust — trust that can be tested everyday and not break.

Every team member at our company has the freedom to work from any place in the world, they can work when they feel most productive and take time off when they need it. We don’t count hours, we focus on results.

That all sounds sweet and cuddly but it works. There is no fluff here. People do better work faster, feel productive and happier. Period.

You don’t need to hear that from Jason Fried to know it is true. You can intellectually understand it and know that it makes sense. In practice, it looks a bit like this: a team members called Juan types in your internal chat:

“guys I’m going to take a nap and come back later, I didn’t sleep well and have a headache..”

In a typical business setting there would be some sort of freak out, some peers would get offended by Juan somehow being lazy and not pushing through the day, others will keep tabs for the next 1:1 session with Juan, and in other companies Juan would get fired immediately.

It takes a lot of discipline to build a company where Juan can feel confident about the fact that he is doing the right thing for him and the company. It takes discipline but it is not complicated.

Why do we want Juan to be tired at work? Make a bunch of mistakes and have a bad day? Wouldn’t it be easier for Juan to go, take that nap and come back when he is ready? This is not new, you know this is the right thing to do, however, managers keep overworking people, making them feel insecure and trying to get the best out of them while using fear tactics. This is bananas.

It is not only about the managers. It also takes a lot of discipline from other team members to make trust their default thinking. They have to be convinced that Juan is doing the best for everybody and not playing Grand Theft Auto Five while drinking bloody marys at home.

Most importantly, the team needs to feel confident that Juan will come back at some point, do a superb job and continue doing his thing.

Exercising Freedom at Work is Exercising Empathy

Some people work well in the evenings, others early morning. Some people need quiet environments, others need noisy places, some people have to go to the doctor or pick up their parents at the airport in the middle of the week, some suffer from insomnia, some people get their periods and feel crappy.

Those things are part of life – making talented people restrict themselves to justify outdated practices is the best way to lose them.

People are responsible adults at home. Why do we suddenly transform them into adolescents with no freedom when they reach the workplace?” — Ricardo Semler

You may be thinking: But Sofia, what are you talking about? Where is the hustle? Have you watched the latest Gary V?

My answer is that hustle comes in different shapes and forms. Productivity is not about sweating your ass off. Hustle and speed come from an unbreakable commitment to do our best work and help the people who help us make that work happen.

Productivity for me is to be part of a team I don’t have to control, a team that does more in less time because they are not exhausted, a team that gets involved beyond their job description because they feel good about helping others.

No drama, no waste of time, just people learning, contributing and being happy at the end of their working day, whatever that looks like for them.

My guess is that a lot of outdated practices come from people in positions of power who are not self aware enough to understand how their own insecurities and psychological baggage affect their teams.

It is easier to rationalize the need for control than to do the simple thing. Let people do what they want to do and be who they want to be.

If your team is driven by learning, by freedom and by achieving a common goal, all you need to do is to provide the best environment for those things to happen. The rest is noise.

You may say, well… that all sounds great and fun, but you are a small team, you can’t do that in a larger organization and you probably drank too much oolong tea.

Maybe, but here is what I know.

If trust didn’t scale, we all would be dead by now. We need to trust each other to function as a society. In business, you build trust by doing small things well, for example:

When Aurora says she is leaving early because she is getting her driving license, you as a leader, don’t freak out.

When Rudolf proposes an idea, you make sure he knows his idea will be implemented or why it will not be implemented. We all need to know WHY.

When a bunch of people are in a meeting, but Carlos has not had a chance to speak, you ask Carlos what he thinks about the discussion. Some people need to know that their ideas matter. Because they do.

When Jakobo messes something up or delivers something late, you don’t assume that he did that intentionally, you assume he was doing his best based on what he knew at the time. You try to understand what happened. No blame. Accountability is an agreement not an imposition.

If Bedelia is looking upset, you overcome your social awkwardness and ask if she is OK. If she is not OK, you let her know she can take the day off.

When you say you are going to do something, you do it. If you tried hard but couldn’t deliver, then say why. But make sure you did your very best.

Then you sayBut Sofia, who are these people? You don’t know what you are talking about, not everybody is like that, I know some people that are nasty and they don’t care at all.

That’s a different problem, that’s a hiring or firing problem. You build trust with people who earn your trust. You can’t build trust with people who don’t want to build it with you. Most importantly, you set clear boundaries and when people fail to see them, you kindly remind them why they exist.

Good organizations know how to set boundaries without making people feel caged. Trust is built everyday, with small but frequent reactions and interaction.

I’m not saying that all of those small interactions have to feel like marshmallows. Heated conversations are needed. Healthy disagreements are necessary. The trust you want to build is the kind that let’s you communicate that you are annoyed and disappointed with something or somebody without feeling the fear of destroying your relationship with that person.

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” ― Brené Brown

The same way it took me years of frustration and weight fluctuation to finally decide to stop dieting. It took me many burnouts and failures as a leader to finally understand that the best way to manage people is to not manage them at all.

This post was originally published on Medium

Don’t Drop the Balls: Entrepreneur’s Juggling (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Juggling Act

New and experienced entrepreneurs need to learn the art of juggling.  No longer just meant for circus performers, juggling requires skill, timing, and concentration.

Multitasking is one thing. But ensuring the right balance of timing, emphasis and effort for these balls are critical to the success of any entrepreneur.  If one of these balls are dropped, chances are the others come tumbling after:

  1. Sanity – Don’t let this ball drop! All the other balls are dependent on this ball.
  2. Capability – Keeping this ball up is a challenge, but it is critical to keep this ball in the air to differentiate from the competition.
  3. Agility – This ball usually comes right after the capability ball, as being nimble ensures an entrepreneur can adapt to catch incoming opportunities.
  4. Integrity – This ball is particularly fragile and none of the other are as precious as this one.
  5. Quality – Sometimes this ball gets forgotten, but if it falls down, your customers will let you know immediately!
These are the most important balls, but perhaps we missed a few.
What balls are you juggling, entrepreneur? Let us know in the comments below.
This was originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.

Cómo manejar el estrés y los problemas al iniciar un proyecto.

stress management

Los días previos a comenzar cualquier proyecto nuevo son, en la mayoría de los casos, días llenos de estrés y preocupaciones. Si no tuvimos una planeación previa que considerara el tiempo necesario (y algunos días previendo contratiempos), nos vamos a topar con detalles que nos van a frustar mucho y nos van a hacer pasar un mal rato. Pero, ¿quién quiere pasar un mal rato, estar enojado, frustrado, al iniciar un proyecto?

Para arrancar un proyecto es importante tomar las decisiones con la cabeza fría, considerando las opciones que tenemos a la mano, recursos disponibles, tiempos de entrega, cantidades de compra, y muchos factores más. Tomar esas decisiones no es fácil si estamos enojados o frustrados.

Hay varias cosas que debemos esperar cuando estamos arrancando un proyecto nuevo:

  1. Algunos proveedores o gente involucrada te van a quedar mal
  2. Los gastos van a ser mayores a lo que se tiene presupuestado.
  3. Difícilmente el resultado inicial va a ser lo que tienes en mente.
  4. Va a necesitar más tiempo de lo que crees.
  5. Van a salir contratiempos que ni te habías imaginado.

Cualquiera de estas 5 cosas (y muchas más) pueden pasar de forma aislada o todas al mismo tiempo, y créanme que en esos momentos es posible que el estrés te lleve a enojarte, hacer rabietas, llorar del coraje, querer tirar la toalla y mucho más.

Eso no lo podrás hacer si no estás en la mentalidad correcta. Para poder evitar caer en una espiral de frustración y enojo piensa en lo siguiente:

  1. Identifica los pensamientos absurdos que te desata ese sentimiento y elimínalos. De qué te sirve pensar que ”Todo está saliendo mal. Hasta el clima está en mi contra. De por si vamos atrasados y ahora se soltó lloviendo.” Suena ridículo pero es un tipo de pensamiento que sucede más seguido de lo que pensamos. De repente todo está saliendo mal y somos las víctimas de una jugada del universo. Suficiente. Detén todos esos pensamientos. Deja de victimizarte.
  2. ¿Qué es lo que te causa ese sentimiento? ¿A caso es el hecho de que fue algo que pasaste por alto (culpabilidad), el hecho de que alguien en quien confiaste te quedó mal, que no hubo comunicación efectiva, por lo cual no sucedió lo que debía haber sucedido?
  3. Eliminando los pensamiento absurdos y tomando en cuenta el origen de ese sentimiento de frustración, es momento de entrar en perspectiva. No estoy diciendo que se trata de “ver el lado amable” de la situación, si no simplemente aceptar lo que sucedió y el sentimiento que tienes como un hecho y dejarlo ir. Acéptalo, déjalo ir y comienza a actuar. Es totalmente válido enojarse si el proveedor no te entregó el material que necesitabas a tiempo. Negocia con él y asegúrate que no hay nada que pueda hacer para resolverlo. Ya habiendo hecho eso, déjalo ir. Tómalo como una realidad. Si es necesario di en voz alta para ti mismo “No tengo el material que necesito para comenzar”. Pero no permitas que esto te bloquee. Actúa. Muévete. Es momento de resolver el problema. 

Cada vez que pase algo que no esperas, date 1 minuto para hacer lo anterior. Haz lo que sea necesario para que físicamente manifiestes ese contratiempo. Después de ese minuto, canaliza toda tu energía en IDENTIFICAR las razones por las cuales se generó el problema, PREVENIR que vuelva a suceder o afecte otras áreas del proyecto, y finalmente en RESOLVER el problema. Para eso:

1. Identifica la causa raíz del problema

  • ¿Qué causó este contratiempo?
  • ¿Quiénes estuvieron involucrados?
  • ¿Cómo se pudo haber evitado?

2. Prevee contratiempos similares

  • ¿La causa de este contratiempo, me va a afectar en algún otra área?
  • ¿Cómo evito que este contratiempo retrase otras áreas y tiempos del proyecto?
  • ¿La gente involucrada en el contratiempo anterior, en qué otros proyectos están involucrados?
  • Verifica que la gente que te quedó mal no te vaya a quedar mal en otros entregables.

3. Resuelve el problema

  • ¿Cómo se ve afectado mi producto/servicio final si no resuelvo este problema?
  • ¿Vale la pena hacer gastos no previstos para resolver este problema? ¿Cuánto es lo máximo que se le puede invertir?
  • ¿Cómo me va a afectar este problema?
  • ¿Cómo lo resuelvo?
  • ¿Qué recursos necesito para resolverlo?
  • ¿Existen otras alternativas que serían más rápidas, económicas o factibles?
  • ¿Cómo evito que ya solucionado este problema específicamente, no suceda de nuevo?

Estas son algunas preguntas que te puedes hacer para identificar, prever, y resolver los contratiempos al arrancar tu proyecto.

¿Cómo manejan el estrés y actúan ustedes al iniciar un proyecto?

•Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en Think&Start.com por Aldo Aguirre, Director de Finanzas de UP Global, para Latinoamérica.

“Please Micromanage Me” Said No Employee, EVER.

This article was originally posted on 15Five.


Running a company can often feel like caring for a newborn child. There is a natural and healthy fear that arises that if you are not eternally vigilant then something bad will happen. With a baby, this is called good parenting. With a company, this is called micromanagement and it is universally resented by all employees.

Your company may feel like your baby, but the professionals that you hire to implement your vision are competent skilled adults who desire to be treated that way. There is a certain amount of management necessary to advance people in their careers and keep them aligned with company goals. But executives and managers must learn to let go and trust, or risk stifling and alienating their talent.

Put away the microscope

In physics, the observer effect states that observing a phenomenon has an impact on what is being observed. For example, when using an electron microscope to view subatomic particles, the light from the microscope impacts the movement of those particles. Since scientific methods require objectivity, the influence of observation can call the entire experiment into question.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 2.26.15 PM

Micromanagement works in much the same way. When employees are aware that they are being observed by managers, that impacts their behavior — usually negatively. That means that managers don’t even get an accurate, clear picture of employee performance. Their presence and constant unsolicited input is changing how the employee would perform without that added pressure. If employees do not perform up to standards (which may or may not be fully communicated or explicitly expressed), the manager feels justified in his obsessive behavior and a vicious cycle begins to form.

Under pressure

Peggy Drexler contributed an article to Forbes last year, detailing causes and solutions to the “helicopter boss” syndrome. She discusses how the constant hovering of certain bosses is the most significant barrier to employee productivity. Nobody wants to work when their every move is scrutinized.

For Dr. Drexler there is a thin line between being detail-oriented and obsessive. Some managers keep a watchful eye because an employee has let them down in the past or as they are ramping up a new hire. Others hover over every employee due to their own control issues — fear of failure or job insecurity.

Light pressure is a good thing –if your employee can’t perform well with you standing there, how will they perform in an adversarial setting like negotiating a sale? But the undue pressure of constant involvement by management causes people to choke when they might otherwise excel. Talented team-members begin to lose faith in their own abilities under your constant gaze.

Motivation comes from within

Micromanagement is not just annoying, it deprives employees of the most critical components of satisfaction. According to Daniel Pink, author of bestseller Drive, while providing your employees with autonomy can feel scary, it is one of the key drivers of performance. Pink found that for today’s knowledge workers who perform tasks requiring even rudimentary cognitive skill, there are three intrinsic motivating factors that affect performance: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy is the desire to be self-directed and no amount of money, benefits, or perks can provide that basic human need. When managers are involved in the thought process behind every employee decision and direct every action, they rob employees of the personal satisfaction that is attained by conquering a challenge through individual effort.

Mastery is only attained when people are allowed to work on a task autonomously for long enough (with periodic input and support from leaders). The accompanying satisfaction is incredibly powerful, like autonomy on steroids. That is why, according to Pink, employees will work so hard during their discretionary time. Both Wikipedia and the Linux operating system exist because people wanted to perform challenging, technically sophisticated work for no greater reward than personal fulfillment.

The final piece of the motivation puzzle is that people are highly driven to work towards a purpose. I believe that this desire to be part of something that is greater than oneself is the path to true happiness. Instead of stifling this innate human need, company leaders can channel it. Gently guide your best and brightest towards the fulfillment of your company mission  – to provide great products, change the world, or help individuals and organizations reach their highest potential. By micromanaging, people are only driven to perform in the hope that you will one day leave them alone.

Healthy visibility

The observer effect on a physical process can often be reduced to insignificance by using better instruments or observation techniques. I have found that the best observation technique is asking my team questions. Knowing what drives the team and knowing their pulse (what they need, how they feel) allows for the cessation of micromanagement and the establishment of space for employees to flourish creatively.

Visibility into the team gives managers the confidence to let employees do their jobs. You can quickly identify performance issues, triumphs, and the way that each individual team member feels. Ask them what they would suggest and why in any given circumstance. I allow every team member the opportunity to freely tell me where they are challenged, since articulating problems begins the process of solving them. Employees grow more and more confident in their skills and abilities, understand their roles better, and eventually unlock their potential.

Asking questions and receiving candid responses also creates a culture of communication and transparency. When everyone on the team is communicating, they can hold themselves and others accountable. You essentially have a whole team of managers without the confining aspects that damage employee morale or that interfere with their autonomy.

Let go of the wheel

Giving your talent the space to do their best work doesn’t mean that you let go of the wheel completely. You have to check in with them regularly, align them with the greater purpose, and either let them know that they are doing a good job or support them in the areas where they feel stuck.

By having a dialogue with your employees instead of telling them what to do, you are telling them that you trust them to do the right thing. You are present enough to offer support when needed and there to coach and guide instead of dictate and direct. More often than not, this presence is enough to steer them towards the right decision.

Your employees will make mistakes, and some of them will be costly. But by letting go, you empower them to learn from their mistakes, make better decisions, and ultimately grow into leadership positions where they can manage others with the same light touch.

How has micromanagement impacted you or your company?  We revel in funny stories, feel free to share!

Are Social Media Management Jobs Going Away?

The following post is by Ross Buchanan.

“Social Media is Not a Career– these job titles won’t exist in 5 years. Social media is a means to get more awareness, more users or more revenue. It’s not an end in itself. I’d strongly caution against pegging your career trajectory solely to a social media job title.” – Jason Nazar, Forbes Magazine.

Forbes published a list on 20-somethings, for 20-somethings, because 20-somethings enjoy sharing lists on social media (it was nearly the 20th list on my feed this morning.)


Jason Nazar is a Forbes contributor and business owner with startup experience. He has familiarity with what is valuable when staffing a startup, and understands social media trends within the tech industry. About 20% of the way through 20 things 20-year Olds Don’t Know, Nazar raises a point concerning many of his 20-something readers: he purposes the idea that in the near future, social media management jobs will be less abundant.

Currently, a great many 20-somethings work in lockstep with social media management responsibilities of some kind, including the measures necessary for maintaining a “personal brand” as employees and citizens. Social information has tremendous power: for collaborative thought, for national interests, and for fun. Brands and individuals will continue to pursue profitable avenues of social information online, and subsequent jobs managing technology in these fields will continue to exist.

In the last five years, the development of social applications (YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc) has produced widely publicized payoffs. The silver lining to the Great Recession has been a renaissance of connectivity; one exciting enough to encourage businesses small and large to rethink digital strategy… and hire.

In 2010, payroll and advertising giant ADP acquired The Cobalt Group, a Seattle-based web development company for automotive manufacturers. The same year, ADP began selling social “reputation” management services to several of its existing Fortune-500 clients, including a recently bankrupted General Motors Co.

Just two years into the global economic downturn, automotive wasn’t the only large American industry in need of a serious reputation makeover. The Department of Defense, the fast food industry, and at least one careless oil company followed suit with third party reputation management investment. Jobs were created for socially savvy grads the nation over.

In 2013, the servicing of massive reputation management contracts still takes bodies. ADP, among other financial services and advertising giants, has multiple departments working exclusively on grooming the social profiles of their clients. These social managers are paid better than they would be at startups, and they are used very differently.

Unlike startup culture– where diversification of individual skills is necessary for the locomotion of the group– larger firms tend to specialize workers in departments like social media. This structure allows the worker to develop expertise in their discipline, coach other departments, and encourage personal acceleration within a silo of the business. The worker will have the opportunity to interface and learn with other departments, but their success metrics will be in currency of their department (i.e. social media statistics.)

The natural, exciting progression of social applications includes several distinct and exciting points for business, among them: (a) the technologies will provide deeper measures of ROI as a function of marketing; (b) the technologies will become more self-reliant; and thus, (c) the technologies will become cheaper to maintain.

These are the points to which I believe Nazar issues his warning. This variety of social technology is thrilling, worth working for, and will always provide employment for those on the progressive front. However, innovation will erase bureaucratic social media jobs whenever a large seller of reputation management resources can implement technology in lieu of hiring a PR grad.

By 2018, I believe social technologies will be easier for companies of all sizes to manage internally, as the cultural threshold for understanding and taking advantage of social media will be higher with every employee. Greater personal understanding of social applications will encourage small business owners to manage their own social brands, rather than pay employees to do so.

Fortune-500’s curate user data and reviews as a part of their searchable brand, and will continue to do so during the next five years. This will likely occur through continued investment in scalable, multifunctional advertisers like ADP; bureaucratic groups that are both more likely to specialize employees departmentally, and stand to benefit most from technology that makes their departments leaner.

It seems logical that the importance of reputation/social management services will remain crucial into 2018. This is clear when considering the bad PR that can develop quickly from whistle-blowers, expansive wars, or a corporate indiscretion gone viral.

Yet, whether the number of social management jobs will grow, slow, or stay the same, remains opaque. Anticipating the demand for social media management positions might be gauged as follows:

  • If the demand for management positions continues to grow (and pay three-times the minimum wage,) companies will have greater incentive than ever to aggressively pursue more automated social technologies.

  • If the demand for social media management remains steady, current candidates will face indebted droves of younger, cheaper graduates seeking a job in the years ahead. Firms that sell reputation management services will maintain an inclination towards profitability in this scenario, intuitively seeking the most affordable option, be it cheaper technology or cheaper human resources.

  • Finally, if lower demand is anticipated due to the development of cheaper automated processes, or the higher minimum yield of internal staff when managing social media, the elimination of positions is inevitable.

In any case, I agree with Nazar that social media managers (and all workers for that matter) would be wise to diversify as quickly as possible in 2013.