At Phase2, we advise some of the world’s leading organizations on how to develop and improve their digital experiences. This work requires exceptional skills, which those of us who are managers play a key role in nurturing in our employees.
In our most recent employee survey, 93% of employees agreed with the statement, “My manager cares about my wellbeing,” and 94% of respondents said that they would recommend Phase2 as a great place to work.
So what, exactly, is special about management at Phase2? When we asked ourselves that question, four themes emerged:
- Phase2’s company values and their effect on how we manage.
- Phase2 managers’ roles as “doers” first and managers second.
- Our emphasis on being mentors, coaches, and servant-leaders rather than “bosses.”
- Our mastery of distributed, remote work environments.
Incorporating Phase2’s Company Values Into The Way We Manage
At Phase2, our company values are the core of our identity as an organization, and form the foundation of our company culture. One of the reasons that Phase2 is such a great place to work, and that we are so effective at helping our clients, is that our employees identify so strongly with our company values, and we live them in our day-to-day work. From the recruitment, evaluation, and hiring process; to the onboarding of new employees; to our performance evaluations; to our peer-nominated awards program; we specifically name, evaluate, and reward behavior and performance that aligns with our values.
Our values are:
These values permeate our culture in part because Phase2 managers and colleagues nurture, encourage, and model them. Here are a few examples of how we do that:
- When we meet with our team members, we bring our Authentic selves to the conversation, and try to create a safe space for the employees to do the same.
- During our one-on-one meetings, managers continually encourage employees to Learn, Collaborate, and Share Knowledge Openly, both on their project teams and across the company.
- On project teams, we suggest specific ways that employees can delegate tasks to their teammates while also mentoring them, so that they improve their skills.
- Outside of project work, we encourage our team members to get involved with our many internal knowledge-sharing opportunities. These include our 30+ topical interest groups that meet regularly; weekly brown-bag style presentations; client-facing webinars; blog posts on the Phase2 company blog; and conference presentations, to name a few examples.
- Similarly, we as managers make every effort to share our own knowledge with our team members, and we have the humility and openness to learn from them.
- When an employee discusses project challenges with their manager in a one-on-one meeting, the manager asks questions to help the employee to Pinpoint the Real Problem instead of just the symptoms. The manager and employee can then use this fresh perspective to Solve it.
- Above all, we see the value in the care we take to listen to and develop our team members. We are continually striving to stretch and grow ourselves and our people with our end goal being to Adapt, Evolve, and Always Improve.
It starts from the top here at Phase2 where our CEO and Senior leadership team ensure that our values live in all the things we do. In turn, Phase2 managers have many avenues by which they can share feedback. Here are some examples of how we do that:
- Phase2 has an annual award ceremony. Each award corresponds with a specific company value, plus there is an award for someone who embodies all of Phase2’s values. Any colleague can nominate an employee for one of those awards.
- Our quarterly performance evaluations include a question about how well the employee lives the Phase2 values. This provides a formal opportunity for managers to call out examples of how an employee demonstrated certain values.
- Beyond performance reviews, we have a culture of publicly and privately praising employees when they do great work, and this informal praise often showcases our values. We use an internal messaging tool, Slack, to share the positive vibes and quickly point out the amazing and creative work our teammates perform. Our culture of “Karma” and sharing the good work of others contributes to a collaborative and uplifting work culture. For example, we point out how someone looked beyond the surface-level of a problem by asking the right questions to understand the underlying need, then came up with a solution for the actual underlying problem. Another example would be talking about how well an employee adapted to a challenging and constantly evolving situation. We don’t actually say the words, “this employee exemplified this value by doing the following,” but the examples used when giving out praise are often clear expressions of our values.
Working As A "Doer" First
At Phase2, our managers are not focused exclusively on overseeing the work of others; they split their time between management and individual contributor tasks. This is possible in part because most managers have four or fewer direct reports. Our primary responsibilities are those of “doers,” and with each of us managing only a handful of employees, we can still build relationships with them and give them the attention and support they need.
In the Delivery portion of the company (which includes everyone who works directly on client projects), managers, directors, and even vice presidents work directly on client projects, and they often work on different projects from their direct reports. This approach ensures that managers keep their skills fresh and that they don’t lose sight of the on-the-ground perspective.
Having managers and employees on different projects creates the opportunity to share knowledge and lessons learned from one project to another. When an employee asks their manager for advice on a particular situation or describes a challenge on their current project, the manager often replies, “I ran into a similar situation a few months ago on my project, and here’s what worked for me.” In our experience, these “I’ve been there too” discussions cover technical challenges, team leadership ideas, process improvements, and interpersonal/communication tips. They also naturally generate empathy between manager and employee.
Phase2 managers care deeply about helping our employees be their best, and supporting them in continuously learning and improving. When we talk about what professional development activities the employee might want to pursue, we often suggest resources that we have personally used and found helpful. Sometimes, if the topic is one that we also want to learn, we create a small study group to learn it together. This is another example of our company values to Learn, Collaborate and Share Knowledge Openly and to Adapt, Evolve, and Always Improve.
Being A Mentor, Coach, And “Servant Leader,” Not Just A “Boss”
At Phase2, we believe that being a manager means being a mentor, coach, and “servant leader,” not a “boss.” A servant leader differs from other types of leaders in that they see themselves as working for their employees, with the aim of supporting their team members’ success, rather than starting from the perspective that their employees work for them. This relationship is about growing and supporting the individual, not dictating tasks.
When we mentor our direct reports, we give them advice based on our own personal experience. For example, we talk about questions or concerns on our projects, and discuss how to deal with a difficult situation.
We also provide coaching, which differs from mentoring in that it isn’t based on our own personal experience. Coaching might involve helping a person create a plan for an area in which they want or need to improve, or helping a person identify and articulate what’s on their mind, what their challenges are, and what they want. When we help an employee craft a professional development plan, we often blend mentoring and coaching. We help the employee think through what their career goals and professional development interests even are in the first place, but we also use our own experience learning those topics.
We also advocate on behalf of our employees, for example by recommending an employee for a role on a project that aligns with their professional development and career goals, or recommending an employee for a promotion.
These examples are just some of the ways that we, as managers, focus on how we can serve and support our employees. Comments directly from our employees further illustrate this relationship. In a Washington Business Journal Survey, whose results led to Phase2 being selected as one of the best workplaces in DC, respondents called out the ways that Phase2 leadership creates a nurturing environment for employees:
Managing In A Remote Working Environment
Remote work has always been part of our culture at Phase2. Approximately a third of our employees do not live near one of our offices, and even those who do often split their work time between the office and their homes. It’s also more common than not for someone’s manager to be in a different geographic location, and quite often a different time zone. Given this, when the pandemic hit, we did not have to adjust our work habits much; we already had the infrastructure and the expertise to work remotely.
When it comes to interacting with each other, one-on-one meetings are crucial to successful remote management. This is particularly important when the manager and direct report are not on the same project. This meeting ensures regular communication and establishes a safe space to discuss needs or questions. For years, we have regularly conducted many of our meetings over video conferencing. We find that when conducting one-on-one meetings over video conferencing, they are most effective when both people keep their video turned on. Being able to see each other’s facial expressions helps create a personal connection, and allows the manager and employee to better empathize with each other.
For informal, quick conversations, we have used chat-based tools for years (our current tool of choice is Slack). These tools provide a handy way for people to stay in touch and mimic in-person interactions. In addition to project tasks, we use these tools to reach out informally now and then to ask how people are holding up during the pandemic or in the midst of the massive wildfires that ravaged the west coast this year. This is a handy way to maintain a connection with others without having to wait until the next scheduled one-on-one meeting.
Management Through Empathy
Phase2 is full of caring and empathetic people, and this is particularly true of our managers. This empathy is perhaps the most pivotal trait that affects the way we manage our team members and nurture them to continually improve and to do their very best work. The connections we make with our team members, and our shared experience doing the work, helps us understand and relate to them on a deep level.
Our company values reinforce this empathy. We recruit and hire people who are collaborative, authentic, and adaptable, and we have a company culture that rewards and reinforces demonstration of these traits. We also apply these values to our clients, seeking to understand and to solve their real, underlying problems, as well as to think big and create amazing digital products for them.
Managers’ roles as doers first, and managers second, means that we understand our employees’ experiences in the workplace. And managers make a point of going beyond administrative tasks, seeking to help employees grow in their careers by mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring them. By doing so, we support them in becoming that much better at the work they do, and better able to deliver excellent results to our clients.
Particularly in the midst of these very difficult times, with a global pandemic underway and everyone physically isolated from each other, we practice empathy. Our remote work culture enables us to maintain our connections and to support each other in continuing to be excellent. It also allows us to support each other at a time when human connection is most needed. Both for each other and for our clients, we are living our company’s vision: digital experience that advances the human experience.