If you are not setting high expectations for your team, don’t be surprised if the delivered work is mediocre. If you set a high bar, it challenges people and pushes them to perform better and exceed expectations. However, it is important for you to show high confidence in them and they’ll rise up to that level.
The Law of Expectations: People respond to the level of confidence you show in them—expectations are a ceiling on performance, not a floor.
When you move from a technical leadership role to the management track, you gain control, authority, ownership of a specific area and a team of engineers. You feel great! This sense of authority makes you feel like you got a promotion. However, transitioning from a tech lead to front line manager role is not a promotion, it is an entry level position in a completely new track. Given it is a brand-new role, you need to learn many fundamental concepts of management. One of the foundational building blocks to successful management is one-on-one meetings.
Weekly one-on-one meetings with your direct reports are some of the most important meetings you have. New managers often forget that they are not only responsible for the technology, but they are also responsible for their team members’ success and happiness at work. Here are some basic concepts that you need to internalize about one-on-one meetings.
Know them as a person
The most important ingredient of a successful one-on-one meeting is mutual trust and good relationship. In general, the first step is to get to know each member of your team as a person. You need to understand what’s important to them outside of work, so you need to ask questions with curiosity to find out what’s happening in their personal lives.
It’s their meeting
They own the agenda. You’ll always have things to discuss but you should give them a priority and freedom to pick what’s top of mind for them.
Don’t cancel at the last minute
In one-on-one meetings they plan to bring up topics which they won’t be able to discuss otherwise in other forums. Don’t cancel or reschedule one-on-one meetings without prior notice. It signals them that it is not a priority for you. This is especially important when you have just started managing a new team.
It’s not a status meeting
The one-on-one is not a meeting where you discuss project status. You have plenty of opportunities in this meeting to check on their general happiness. This is an opportunity to have candid conversations, give each other feedback, exchange ideas on projects and team, and follow-up on commitments.
Connect feedback to career growth
One-on-one meetings are perfect for providing constructive feedback. Once the feedback is shared, it is important to explain how addressing feedback impacts their career growth. If they are not able to connect the dots, they won’t be able to act on the feedback to improve.
Every one-on-one is different
One-on-one meetings are not one-size-fits-all because every team member needs something different from you. Most likely, every team member is at a different level of their career and they need support from you on a unique set of things.
When you switch from an IC role to an engineering manager role, your technical competency is one of the biggest strengths. However, you don’t want to solve everything for them. When it comes to a technical discussion with your team, you need to adjust your communication style.
Ask questions instead of suggesting solutions
Talk less, listen more
Guide them with your questions in the right direction
When you are working with a group of people who trust you and respect you for your technical competence, it is easy to influence and get their buy-in.
When you are put in a circle of people who don’t know you well, you can’t assume people will recognize your competency just because of your background or title. You need to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise through discussions and by asking the right questions. That’s when people start respecting you. Once you earn their respect, you need to invest in building a relationship with them.
Earning respect for your expertise and building relationships are the two fundamental building blocks of influencing without authority.
As a manager, when you delegate work, it can’t be just a discussion of productivity and quantity of work. You need to tie that in with an aspect of professional growth. That’s when they get excited about the new project.
Once you get them excited about the project, you need to support them. Help them create a plan, review their work through periodic check-ins, and set up a mechanism to make them successful.
When you have managers and technical leaders reporting to you, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is when to step in and when to stay hands-off.
If you have an experienced manager reporting to you, the natural tendency is to keep delegating more and more with minimal direction. If you have a new manager reporting to you, the natural tendency is to delegate with a lot of hand-holding. This approach doesn’t work well. This is where the concept of Task Relevant Maturity (TRM) comes in. A term coined by Andy Grove in his book High Output Management.
If there is a type of project that your direct report has never dealt with before, you need to dive deeper and collaborate with them closely irrespective of their general experience level as a manager because their TRM level for a given task is low.
An experienced manager might have a high TRM when it comes to people management but low TRM when it comes to helping the team with the right technical choices. The opposite might be true for new managers. You need to change your management style based on the situation.
You’ll create the biggest managerial leverage if you focus on increasing TRM of your direct reports.
As a leader, while you want to demonstrate that you can operate independently and run your own show, it is important to keep your manager in the loop about the progress you are making and hurdles you are overcoming.
Don’t wait for them to ask for an update. Most managers will appreciate an update even if they haven’t asked for it.
Frequent concise updates are a lot more useful than infrequent lengthy updates.
When the intent of your action doesn’t match the impact, many times the underlying reason is your blind spots. Proactively ask for feedback from your peers, direct reports, and manager. A simple question – “Do you have any feedback for me?” – goes a long way in uncovering these unknown unknowns.
Beyond project status and deadlines, it is important to connect with your direct reports, know them as a person, connect to their story. When you know something is happening in their life outside of work, talk about it rather than sidestepping it. Let them know that you care.