The Management Bit

When I used to work at IBM, we used to jokingly state whether a person had their “management bit flipped.” That’s because, in a big behemoth such as IBM, you could have people regularly managing teams, yet not regarded as “real” managers due to some bureaucratic reason. At some point, hopefully, all the needed TPS forms would be filed, and they will get their wings, err… I mean management bit.

Funny as much as this sounds, too often I see newly minted managers being treated the same. In this article, I’ll be specifically talking about team leaders and directors. Executives are a whole different story we’ll save for a later point. When you hire a new manager, or promote someone to a managerial role, especially if they have already done the job at a previous point in time, it’s easy to “let them cruise” and assume they’ll be fine.

For first-timers, you cannot merely assume that they’ll learn on the job and spontaneously become top-notch leaders. Their success requires active mentoring and coaching on your part (or getting external help, *cough*), getting them up to speed with some literature, and so forth. Even if your debut into management was the kind of situation where you had to learn the ropes on your own, it doesn’t mean that’s an inherent part of becoming a manager. Think where you could’ve been now had you gotten more mentoring that first couple of years.

Moreover, even for experienced managers, there are basics that you need to cover to do proper expectation setting and help them get the lay of the land. My typical recommendations for the “welcome pack” for managers include:

  • Understanding of the organizational chart: Who are the people they are supposed to interact and work with regularly? Who are their peers that they should be working together to advance? Just recently, I had worked with a new team leader who had no clue about a team working in parallel with hers that she had to be aligned with.
  • Autonomy level: When it comes to the way they do things, where do they have the autonomy to change things and where must they stick to the whole org’s culture. For example, taking the team to many offsite days to work remotely if they feel it will help or using other tools for managing their sprints/iterations.
  • Mandated processes and values: As the organization’s leader, you should have things that you require of every manager, which might include regular 1:1s with their subordinates, clear feedback, and goals for everyone, regular performance reviews.
  • Turf borders: What are they not expected to handle, such as pay raises scheduling and knowing their people’s salaries.
  • Strategy and goals: How would their success be measured? What are the crucial goals expected of them?
  • Career ladder and staff status: How do people advance in the company, and where each person on their team is currently. This review might include some a Peter Pan count update or equivalent.

Some of the above might be things that catch you off guard. For example, you might realize that you’ve never considered how you measure your team leads. If that is the case, how could you expect them to lead properly? It is up to leadership to provide the direction here if you’re not interested in having an organization where every team is an entirely different beast.