Management Communication: Feed The Bear

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The Essence of 'Feeding the Bear' in Management

Navigating the complexities of management requires not just strategic insight but also a keen sense of communication — a practice akin to 'Feeding the Bear.' This analogy, borrowed from instances of bear interactions, encapsulates the essence of effective management hygiene: the principle of 'No Surprises.' Through this guide, we delve into the art of keeping your team informed and engaged, akin to keeping a bear satisfied and docile. It's about mastering the rhythm of transparency and observation, ensuring the bear — or in our case, the team — remains well-fed with information, reducing the chances of unwelcome surprises.

i 3 Guide Contents

Management Communication: Feed The Bear

Understanding ‘No Surprises’ Management

A basic element of any effective management system is “No Surprises.” “Simple, but not easy” does not even start to describe this critical part of your Management Hygiene. In fact, I have used a fairly graphic way of describing it to leaders, probably driven by where I now live.

The Bear Analogy for Effective Management

Our street in Virginia has a rhythm of what are politely called “Bear Interactions,” the largest in our area… and our area has the most in the whole state. So we regularly have a bear walk past our house. In fact, recently, we observed not 1… or 2… we had 3… on our deck. They were small, but like surprised leaders, they can pack a wallop…

… they are hungry, and smelling food, see if the doors are open for an easy way to fill up. When they are full, they sleep and are pretty docile. The trick is to know where they are on that curve when you observe them. No surprises.

Principles of ‘Feeding the Bear’

In management, I call the process “Feeding the Bear”: ensuring that everyone knows what is happening up and down the chain  If you keep them fed with enough of the right information, they will be mostly docile… and if not… well, the picture will show you what claws look like when they are out 😉

Crafting Your AESOP Reports

What “fable” are you feeding your Bear?

The trick of “Feeding the Bear” is observing what they want to “eat” and the Rhythm of how often. I have found that a simple 3-heading report that accompanies your 1-1’s tends to work well. First is “Accomplishments” – to be separated from “Activities.” Yes, you may have DONE a lot, but did you actually ACCOMPLISH anything? Next is “Exceptions/Suprises/Opportunities,” – otherwise known as where you could potentially use some help. The trick here is to get the Bear to help you in areas that… they are good at… and, more importantly, in areas where you WANT them to help. Finally is “Plans” – what you anticipate doing for the next period. That makes AESOP – as in the fable!

Maintaining Boring Status Reports

Boring Status Reports keep the Bear docile…

In a perfect week, you cut and paste the Plans from the last period to Accomplishments, and there are no Exceptions/Surprises/Opportunities. And then there are the real weeks 😉 That is the “Simple” part – the “not easy” is there are things you DON’T need the Bear involved in… at least not yet… so observing how much rope you want to give yourself until… well that is mixing metaphors. It is why this element of Hygiene is all about observing the patterns that have worked for the Bear… and often realizing that other peers are actually MUCH better about Feeding than you are. Here again, the relationships you have with them and others help ensure your “safety.”

… and a record for your Self-Assessment

Self-Assessment and Resume Updating

A by-product of this approach is at the end of the year, when you write your year-end Self Assessment… which of course you do… right, there is a nice stack of things that you will have forgotten you did…  Even if THEY don’t ask for it, I always did it… and of course, updated my Resume so I had it fresh yearly for another element we will discuss here.

Systematic Reporting Moves the Needle for the Organization

And I always had my teams do the same reports. They then roll up what they and their teams did, and I simply took their “greatest hits” for my AESOP with almost no work. The whole process produces a weekly/biweekly/monthly report in which everyone can observe their part in driving the results, which is critical for driving high performance.

And your 1-1’s get richer…

Enhancing 1-on-1 Meetings

And – with “Status” being fed in the reports, your regular 1-1 meetings now can cover deeper strategy and development topics that are also critical to driving performance. And if you are one who doesn’t do 1-1’s and says “oh yea, my boss knows what I am up to”… well… Queue the hungry bear at the door…

If you want to learn more about Feeding the Bear, read this post titled Rhythmic observation. It’s from a week of stories about Management Hygiene with the master of Rhythm, Bo Diddley, providing the soundtrack. . You can also sign up there to receive daily or weekly updates with new articles on LeadingWithMusic.

Key Takeaways From This Guide:

Effective management mirrors the careful balance of 'Feeding the Bear,' where consistent and transparent communication ensures a harmonious team dynamic. By embracing the principles of 'No Surprises' and adopting systematic reporting through AESOP, leaders can foster an environment of trust, anticipation, and strategic growth. As you reflect on these insights, consider how the rhythm of your management style influences the overall performance and satisfaction of your team. Embrace the philosophy of 'Management Hygiene' to cultivate a culture where every team member feels valued, informed, and motivated.

Additional & Advanced Approaches

Culture-Change Challenge:

Reflect on your current management practices and challenge yourself to implement the 'Feeding the Bear' approach. Start by experimenting with the AESOP report format in your next 1-on-1 meeting, observe the changes in team dynamics, and adjust as necessary. Share your experiences with peers, seek mentorship to refine your approach, and remember, effective management is a continuous journey of learning and adaptation. How will you ensure your team remains 'well-fed' with information and guidance?

Additional Reading:

See our LeadingWithMusic Blog for more articles to assist you as you navigate your leadership journey.

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