#142 - Feedback eBook
Plus: Leaders choose their own problems; No is positive; Managers matter; Effective training and effective communication; Your first months as a director
Happy 2023, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holidays and that the new year has been good to you so far.
This will be a short newsletter while we all get back into the swing of things.
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First, I want to share a success story from a reader who wrote in to share with the community:
[…] I used the feedback discussion from December to write a short but detailed email to each team member at the end of December. I told them what impressed me most and related it to how they helped the team overall. The emails were VERY well received and told me how they were feeling, so the feedback to them also was feedback to me. […] Thanks for the idea
That’s great! I’ve done this for a team as a whole, but never to individuals. People really want to hear about the impact they’re having, and the end of a year (or project or quarter or..) is a fantastic time to share that with them.
Secondly - I’ve gotten a lot of other questions and discussions about feedback recently. Feedback is something we all know that we should be doing, but it can be hard to get started with. I’ve put together a first draft of my feedback ebook; it’s along the lines of the getting started with one-on-ones resource I shared at the start of the pandemic.
Is that something you’d be willing to help review (and provide your unvarnished feedback on)? If so, in exchange I’d be happy to set up a series of calls with you to help overcome that potential barrier, and start giving more frequent feedback to your team members. Let me know if that’s something that would be of interest - as always, just hit reply or email me at email@example.com
Now, on to the first roundup of the year!
Leaders make their own problems - Jade Rubick
I talk a lot about prioritizing and choosing strategies as managers of teams. The reason for that is because it’s often up to us to set these directions, even though no one actually explicitly tells us so.
Rubick describes the realization he came to as a director, that it was up to him to set direction for his teams. We’re often hired as experts, and expected to handle more ambiguity than would usually be the case for someone of our seniority. That means even as first-level managers for our teams (especially research computing and data teams), we have the opportunity - really, the responsibility - to set priorities and goals for our piece of the organization.
A lot of managers and leads I work with hadn’t come to that realization before. They think they have to do everything, and so burn themselves sand their teams out; or they think they just have to execute on exactly the list of tasks the team was doing when they arrived. But our job is one notch harder and more ambiguous than that. It’s generally up to us to figure out what we should be doing as well as how to do it well.
Rubick passes on the advice his peers and manager gave him in this situation - to look at the organization’s situation from several points of view; to seek out and review big picture objectives; to review past progress against those objectives; and to start setting directions of your own, informed and given at least tacit approval by stakeholders.
No is Positive - Avishai Ish-Shalom
Every “yes” is a mindless, implicit “no” to many other more valuable things; Use “yes” sparingly.
One of the few zero-sum aspects of our career is where we spend our time. Our and our teams time is very much finite. Every task we take on corresponds to at least one task we are implicitly rejecting because we will no longer have the resources to do it.
You can say yes to anything; you just can’t say yes to everything. Choose wisely.
To Retain Your Best Employees, Invest in Your Best Managers - Erica Keswin, HBR
Just a reminder that our work is important, and our work together in this newsletter, sharing ideas with each other, is an important way to help each other out.
Keswin’s article points out how much influence managers have on people’s experience of their jobs, and so how willing they are to stay. The article describes a number of initiatives companies are taking to support and train their managers; we… probably don’t get that kind of support. But we can share ideas together, at conferences and online.
Do you have any ideas about how we can use this newsletter community to do a better job of sharing ideas from the readership? I’d love to hear them - let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing Your Own Career
Managing Your Career Without a Manager - Saswati Saha Mitra
Effective Communication requires more than just Good Communication - Matt Schellhas
Many of us don’t get a lot of input from our managers. Even if we do, our own career management is ultimately our responsibility, and it’s worth managing actively.
Mitra describes her own experience, focusing on her craft (the work itself), connections within and across the organization, better understanding that organization, and looking for stretch opportunities.
Coming from the world of research, most of us are pretty good at making sure that our craft - our skills - are maintained and grow. Maybe that’s IC hands-on work, or maybe you (say) subscribe to a newsletter on management! And we have a pretty good idea of what projects or efforts are high-visibility and could grow us and our careers in ways we would like.
But it’s easy for us to leave out the people-systems side of things. The connections across an institution (or across institutions), and really understanding how our organization (or our funding agencies, or other stakeholders) make decisions that affect our work. This side of things is really important, and rewards careful attention and investment in time. That’s especially true if you want to enact change (by for instance following advice from Hack Your Bureaucracy, #135).
Shellhas’s article talks about what effective communication looks like when you’re first talking with other teams, and then attempting to collaborate with them. Effective collaboration is more than just knowledge transfer; building collaborations means you’re trying to affect behaviour. That means how well you word something doesn’t really matter in and of itself; what matters is what happens at the recipient’s end of your communications.
Effective communication means understanding the others’ point of view; communicating in such a way to be valuable, relevant and actionable to them; and comunication in a timely way (before key decisions are made).
The Seven Dispositions of Task Management - Michael Lopp
Our tasks as managers and leads have a much richer lifecycle than just “not started”/”in progress”/”done”. “Not started” and “in progress” can cover a lot of ground, and being honest with ourselves about why our task is not started yet or is started but taking so long can uncover a lot. This is a super short piece discusses that more eloquently than I can.
How To Spend Your First 30 Days In a New Senior-Level Role - Lara Hogan
An in-depth guide to everything you should do in your first three months as a first-time manager of managers - Lena Reinhard
Becoming a Manager of Managers - Brandford Fults
Whether you’re thinking about becoming a manager-of-managers (the usual name, if not always title, for this job, is “Director”) or just want to understand the constraints your manager is operating under, learning what the job entails is useful.
Hogan and Reinhard have very specific advice for the first weeks in this role (which echo my suggestions for taking on any new responsibility as in #130). Hogan calls it “Sponge mode” for the first 30 days; Reinhard talks about gathering information. The first task is to talk to seek out information, talking to everyone, and only once you’ve been listening a while look to synthesize. Reinhard particularly calls out your own boss as part of that, to understand their goals for your organization. She also spells out the next two months - finding support, understanding what you need to do vs your teams need to do, developing communications “infrastructure”, and start planning for next steps. Both articles are very good and well worth reading.
Fults takls about the job once you’re settled in. First The delineation between your work and your direct report’s work can seem blurrier as a manager of managers. As a manager of individual contributors, there was a clear delineation for at least some tasks between IC and manager work. As a director, your direct reports are also managers, so overstepping lines can be worryingly easy.
Also, just the scope of work is much larger. You’ll be increasingly expected not just to collaborate and coordinate with your teams, but across larger swaths of the organization. The time horizon is much larger, too.
Finally, by the time problems reach you, they’re already Big Problems; the ICs and the managers have already tried to fix them.
A thoughtful reflection on going from a low-process culture to a high-process culture, and what process is and isn’t good at.
Oh sure, you could make sure you never access an array out of bounds by constantly checking each access, like a chump. Or you could use GPT3 to extrapolate arrays beyond their endpoints. What could go wrong?
What Ada Lovelace’s computer program actually did (calculated Bernoulli numbers, and without any bugs!)
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,
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