#29 - Link Roundup, 14 Aug 2020
Responses on difficult discussions; Keeping yourself organized; Asking better questions; 1:1s; Manager READMEs; Common Hiring manager mistakes; Avoid RSI/carpal tunnel
Our question last week was about having difficult conversations with your team members. I got two responses from managers:
Haven’t really needed to have difficult conversations in my team; I have peers who do, but my use of Manager Tools-style feedback has been effective. “May I give you some feedback? When you are on your phone during the staff meeting, it appears as disengagement and others can find that rude. Can you change that for the next meeting? Thanks.” Positive:negative feedback is about 8:1 or even more.
When they do come up, I’ve found having the discussion at the start of the day, when we’re both still fresh, has worked a lot better. There’s no real trick to it that I’ve found; just meet the issue head on, don’t try to guess at the “why”s, be open minded about solutions.
Thanks both for sharing your answers!
The top question on our question board now is on organizational tools:
What tools do you use to keep yourself organized? As a research software developer I had two or three tickets on a JIRA board to keep track of, now as a software development manager I have what feels like dozens of things to be on top of.
I’m going through an organizational tool revamp right now myself, so I’ll be very curious to hear what our readers share. What I’ve found works for me is having a lightly organized “pool” of tasks that are on the go, some repeating and some one-off, and then using a paper notebook to plan priorities for the week ahead and then one day at a time, taking tasks out of and new tasks back into the pool. I had been using Omnifocus for the task pool, but I find that’s an awkward fit. So I’m actually toying with the idea of moving the task pool into something like Trello.
What are other people doing? Hit reply or just email me your answer, and I’ll anonymize it (unless you tell me otherwise) and post it next week for all the readers.
And now, the link round up!
7 Ways Leaders Can Ask Better Questions - L. David Marquet
One of the things I continue to have trouble with is remembering that as a manager my off-the-cuff remarks can sometimes have an importance given to them way out of proportion than what I had intended. In particular, questions from managers are incredibly powerful, and that cuts both ways - they can help show interest and help you learn things about your team members and their work, or they can cause a flurry of counterproductive effort or even end up shutting people down.
Marquet writes about seven bad ways of asking questions we can try to avoid. It’s a short worthwhile read; some that stood out were:
Question stacking - just ask one question then listen
Why questions - this has come up before; at worst it can sound accusatory, and best we are all really good at coming up with plausible-sounding reasons for the “why” of things at the spur of the moment; ‘why’ doesn’t dig deep enough
“Dirty” questions - frame the situation in an unhelpful way
Binary questions - “Are things ready with X?” as opposed to “What more do we have to do/think about with X?”
Every now and then I catch myself doing one of these, which probably means there are more times that I don’t catch. I have a bit more to do on watching how I speak while still speaking freely.
Another good article on one-on-ones. Most of the points are things that you, reader, will be familiar with, but always good to review the basics - particularly the reminder on being prepared and active listening.
There’s some good questions to ask in here too, and I’m always on the lookout for good one-on-one questions to add to my toolbox. I particularly found these ones helpful:
What are your biggest time wasters right now?
Who inspires you in the team? Why?
Would you like to receive more feedback from other team members?
Do you have any concerns when it comes to your role or career opportunities?
Which part of your job do you feel is the most relevant to your long-term goals?
How can I better support you in your job?
These are two recent articles on “Manager READMEs”, or as described in these two articles, “Users Guides” for working with a manager. In the first of the two models, Jay Desai describes his and largely sets expectations around process (availability, one-on-ones, reporting, a new hire’s first six months, how feedback works) with a little bit of troubleshooting advice (“here’s how things sometimes go wrong”). In the second, Julie Zhao focuses hers more on communications styles, values, priorities, behaviours that have caused frictions in the past.
I think going through such a process to be clear in our own minds about how we approach things (and thus, implicitly, that others might approach things differently), our communication styles, our expectations, and where things sometimes go awry, is a really valuable process. These two articles describes different aspects of our our own communications and managerial approaches that might be worth thinking through with that level of clarity.
But posting Manager READMEs is pretty controversial. Not to put too fine a point on it, but part of the reason we’re paid extra to be managers is to adapt to our team members communications styles, etc rather than handing them a leaflet saying “here’s how I communicate”. On the other hand, the other parts - descriptions about process, clarity of expectations, and things that we’re actively working on improving - seems like information that should usefully be communicated to our teams one way or another.
Some common hiring manager mistakes. - Will Larson
Most articles on hiring from the land of tech are focussed principally on problems we in research computing generally don’t have. Managing sustained rapid growth (if only), maintaining a hiring pipeline (which does matter for us, but with the slower pace it’s different) - these aren’t everyday problems in research computing.
On the other hand, several of these mistakes are definitely things I see in research computing teams:
Not getting to yes (or no) by being indecisive, and relatedly Holding candidates in stasis for too long - these are big problems, they cause us to look unprofessional to candidates, and candidates move on
Not knowing what you’re hiring for and, relatedly, Lack of calibration across the hiring panel. From the article: “Time spent upfront on ensuring you’re hiring for the right role will repay itself many times over. Spent more time than seems reasonable. Then, spend even more.” - this is completely true. And once you’ve really understood what you’re hiring for, make sure everyone agrees!
Overly fluid interview loop and Just-in-time interview question - Winging it in an interview just isn’t a good idea. The idea is to compare candidates against first a hire/no hire bar, and then against each other; that comparison is made unnecessarily harder by not having a consistent set of questions you’re asking and then digging deeper into the answers.
Experience Doesn’t Predict a New Hire’s Success - Alison Beard, HBR
In this interview with Prof Chad H. Van Iddekinge of Florida State, Beard discusses Iddekinge’s meta-analysis:
But when we looked at all these studies—and we sifted through thousands to find the 81 with pertinent data—we discovered a very weak relationship between prehire experience and performance, both in training and on the job. We also found zero correlation between work experience with earlier employers and retention, or the likelihood that a person would stick with his or her new organization.
It may seem obvious, but just because someone has filled a similar role in the past - even if they did really well at it! - doesn’t mean they’ll succeed in your role. (And by extension, the fact that they haven’t doesn’t mean that they won’t). As managers we need to dig much deeper than the roles to the actual skills and behaviours that the candidate brought to bear on the problems in their previous work and decide whether those are the skills and behaviours we need in our role.
Managing Your Own Career
Notes on RSI for Developers Who Don’t Have It (Yet) - Shawn Wang
Even though many of us are no longer coding or sysadmining all day, we still do a lot of typing. The interventions needed to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome are way, way smaller than the interventions needed to mitigate and control it once it starts being a problem! A good friend of mine developed RSI and it has significantly affected his work life.
Wang spells out a number of basic ergonomics steps you can take to avoid it becoming a problem. Tilting your wrists up is bad; lots of travel and multiple pressure at the same time like complex keystroke combinations is bad (I knew it, I just knew emacs was trouble!), routine breaks and stretches are good.
Facebook has released pysa, a security-focused static analysis tool for Python.
Crush is the beginnings of a bash-like shell but with real programming language features, typed variables, and pipes which are more than just strings of bytes but allow typed columns.
A recent article drew some attention to Intel’s mOS project which is quietly building a very lightweight, low-noise kernel intended for compute nodes in large clusters; ANL’s Aurora is an intended target.