Key takeaways from the Effective Manager | Part One

Sometimes we luck out. We open an article‚Äďone we're not even sure where we found‚Äďand read what we need at that moment. Exactly what we need. It seems the world aligns to give us that present. One of these moments was reading that I needed to study management in¬†an article on hackernoon.

I had received a "Project Lead" role a little over one month before, and I was coming short in many different ways. This role in QuintoAndar is not a management role. It's a technical one, focused on technical decisions and organizing the execution of projects. So I guess the reader can forgive me for not being entirely aware that I was very unprepared for the job. And that, yes, I would need to learn some management.

New and increasing responsibilities had swamped our Engineering Manager at the time, creating a vacuum in the team‚Äďthis frequently happens in fast-growing companies. But this vacuum hit me in a blind spot. I was still a stereotypically-skeptical-about-management engineer, and so it was harder for me to see it. But when I saw the quote in the article, it hit me.

"The things that made you good as an operator are going to kill you as a manager. Today your career starts over."

It's a bit dramatic. I'll admit. But it was what I needed. I wasn't ready to be a manager, but the position was open and likely needed to be filled by me. It was a wake up call. I count myself lucky to have had that realization reading an article that recommends two excellent books on management. These books shaped the manager I am today and gave me a lot more confidence on how to behave:

  1. The Effective Manager
  2. High Output Management

I've read many more management books after these, but these are still my favorites. Reading The Effective Manager was a fantastic experience for me. It was the first time I felt I could be a manager. It was the first time I understood what my role was. It was the first time I believed I had the tools to be a manager. I've since stalled many times writing about The Effective Manager*. But no more. I want you to have this fantastic experience too.

"Hundreds, if not thousands, of managers, describe their 'training' this way: 'I got promoted, and they didn't tell me anything about what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to do it. They just gave me a team and wished me luck.' [...] The feeling you have that others know what they're doing, but you don't, is wrong. Almost everyone else doesn't know either."

The book starts with a crucial point: We're in this together. It's hard. You didn't get prepared. You're left to learn at the job something nearly impossible to learn at the job. Most people go their entire careers without learning it. And goes on to share some great insights on how to break that cycle:

  1. How to understand what your role is
  2. The Management Trinity; the four (ūü§Ē) critical behaviors
  3. How to do One on Ones
  4. How to provide feedback
  5. How to coach
  6. How to delegate

In this first part, we will focus on points 1->4

How to understand what your role is

"What is the definition of a good manager?" I am surprised by how long this question went unanswered in my career. I had managers before. Shouldn't I be assessing if they were effective? It's dire that many managers go a long time without knowing the answer to this question. So much thought goes to the activities they think they should be doing and so little into those activities' goals.

The book provides an objective answer to this question:

 The definition of an Effective Manager is one who gets results and keeps her People

Our job is getting results first, keeping our people second, and that's it. Getting one without the other is way easier than getting both together‚Äďwe can always push people beyond their limit to get results, and we can also not push people at all and get complacent. But getting both results and retention is a challenge.

If you don't have your expected results clearly in your head right now as we speak, check this podcast episode out. Otherwise, move on to know what behaviors you need to have to achieve results and retention.

The Management Trinity; the four (ūü§Ē) critical behaviors

"Success at work is about what you do‚Äďyou are your behaviors." The book focuses on what those behaviors should be:

  1. Getting to Know Our People: Understanding their strenghts and weakness. Understanding their motivation. What drives them and what they want for their future. Building trust. This is the very foundation that allows us to achieve results. This should be our primary focus as managers.
  2. Communicating about Performance: One of the main complaints that people have about their managers is that they are left to guess if they're doing well. Communicating objectively and clearly about performance is critical if we want retention and results. This is the second most importante behavior;
  3. Asking for more: We need to be a driving force that pushes our directs forward. That makes them grow and do things they didn't think they could do.
  4. Pushing work down: Pushing work down is one way to allow the company to do more. It's a skill we need to learn and to teach. We need to be able to get new responsibilities as we learn and become better at what we do. To do so we need to push work down;

If you're wondering why it's the Management Trinity and there are four critical behaviors, the authors do explain that:

"The reason 'pushing work down' is the fourth part of our 'Management Trinity' is that, while the first three parts of the 'Management Trinity' create value for the team, 'pushing work down' creates capacity for the organization. [...] The organization is the one who benefits."

Now let's move on to the tools we can use to have those behaviors, starting with one-on-ones.

How to do One on Ones

The authors of the book do research, running experiments on management. After analyzing the behavior and results of thousands of managers, the one-on-ones they recommend are meetings that are:

  1. Scheduled: Scheduling means we value that time. It allows people to come prepared.
  2. Held Weekly: This gives you more opportunities to meet with your directs. It gives you more chances to help and deal with an issue closer to when it happened;
  3. That lasts 30 minutes: 30 minutes is more comfortable to fit into the schedule and gets postponed way less. It's also short enough to drive the meeting to be objective, but long enough to allow us to tackle issues. 30 minutes is also only 1% of your week;
  4. Held with each of our directs: Do not favor anyone. We need this time to talk with all of them;
  5. In which the direct's issues are primary: Always hear more, speak less. Everything our direct has to talk about is primary. We're always more comfortable scheduling extra-time to speak about an issue than our directs are.
  6. The manager takes notes: This enables people to focus on what they have to say. It also helps us to listen better.

How to provide feedback

The most important thing about feedback is remembering why you're doing this. The purpose of performance communications (and therefore feedback) is to encourage effective future behavior. Anything else is about us, not about the situation. Giving feedback is not a way to vent. It's not a way to make us or any other person feel better. It's to encourage effective future behavior.

Feedback needs to come from a place of respect‚Äďeven better when it comes from trust. People don't wake up one day and say, "I'm going to do a lousy job today. I'm going to mess up." They usually have good reasons when they mess up. So if we focus our feedback entirely on "what happened" or on intentions, we are bound to breed resentment.¬†Focus your feedback on behaviors.¬†Focus your feedback on the future.

The author provides a framework to help on giving good feedback:

  1. Ask: When we ask for permission to give the feedback, it makes the message easier to receive. When giving feedback, honor the answer the person has given. If they can't listen at that moment, don't give it**;**
  2. State the Behavior: Single out the behavior you want to encourage and focus on that. Never talk about attitude or intention. Use the situation as context, not the focus**;**
  3. State the Impact of the Behavior: When they understand the impact more clearly, it helps change the behavior. It takes away the chance to say "it doesn't matter";
  4. Encourage Effective Future Behavior: Express gratitude when it's positive, request for improvement when it's negative**;**
  5. Happens as soon as possible: The sooner we give it, the sooner they can adapt their behaviors. Never wait for the performance review.

A tip is to start by only giving positive feedback. Learn what works for you and your teams in a safer environment, then roll out negative feedback once you're comfortable.

I'll send you off with one last thought from the book:

However you manage, your techniques, behavior, and philosophy must be both teachable to others and sustainable

Even if you're an Effective Manager, if you want to train new leaders and if you're going to have long-term results, you need to do more than get the job done. You need to be able to communicate about it. We can't teach our personality, and we can't teach "I don't know." We need to talk clearly about what we do and teach new leaders before moving into the role.

That's it! In the next part, we will talk about How to Coach and How to Delegate. See you then :)

*I've written about High Output Management here, and here :)