#66 - Online Manager Training Options
Plus: Better communications; Dreading one-on-ones with a team member; More inclusive leadership from men
I got an important question and comment from longtime newsletter reader Laura Kinkead at University of Zurich:
Do you have any recommendations for online management or leadership courses? My manager has given me the go head to take a course or two, and I’m wondering if you have any recommendations for what may be more or less relevant to the research environment. If it would help to be more specific, an area that I’d like to focus on is coaching and giving feedback.
Also, from your tip in a previous newsletter, I attended the Developer First Tech Leadership conference today, and there were a few talks I found really helpful (I found Kevin Goldsmith’s “When, why, and how to stop coding as your day job” to be particularly clarifying!
It continues to be a problem that there are relatively few good offerings for newish managers generally, and approximately none that take advantage of the expertise we’ve built in research. Here was my response:
Manager-tools virtual effective training: this covers the basics, items you’ve seen in the newsletter - one-on-ones, feedback, coaching, and delegation - with opportunities to practice. It’s relatively reasonably priced ($800 USD, and ~8 hours). There are longer and modestly more expensive in-person trainings as well. This stuff is the fundamentals and translates quite well into research (one reader has had the M-T team give in person training years ago at their organization and the whole research computing organization still uses it). You can go through the manager-tools basics podcasts to get a sense if you’d like the approach.
There are a lot of trainings out there specifically for tech and startups; I continue to think that research computing has a lot in common with early stage startups, with a lot of “will this even work” combined with “will anyone even use this”. Lara Hogan now has a quite modestly priced ($830US) set of at-your-own-pace video courses with a tech flavour here; personally I’d prefer to see some kind of opportunity to practice and get feedback on your skills even at that modest price point, but a lot of people like Hogan’s training (and certainly her writing makes frequent appearances on the newsletter).
On research-specific areas, unfortunately there’s only really one I know about but they’ve restricted their eligibility very narrowly, to postdocs or new group leaders in molecular biology. For those who that fits, the European Molecular Biology Organization, EMBO has some extremely well regarded lab leadership courses (https://lab-management.embo.org/course-overview) - they’re longer, more expensive (€1,800 for the lab leadership course, less for shorter courses like project management).
Upon reflection, I’d add some nonprofit training options, which are good for including topics like managing volunteers (volunteers are a lot like trainees, or volunteer contributors to open source projects), having a clear mission and vision (crucial for any kind of small team with a potentially broad remit) and on funders (a longer post I’ve been meaning to write for a while is that writing a research computing funding proposals is more like going after a nonprofit grant than a science grant). So then I’d add things like Nonprofitready.org.
How about you, RCT readers: what trainings and opportunities would you suggest to Laura and other readers? And what kinds of trainings would you like to see? What topics should be included, and what would the ideal format be - at-your-own-pace online materials, group classes with discussion, one-on-one training? Let me know and I’ll share it next week with other readers (with your permission) - hit reply and it’ll just go to me, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For now, on to the roundup!
It’s too easy for us as manager to say things to a team member one-on-one or to the team as a group and for it to seemingly not register, or for it to be understood in a different way we intended.
Rapoport has a useful model for those of us in tech of how to think about these misfires. In Rapoport’s model, the purpose of communication is to successfully transmit (or receive) an idea or mental model, and in doing so update someone’s internal state. This is certainly true for important communications where what you’re trying to get something significant across and are willing to put some thought into how to do that. Whether you’re trying to keep someone informed of something, teach them something new, have them look at something in a new way - or to receive those same things from someone else - he distills his approach into four points:
Communication only exists as a mutation of someone else’s internal state
Focus entirely on what mutation you’re trying to accomplish
Be thoughtful about how to accomplish that mutation
Validate THAT mutation occurred
What’s useful about this is that it reminds you, as ever, of the audience, and that they have a whole lot of complex state in there you don’t even know about. So it’s crucial to validate that the idea got across!
I’d add that another purpose for communication is to build relationships, which is sort of a mutation of state but slowly over time, and so probably doesn’t lend itself to this approach, but that’s easy enough to think about in other ways.
Hogan takes that same deliberate approach in the construction of a communications roll-out model for a new important message to a larger audience. That could be some significant change in focus being communicated within a big organization, or it could be something like a new software project or conference being communicated out to a research community at large.
Having a plan, and rolling out the communications slowly (first one-on-one or one-on-few, then onwards to increasingly broadcast modes of communication) gives you a chance to think critically about the audiences and the strategy - focussing on the mutations you’re trying to accomplish and being thoughtful of it. It also gives you the chance to get feedback on what is being communicated (validating that the mutation is occurring) early on, letting you clear up misunderstandings, gaps, and ambiguities early on in the process.
How Men Can Be More Inclusive Leaders - David G. Smith, W. Brad Johnson, and Lisen Stromberg, HBR
If something - anything! - is truly important at work, then you adopt and communicate it as one of your small number of priorities, learn about it, set targets for it, and have transparency and accountability for those targets. Then you try stuff, listen carefully about why current approaches are and aren’t working, and iteratively make changes to what you’re trying and the targets.
Smith, Johnson, and Stromberg suggest taking that approach in your inclusion efforts, with a focus on what changes when the priority is as important but sensitive as inclusion. Their recommendations:
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable - sometimes you’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear,
Make It Personal and Visible - to have credibility, and
Design Transparency and accountability into the efforts
What if you dread 1:1s with a direct report? - Lara Hogan, LeadDev
You’re not going to look forward to all one-on-ones equally. If there are some you find yourself dreading, that’s an indicator light that something needs looking at in the relationship, on your side or theirs.
After digging into things to understand what’s bothering you about the meetings or relationship, figuring out what you need, and making clear to yourself what is and isn’t your responsibility, Hogan suggests working with your team member to figure out a way forward:
Learning what they need from you, by asking them what’s worked in the past
Figure out whether you can provide that
Decide and communicate what you will and won’t be doing as their manager - setting clear boundaries and expectations.
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