Lara Hogan (@lara_hogan)
Management/Leadership coach and trainer at Wherewithall. Author of bestselling book Resilient Management. Former VPE, but “forever an Engineering Manager”.
A lot of the structure of the book is based off Tuckmans’ Stages of Group Development.
- Chapter 1 = Forming
- Chapter 2 = Storming, Norming
- Chapter 3 = Performing
The book then moves into more “the general skills you will need” in Chapters 4 & 5.
- Chapter 4 = Communication skill
- Chapter 5 = Creating resiliency (from where the book gets it’s name)
Chapter 1 - Meet your team (Forming)
“You’re optimising (your team) for balance, not perfection.”
BICEPS (Belonging, Improvement, Choice, Equality, Predictability, Significance) are categories of the core needs that everyone has.
- Belonging: “not missing out”
- Improvement (aka. Progress): “what it takes to feel productive”
- Choice (aka. Autonomy): “it’s all about balance”
- Equality (aka. Fairness): “real or perceived, it needs to be fair”
- Predictability: “we need a balance of consistency and unpredictability”
- Significance (aka. Status): “hierarchy, title, responsibilities, but also recognition”
There’s a good example given about “desk moves” challenging all of the above!
- B: Same group? Different floor?
- I: Announcement might be surprise/interruption
- C: Can I choose? Has someone chosen for me?
- E: Closer to the food! Better views?
- P: No longer the same spot every day
- S: Corner office? Sitting with peers? Locality?
Work style and preferences
Her “First 1:1 Questions” (that I adapted/copied into my “First sync questions“) are explained in depth here!
Help the team to know you
- Actions will be discussed in Chapter 4.
- Ask yourself “what are you optimising for”?
- Use the Mad Lib exercise (included below)
“Mad Lib” exercise
I'm a ____________ leader, who values ____________ and ____________. You'll see this when I ____________________________________________. I support my team by ____________________________ and I stay aligned with company values by ____________________________________________. I thrive in a _________________________________________ environment. I commit to being _________________________________________________.
- What do you optimise for in your current role?
- What do you hope your team mates will lean on you for?
- What management skills are you currently working on learning or improving?
Chapter 2 - Grow your teammates (Storming, Norming)
To grow in this role, you’ll wear four hats: Mentoring, Coaching, Sponsoring, and Delivering feedback.
Mentoring is defined as doling out advice, sharing our perspective and helping some else problem solve based on that information.
Managers often default to mentoring mode because it feels like the fastest way to solve a problem, but it falls short in helping your teammate to connect their own dots.
Coaching is doing two primary things: Asking open questions, and Reflecting.
When someone comes to you with a challenge/problem, try asking questions like:
- What’s most important to you about it?
- What’s holding you back?
- What does success look like?
A great example is given about a team member asking about a promotion. You can handle this conversation really well by using open questions:
- What would you be able to do in the new level that you can’t do in your current one?
- What skills are required in the new level? What are some of the ways that you’ve honed those skills?
- Who are the people already at that level that you want to emulate? What about them do you want to emulate?
“Reflecting”, as described in this chapter, is the art of inverting and mirroring their statements, turning them into questions:
- What I’m hearing is… Is that correct?
This also forces the other person to do a bit more introspection and help them to see other angles on the same problem, and for the both of you to find the right problem statement (FYI: very helpful in a larger organisation)
It takes a lot of time/effort/practice to default to Coaching, rather than Mentoring, but it’s worth it because the introspection and creativity it inspires created deeper and longer-lasting growth for your teammate.
Sponsorship is all about feeling “on the hook” for getting someone to the next level.
The Center for Talent Innovation routinely measures the career benefits of sponsorship, and they have found that when someone has a sponsor they are way more likely to have access to career-lauching work.
Constructing and Delivering Feedback
The best feedback is specific, actionable, and delivered in a way that ensures the receiver can actually absorb it.
There’s a great breakdown about the “feedback equation” here which looks like this:
Observation of behaviour + Impact of behaviour + Request or Question = Specific, Actionable Feedback
- Observation is the who/what/when/where part of the situation that YOU have witnessed
- Impact is great if it’s measurable, but it’s often personal. Asking yourself “but what is the impact of that?” can help here.
- Request or Question can often fall into the trap of Mentoring-mode (see above). Switch to Coaching-mode whenever possible!
As an example (directly from the book):
- Problem Statement: Someone on your team is writing super-terse emails.
- Observation: Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that your emails to me contain fewer than five words on average.
- As a result, I have a hard time understanding what you mean. - good, but we can do better.
- I often need to reply to your email with more questions to get clarification or add context. - getting there…
- This adds much more time to the overall process of us communicating. - BINGO, found the impact.
- Question: Can you help me understand what you’re optimising for?, and then: How can we come to a compromise going forward?
Sharing this formula & encouraging others to use it will hopefully contribute to an open & honest culture. Personally, I feel that making the impact visible is the biggest part that is often overlooked here. “You want me to write longer emails to make you feel good?” vs “You want me to write more detailed emails that provides adequate context for my decisions”.
Striking a balance
You can try and balance all of the above in your syncs (aka. 1:1’s). These sessions are normally covering four types of scenarios:
- Build trust,
- Gain shared context,
- Plan out and support career growth, and
- Solve problems
No matter what sort of items you’re discussing, you could work to identify what skill(s) from the above section you’re using, and help the teammate to understand why you chose to focus on applying that skill.
Chapter 3 - Set clear expectations (Performing)
Make sure the team’s collective expectations are well documented (aka. “Values exercise”?). These normally are broken down into the following sections:
- Roles and responsibilities (inc. the manager)
- Vision and priorities
- Collaborating, communicating, and shipping work
… these areas reach back to the B, E, and P core needs.
Roles and responsibilities
RACI-matrices are good tools in this regard! Really helps to clarify who is responsible/accountable and who just needs to be consulted or informed. Venn diagrams are also helpful in getting more fine-grained organisational insight, and clarifying the Responsibility cell from the matrix.
Building a RACI matrix and the corresponding Venn diagram can be done with any overlapping roles (think Hiring Manager, Recruiter, and Sourcer, or Heads of Design, Branding, and Tech), not to push responsibility DOWN, but instead to highlight where responsibilities are SHARED and where they overlap - all in order to prevent miscommunication/maligned expectations.
Vision and Priorities
This is the first time I’ve heard of a VMSO statement (Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Objectives), but it makes sense in a world full of OKRs and KPIs…
- Vision: the “north-star” of the organisation/group, a pipe dream
- Mission: a more grounded version of the vision, that’s still motivating, but more about the team
- Strategy: what is the team uniquely set up to do in order to achieve the Mission?
- Objectives: Measurable goals that reflect the mission and strategy; used to benchmark progress.
- Identify meetings that the team has together; their purpose, frequency, and participants - reassess this every few months:
- Are the descriptions still accurate?
- Have some of these blended together, or has the purpose evolved?
- Can we improve their frequency, goals, ground-rules, attendees?
- Identify email & chat channels; their expectations around response-times and usage.
- Which channel will get a message to all members of your team?
- Which channel should be used for asking questions about project status?
- Is there a URL to find OKRs and their status?
- Is there a specific channel for questions people have of you/your team?
- Identify how your team works together, evaluate their expectations:
- Do they approach problems together? Pairing on code, or splitting up work?
- How do they communicate progress? Notify/update people on updates/outages?
- How do they hold each other accountable? Is there a feedback culture?
You can do this last point by keeping it REAL:
- Reflect on the dynamics in the room
- Elevate the conversations
- Assume best intentions
- Listen to learn
Check out Etsy’s Charter of Mindful Communication as a foundation for employees to give feedback, course-correct relationships, improve workflows, and more.
Chapter 4 - Communicate Effectively
Communication Plans pop up here! Their impact on your delivery cannot be understated. Have one, know it backwards, and see it through.
Here’s a simple template for one from Julia Grace (Senior Director of Engineering, Slack): PS: there’s a good completed example on page 59+60 of the book!
- Status (eg. Draft, Approved, In Progress)
- the What (most important thing you want to communicate)
- the Why (why is this changing?)
- Who knows?
- Who will be impacted?
- What will be said, in what medium (Slack, Person, Email), when?
- Talking Points:
- A simple FAQ that you can already expect to need
The next few pages are about how and when to trust someone to get involved with your communication plan, and then discusses “Disagree and Commit”-type of situations. Make sure that whenever you’ve utilised a communication plan that you incorporate some aspect of “feedback gathering” to try to understand the impact of your actions/communication, and learn how to improve for next time.
Meetings are push and pull situations: you’re looking to push information and pull feedback. Not every meeting “could be an email”.
During an “All Hands” meeting, make sure you cover these 5 things, slowly:
- A high-level description of what’s going on
- Instructions on what to do with questions
- A deeper explanation FOR the change (the WHY)
- A list of specific changes - as well as what’s NOT changing, and what’s undecided
- Answers to predictable questions
Emails are great for push announcements, or updates. They CANNOT contain a lot of nuance or context, so use verbal for that instead, BUT, they are searchable and indexable, and so they are perfect for facts, or summaries of announcements.
Recap emails are slightly different again, but you can try and cross off the 4 topics below to make them simple and understandable, but don’t forget to add context!
- The stated company line on this topic (FACTS)
- What this means in practice (FACTS)
- My personal take (OPINION & EMOTION)
- An invitation to close: “Please come see me/Slack/Reply-All/whatever”
Iterating and Evolving
Don’t forget (or be afraid) to repeat the communication. People will forget the core facts and you can slightly change how you deliver it.
Following on from that, different people will react differently, you should revisit this with them once it’s “landed” and alter your delivery slightly to tailor the message for them.
Figure 4.2 is an interesting “color map” that you can use to describe the different “hats” you have to wear for each conversation.
Note to self, print this and stick it on your desk - and vary your approach per conversation/topic/setting!
You will need to find ways to deliver your message (and obtain your desired outcome) in a way that matters to your audience. Know your audience, then tailor how you deliver your message.
Finally, REMEMBER TO ADAPT! No form of communication, or style, or method, is going to work forever. You will need to change as the company/environment changes!
Chapter 5 - Build Resiliency
Change is continuous - it doesn’t need to be layoffs, or re-orgs, it can also be “a bunch of people left”, or “we changed the caterer” (remember BICEPS from above).
Managing in times of crisis
Before the crisis
- Know your benefits, what support can the company offer?
- Lead by example, demonstrate your expected behaviour!
- Ask for input, gather feedback and share knowledge
- Keep setting expectations clearly, give people clarity
During a crisis
- Check in on people! You should know their “normal”, and their “abnormal” behaviour
- Acknowledge what is going on (cat died, visa issues, etc.)
- Talk through it with them
- Use those company resources (Trustworthy Person, HR Rep, Councillor, etc.)
Managing your own energy
“How do I handle how tired I am as a manager?” is a common question. Find ways to keep yourself sane. Know what is valuable to you - before you burn out.
Track your (expected) energy levels: Color coding your calendar in terms of how much energy it’s going to cost you is a good way to visualise if you’re being too tough on yourself.
Re-prioritise your tasks: Don’t forget the Eisenhower matrix when processing your tasks.
SAY NO! Check your Eisenhower Matrix, and if it’s not Important or Urgent at all, then just say no, politely.
It needs to be done! You can’t always give people cleanly packaged “here, I need you to do this one thing like this”-type of tasks!
Tell people how you are going to support them, and via which medium. Tell them you expect this to be a stretch for them, and THAT’S THE POINT.
Use a RACI matrix to help them understand who is in what role.
Build a support network
Check out the Manager Voltron exercise. Then grow it (preferably via async mediums like email). Make sure you have an answer for each square!
Find your own “first team” - your peers in the organisation that have more/similar experience to you! Make sure you offer your support where you can.
Butterflies start as a caterpillar, but then pass through a “primordial soup”-stage when transitioning. That’s painful, just like all growth. Learn to accommodate some of that pain.
Listen for others BICEPS needs, and know your own.
Protect your energy.
Find people you can lean on & supporters that will give you (good, but not always positive) feedback.
“Embrace the primordial goop and you’ll emerge as a beautifully transformed manager”
- Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
- The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change, by Camille Fournier.
Lots of additional resources/templates available in the back of the book for the following topics: