Here are some notes from the event that I attended where the VP of Engineering at Slack, and more famously, the writer behind the Rands In Repose blog (and author of three books), Michael Lopp presented on becoming a manager and the mistakes that will be made by new managers.
The Notes on the New Manager Death Spiral
Began with some questions about who’s a manager, designer, engineer, introvert or extrovert. Talk described as anti-advice. Walks through the manager journey, beginning with hey congrats you’re now a manager. Lopp asked how many people have formal managerial training. Personally started with “taking care” of a few team members, started with setting up one on ones.
When starting out as a new manager, you will assume that you are still an individual contributor. You will forget that you’re responsible for the team, forget to delegate tasks or you will be hesitant to give away some power. The first failure mode is that the quality of work drops, which leads to being behind schedule.
The overarching goal behind management and why it’s important
Your job as a manager is to get things done at scale.
Delegation and Delegating Tasks
Fake delegation is giving not enough context and not enough power to shape things. Successful delegation builds trust in the team. Saying, “Go figure it out….or else” is when the team starts talking to each other about the manager not being trusting of the team.
The manager’s job is to delegate aggressively.
Opinions become facts, and team is demoralized (within the new manager death spiral).
Management can be seen as a career restart. With our industry’s habit of not formally training people…
Lessons learned…let others shape your thinking…augment your obvious and non obvious weakness with a diverse team… delegate more than is comfortable.
Notes on the Q&A
How do you recognize management potential in software developers? Empathy tied into emotional intelligence, can the engineer read the room and being situationally aware, it’s a good leading indicator.
How to build trust with management above? Managing up is the same as managing team, clear communication and trust. During rapid growth, bad politics happens a lot within companies.
What’s the biggest management mistake you’ve made in the past year? Would assume data literacy of team but didn’t frame the narrative and shared too much data which led to drama, thought was doing right thing through transparency.
How do I get team to give critical feedback? Started with one on ones, always have an agenda. Dial it up and give feedback that is positive and negative. Slight increase every month and then ask whether they have feedback for you. At some point they will trust you enough to give feedback. Just listen, don’t try to understand, stop and say it back “what I heard was this”. Then they correct, and it builds trust. Anecdote it took a year to get this feedback and to build that trust. “Feedback is a gift.”
Recommendations for newly promoted to manager? What if you are promoted above your friends? First couple of months with friends, be explicit about friend hat and manager hat, same person just changing the context. Set boundaries. You can’t fire your friends but as manager you can fire them. You have to be deliberate about this.
Measure manager, 4 things to look for. Vision, can you describe a compelling future. Strategy, can you design the road signs and deconstruct the vision into road signs to guide the team. Tactics/execution…Judgement and decision making, you’re coming to crossroads all the time so why choose one path or another and how well do you explain it. Subjective and kinda objective.
Asks team leads about plans they have for growth of team.
Serial lack of training, where to get it? More important is getting company culture to train internally and usually first question he asks is how do we train managers. If small set up mentorship circles or use external resources.
How do you interview for judgment? My job is soup tasting (metaphor) what I’m looking for is how you explain path A or path B selection and need you to explain to me why did you choose that path. If you can explain it well and your strategy around that choice is explained well and you walk through it, is how he susses out judgment, was it a flip of a coin or decision with real consideration.
Do we need managers? Holacracy isn’t working out at Zappos or Medium. He thinks that managers serve a force multiplication function. Managers are there as information conduits and to lead growth of team. Self managing teams at scale need some form of management even if it isn’t called that.
From coaching and trust standpoint, how to build trust on remote team? It’s hard to do this, has bias to look face to face to know what’s really going on. Tries to travel a lot to meet the team. Depends on culture of team, how they answer questions and deference to managers. Moment when it blows up is if remote employees start to feel like second class citizens. Avoids remote, being able to see the whole team gives ability to read the room better.
Should managers be direct contributors? There are four roles to grow into, be CEO CTO VP of engineering or chief architect. Aspiration to be CEO moves to see other parts of business. VP of engineering is people and process. CTO is operations and still coding. Chief architect is still writing code. You need to be able to draw a clear path to each of those roles.
When you learn how well you’re doing is when there’s an emergency, it’s okay to fail and reflect and learn. Fail faster and make managers feel safe. Say what happened, and say it’s ok if you screw up, and work on the problem instead of worrying about the failure.
How do you efficiently delegate? At a small startup under 20 people you have the team and don’t need managers, but when you get past 20 to 50 or more, you need to start bringing in managers with good judgment to connect things together. They give the scaling function to the organization.
When you delegate, do you focus on delegating to people’s strengths? Sometimes things need to go fast and needs velocity, delegate to strength, tends towards growth mindset and will delegate based on learning/growth.
How do you improve reading the room as a skill? Advise extroverts to listen, introverts already listen more.
How do you manage people who don’t take feedback well? They need to have a safe environment of feedback, the manager needs to show that this is a valuable transaction and valuable communication.
Technical details…A minute a slide? Something like that. Slide text was at bottom and hard to see.