By the middle of the second week of having Hepatitis A I started to get concerned.
I had gone in for a round of bloodwork the week before (feeling very ill at the time), and the doctor was looking at a liver marker to understand the severity of my case. It came back at 250 – 5 times the normal range.
When I was first diagnosed with Hepatitis A (following a trip to West Africa) I spent hours reading medical articles about typical symptoms and my prognosis. Most of them said I was going to become really, really ill, but that I’d eventually be okay in anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. Seeing myself as a “superhealer”, I expected to get over Hep A in a weekend.
Boy, was I wrong.
One week after the first appointment that liver marker was at 4,800 – 96 times higher than normal. In my doctor’s words, “Uh, that would explain why you’re so sick!”
That’s when I realized I had a big problem.
I knew the course of this disease would be measured in weeks, not days and questions started flooding my mind.
As the president of a small company with 9 direct reports, how was I going to run the company? How could I possibly help my team by providing direction, removing difficult obstacles and making sure priorities were in the right place? We were at a critical juncture on a couple important projects – how could I stay informed?
And performance reviews would come a few weeks later – how could I evaluate my team if I wasn’t around or even aware of what was happening?
One Year Earlier
In the fall of 2017 we started putting together a system for regular check-ins. Though we had a highly-relational culture, we knew we needed to increase the quality of manager/employee communication so we could leverage the gifts and abilities of each team member – a huge for benefit and for both my staff and the growth of our company.
We started by asking questions in these areas:
- Overall productivity
- Priorities for the next week
- Long-term goals
- Values and virtues I wanted to see them exhibit
- Ways they impacted their team
- Personal and professional development
- Ways I could help them
It sounds like a long meeting, doesn’t it? But once we got rolling we realized the meetings needed only about 15 minutes. As I wrote to a new manager:
- After just one or two check-ins, I think all of us began to experience a change. Based on the feedback I received, the staff were feeling known, heard and directed (in a good way). They had a much better idea of what they were supposed to accomplish, and they were proud when they delivered! They also began to feel like I was their advocate – that I was “in it” with them and that I’d help them succeed any way I could.
Benefits I didn’t initially anticipate
- Because the bulk of the check-in was filled out by my staff, I could collect check-in content even if I didn’t physically meet with them. This was important if one of us had to be out of the office. I might miss a week of the face-to-face meeting, but I wasn’t missing reports on their activities or their challenges.
- The check-ins were providing excellent documentation of my staff’s work. This gave me “real-time” material to use when I did performance reviews. Instead of scouring email, spreadsheets, texts and scribbled notes, I had everything in one place. Reviews were MUCH easier!
- Getting together every week and talking through structured questions made it almost impossible to “drop the ball”. It’s not that everything went perfectly, it’s that we had far fewer “gotcha” moments. You know what I mean – those moments when you were so focused on one thing that you completely forgot about another important thing? By seeing our priorities in writing every week, when we didn’t accomplish something we generally knew why and could make mid-course adjustments.
Fast forward one year
So there I was, in the fetal position on my bed wondering how my illness was going to slow down everything our company was trying to accomplish. I wondered if I’d know anything about the team when performance review time came. I became understandably anxious.
Then it dawned on me.
With the little strength I had, I wrote the team and asked them to continue filling out their check-ins despite the fact I wouldn’t be able to meet with them. My illness was severe enough that I usually didn’t have the strength to read, but on the occasions that I felt a little better, I went into the check-ins and get a feel for what was happening. When I could, I’d send a quick Slack message to a teammate with a suggestion or clarification.
Most importantly, though, the check-ins helped me keep my finger on the pulse of our company. I felt like I knew what was going on even though I wasn’t physically present, and the conversations we had in our previous check-ins gave enough direction to the team that they didn’t feel lost.
Putting together performance reviews
After 15 days out of the office and 5 weeks of limited productivity, I was staring into the face our Q4 performance reviews. Since I have rejected the idea that vague and meaningless feedback is acceptable, I wondered if I could produce anything helpful to my team.
As it turned out, the information in the check-ins (and my responses) proved to be a great asset to the process! I was able to give specific feedback in each of the areas the check-ins covered. I was surprised by how much I actually knew, even while I was absent. It was quite easy to track each person’s progress throughout the quarter, and even with limited face-to-face time, I still felt generally connected to their morale and sense of accomplishment.
Modern tools saved the day
Putting together the process of regular check-ins was a big win for our company, but building a product that facilitated the process was the key to managing the team when I had hepatitis. Uptick, the team management tool we built to get companies on the same page, allowed me to have everything I needed to do meaningful performance reviews, and it was all in one place. I didn’t need to look through email trails, Slack messages, spreadsheets or documents. Using Uptick, I was able to:
- Look through the historical check-ins
- Make notes (viewable by my employee or private to me)
- Save notes specifically for their performance review, giving me the ability to capture real-time and specific feedback
- Set up new goals, priorities and values for the next quarter
I was amazed by how easy it was to write a meaningful review. Sure, I know I missed some things by being out of the office, but I feel like Uptick opened a window to me that would have certainly been closed in other circumstances. And I’m grateful the team stayed motivated and productive in my absence.