My manual

This is a fork of the excellent document written bij Michael Lopp, aka Rands in Repose, which you can find here. It is titled “How to … Rands”, and the credit for the idea and a lot of the content is entirely his.

The article is a sort of introduction on how to work with the person writing it. As I really liked both the content and the structure of the original, I forked and adapted it. It will be an evolving document, and currently it focuses on my work as Director for Public Benefits & Public Affairs at Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services in Belgium. I intend to write one for my students as well. I will be sharing this with both my current team and with future members of that team.

Introduction

Hi, welcome to the team. I’m so glad you are here at Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Belgium – Public Benefits & Public Affairs. It is without a doubt the best place yet I have ever worked, and I hope it will be for you too.

The first thing you will need to do is to explore how everything actually works here. As you get to know the organisation, you will begin to understand that it is rooted in a number of deeply held core values most of us here share and try to live every day. You can read more about Sodexo’s mission, our values and our ethical principles here. The best way to understand and live this mission and these values and how they form part of the fabric of our organisation is to take your time, meet not just the people you will work with but as many people as you can, participate in “live my life” opportunities where you actually learn what someone does by experiencing it first hand, write things down, and ask all the questions that you may have. There is limited hierarchy here and we aim to keep it that way.

One of the first things you will notice is that no one has a fixed place, and no one has an office. We all sit wherever we want. Teams tend to sit together, but there is no rule. It’s a great way to get to know the other people in the organisation. If you need quiet, there are cocoons. If you want meetings, there are cocoons. If you need to make a phone call, please, please use a cocoon. They are double glazed for a reason.

One of the working relationships we need to define is ours. The following is a user guide for me and how I work. It captures what the main flows of information are, my core principles, how feedback and meetings work for me, as well as some other things you need to know about me. This document should help us work together more smoothly. Let me know if you believe I missed something crucial.

Information flow

If you are in a direct reporting relationship to me, we will have a 121 meeting every week for approximately 30 minutes, or more if needed. While I prefer to have the meeting in person, on occasion we will need to revert to Skype. The meeting may discuss updates, but the actual purpose is to discuss topics of substance. There will be a separate Office 365 Teams channel for the two us of to capture future topics for our 121s. When you or I think of a topic, we dump it in that channel and we’ll visit that the next meeting. This allows us to adequately prepare and make this a good use of our time.

Three out of five days of the work week the team gets together for a standup, to give feedback on what happened yesterday, to brief on what is happening today and to ask for help where needed. This standup is informal and aims to facilitate our work. It’s a scrum principle we stole. It works.

On Monday, we’ll have a weekly team meeting which lasts 30 to 60 minutes where I will start with a debrief of the relevant topics of the Executive Committee meeting. The more information you have, the better you are able to do your work. We’re discussing issues of substance that affect the whole team.

On Thursday, my direct reports and all people with direct contact with our clients or the beneficiaries of our products get together for two hours to discuss client specific matters. There is a specific Office 365 Planner document (a Trello-like tool) which tracks what we are doing.

For the public affairs team, there is a separate Office Planner document as well that keeps track of key initiatives within the organisation we need to be aware of. Consult it on a regular basis in order to keep informed.

If you urgently need me, the best possible way to reach me is via WhatsApp. There are periods of the day I am not reachable. If the matter is very urgent, please give me a call on my mobile.

If I am traveling, I will give you notice in advance. I may need to replan our meetings, but we’ll aim to keep them, albeit with time zone considerations.

Core Principles

Humans first. I believe that happy, informed, and productive humans build fantastic solutions. It therefore makes sense to optimise for the humans. Other leaders will maximise the business, the technology, or any other number of important facets. Ideological diversity is key to an effective team. All perspectives are relevant, and we need all these leaders, but my bias is towards building productive humans. By the way, this belief is one of the reasons I work for Sodexo. We are all about making the quality of all of our human lives better.

I do not believe in hierarchy. I will move teams under my responsibility to increased autonomy as soon as possible, with the end objective to make those teams fully autonomous. My responsibility is to support you and to make sure you can do your job as effectively and efficiently as possible. I aim to be a servant leader. As Steve Jobs said: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

I see most of what I am confronted with as an optimisable black box. I like to open up those black boxes, look inside, see how they tick, optimise and put them back together again. If you want more information on that, see other articles on my blog. In a previous life I was an internal auditor. Then I became a consultant. Hey, none of us are perfect, and I’ve since done penance and made amends. I think and often explain things based on mind maps. When I see large or small inefficiencies in systems, I’d like to fix them together with you.

I am merit oriented. Where you come from or what you did before are not important. If you do the work in a conscientious manner, if you assume the responsibility, I will get out of your way. If you do the job right, I will applaud you and speak about it. If you make mistakes, that is okay too. You have the right to make mistakes when you experiment with responsibility, as long as you handle it in a responsible manner and learn from it. I am there to help you analyse and understand together how to get better.

I bias towards action. Long meetings where we are endlessly debating potential directions can be valuable, but I believe starting is the best way to begin learning and make progress. As a good friend told me a couple of years ago: “The line is where they stop us.” She was right as there are no things cast in stone. However, I am aware this is not always the optimal strategy. Still, and again a Steve Jobs quote: “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

I believe in the compounding awesomeness of continually fixing small things. I believe quality assurance is everyone’s responsibility and there are bugs to be fixed everywhere and all the time. I also believe that if we failed, we need to be able to stand up and take responsibility for that, and apologise.

I start with an assumption of positive intent for all involved. I would not want to work in an environment that would not allow that as a starting position, as it is essential for true trust to develop.

Feedback

I firmly believe that feedback is at the core of building trust and respect in a team. Feedback is done both formally and, more frequently, informally. Both methods are relevant and deserve your time and attention.

At Sodexo Benefits and Rewards, there is a formal feedback cycle every year. Our excellent Human Resources team can give you more feedback, but I will ask you to define a set of goals you are ready to commit to for the next year. These are not product or technology goals; these are professional growth goals for you. The procedure foresees a number of formal exchanges between us to calibrate. If you want to discuss some aspect, don’t hesitate to come and see me about this.

In our face-to-face meeting, we’ll discuss and agree on your goals for the next period. I will also ask you for feedback on my performance. This is an ever continuing dance, a dance that aims at making both of us better professionals and ultimately better humans as well.

Sodexo does an engagement survey every two years. All 430.000 employees (can you believe there are soo many of us?) are invited to participate. This survey is an important feedback mechanism and barometer for us. Please do participate.

Feedback will also be a recurring topic in our 121 meetings. I am going to ask you for feedback in 121s regularly. I am never going to stop doing this no matter how many times you say you have no feedback for me.

Disagreement is feedback and the sooner we learn how to efficiently disagree with each other, the sooner we’ll trust and respect each other more. Ideas don’t get better with agreement. If you do not agree with me, please don’t hesitate to share this with me. It is okay to tell me you don’t agree with me. I tend to take positions which means I do make mistakes. I am learning as much from you as you are learning from me.

Meetings

I go to a lot of meetings. My calendar is visible to all Public Benefits and Public Affairs team members. If you are part of my team and can’t see my calendar, let me know as soon as possible. If you have a question about a meeting on my calendar, ask me. If a meeting is private or confidential, it’s title and attendees will be hidden from your view. Most of my meetings are neither private nor confidential.

My definition of a relevant meeting includes an agenda and/or intended purpose, the appropriate amount of productive attendees, and a responsible party running the meeting to a schedule. If I am attending a meeting, I’d prefer starting on time. If I am running a meeting, I will start that meeting on time.

If you send me a presentation deck a reasonable amount of time before a meeting, I will read it before the meeting and will have my questions at the ready. If I haven’t read the deck, I will tell you.

If a meeting completes its intended purpose before it’s scheduled to end, let’s give the time back to everyone. If it’s clear the intended goal won’t be achieved in the allotted time, let’s stop the meeting before time is up and determine how to finish the meeting later.

Specific aspects you need to know about me

  • I am an introvert and that means that prolonged exposure to humans is exhausting for me. I like meetings with two or three people, I can handle meetings up to five people, but once we go over five I’m likely to become the more quiet one. Do not confuse my quiet with lack of engagement. Even when I am not actively involved, I am usually very aware of what is going on.
  • I tend to work a bit in the early mornings or the late nights. I don’t need that much sleep and I enjoy the quiet. This is my choice. I do not expect that you are going to work those times. I might send you things, but unless the thing says URGENT, it can always wait until work begins for you. I try not to work during the weekends. I can heartily recommend that.
  • I avoid taking meetings on Fridays. This is not because I want to take Friday’s off, but because it allows me to do the work I gathered during the meetings I had during the week. Friday is both a task completion and a deeper reflexion day for me and it is essential because it enables me to work on proactive change in what would otherwise be a reactive day-to-day run.
  • Talking about proactive change, during our 121 meetings there is a significant chance I will drill down on a topic. That usually means I have been thinking about that topic and value your opinion on it. Honestly and openly feeding me your ideas helps me to further understand and process that topic. It may feel chaotic to you, but it is important and relevant to me. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable with it or entirely sure where I am going with it, don’t hesitate to ask. If I don’t come back to you with feedback on that topic, you have the right to ask me for it.
  • When I ask you to do something that feels poorly defined you should ask me for both clarification and a call on importance. I might still be thinking about things. It is okay to suggest alternative solutions. Solving problems should never be about ego, not mine, not yours. It should be about solving the actual problem.
  • Ask assertive versus tell assertive. When you need to ask me to do something, ask me. I respond incredibly well to ask assertiveness (“Ben, can you help with X?”). I respond poorly to being told what to do (“Ben, do X.”) I had a Jesuit education and the rest of my life has been a revolt against that education. We all have our issues.
  • If I look at my phone or my iPad without taking notes during a meeting for more than 30 seconds, say something. It means my focus got pulled away and you have every right to bring me back to the topic at hand.

This document is not and does not aim to be complete. I would appreciate your feedback. Thanks.

The original on which my version of this document is based, was written by Michael Lopp. You can find that original here.