#125 - I want you to outgrow this newsletter
Plus: Becoming more strategic; Give more better feedback
I’ve been catching up on some reader feedback now that I’m back in the swing of newsletter things. Thank you all so much for your emails! I’ve learned a lot from our exchanges, and often shifted my position on things (or at the very least corrected how I talk about those things).
I especially appreciate pushback. Some areas I’ve really gotten pushback on in the past couple of weeks are what I’ve written about strategy and strategic planning (#116, #121). Discussion about those topics has helped me realize that I’ve never really been explicit about the audience I’m prioritizing for this newsletter.
In the past I’ve worked with VPs, directors, and those that report to them, people putting together strategic plans for national communities, and those reporting to CIOs. People in those roles are doing important work, and deserve more support than they get!
But the most urgent need in our community, and the priority for me in this newsletter, isn’t supporting those that already regularly meet with CIOs or VPs. It’s helping the first-level managers of individual small teams, and those who aspire to have more say in leadership in of those groups. Managers and leads and aspirants who were never given any training, are still given little to no direction or support, and yet find themselves accountable for a key function. People trained in academia’s years-long timescales, who are now having to figure out on their own how to run a team that has people depending on them weekly for firm deliverables. People managers still new to hiring, managing, and figuring out how to structure and strategize their organization.
There are thousands and thousands of people in your position. As first-line managers, you are the absolute backbone of organizations. The rubber hits the road, projects succeed or fail, at the level of your teams and organizations. And I am routinely frustrated — outraged wouldn’t be too strong a word either — by how little support and training and resources you get.
Everyone is more than welcome to read this newsletter, of course, and give me feedback and pushback! I especially hope that more people in director and higher level roles read the newsletter too, if only to better appreciate the needs and challenges of the line managers.
But I can only write for one audience at a time, and this newsletter is for you.
Not forever, though. If I do my job well, you’ll outgrow this newsletter after a while. If you unsubscribe because you’ve become more confident in your skills and ability and knowledge, and don’t need this long weekly newsletter cluttering up your mailbox any more, I will count that as an enormous success for the newsletter. My hope is that after then, as you become more senior, you’ll give the incoming managers and leads more direction and support than you received. Maybe you’ll even recommend this newsletter to them. And perhaps you and I could work together in different ways.
And now, on to the roundup!
Routinely giving direct feedback is, I think, one of the hardest skills for many managers coming from academia and tech to master. But it’s absolutely vital. Probably everyone reading this wishes that the people they report and are accountable to gave them more feedback. Like you, your team members and peers deserve to know what the expectations for their work are, and when they are exceeding or failing to meet= those expectations. If you won’t tell them these things, if you won’t share that information, how can they possibly learn it? What will they learn instead?
Majors emphasizes the need for clarity of feedback, that you’re giving it for the right reasons, and that you give it frequently (“don’t wait for a ‘wow’ moment”) and that it’s mostly positive.
Stainer provides a meta-model for feedback - the Centre for Creative Leadership’s SBI model that Google uses (and that Majors recommends), Manager-Tools Feedback Model, and Lara Hogan’s feedback equation all follow this basic structure pretty closely. Note that this model can and should be used to give positive reinforcing feedback, and to give it significantly more often than you give negative corrective feedback:
A question and a micro-yes: e.g., “Can I give you some feedback?” or “Can I share some ideas how we could improve this?”. Back off if they say no.
Stating the data point on behaviour
Stating the impact
Ending on a question either seeking information or asking for change
Then he suggests a habit of seeking opportunities to give more feedback (again, mostly positive).
Reducing Friction - C J Silverio
Silverio gives us a great article on a key role for technical leadership of a team and an organization - reducing the number of things slowing the team down unnecessarily, rather than trying to speed them up somehow.
The theme is reducing the friction in the system. Having enough process that people know how to do things, and having friction where needed (cars can’t drive without friction between the wheels and the road!) but not unnecessary aerodynamic drag coming from either overly heavyweight processes or inadequate tooling and support.
The article correctly points out everyone agrees these are bad things, but that friction builds up over time, to the point that people might not even really see it. “That’s just the way things work here”. Constantly reducing friction requires eternal vigilance.
Managing Your Own Career
A nice post by the Stay SaaSy team on what becoming a more senior leader entails:
You need to build a machine that repeatably produces the outputs that you owe the [organization], rather than focusing on producing the outputs themselves through personal heroics or force of will.
The post also mentions accepting a larger scope of responsibility, winning with people you don’t necessarily like, and that you need to constantly search out feedback.
Related to the increase in scope, Chris Williams who has a long career in tech leadership posted a short and terrific description of what hearing “be more strategic” means as feedback. It’s a tiktok video — yes, your faithful Gen-X correspondent is linking to tiktok videos now, and no, don’t worry, there’s no Research Computing Teams tiktok series coming up. He has a lovely diagram of the implied increase in scope of thinking along both time and organization dimensions, which I’m stealing from shamelessly to include here.
Terrific news, everyone - there’s a Unicode-to-EBCDIC encoding, which means that we know how to type poop emojis on punched cards.
XScreensaver was released 30 years ago.
A cute postgres-in-the-browser playground for learning and testing your psql skills without setting up (and messing up) a postgres server.
Performing efficient anti-joins.
And that’s it for another week. Let me know what you thought, or if you have anything you’d like to share about the newsletter or management. Just email me or reply to this newsletter if you get it in your inbox.
Have a great weekend, and good luck in the coming week with your team,