Notes on Managing

You have 2 primary responsibilities. First, create an environment that attracts, develops, and retains top-tier talent. Second, level-up the capabilities of the team and services you offer to clients. You may have urgent tactical and logistical responsibilities but you should be able to trace everything you do back to these two strategic responsibilities.

Your job is to build the machine, not turn the gears. When everyone is running around like crazy working hard to get things out the door it can feel ridiculous to spend entire days thinking about strategy and resource management, but your work frames everything the team does; if you frame it incorrectly or inefficiently the team has to work harder, longer hours and if you re-frame it to be more efficient you have the leverage to save hundreds of their hours.

Make yourself redundant. Your goal should be for your team to not need you any more. The team's performance should not depend on your participation in the work; if it does then you will always have too much on your plate and you will be forced to neglect your managerial responsibilities. You need the team to be independent so that you can focus on the bigger picture. A good manager can leave for two weeks and the entire operation will run smoothly. Some people think this means the manager is redundant, but the true measure of a manager is that talented people want to work there and that the team is always improving.

Build consensus around the best ideas. Not everyone is going to like what needs to be done, and not everyone will agree on what the best ideas are. If the team is in conflict then individuals will only halfheartedly execute ideas they don't believe in. The only way to get traction on a new idea is to convince the team to give it a real shot — this is done by building a real consensus around the best ideas. Many people make the mistake of thinking they don't need to do this because employees should do what their bosses tell them to do, but this is a mistake, if you want your team to work together then you need them to actually believe in what they’re doing.

The most powerful thing you can do is set expectations. When coming in to a new environment, most people look at how everyone else behaves and then adapts to be similar. As a manger you should be setting the bar for everyone by holding them to an expectation and my modeling that behavior yourself. Even your best and worst performers are anchored to the bar you set. And be warned that once that bar is set it will be very difficult to move.

Your business exists to solve your customers' problems. Your job is not to impress your boss, to get a promotion, or to wind up in a sweet gig, it is to solve your customers’ problems. Period. "Engineering is not the art of building devices; it's the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them — and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system." (source)

Ask yourself these four questions: (source)

  1. How can I create an environment for people to do their best work?
  2. How can I create as much clarity and coherence about what needs to get done and why?
  3. How can I personally model the behavior I want to be true across my team?
  4. How can I see things for what they are, instead of what I want them to be?

Misc thoughts: