Time is too Valuable to be Short
This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time now, although the focus and content has shifted as I’ve thought more about the topic. My original intent was to write about the importance of saying “thank you” to those who provide help or a service in some way. While I still believe that it is an incredibly important topic and a key trait to have, there are number of high-quality posts and articles that already address the topic. Nancy Lubin’s article in Fast Company (http://bit.ly/bGp04f) is a particularly good one.
Instead, I’ve decided to dedicate this space to discussing the importance of responsiveness and lending a few minutes of your time to colleagues. A good portion of my career to date has been spent as either a junior professional, eager to learn from those more senior, or as the newest member of the team, lost in a role unfamiliar to me. In each of these positions, it’s the individuals that have given some of their own time to aid in my development that I’ve worked the hardest for, and developed lasting relationships with. In the times where I have been the more senior professional, or the veteran, I’ve strived to give similar respect to my colleagues, and again, have developing lasting relationships with those whom I have shared my time and knowledge.
Taking the time to give employees, junior colleagues and direct reports an understanding of what you’re having them do, why you are having them complete the task, and how much they have helped you by doing it can be incredibly important. The benefits are not only to the report, but also to the supervisor, who will gain a more knowledgeable and more motivated employee. When you feel that your boss truly values you as a part of the team, you want to succeed, you want to work hard for them, and you want to advance your own performance. On the contrary, when you feel like a cog in a machine, disposable to anyone more senior, you’re motivation becomes purely monetary. Often, once that occurs, you’re likely to work only as hard as needed to secure your goal level of income, or keep your job. There are many non-monetary elements to keeping an employee motivated, but I believe the most critical is feeling like they are a) learning and b) part of the team’s success.
In my own experience, I’ve worked my hardest, and performed at my best for bosses that have helped to further my professional development, and quite frankly, those that I felt truly appreciated the work I was doing. And by this I do not mean that they spent every minute coddling me and telling me how great I was doing. In fact, in many cases it was to the contrary. Often when you are deep in a project, slammed with work, there is no time for feedback, or even pleasantries. Frustrations can run high and I’ve certainly had times where I held some animosity towards the same superiors I worked so diligently for. The difference between those bosses and the others is that after the project was complete, they sat down and gave me honest feedback and assessment; they explained how my work had helped complete the project; and they bought me a beer or lunch to say thank you. The next project, I worked twice as hard for them. Here is an example of this dynamic from my own background:
Intern and Mentor
When I was still in undergrad, I had several internships at investment banks. Each provided a unique learning experience, but one particular summer I learned skills that helped drive my career forward, and that continue to help me today. That summer, one analyst took to me, and gave me projects that helped me to learn truly valuable skills, such as mastering excel keystrokes and financial modeling. He spent hours teaching me how to outlay a spreadsheet properly and how to master formulas like vlookup and sumif. I learned from other analysts that summer as well, but they were often “too busy” to spend time teaching, and I really only learned as much as I took from the work they gave me. This one analyst really helped to mentor me and further my development, and in fact, when it came time to graduate and find a full-time job, I followed him to his new firm. There, as a first-year analyst, I worked beneath him in several projects, everyone of which I gave it my absolute all. We’ve since each moved on to various roles and careers but remain in touch and I’d help him in a heartbeat.
Similar to teaching younger colleagues, a dynamic exists in taking the time to teach newer colleagues “the ropes.” Nearly all ventures, be it a start-up, an investment fund, or even an established company, require a powerful and effective team. Even for so-called “A-players,” a support network can be critical to success. Walking in on day-one to a new job, particularly when it is an entirely new role can be daunting. Having colleagues that are willing to lend their time to ensure your success builds a collaborative environment and strong bonds between team members. Employees begin to work as a team to meet goals and to build faster than a group of independent individuals.
In this regard, I’ve had experience as both the newbie and the veteran. As the newbie I’ve peppered my colleagues with questions, and even though I know I was an enormous time sink for them, it’s those colleagues that spent time with me that I continue to enjoy a fantastic relationship with, and who I rely on in helping to move our product forward. As I’ve shifted roles, and as the company has developed, I’ve been able to return the favor. As a veteran, I’ve always tried to remember those that helped me as I secured my footing. Ten minutes of my time has made the world of difference to the development of someone more junior, and the understanding of process and/or product to peers, and even supervisors. Overall, taking the time to work with any colleague, and treat them with respect, results in a work environment that is cooperative, fluid and productive. In my career I’ve also seen the opposite, and in each occurrence, the 5 extra minutes its cost me in time, has yielded significant benefits in the form of cooperation, performance and long-term relationships.
I’ll use a few additional examples to illustrate my point:
Newbie and Veteran
When I joined my prior firm, Investor Growth Capital, I joined as the lone analyst in the West Coast office. It was a difficult transition from prior roles, and it took me significant time to come up-to-speed. The senior professionals in the group were all terrific, and are some of the individuals I mention above that I’ve always worked hard for (they were sometimes difficult to work for, but you could tell always appreciated the work I did, gave me candid feedback and spent time mentoring me). For that I worked hard for them, but it still took quite a while for me to feel like a truly productive member of the team.
After about a year-and-a-half as the lone junior team member, a new analyst came to join the team. He was a good fit culturally, so we all hit-it-off well, but he and I formed a particularly strong bond. Coming in, he was as lost as I was when I first joined the firm. Remember how frustrating that was for me, I made sure to spend the time to teach him the ropes. I spent hours helping him to learn new equity models, understand team dynamics and feel comfortable with the workflow process. It sometimes cost me a later night than I otherwise would have had, or having to push my own work aside for a few minutes, but the result was that he came up to speed much faster than I had, and was a valuable member of the team from early on in his tenure.
Senior and Junior Employees
In my current role, I frequently interact with our team of analysts, for whom I’m focused on building software-based tools to help them be faster and more efficient. The analysts are all fairly young and are junior in their careers, but are intelligent and bring terrific ideas to the table. Many of these ideas are e-mailed in, or are presented as part of our scheduled meetings. Some are good, some are great, some are not so great; some are in-line with our vision for the future of the product and some are far removed. However, no matter what the idea, I try in earnest to give every idea a few minutes and to respond to every inquiry that they have. The analysts are the engine behind what we do, and my number one source of information on product direction. I’ve found over time, that the more I open-up to them, the more responsive they are to me – even if I’m explaining why one of their ideas won’t work, they generally appreciate the time I took to write back. In turn, as they feel like a real part of the team, they continue to provide valuable input, and have always been an incredilby helpful source of insight and information.
At the end of the day, it’s about respect. If your peers, new colleagues, senior colleagues and junior colleagues feel that you respect them, then they will be more likely to respect you. Junior colleagues are special cases to be mindful of, where a little time, in addition to some respect, can really help impact his or her experience at the company and professional growth. In exchange for that little time, a senior colleague will be rewarded with hard work, extra effort and a stronger team.