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Jami Zakem
Jami Zakem

One question every manager should ask a new employee

“I see a manager's job as being responsible for creating the most engaged, highest performing, and happiest team possible,” states Jami Zakem, a veteran Bay Area tech executive and Founder of Zakem Coaching + Consulting.

Getting the most out of people starts with establishing an open and trust-based manager-employee relationship says Jami, while noting: “I believe the single best thing you can do as a manager is get to know your employees on a personal level.”

An important part of getting to that level and building a positive rapport is asking the right questions. “When I was a new manager I spent a lot of time thinking about and reading books to figure out what kind of manager I wanted to be,” says Jami, “but the truth is, I need to be whatever kind of manager that person needs me to be.”

With this realization in hand, Jami flipped the script on how she interacted with new employees. “Instead of telling people what kind of manager I am, I started asking them ‘How do you like to be managed?’.”

It’s a simple, yet often unasked question. And one that can really set the tone and expectation as to how a work relationship will play out over the first few days, weeks, months, and even years.  

“Think of the question as a way to access the ‘owner’s manual’ of the person you are going to be managing,” says Jami. “It makes things much easier than just guessing. Kind of like trying to put together IKEA furniture without the instructions as opposed to with the instructions. Which yields better results?”

Once the answer to this question is known, an effective manager will use it to frame how they regularly interact with that employee. 

“For example, the person who told me he doesn’t like managers who stop by his desk to just say ‘hi’ didn’t get a lot of drive-by chit-chat from me,” recalls Jami. “Whereas the person who told me she’s sensitive to not being in the know got a lot of ‘FYI’ updates.” 

In being true to your employee, it’s still important, however, to be true to yourself. “Now, of course, I still have my management style,” affirms Jami, “but I keep in mind what my employees need from me.”
Based in the Bay Area, Jami Zakem has more than 20 years of experience in leadership roles at companies including AngelPoints, Yelp, and Eventbrite. As Founder of Zakem Coaching + Consulting, Jami advises, consults, and coaches individuals and teams from high-growth companies. She is also part of the Lazaridis Institute Expert Network, where she shares her expertise on organizational design and management with CEOs and Founders participating in the ScaleUp Program.

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