Around 2001 I started a new job during the tech depression providing desktop support. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing but I did need to eat. I remembered that my manager was a little “off” but that I really liked him. He was the type of guy that you see “reassigned” to IT because, for whatever reason, the business units didn’t get along with him. His name was Bruce.
Around that same time, the organization’s senior management had spent untold-ed dollars on a Gartner study. I was unaware of the details of this study but before I started each employee was required to take an anonymous test about how they rated the organization. The only other thing I know about the study is that every manager in the company received a book called First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.
Sitting in Bruce’s office one day, I remember seeing his copy of the book sitting on top over about 8 inches of random papers. I thought it was cool that he was trying to improve himself by reading a book about management. He then explained to me that it was assigned reading and that he “couldn’t wait to get started” while he smiled sarcastically. Right then, he handed me the book and told me to read it and let him know the highlights. Probably a smart move on his part as those papers were just going to eat that book anyway.
It’s kind of funny that, at 23 with no plans to manage anyone, I read that book in nearly a single sitting later that week. I really liked the book and I was impressed that any organization would pay millions of dollars to study it’s workforce and train it’s management team on how to be “great”. I also knew I needed to give my boss all the highlights just so I could reap the benefits of the study.
Without opening the book, I remember that they did an extensive study and found that your relationship with your manager is the number one determent of satisfaction at work.
I’m staring at that copy of the book sitting on my desk right now. I pulled it off the shelf because I woke up the other day and realized that I am a manager now and I haven’t given much thought to what that really means. This whole manager thing kind of sneaks up on you. It’s not like there is a ceremony when you become a manager. I’m imaging in my head being nighted by King Arthur himself. Yeah… That doesn’t happen.
I think I was informed during an unrelated conversation one random day that a few people would now report to me. It came off more like formality because some org chart demanded to know who reports to who. I didn’t receive any instructions or advice. With all the other personal responsibilities that I have I didn’t really process what it all meant… and you don’t until you actually sit down and give it some thought.
When you think about it, given the one thing I remember from the book, it’s a great responsibility. Apparently, my actions will be the number one predictor of job satisfaction for anyone who reports to me? Left unmanaged, I could really screw that up. I guess I should lay out some basic rules and get started.
1) Hold a weekly one-on-one with each direct report.
You shouldn’t assume that your direct report will track you down when they have something to say. Some people will just assume that you are too busy to be approached or that eventually you will be sitting still long enough for them to come talk to you. I remember the one thing I requested when I started my first consulting job was that I wasn’t left alone at a customer site to “just figure it out.”
A good manager will dedicate at least 1 hour per week, on a calendar, to talk to just that person. You might have a set agenda or just leave it open ended. The important thing is that each person on your team knows that there is at least one hour where they will have your time without distractions.
Action Item: Send an email to each team member and block off a recurring time slot each week.
2) Read some management books
If you are used to reading books to teach yourself a technical topic then why wouldn’t you do the same to teach yourself how to manage people? There are countless books on the topic. I’m positive that there are a few classics among them.
Action Item: I will start by rereading the two management books I already own:
- First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
- Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager
3) Think about team building
It’s not all about your relationship with a direct report. Your team will interact, learn from each other, and produce work independently of your direction. Nurture this and let them run with it. At the end of the day remember that we are people and that relationships are essential to our well-being.
Action Item: Schedule a weekly team meeting or come up with something more creative.
4) Remember the Golden Rule: Manage others how you want to be managed
Think about all the different managers you’ve had and their various styles of management. Remember what you did and didn’t like about each one of them. Remember all those qualities you wished your manager had but didn’t.
Action Item: Be empathetic and think about what your direct reports might need. How about asking them? See item #1.
Come back to this after reading one of the books and after implementing the action items from above.