When They Win, You Win: Overview of Russ Laraway’s Book

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Why is there so much bad management around? How can you make sure you’re not part of the problem?

In his book When They Win, You Win, employee experience expert Russ Laraway explains that employee engagement in the workforce is at an all-time low. But, it’s not the employees who are at fault; it’s their managers.

Continue reading for an overview of this book that can help you become the kind of manager you want to be.

Overview of When They Win, You Win

Poorly trained, ineffective managers are everywhere, and they’re costing companies billions of dollars every year. However, in When They Win, You Win, Russ Laraway says he has the solution: By developing a few key leadership skills, you can greatly improve your team’s morale and performance. Laraway also offers tools to gauge your effectiveness as a manager.

Laraway has a management career that spans nearly three decades, ranging from being a company commander in the United States Marine Corps to being the head of human resources at Qualtrics. He specializes in helping companies—including Twitter and Google—improve their employee experiences so they can have happy, engaged, and productive workers.

We begin by examining Laraway’s belief that bad management is everywhere and is causing enormous harm to employees and companies alike. We then share his ideas for how managers can succeed in three key areas: goals, coaching, and career development.

Introduction: Bad Management Is a Widespread Problem

According to Laraway, bad managers are everywhere—they’re in every industry and company. To make matters worse, bad managers create disengaged, unhappy, and unproductive employees. In short, bad management hurts employees and employers alike.

We’ll discuss why Laraway thinks bad managers are so common, how you can determine your own effectiveness as a manager, and why improving your management skills is easier than you might think. 

The Root of the Management Problem

Laraway says that this widespread management problem largely comes from how companies choose and train (or rather, fail to adequately train) their managers.

There’s a common assumption that people who are good at their jobs will naturally be good at managing others doing that same job. As a result, companies tend to promote their most productive employees to management without providing enough training or support. However, great employees won’t necessarily be great managers; the positions require different skill sets and mindsets. For instance, as a manager, you need coaching skills and a focus on your entire team’s results—or even the entire company’s results—not just your own.

However, failing to promote a good employee may cause that employee to leave, which is also harmful to the company. The best solution, then, is to promote good employees to managers and make sure they have the training and tools they need to be effective.

Measuring Employee Engagement

How do you know whether you’re part of the management problem? According to Laraway, the best way to judge your effectiveness as a manager is to see how engaged your employees are.

To help you judge your employees’ engagement, Laraway breaks down the nebulous concept of “engagement” into two concrete elements: job satisfaction and workplace satisfaction.

Job satisfaction refers to how much an employee gets a sense of pride and fulfillment from their work. Job satisfaction is often related to how important the employee feels their job is, either to the company specifically or to the world as a whole. Notably, employees with high job satisfaction are often willing to put in extra work beyond what their job roles strictly require.

The second element is workplace satisfaction—how the employee feels about the company itself. This includes whether the employee feels proud to work there and how satisfied they are with their workspace, pay, and the company culture. 

According to Laraway, an employee with high job satisfaction and workplace satisfaction is an engaged employee—and, therefore, they’re someone who’s likely to be hardworking, conscientious, and interested in remaining with the company.

 Better Management Through Leadership Skills

The good news, Laraway says, is that anyone can become a better manager by learning and practicing a few basic leadership skills. 

Suggesting that you can become a better manager by practicing leadership skills may sound strange; modern business theory often draws a line between management (controlling how people do their work) and leadership (inspiring people to do their best work). Supposedly, leadership results in more productivity and employee engagement. 

However, Laraway disagrees with this distinction. Instead, he believes that leadership skills are really just people skills, and they’re something that any good manager should develop.

Three Key Skills

So, how do you become an effective manager and boost employee engagement? Laraway says that good managers focus on three key areas, which he calls The Big Three. Then, we’ll discuss each of these three areas in depth. When They Win, You Win also has a separate section on how to put all of Laraway’s principles into practice; for convenience and clarity, we’ve incorporated those tips into the areas they pertain to. 

Management Focus #1: Goals

The first area of focus for an effective manager is setting clear goals for your employees: Your workers should know exactly what’s expected of them and when. In this section, we’ll examine several tiers of goals that managers can set for their employees, and then we’ll explain how to evaluate your effectiveness in this area. 

Goal Tiers: From Short-term to Long-term

Laraway divides goals into four tiers, starting with shorter-term goals and culminating in the company’s long-term goal. Each tier supports the one above it—short-term Tier 1 goals create progress toward Tier 2 goals, which in turn build toward Tier 3, all of which culminate in the company’s ultimate, long-term Tier 4 goal. In other words, every goal that employees work toward should ultimately contribute to that Tier 4 goal, and each employee should understand how their work supports that goal.

Tier 1: Daily and Weekly Goals

The foundational tier of goals is what Laraway calls prioritieswhat workers get done daily or weekly. For example, a manager at a health insurance company might set a daily or weekly goal for each worker to process a certain number of claims.

Tier 2: Monthly, Quarterly, or Yearly Goals

The second tier is what Laraway terms Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). This is what a person or team achieves in a somewhat longer timeframe: monthly, quarterly, or yearly. For many employees, an OKR may just be an extension of a daily or weekly goal. For instance, if their daily goal is to process a certain number of insurance claims, then their monthly goal might be to process that number of claims on average each day for a month.

Note that this tier of goal has two elements: OKRs comprise Objectives (what you want to achieve during this timeframe) and Key Results (how, specifically, you will achieve it). In other words, think of the results as smaller, measurable goals that build up to the larger objective. For example, maintaining an average number of claims processed each day might be an objective while the number of claims that employee processes each day is the key result.

Laraway adds that each objective at this level should connect to the company’s ultimate aspiration (why you’re doing it), which we’ll further discuss later. All of your workers should clearly understand how their work supports the company. For the claims processor from the previous examples, this might be as simple as understanding that their work supports the company’s mission of, say, helping people navigate the healthcare system.

Tier 3: Long-Term, Multiyear Goals

The third tier is what Laraway calls the company’s visionthe specific thing it’s trying to achieve. This is a major undertaking, often lasting for multiple years and requiring the entire company to work together. There might not be an obvious connection between an average employee’s day-to-day tasks and a company’s long-term goals—if that’s the case, then you should explain to your workers how and why their work is crucial in meeting those goals. In other words, explain to your employees exactly what you need them to do to support these long-term goals.

For example, The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit organization that aims to remove plastic pollution from the world’s oceans. One of the company’s multiyear goals or visions is to implement various plastic capture technologies in 1,000 rivers around the world. An employee whose job is, say, writing and sending newsletters to report on The Ocean Cleanup’s progress, might not see a direct connection between that task and the goal of implementing plastic capture technology. However, an effective manager could explain that regular newsletters are an important part of public relations, and are therefore crucial for getting donations so the company can keep removing plastic pollution. 

Tier 4: The Company’s Ultimate Aspiration

Finally, the highest tier of goals is the company’s ultimate aspiration, which Laraway calls its purpose or mission—in other words, the reason the company exists in the first place. Ideally, the company’s mission statement spells out this goal so that every employee knows what they’re ultimately working toward.

This is a goal that’s likely to take many years to reach, possibly decades. Continuing the previous example, The Ocean Cleanup’s ultimate aspiration is to remove 90% of plastic from the world’s oceans. The employee writing newsletters should understand that their work, though not directly related to removing plastic from the oceans, still supports the company’s ultimate aspiration.

Goals: Measuring Your Effectiveness 

To see how well you’re doing at setting clear and reasonable goals as a manager, Laraway suggests sending an anonymous survey to your team. Ask your team members to rate you in the following goals-related areas.

1) Communication. For example, ask: How clearly does your manager communicate with you? How well do you know what’s expected of you, and when it’s expected? How well does your manager explain changes in the company—what’s changing, why it’s changing, and how those changes will impact your job? How well do you understand how your work supports the company’s long-term or large-scale goals?

2) Collaboration. For example, ask these questions: How closely does your manager work with you when setting individual and team goals? How well does your manager help you prioritize your tasks so you can achieve those goals?

Management Focus #2: Coaching

Laraway says that setting clear goals is only the first part of being an effective manager—you also need to coach your workers on how to reach those goals. Not only does effective coaching make your employees better workers, but it also helps build bonds of trust and mutual support between you and your team. Those bonds, in turn, make your employees feel more comfortable and happier at work; in other words, they become more engaged. 

In this section, we’ll review the two aspects of coaching that Laraway discusses: encouraging what’s working well and fixing what’s not working well. We’ll then go over Laraway’s suggestions for how to measure your effectiveness as a coach. 

Encourage What’s Working

Many people think that coaching employees means correcting their mistakes, but it’s just as important to provide positive reinforcement for the things your employees are doing well. Laraway says that the majority of your coaching should be encouragement and praise. People like to hear when they’re doing well, so positive feedback factors heavily into employee engagement and retention.

Furthermore, your employees might not even realize which parts of their workflow are going particularly well. A good manager will explicitly tell workers what they’re doing well, encourage them to keep doing those things, and explain why those parts of their workflow are so effective.

Fix What’s Wrong

Another important part of being a manager is correcting your employees’ mistakes and helping them improve. However, people tend to feel threatened when managers tell them what they could improve, so they may become upset and defensive. Therefore, Laraway recommends that you limit yourself to one piece of negative feedback per five pieces of positive feedback. Doing so will reassure your workers that their jobs aren’t in danger and keep them in a positive mindset where they’ll be able to learn from their mistakes.

Coaching: Measuring Your Effectiveness

Again, Laraway says that the best way to judge your effectiveness as a coach is to survey your team. To see how well you’re doing as a teacher, ask your employees to rate you in three categories.

1) Helpfulness. For example, ask: How useful is the feedback you get from your manager? Do you receive a good mix of positive and negative feedback?

2) Approachability. For example, ask: How comfortable are you with bringing problems and concerns to your manager? Do you feel like your manager is someone you can easily talk to?

3) Care. For example, ask: How often does your manager ask for your feedback? How well does your manager address your concerns?

Management Focus #3: Career Development

Laraway’s third and final focus area for managers is career development: helping employees to plan and realize their long-term career goals, not just their current job goals. Notably, this focus area includes helping your workers advance their careers even if doing so means they eventually leave your company. 

In this section, we’ll examine Laraway’s suggestion of using three crucial meetings to build the foundation for an employee’s career development. We’ll then discuss how you can gauge your effectiveness in this area. 

The Three Meetings

As with all management focus areas, career development should be an ongoing process with each of your employees. However, to be effective in this focus area, Laraway recommends setting three meetings with each employee, each with a specific focus.

At the first meeting, ask your employee how they got to their current job role. Ask about their past—their education, their previous jobs, and why they applied for their current position. Knowing your employee’s history will give you a more thorough understanding of them as a person, including their interests, shortcomings, and job skills that may not come up in their current position. This understanding will make you better able to help them find and get their dream job.

At the second meeting, ask about their goals and their aspirations. What do they hope to get from their current job? What do they hope to accomplish over the next year? Five years? What’s their ultimate career goal?

At the third meeting, work with the employee to create what Laraway calls a Career Action Plan (CAP). In short, this is a plan to get the employee from their current position to the dream position that they described in the second meeting. What skills will they need to develop? What work experience will they need? How can they accomplish this, and how can you help as their manager?

Career Development: Measuring Your Effectiveness

To find out how effectively you’re helping your workers with their career development, Laraway suggests asking employees to rate you in the following two categories.

1) Constructiveness. Ask: How well does your manager support your career development? How helpful is your manager’s advice about your career? How frequently does your manager encourage you to take on new challenges or learn new skills that may help you in the future?

2) Care (a repeat category from coaching). How strongly do you agree with the statement, “My manager cares about me as a human being, not just as an employee?”

When They Win, You Win: Overview of Russ Laraway’s Book

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Here's what you'll find in our full When They Win, You Win summary:

  • Why managers are to blame for employees' lack of engagement
  • How to improve your team's morale and performance
  • Tools for gauging your effectiveness as a manager

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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