Overall, your job is to efficiently get the right people together. Once engineers understand all the factors, the design solution is usually pretty simple. The 'hard problem' is usually making sure the right people have the right information and that one specific person has the responsibility for investigating the entire project.
People who you avoid or don’t like working with are hugely costly
There was a project where two leaders in the organization didn’t really like working with the people on the project, and sort of took their eyes off of what was going on. The project went far off the rails for far too long, costing immense pain.
however - invest in people
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Find your budget
Everyone is subject to a budget. But, it is highly likely that no one will ever tell you your budget.
Your use of company funds is a factor in evaluating your performance. If you are an individual contributor then your salary is your budget. If you are a manager, your team salary + headcount growth is your budget.
Say you are a manager with 2 junior engineers on your team and one mid-career engineer. You might be expected to answer:
- Would the team be more productive if you hired 2 people with 8-10 years of experience instead of your current team? If so, how much more productive?
- Is your team setup to double next quarter?
- Why are you investing in talent for the long term instead of near term performance? What indicators are you looking at to see if you are successful in investing in talent for the long term?
As a leader, you need to have answers to those (any many more) questions.
Goals goals goals goals
Until this year, I have never been managed with a focus on goals so I don’t really understand it deeply. My approach has been if I want a job, I’ll just start doing the job. It turns out, most people don't approach their job in that way.
Over the past few months, I've tried out goals and it has been pretty great. I focus one-on-ones toward setting goals and discussing whether they were met or not and why. They are a great vehicle for talking about the obstacles someone faces in their role and understanding what they think is important.
So far, virtually no goals have been met and…it is awesome. In the process of saying yes even to the goal we didn't meet, we said no to so many other projects and had great discussions about what is important. Though my team members and I often didn't meet our goals, we have improved our ability to anticipate obstacles and created projects for me to eliminate those obstacles. Lastly, we get quick performance feedback and can quickly deliver that feedback to team members.
The goals process is basically to write down 2-3 things you are planning to do in the next 30 days. Rather than immediately focusing on SMART goals, start by ‘working backwards’ from the impact of the work (ie: 'what do you want the impact to the project to be and how will you have felt that impact?'). After a couple goal meetings, introduce the SMART process.
- Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
- Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
- Achievable – possible to do in the time
- Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
The key component of Goals is that they are short and adjustable unlike quarterly (or longer) KPIs. Over time, I imagine you could tie them together to revise KPIs as you get better data in these goal conversations.
Getting people involved in management is hard.
Hiring managers is also hard!
If a potential new hire needs support in an area to be successful, document a 3 month period where your team could have provided that support
The best hire is often someone who has done the job before, ideally at larger scale.
However, people bring value to the company beyond directly applicable job experience. Managers can find and grow awesome employees by knowing when to hire someone out of the box (and when not to).
I’ve generally been overly optimistic. I’ve seen people really shine when given good challenges, however sometimes business needs change and you end up giving that person ‘bad’ challenges that don’t work out well for the person or the company.
My current heuristic is 3 months of ‘feeling like the team could support someone out of the box’. If you feel like today you could offer that support and direction — great! Note that down with a date. Unless you have an extended period of time (ideally at least 1 quarter) where you could have supported an out of the box hire, do not hire one. Hire responsibly both for the business and the person you are hiring.
There is never a ‘them’
If a team member references ‘them’, it should trigger your spider-senses immediately. Your job is to to unpack 'them'.
Who are they specifically?
When were they first ‘them’ and not individuals?
The ‘them’ are probably ‘themming’ you at the same time. In order to be successful you need to find out exactly who they are and build a high quality relationship as soon as you reasonably can.
I think about Season 3 of Insecure and the Issa-Molly relationship where they lose touch. Their falling out was no ones fault and didn’t happen in one clear moment where blame can be assigned. Muddy relationship deterioration is really common in workplaces! Someone has to over step to fix it and for your team, this is you.
People are egotistical
Everyone is the center of their own universe and wants to act in their own interest or believe they are the hero of their own journey. You can utilize this to get things done.
We are the victim or hero in every story.
Tie the teams’s work to the business
Early Cityblock, our most expensive experiments were not the closest to the business. This was a failure.
Especially early on, when you have zero resources, tie your primary resources to what makes the company money. Absolutely everything else should not be a source of innovation until you have nailed how what you and your team does makes the company more money. This may seem like the most obvious things, but often time the money work is not shiny and exciting, so doesn't get the resources.
What does the engineering team do that makes the company money? Does the engineering team make the company more money than it costs? When do you expect that to happen? What things is the engineering team doing that do not make the company money.
The goal posts will move
The job of a goalpost is to move. Your job is to keep the goalposts in your window of view either by expanding your view or moving the window.
Centering culture on the work
Theory - centering on the work is harder as an organization grows since conversation moves from the work to the meta-work.
Theory - Centering culture on the work is harder for mission oriented organizations. So much conversation is about the ‘how’ at a the kickoff a project (was everyone appropriately included, was the messaging wholesome and did you smile and get people emotionally excited) — very little conversation is about whether the idea is good, the explanation sound or whether it is positive ROI.