How can I get the people I manage to care as much as I do? They mostly just care until 5pm.
Emma: Sometimes I daydream about my perfect team, made up of all the best people I’ve worked with over the years: Katie, Devon, Andrew, Becca, Ryan — the list goes on. I could staff my own mid-size business. Everyone can rattle off a version of their own dream team, and the one thing they’d all have in common is a bunch of people who cared a lot.
Andy: Yes! Of course you want a team that fully cares. It reminds of learning to play tennis in PE. Hitting the ball back and forth with a bunch of apathetic 10th graders didn’t show me the sport’s full potential. Playing as an adult with people who care changes the game. When everyone’s putting in big effort, you get that that wacky math of teamwork where suddenly 1 + 1 = 5. Right now, you probably feel stuck at 1.
But it’s okay for people not to care.
Emma: That the people on your team do all the way until 5pm every day is amazing.
Andy: Lol I agree. We’re talking about work! Your people aren’t being paid to care. Even professional caregivers aren’t paid to care in the human sense — they’re being paid to give care, which is a different thing entirely.
Emma: Still, both of us know how hard it is to look across the office and not see the same amount of time, heart, and brains that you’re pouring in being returned. And while it’s impossible to force someone to care about something they don’t, we have some advice on how to feel less alone in the work.
Andy: There are three things that help me reconcile what I might wish for — a team of people who care — and reality: that it’s okay if they don’t.
First is getting clear about what care is. You can’t evaluate “care” itself because everyone values different things. Some people care about keeping the health insurance the job provides, or about their coworkers, or about getting a verified Twitter handle. I’ve worked with teammates who cared deeply about creating the perfect product; I’ve worked with others who cared most about getting praise from the boss. None of these are wrong to care about.
Emma: In my experience, the people we believe care tend to be the people whose values match our own. This is normal: we’re auto-biased toward what’s familiar. If you’re regularly putting in long hours, you’re going to think the person logging off at 4:45 every day to catch hot yoga and a happy hour cares less. That’s as much a law of physics as gravity is.
Andy: You can’t measure care, but you can translate it into the output you’re after and measure that. What does care look like in your job? Is it how many hours you work? The amount of effort you put in and the talent you have? What it sounds like when you interact with your customers and clients? Is it following instructions, or being brave enough to disagree? Force yourself to be specific on this. If you say you just know it when you see it, you’re cheating.
Emma: This is such a worthwhile exercise. Like all things management, the better I am at articulating my expectations, the more they’re met. When I can describe with real words what I want to see from the people on my team, it’s amazing how much easier it is to give feedback, write a job description, evaluate potential new hires, etc.
Doing this has also helped me discover when my definition of care is too narrow and rigid. If I feel ridiculous asking for it — “I’d prefer to see you work late at least two days a week” — I know it’s me, not my team.
Andy: I think often “not caring” is a label we put on top of something much more solvable: there’s too much to do for the timeline, there’s a distraction outside of work, they need a vacation. Our brains go looking for evidence to support the story we tell ourselves. “Oh, look, there’s Emma is again with her messy files,” I’ll think. “Why doesn’t she care more?!”
If you’re going to build a self-fulfilling prophecy, make it one that gets the results you want. What’s the evidence that Emma does care?
Emma: Messy files, clear mind. That’s what I always say!
Andy: I’ve saved the headiest advice for last: the one thing that can breed care is caring. When you show care, you create an environment that encourages other people’s caring. Still with me?
Let’s say people on my team are turning in sloppy work. I’m frustrated because, of course, if they cared about quality, it would be better. But if I can show how much I care about the quality of their work, whether it’s through thoughtful feedback, with a calibration around a quality scorecard, by focusing my attention on their growth, then they have an opportunity to show up with care as well.
I have a huge caveat here. For this to work, your care needs to be genuine, with no strings attached. Showing you care can’t be a long con to get someone else to care.
Emma: This is hard work. It takes time and energy and, as we pointed out before, you can’t force care, even upon yourself. You too may need a vacation, or more help, or someone to show you what caring looks like before you can demonstrate it to others. You also simply might…not care. And that’s okay. But this sort of woo-woo alchemy can work. It has on me! Being around passionate people who care is one of the fastest ways to crack open my curiosity.
Andy: It’s not a silver bullet. I can show up with my whole heart and see my care go flying whoosh right over their heads. That’s when I have to remember that if they are meeting my clear expectations, they don’t need to care.
Emma: When they do, take note! Those people will be on your dream team when you open your own mid-size business.
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Caring Edition