Show Your Work: How Managers Can Gain Greater Buy-in from Employees

I love math. One of the things that’s interesting about math is both the answer and the process are important. For example, when I was in school, not only did I have to provide the correct answer to a math problem, but I had to show how I got the answer.

We can apply this same logic in the business world. When we’re making decisions, we want to make the right one and we need to use a good process to get there. If we don’t pay attention to both processes and outcomes, we run the risk of having less than desirable results.

I always like to keep in mind that good processes lead to good results. The way we can do that is by “showing our work,” like we do with math problems.

Why Managers Should Show Their Work

Let’s start with managers. They have a tough job. The common functions of management include: 

  • Planning the work 
  • Organizing resources 
  • Staffing so the work gets done 
  • Leading the team 
  • Controlling the quality of performance 

Managers might feel that they don’t have time to “show their work” or that by “showing their work,” they are making themselves dispensable. Both of those reasons shouldn’t be true. Part of a manager’s role is developing employees and showing the work allows them to do just that.

Example: A manager is responsible for making the team’s schedule. They decide to show the most senior employee the process they use for making the schedule. They explain the software and how it works. They also explain the rationale for approving shift swaps and time off. The following month, the manager is asked to participate in a super-secret meeting with the CEO about a new company initiative. The manager knows it would be great for their career to be there. They also know it will cut into their time working on the schedule. They can ask that employee who has seen how the schedule is made to assist.

A benefit of showing employees the work isn’t just having them pick up the slack when a manager is invited to an unexpected meeting. Showing the work can help to fill in the gaps when it comes to communications.

Example: An organization has noticed a recent trend in declining sales. They believe the situation is temporary, so managers don’t show anyone the profit and loss (P&L) statement. One manager decided to share the P&L with their team. The employees started brainstorming ideas that would generate revenue and/or reduce expenses. The manager shared those ideas with senior leadership and the company was able to reverse their declining sales trend.

Managers who regularly show their work can improve their careers, develop employees for future opportunities, and contribute to the organization’s bottom line. While we’ve discussed a couple of examples, let’s consider activities that can help managers show their work.

Five Ways for Managers to Show Their Work

In the book “Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud,” author Jane Bozarth offers suggestions and examples of how organizations can show their work on a regular basis. Here are five to consider: 

  1. Look at existing processes. Showing your work doesn’t have to be difficult. See if there are existing processes that can be used to facilitate showing the work. No reason to create something new if you don’t have to. 
  2. Identify ambassadors. Think of ambassadors as people who are very good at sharing how they do things. Every organization has them. The company’s subject matter experts (SMEs) might be a great place to start.  
  3. Ask questions. Being a manager isn’t about knowing everything. Put ego aside and don’t be afraid to ask, “How did you do that?” The answer could provide a proven strategy that will be helpful in the future.  
  4. Learn how to curate well. Curation is the ability to organize, share, and find current, relevant information. Showing the work isn’t about bombarding people with emails, links, and attachments. It’s about sharing good content. There’s a difference.  
  5. Support sharing and making things public. Managers should turn “showing the work” into part of who they are and the company culture. Let employees know that the company wants to show the work and be transparent.  

Make Showing Your Work a Regular Habit

Managers who show their work will find their job gets easier. Employees know they’re getting good information to do their jobs. The team will excel, which lifts the entire organization.

The key to showing your work well is almost to move it from “that thing you do” to something you just do all the time. Like a regular habit. Maybe it starts with asking the question, “When did I show my work today?” Then it won’t be too long before managers are showing their work all the time.

Next month at The Workforce Institute, Sharlyn explores how employees can “show their work” and how doing so can benefit their careers, and the overall organization.