The Job That Made Me A Manager

Today it is out : my colleagues received the mail announcing my transition to another team as a manager at Microsoft. Now it really feels real, now I realise that I am leaving this office and the organization that gave me the chance to take on the challange to build a team. I came as a motivated IT professional and project manager and I am leaving as a manager. Feels similar like what I felt when leaving my parents’ house 16 years ago.

So looking back all the things I have done here , here are some of my “read it, do it” notes I made:

Lessons learned  top list

  1.  When it comes to figuring out the reasons and facts about unexpected output or behavior, never assume things or use interpretation based on 3rd party information. Go talk to people,  your decisions and plans have to be based on the data and facts you directly obtain from people you trust.
  2.  Make it crystal clear what you expect from individuals and what the “real deal” goals are for your team. Do not attempt to tell them how to do their jobs and use their expertise.
  3.  You want to make the call and make a decision yourself enforcing your opinion? Fine. But do inform people about it and tell them why. ( It is not a naturally acceptable thing that you get to decide about things on your own all the time.)
  4.  Figure out the Must-Dos and Dont-Dos in your team , set the rules to function, grow and work effectively with you in your team for your employees.
  5.  You don’t have to have all the answers of the questions. But you have to listen to all of them and give the best information you can to your team.
  6.  Face to face conversations with your team members are vital for your job. See them as important as the meetings with your boss or CEO. Do not turn them back when they request a one on one talk. (you are a peoples manager and tell your people you are too busy to talk to them?! …. hmmm…. no does not really make sense)
  7.  You have to take time for each employee, at least an 1-2 hours a month. Go talk to them or work on their career, development, think about their participation in the team and their development potential.
  8.  Work hard on the trust in your relationships with your subordinates. If they give you honest and open feedback, REAL feedback , you can drastically improve yourself (or at least know when and why you sometimes suck)
  9.  If you are feeling angry with somebody or something…There is something wrong with YOU. Go calm down and think about it once again.
  10.  Accept the fact that some people and some sh*tty things cannot be changed so easily. Some things are out of your reach. Stop spending your energy on them  and avoid damaging your mental health for nonsense. Protect yourself and your team from those things.
  11.  Managers delegate! They have their great team to work on the daily challenges, they have to look into the future and work on the long-term plans instead. Be visionary and lead your team towards your visions. (yes let your team fix the last bug you recognized…I know you would have fun doing it too…)
  12.  The best manager is who makes herself redundant with time, one that implements the self managing and growing team or individuals. When that state is reached she should move on. I firmly believe in this especially when it comes to people management. You cannot optimally and productively lead the same team for long…How long? I don’t know, it depends on the field I guess. ( >5 years  sounds a verry good time to start considering a move)
  13.  Do not put your team in a cocoon. It is not only about  you and them. It is the whole team interacting with the whole enterprise.
  14.  You really do not have to go to all the meetings, even if the invitation is coming from upper levels. Do not hesitate to say no if you think it is the better option for your work.
  15.  Meetings are great, ONLY if the people you invited are interested in what you want to tell them or in the result of the meeting. A meeting without meeting notes and/or followup points has not taken place.
  16.  Documentation is great and has to be given priority and incentives to be done. But there is no way that you can turn all the valuable and useful tacit information to an easily accessible , written form. Shadow the people carrying that knowhow you cannot get (for whatever reason) externalized.
  17.  Yes, you cannot change people’s character. But…Team culture is a product of processes and the way of getting things done at work. As a manager you have amazing power to drive the culture.
  18.  Be honest. Base your critique on facts.
  19.  Do not reinvent the wheel, be alert about the individuals with that tendency. You need to help them have fun doing something else.
  20.  Managers must be managed too. Manage yours : have a communication and collaboration strategy. Know his/her style and adapt to it.
  21.  Run away and save your day if people start talking about ops vs. dev or vice versa. Everything else is a better use of your time.
  22.  Try to set a good example for work-life balance for your people. Do not work more than 10 hours or do overtime if it is not really necessary. But do kick a*s when the situation calls for it!
  23.  Fingerpointing in the team? : Act against it asap, make all understand that it is not tolarated and it can have consequences. It is the worst thing ever, total productivity and team killer.
  24.  Kill the procrastination monster in yourself and in your team!
  25.  Celebrate success but know to accept the failures and flops. The BEST learning is from mistakes and failures if you have the culture for it.

Manager Self Check: 3 Practical Questions That You Should Ask Yourself

Practical approaches to management styles, reading life experiences and learnings from other leaders would get your manager brain operate efficiently. My blog should ideally and hopefully provide such content too. I would like people to find interesting, direct and understandable content that they can immediately benefit from (or immediately dislike J ) The books I read, the daily happenings at work, conversations with friends all stimulates my blogger neurons and here are 5 questions I would like to challenge you with today. Your answers might tell you if you are on the right track or potentially suck as manager 🙂

Are you worried about your team when you are on holiday?

So you are getting nervous before leaving for holiday and it took so much effort to figure out who should be accountable for what during your absence in your team. You talked to your people over and over, went through all the details what to do in case a problem comes up and your automatic mail replies for out of office messages are pretty detailed and long. There will be decisions and actions, for which your team will have to wait for you to be back during this time. You are bombarded with mails and work at your first day after holiday.

You, during the first week at least, can’t help thinking about work, keep checking mails and feeling a weird nervousness inside. Some people or open issued really worry you and you try not to remember them at all.

Does this sound like you? Then you might be control freak and your reports are probably some smart workers intelligent enough to execute your decision in the way you describe. Well, do I need to say that? : You probably suck. Consult to any decent management book or couch, you will figure that such managers hardly have long term success. So start doing something about this while you still have credit in your organization. (Assuming there is a real good reason why you turned out to be the manager of your team)

What happens to the collective IQ when you step into a room?

I heard of this concept in a book I was reading recently. The author was talking about managers, usually smart and competitive past individual contributors, who cause a total intelligence drain in any environment they join. They are the smart cookies, they spend enormous energy to prove how good their ideas are and very eager to pinpoint all the mistakes and weaknesses in others’ statements. When they step into the room people are automatically filled with anxiety and the overall IQ of the group decreases significantly. Nobody attempts to come up with individual ideas and suggestion as they know somebody else will do the thinking and their contribution is not really appreciated. These people are internally convinced that nothing will work if they don’t involve with the details and dominantly impact the decisions. It is all about showing everybody how smart and unique they are.

Again, I will recommend you to think about it honestly by yourself. If you are such a manager, deep inside you know it already. It is not easy to face such a hard fact. You don’t need to change and turn into another person overnight, even if people recognize you realize it trying to address that, it can make creativity and motivation flourish in a few weeks, maybe days!

When was the last time you made a good joke?

They say women prefer men with a good sense of humor. Your team is no different. Jokes help you to create bindings to individuals. One makes jokes if he/she really cares about them and spends extra effort to reach them, make them laugh. When people are laughing and enjoying the joke, the power distance between the individual contributors and managers disappear, work place looks like a fun place to be. You show that you don’t actually take yourself so serious. I know better than anybody how hard it is to make good jokes and develop some sense of humor. I am still terrible at that but even that makes people smile sometimes….

Develop consciousness about your mood, your facial expressions and how much fun you share with your team during the day. It will pay off immediately.

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Motivation : 4 Practical Bottomline Facts

Motivating employees is probably the most important and most difficult task that a people manager has. And there are so many web pages, trainings, books and “experts” around. Some hope to inspire themselves by listening to extereme climbers, some swear that the “fish method” has resulted in miracles. I attented personally several  corporate trainings, went through several MBA courses teaching me the most trendy best practices about how employees should be and can be motivated.
But you know what? When it comes to real life, when you have to figure out a realistic and feasible plan as a manager, it is really tough to make the right call. Many shiny teachings and concepts lose their meanings overnight. I have recently realised I know no manager in person who ever told me a specific method , book or framework has been the key motivation leverage for him/her. Management is like sports. It helps a lot if you know the science and build a strong knowledge base for yourself , but at the end of the day what matters is how you train and develop your required muscles.
Frankly, I don’t know how good I am as a motivator. Some honest feedback makes me at least think that I am not a loser in that area. And I believe that some “bottomline” facts resulting from my experiences and learnings can be useful to many other (to-be) managers:
Fact 1 :  Take a look at the person in the mirror
How motivated are you? How fair and realistic would it be to expect that your direct reports can be more motivated than you?
Many of us surely have seen people who are more motivated than their managers. But, I don’t think the managers’ involvement is the real driver of their motivation. After all, if you think you can influence how dedicated and productive a person can become, take an inwards look first and make an honest analysis. Your motivation level will set the limit of your success.
Fact 2 :  People need change to get motivated
Repeating tasks and status-quo are boring. It is in the human nature to lose interest and passion if the same tasks are performed without any challange. Even if you cannot change an employee’s main task, you need to come up with some new ideas and possibilities for change, make them curious and smell some fun involved in their job.
Define goals and objectives which will lead them to success. Be careful tough : If they appear too hard and unreachable , it scares people away. Too easy stuff would not create the excitement and curiosity either, it might even offend them. Think and communicate a lot with your people to find the right balance.
Fact 3 :  Use positive framing
Please take my word , negative feedback and long stories about failures and underperformance will never ever lead to a motivating effect. Concentrate on what is going on well, what your people can do , talk about their strengths not weakneses. Nobody on this earth gets filled with positive and creative emotions when they are exposed to negative words and experiences. It is really about seeing the full half of the glass…..
I hear you saying “so how do I manage underperformance if I cannot confront the employee?!….Well, is the underperformance because of lack of motivation? Or is there something else? Maybe that person is going through a tough personal phase, lack of expertise or work load might be interpreted as underperformance by you. If you believe that motivation is the main factor, ask yourself if a direct confrontation can really be a motivation leverage for that particular person. My experience is in most cases that it is not. Usually your underperformer knows already what others are thinking about him. If he had a solution, he would use it. Or he does not care..This is then your problem as the manager. Where have you been all this time? (ok ok no confrontation for managers either….Verschwiegenes Smiley)
Bottomline here is “understand the cause of the performance problem. If it is motivation related, your task is focusing yourself, the employee and the team on postive goals, succeses, strengths and creating an atmosphere of hope and good intentions“.
Fact 4 :  Don’t be an authocratic, bossy manager
If you are so, you know it already. Maybe you cannot cope with the fact, maybe it is difficult to change. All managers by nature have these tendencies; some of us more , some of us less. Bottomline here is “authocratic, bossy people who are not seriously empowering and giving their professionals the required trust and enablement to work are absolute motivation killers. Stop being so, start trying now!”.

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Meet Mr Hardworking Norisktaking

I am sure all of you have met lots of Hardworking Norisktakings in your career. Maybe they are working for you, they can be your boss, your spouse or friend. They have great attributes which you can benfit from a lot (yeah they work hard) and they might literally drive you crazy in no time. I will shortly call Mr Hardworking Norisktaking MHN in the rest of this article.
MHNs are a practical and responsible people. They are typically known as quite and serious. And they love processes and rules, they adore regulations and doing everything by  the book! As the name implies, working hard and fullfilling their duty is the most natural and maybe the most important thing for them. You can observe a MHN defining steps for executing a job and going through sequential steps for gathering information. You’d better give them a quite environement to work, they need concentration and focus for consistent performance and hardworking.
Such people fit very well into corporations and service based environements. You can be sure that they would not leave office without ressolving the critical issues and are always well-prepared the most situations. In a team they expect clear goals from their managers. Give them tasks in their area of expertise and understanding, they will come back with excellent results. Well, frankly MHNs are not very team oriented and they would do just ok. Try to give them some privacy and independency even as a part of a team.
Coming to driving crazy part…Well.. MHNs do not enjoy surprises and big changes. Innovative and risky stuff is not cool at all for them. You have to force them to be open to new, innovative ideas. They might be critising others  very directly and in a confrontating way but he probably needs a regular alert in his Outlook telling him something like  “don’t forget others achieve things as well…rememeber they also have positive accomplisments!” Very often they miss the train while trying to stick to the tested, known rules. So, that’s not type of resource that should be dominating an R&D department.
Sounds familiar? Are you a MHN? Do you know some?
How can a manager utilize a MHN the best way? How to deal with an underperforming or problematic MHN?
All and more … coming up soon!

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