You are a manager, you have people under your supervision and you are responsible for the results of their work. Are you familiar with the feeling of confusion, strong dissatisfaction with the quality of your employees’ work, and you do not know the background to this phenomenon? The cryptic phrase “something went wrong…” – is all you can say about what’s going on, but maybe it’s not so bad, just a bit of thinking.
This is the first and most important point. Never forget that we are all human. It sounds banal to me, but for many managers, people at work just become man-hours.
Even if you call them all by their first name, they still feel what they are to you: people or man-hours. And the man-hour will never come to you with his problem, because you’ll start negotiating: why don’t you go home today and work tomorrow? It’s easier for the man-hour to wait until the end of the day.
For me, being human means discussing a personal problem with a human being and leaving work issues out of it. It’s when, between saving a burning project and saving a person, you choose the person and solve their problem, not the project’s problem. It’s when you’re not the boss, but a friend.
The work will end sooner or later, but the relationship with the people will continue. In my practice, I have never seen it abused, let alone perceived as a weakness. And I’ve never seen a project suffer as a result.
Learning to manage
When you were a performer, you were constantly reading technical literature, articles and watching video tutorials. When you become a manager, your tool becomes people, but you continue to read technical literature.
Managing people is not natural, you have to learn it. Of course you can manage without books, but you will do it unprofessionally.
As a manager, you will have to defend the interests of your team, and you will be able to do this much better if you know the theory of negotiation and understand the psychotype of the person you are talking to.
So if you are going to be a manager, read books: not just “how to manage”, but also literature on psychology, the structure of thought, hiring people, negotiation, marketing, project management, economics.
Figure out what you’re controlling
Someone wrote that there is no authority without fear. If you’re not feared, they won’t take your opinion into account. I’ve seen leaders who really feel that way. Their life principle: “I am the boss, you are a fool, the rest does not matter.
You can gain authority only through expertise: you have to know about the things you are managing. This applies to an executive at any level. A top manager can and should have specialized assistants, but when you’re running the rocket industry, you have to understand at least something about it. Without that, there is no credibility.
If you manage a development team, you have to know the principles of development and basic things: patterns, collections, algorithmic complexity, etc. Ideally, you should be a programmer, at least in the past. You may not know all the intricacies of a language, especially if you have a large team and use many languages, but you should be able to read that code and be aware of the existence of basic frameworks.
Without an understanding of what you’re managing, you can’t assess timelines, risks, or costs.
If you don’t understand something, then either learn it, or don’t try to manage it. You do not have to try to be the smartest, but you do not have to be the dumbest either.
Admit your own and other people’s mistakes
I have made many mistakes in my life and at work. And I always admitted them honestly. You’re not fooling anybody by trying to fiddle around like a frying pan anyway. Moreover, you shouldn’t try to blame your faults on someone else – that’s a big disadvantage to your credibility.
Admitting your mistakes publicly has a magical effect. The team has a clear understanding that it’s OK to make mistakes, that it’s perfectly normal. They understand that mistakes do not make them look stupid, and no one will scold them too much. They become more courageous in their work, they take responsibility, they take risks more often – all of which gives both the people and the company a strong competitive advantage in the long run.
If people always work in fear of making a mistake, they will become very conservative, they will stop using innovative approaches and fresh knowledge.
Let the man correct his own mistake
I often stand in front of copies of emails where my people are corresponding with someone. Sometimes I see that someone on my team is offering the wrong solution.
In this case, I stay out of the general correspondence, which shows how clever I am at the cost of making my employee look bad. Instead, I write or call the person and tell them they made a mistake in their email. We discuss the right decision and they write it in their own name.
You don’t have to embarrass people publicly – give them a chance to redeem themselves.
Protect your people
You have to be the shield that takes all the heat. Always defend your team’s decisions. Even if they’re not always right, act as a damper and let the team sort it out and correct it.
No one in the company should have the right to influence your team without you. Not even your boss. If someone wants to criticise your people, let them do it to you and you’ll sort it out.
Defend the team from the company itself if you have to. Introduce a new bureaucratic rule – think about how you can stop the team being distracted by it.
If you’re a funny guy who likes to make fun of friends and family in life, keep it that way at work.
If you want to call something shit, call it shit, not shit. If someone writes bad code, say “You wrote bad code”.
Be honest about your plans
Always tell it like it is. If a project is no longer funded and is about to go under, be honest about it. If there are plans to change something, tell them in advance, not just before.
If the company is planning to downsize, don’t hide it. It’s better to say later that the plans didn’t come to fruition than to give notice. If the company is planning to increase everyone’s pay – tell them too.
The team should always know what’s going on in the company, and it’s better if they hear it from you.
Only make promises that you can keep. If you can’t increase their salary, just say so. Don’t say, “It’s a tough economy right now, but things will be better tomorrow. You don’t know if things will get better or not, but your credibility index will go down.
Everyone in the team should have a fair salary
I’m not talking about a high salary, I’m talking about a fair salary among the people in the company. Sometimes you can’t make it the highest on the market for everyone. There is always a company that pays more and a person that gets more.
To understand whether it is fair or not, I use this trick for myself: if one day all the salaries in the company were made public, would I feel ashamed in front of the team? If so, that’s bad, you need to fix it.
Always look at the market and get promotions for your team. If you know that after Vasya leaves you will have to look for a person with a higher salary, do everything to get him a raise.
If you see that the person wants to grow in their career, help them to do so. If you can’t do it within your team, find them a place in another team. If you can’t do it within the company, let them go and give them a good reference. In fact, call his future boss and tell him what a great guy he will be working for.
Just don’t make the mistake of turning a good developer into a bad manager, or making a “boss” of someone who didn’t really want it and can’t refuse. If in doubt, try promoting them in “demo mode”: turn on new features temporarily, and see if they like it. Or, when you go on holiday, leave them in charge and see how they do.
By constantly developing your team, you will grow yourself.
Taking responsibility and blame
I have been in meetings where managers brought their subordinates to tell the customer why they had made a mistake. It looked very, very strange to me.
As a manager, you are responsible for everything that happens. You get paid for it. If someone messes up, you take all the blame and then you decide whether or not to deal with the employee.
This often leads to inexperienced managers resorting to micromanagement. If it’s always my fault, then I’m the only one who makes all the decisions, it’s a trap. So you run the risk of becoming the centre of all decisions, drowning in work and leaving your team unsupervised. And you will still make mistakes.
The team will have to make decisions without you, and you, as a true leader, will have to take responsibility for them.
But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t have responsibility. They should have a lot of responsibility, but you don’t have to take it away from them – you’ve given them that responsibility, so you have to ask them.
The team should be able to work without you
Don’t set yourself up as the person without whom the work will stand up – it’s a road to nowhere and a false sense of need. You won’t be able to rest on holiday, you won’t be able to celebrate in peace. Processes need to be built so that the team can work without you. The ideal is not to be disturbed once during a two-week holiday.
This does not make you a useless person. On the contrary, it shows that you’ve managed to build processes so that there are no points of failure.
You have highly paid professionals working with you, hired specifically for their knowledge and skills – trust them. You don’t need to check their work or tell them what to do.
You don’t have to have pointless meetings where nothing gets resolved. Daily status meetings of 1.5 hours have little credibility. The same goes for the 15 minute Scrum standups – I could write a whole article on their ineffectiveness and blind adherence to any methodology.
There should be no irreplaceable people in the team
Always consider the bus factor. It is understandable that someone is better at certain tasks and there is a temptation to give them those tasks, but this is a dangerous way to go.
We had a real bus factor at work when the chief sys-admin was hit by a car. There were instructions and accesses and lots of other things. The only thing missing was the person who could use it all. There was an illusion that everything was documented and that it would help to pick things up quickly. In practice, it took the smart guys six months to move in.
So try to have a rotation of tasks. Yes, Vasya will do it slower and worse than Petya, but Vasya will have expertise and will be interested in trying something new – a double benefit.
In the same way, find someone who can do your job: give them some of your tasks, train them. Your replacement should always be ready.
Give a little more than the company gives
If you can get yourself some handy perks above and beyond what the company offers, do it.
Does the company allow you to work from home for two days? Give your people three days.
The company standard is Windows. Get Linux or Mac for your people.
Give everyone a 5% salary indexation. Convince management that yours deserves 7%.
If someone comes out on their day off to save the company, give them +1 day off on top of their statutory pay.
Then your unit will always be a bit elitist and people will want to join. They won’t just want to work in the company, they’ll want to work in your unit.
Don’t take up people’s personal time. Don’t actively promote all kinds of team-building activities. People already want to socialise outside of work and will do so without your “come on, let’s do it”.
When the working day is over, don’t bother people and forget about work yourself. They’ve already given up most of their day to work, don’t try to take the rest of their time away from them. Of course, they’ll answer you and even go to work if you ask them to. But they’ll get wind of it very quickly if it’s an artificial deadline and not a real production need.
Holidays are sacrosanct. If someone feels the need to call someone on holiday every day, let alone ask them to work – you’ve done something wrong, you need to fix it. That person is a bottleneck. Just don’t go overboard: it’s understandable to call for 2 minutes to ask something – that’s fine.
Watch how you look
No matter how many people say “as long as a man is a good man”, people still pay attention and draw conclusions from your appearance.
The smell of stale clothes, a nose ring, pink hair and a spiked collar are a cross to your career. They may turn a blind eye if you’re hired as a tester or developer, but you won’t have any career progression. You can rant all you want about fairness, individuality, prejudice and so on, but your appearance still affects a lot of things around you – that’s how human psychology works.
A fit, well-smelling, charismatic executive who knows when to wear shorts and when to wear a suit will achieve more than a guy who smells of sweat and socks, even if he is smarter.
Regularly ask the team what they like, what they dislike, what they would like to change. You can do this individually, collectively or anonymously. Once you’ve got the feedback, be honest about what’s bothering people.
If you have other managers reporting to you, you need to have a mechanism to get anonymous feedback from any employee. And in general, always have that mechanism: people may not like something, but they’re not ready to come out and say it.
Have administrative levers
Sometimes you get difficult people in the team. You couldn’t identify them in the interview, or you get a ready-made team. They bring the whole team down, and the inability to do anything about it further demotivates everyone.
In such cases, you need to have some administrative leverage to influence these people: it could be a bonus, the ability to transfer someone out of your unit, or even a well-drafted employment contract and job description. There has to be something more powerful than “ouch, ouch, ouch, you’re no good”.
It’s fine if you never have to use it, but there has to be leverage. Like an airbag in a car.
Keep in touch after you leave
You’ll change companies and people will leave. That’s no reason to stop communicating, sometimes quite the opposite. Always break up normally and try to keep in touch after you leave. It’s possible that one of them will become your manager in the future.
Check in regularly to see how they are doing and ask if they want to come back. Some may be disappointed with their new employer and too embarrassed to ask them back. This is where you suggest it yourself.
Be kind, but not weak. Be loyal, but don’t stick your neck out. Know how to demand results from people. If there are rules, they must be followed by everyone, including you.
Do not allow people to think that your instructions can be ignored. Know how to praise people in public and how to scold them in private. Learn to negotiate so that you can defend your positions and get your way.
In general, do your job, not just be a formality.
Have a financial cushion for six months of your life
This is general advice for any professional in general. A person who is not afraid of being fired will be able to offer bold risk-taking solutions.
A financial cushion will allow you to defend your position to your superiors and give you the courage to say “let me do this, if it doesn’t work, fire me”. It’s a very powerful statement that deserves respect, but be prepared to be fired.
A person who is afraid of losing their job works less efficiently – they don’t take risks, they keep their mouth shut. Turn down a promotion because you’re afraid you won’t make it and you’ll lose your job.
Yes, even without a financial cushion, you can find a new job tomorrow. And in the meantime there’s a worm in your head: “What if you can’t, what are you going to do? – It gets in your way.
Doing just these simple tips can make a difference in a company’s revenue. We have tested this ourselves, as well as many of our clients. It works. Apply it!