Why Your Managers Suck

Let’s face it. As natural as it is to have someone have a rough time when just starting a new job, an astounding percentage of team leaders and middle managers in tech are… underperforming. In an industry where the average tenure in a role is about 2.5 years, you cannot afford a year to learn the ropes for each manager.

How Most Managers “Manage”

You, As a tech executive, should take a look at the calendars of the managers under you. You might be surprised at the amount of stuff they have going on. And it doesn’t end with a full-to-the-brim calendar. Usually, when they’re not busy running from one meeting room to the next, they are flagged continuously down by their employees, who got accustomed to continually asking them questions. Or they are doing it even worse and spend their time being doing helicopter-management, hovering over their team.

This isn’t management. I doubt you’ll disagree. It’s some sort of a cross between a neurotic worker bee and a frightened new parent. Not knowing better, they default to busy work and cargo-culting what they think managers should do. Maybe this is what they see the other managers doing, perhaps it’s what they saw watching Silicon Valley, and perhaps they’re just trying to come up with what they think is best.

I assume we are in agreement that this frequent occurrence isn’t something you’d like to have in your organization. However, it is not the managers’ fault. On the contrary, it all starts with you.

How You’re Creating This Behavior

Imagine going to the best waiter in a restaurant and promoting them out of the blue – “starting next week, you’ll be working with the chef.” Would you expect them to start turning out great dishes, finely plated, simply because you told them they are sous chefs now? Of course not.

This is, in a way, how new managers are introduced in tech. We take people who know how to do one thing well and tell them their new job is to do a completely different thing. The vast majority get some pep-talk, and that’s it. The lucky ones might have a day or two of workshops/training. I bet you’re still learning how to be better in your job. How good were you in day 3? This is the amount of help managers get.

Creating Real Managers Takes Effort

Your path forward, therefore, is clear. You cannot expect spontaneous managerial creation. Instead, you have to put in place a clear onboarding, mentoring, and coaching path as part of the induction of a new manager. When working with clients I make sure that we cover the basics to help know what to do when just starting. That includes a basic routine/process, a Manager Bootstrap Schedule, as well as a suggested Manager Calendar – what you should plan to do now, getting to know the job, and what you should plan to do regularly.

Furthermore, you need to support their personal development in this role. This can be done in the form of you mentoring them as their direct manager, getting an outside coach, or in the form of manager forums where they can discuss freely with their peers, more and less experienced (or, even better, some combination of all of these).

It has to be clear, to you and them, that a manager isn’t made by the flick of a LinkedIn title. It is a process you will have to go through together. Otherwise, you’re going to get food cooked by the waiter.