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No Shortcuts: Know Your People
Before applying any management framework, talk and listen to your people, know who they are and what they do.
For some things, there are no shortcuts.
As a manager in the tech industry, you may feel pressured to implement frameworks and follow best practices to improve team performance. While these tools can be helpful, there is one key factor that can make a substantial impact on your team's success: knowing your people well. In this article, we'll explore why taking the time to understand your team members is more significant than any other task a manager can do.
The Framework Manager
The rapid growth of the tech industry in recent years has led many companies to hire massive amounts of employees, resulting in a high demand for managers. Most companies require that managers be technical and experienced engineers. This naturally means these new managers must originate from engineers without managerial experience or education.
I believe that this was a significant advantage. People were not bound to old-style management methods, tried new things, and experimented a lot. That wasn't always pretty, but it helped the industry take another direction.
Now, a few years later, our industry is a little bit more mature, and more patterns are emerging. Engineers love patterns, so we began to create (or mostly copy) frameworks that we can implement and yield the outcomes we need.
Want to grow your team's personal growth? Use a "Career Ladders" framework.
Want to improve performance? Use a quarterly OKR framework.
Using frameworks is great and very advisable! The challenge starts when managers skip "the fundamentals."
Frameworks are just a tool to reach an outcome; they help us ensure reasonable consistency between teams, departments, and direct reports. Many managers begin to see the framework itself as the goal.
"I do 1:1 every week"
That’s great, but are these 1:1s helps your reports to grow? Do you feel you are learning new things every session? 1:1s are just a tool to ensure that managers are meeting their reports. They are not the goal.
Know your people before anything else.
When I change responsibility with a manager, I do several handoff sessions: the first for ongoing projects and maintenance, the second for domain expertise, and the third for their people. I expect that the manager is well acquainted with each of their reports, what they like and dislike, their strengths and weaknesses, with whom they work best and with whom they have issues, and on which points I should be easy and on which ones strict.
You'll be surprised how often I found out that managers had no clue about their team members. They knew some details, but most were superficial. They had never dug deep.
Management is Personal
So why do so many managers keep things superficial? There are multiple reasons for that, but I suspect that most managers in the tech industry are a bit afraid to make things personal. They prefer to keep things simple and stay behind a safety net to avoid awkward moments and difficult situations.
Remember, this doesn’t mean you need to like your reports. If you set the right expectations, the manager-report relationship can remain professional.
My most successful managers knew their team members so well on a personal level that they could motivate them to reach their full potential while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The teams operated smoothly because each member was tasked with tasks based on their strengths (or weaknesses).
The manager's ability to ask difficult questions and follow up every week (or two) made this performance possible.
Some things were not meant to be easy. People are complicated, and therefore managing people is complex. Don't take shortcuts, and learn your people. It may be the most essential foundation for any framework you build on top of it.