A couple weeks ago I attended the Calibrate Conference in San Francisco. The Calibrate Conference was intended for engineering managers who made their transition from an independent contributor. It covered topics around keeping your team happy and productive, as well as keeping yourself happy and productive. As a lot of conversations around management go, there were many differing opinions, but also many great points of consideration and tips from those who have been managing for many years. Here are some of the notes I took as well as some key takeaways I thought were important to adopt or at least consider incorporating.
- being a great manager is a lot about staying true to the basics
- start/stop meetings on time. promotes responsibility and accountability
- delegate. it is an opportunity for someone else to learn
- write down the plan
- define your principles and apply them w consistent judgement
- be unfailingly kind
- always have 1:1s
- own your education. don’t just read the books, talk to your peers.
- ask yourself, are you happy in this job?
- going from IC to manager is not a promotion, it’s a transition. if you don’t like being a manager, you should be able to be an IC, it’s not a demotion.
- focus on enhancing strengths rather than fixing weaknesses
- the industry seems to overemphasize the technical skills over the management skills.
- agile management. think of managing people the way we build software.
- iterating is such a given in software, solving management problems should be no different
- many ICs who transition into the manager role feel as if they need to be the expert in all the areas, not possible. want to be able to go deep at a moments notice
- you want to be around when your team needs, when it makes sense for your team
- your job is to identify and align the work, not to do the work
- there are 2 kinds of people who will sink your team: 1) the non-performers, 2) strong performers that don’t want to be on your team
- people don’t want levels, they want feedback
- engagement promotes creativity and innovation
- avoid giving bonuses, it buys you compliance not engagement
- you establish the team culture
- build valuing continuous feedback into the culture
- lead by example. be candid, receptive, prompt.
- decouple feedback from incentives. should be focused on improvement not promotion
- non-anonymous 360s
- important to be empathetic and support people who may be affected by things that are happening outside the office (recently Trayvon Martin case). provide support, a safe space in the office, and a clearer leave policy.
- advocate on behalf of your minority reports
- good practice: Think of the person on your team you are most frustrated with. Ask yourself: How would you feel if they left today? What do you see them doing in the future on the team? How will this decision affect you, them, the team? Might they be better elsewhere? Will the team be happier if this person left?
The 2 main takeaways, worth highlighting:
- "the industry seems to overemphasize the technical skills over the management skills."
New managers are trained engineers, not trained managers. The skills it takes to be a great engineer are not the same as those to be a great manager. The industry’s tendency to value technical skills over management skills can cause many issues in team productivity and happiness. It’s important to be aware of this bias and understand that these are two growth paths available to us as engineers. Management is a transition of role, not a promotion.
- "advocate on behalf of your minority reports”
I thought this was an interesting and helpful point to consider that I hadn’t actively thought about before. There is an abundance of proof that supports the tangible difficulties minorities face in this industry. As a manager, it is important to be aware of these trends as well as be empathetic of the effects the happenings outside of work may have on these individuals. For example, we shouldn’t pressure individuals to “be more engaged” when such incidents outside the workplace may affect them. We must figure out how to best support them in these times. Do they need a quiet place to work? Do they need to work from home? Having clear leave policies and dedicated office facilities are important when creating supportive workplaces because it allows for managers to provide this kind of support when necessary. Supporting teammates in everyday situations are just as important as supporting them in times of need. By being aware of some of the biases your minority reports face on a day-to-day basis, you will be more sensitive and aware of habits you may have not recognized before. It’s important to help change these disadvantages from the inside out; call it out, try to change it, defend your team, advocate for them when need be.