A Guide to Bare Minimum Management
It can take years to be a great manager. What does it take to be a moderately fine manager?
This is an article on how to manage. However, you shouldn't necessarily stop reading because you're not a manager. This could also have been called 'management for non-managers'. Plenty of people fall into management at some point, and this covers the bare basics to ensure you get past the first few months without completely screwing things up. I guess that's not holding the highest bar, but that's where we are.
Knowing the basics of management helps if you're becoming a manager. It's useful if you might become a manager someday. And it's useful if you end up reporting to a brand-new manager, as they need as much help as they can get.
Is this a complete guide for first time managers? Absolutely not. I can't email that to you, and few people would read it. Although, I keep thinking about writing that book. If you know a great "Introduction to Technical Management" book, please let me know (reply to this newsletter). I'd want to see what else is out there.
I hope you have a great week!
However, many people don't choose a management career after careful consideration and training. Often circumstances toss someone into a management position. They may do it temporarily, or they may end up choosing management as their long-term career.
I regularly coach experienced employees. In my experience, most senior individual contributors ended up as a manager at some point in their career. It's something that happens to people. Like stubbing your toe, or getting something stuck between your teeth while eating corn on the cob.
I've recently had multiple people talk to me about challenges they were having with either an inexperienced manager, or being an experienced manager themselves. It can be really tough to be tossed into a new job without training. Even worse, managers are rarely given the basic expectations of the jobs before they're asked to perform them.
Why are managers ill prepared?
Here's a scenario. Realistic, and I've seen it happen repeatedly.
Hi, I'm Randal. I run an organization of 60 people. I have 6 managers, each of which manage around 9 people. They're all super busy, and I'm super busy. We're all barely keeping our heads above water while keeping somewhat reasonable work/life balance. One of my managers resigns. I can't find a quick backfill before their last day. Shoot.
Now their 9 people report to me. I have 5 managers to deal with, plus the day-to-day job of dealing with 9 more people. That's relatively impossible to do well. I'm working longer hours, and falling behind quickly. A month goes by, and there's no end in sight.
How do I save myself?
Of those 9 people, one has decent communication skills, and is relatively mature. I ask them to please manage the team. At least temporarily. They reluctantly (or excitedly) agree.
I quickly talk to HR, and get those 8 people transferred to that new manager. Thank goodness. I'm still buried beneath my workload and have a thousand unread emails, but at least I have a path to making my job acceptable again.
Do I put the new manager in a training program? Such a thing is unlikely to exist. If it does exist, it's probably only offered every 6-months. Sadly, no, I don't.
Do I carefully walk the manager through how to be a manager? I'll certainly have some one-on-one meetings with them, but I'm still doing a full-time job. I'm also not prepared to train someone in basic management. It's just not something I've got much experience with.
What happens in reality? I give them some basic information, a couple of suggested books to read, and try to listen for mistakes they're making (so I can correct them). I do reactive training. They (and their team) get to learn through the school of hard knocks.
Learning the basics
The school of hard knocks can take years. But how can you avoid making the big mistakes early? As someone new to management, you shouldn't hope to be great at it. That takes time.
However, you can avoid being bad at it.
What are the basics to ensure you don't fall flat on your face in the first few weeks?
Know your people.
You should meet everyone who reports directly to you, privately, for at least 30 minutes a week.
How are things going?
Can I help with anything?
Do you have any feedback for me, since I'm so new at this?
Listen carefully, and thank them for anything they give you. It's unlikely to be a lot.
Why is this the bare minimum?
It's hard to proactively resolve issues. So many times we're reactive. However, it's hard to be reactive to issues if you don't know about them.
Meeting with your team regularly ensures that you can react to things going on. You can try to solve problems before they spiral out of control.