Thoughts on managing people
Wednesday, 16 December 2020
Managing people is hard. Not only you need to manage up, you need to manage down and around. I remember when I was promoted to a manager at Vrbo, suddenly my awareness is amplified. I can now see and listen to things that were not visible before: now I know what that coworker's desire is, and what his problems are. Now, they're my problems too. When you become a manager, you are carrying the team's perspectives with you.
Throughout my short 1-year management role at Vrbo, here are some things that I learned:
1 — Being a senior designer means you're responsible only for a particular project or area, and the stakeholders you are directly working with. Being a manager means you're constantly thinking about the many stakeholders including the ones you don't work directly with. You also become a mini-CEO of the company of some sort, albeit not fully, because you have to think about the health of the business.
2 — What you say (and what you tweet, what you post on LinkedIn) also matter. People will see you as the representative of the team or the company. You can't just make any statement that will potentially harm the company or the product. Even if you say your tweets are yours, there are boundaries to be adhered to.
3 — People say it can be lonely at the top. I think that's true. Your decision-making circles have shrunk, and suddenly you're making more decisions within a smaller circle but on the weight of a company or a product line. Now you have more people depending on your decisions, but less people who will approve it — which means you have to make decisions and hold it yourself. Any consequences of your actions will be your responsibility, and not your team's. Although the good thing is any good consequences will be your team's too.
4 — Your most important task as a manager is your team's wellbeing. Work and productivity will follow. It's a false dichotomy when you say that you need to make sure your team is productive and then you take care of the wellbeing. How to do this? Use 1:1s mostly for personal talks, not work-related. Work-related stuff can come at any other day which you have plenty in your disposal.
5 — There's not only bad reason to low performance, there might be good, valid ones. It might not necessarily be the employee's fault. Find out if there's something wrong with the system, the team or the project. Or, it might be you.
6 — Managers tend to try to solve problems and give solutions. Many times this is not what people are expecting if they come up to you, unless they specifically ask for solutions. What they mostly need is words of affirmation that it's sometimes okay to delay, to fail, to do what they think are good. Your job here is to listen.
7 — Burnout is real, and it doesn't necessarily mean the amount of work is overwhelming. Quality over quantity. Sometimes, the type of work might be too difficult or the problem too frustrating. Maybe, there are team members who are increasing the burden. We need to make sure that we know the root cause of burnout and mitigate it.
8 — Every person is different. One person might require frequent check-ins. Others might just need biweekly 1:1s. One person might require continuous feedback. One other person needs encouragement. Whatever you do, never standardize, and put everyone on the same shoes.