The Starter Manager Guide

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1: What is the Manager’s Job?

  • The manager’s job is to increase the output of the team. (Grove)
  • As an example, say that a programmer is unable to work until a program specification has been written. If a manager doesn’t ensure that a spec is ready for the programmer to work on, then she has just decreased the output of her team, because the programmer is now sitting idle. (In practice, the programmer might start working on something of less importance — which is just as bad.)
  • Grove calls this idea ‘managerial leverage’. Positive managerial leverage occurs when an activity increases the output of the team. Negative managerial leverage does the reverse.
  • From now onwards, when you come across a new management technique, ask yourself the following three questions:
    • How has this helped the author improve the output of their team?
    • How may I adapt this technique for my organisation?
    • Once I’ve applied it, how will I know if it has successfully increased the output of my team?
  • Once every week, sit down with pen and paper and ask yourself: have I increased or decreased the output of my team this past week? What may I do differently next week, that may increase the output of my team just a little more?

2: How to Delegate Without Micro-Management

  • We know from self-determination theory that autonomy is strongly linked to work-related happiness. Remove autonomy, and you’ll guarantee your subordinate’s unhappiness.
  • Delegation can only happen in a situation where both the delegator and the delegatee share a common understanding of how to accomplish the job to be done.
  • One hack that I use often is something I call ‘the selfish manager’: recognise that you are allowed to keep some tasks to yourself.
  • This leads us to our second mental hack: the idea of ‘having two hats’.
    • Manager and IC
  • Check at the lowest value stage of production.
  • Check often at the beginning, and then taper off as the feature reaches completion.
  • The secret here is to check according to your subordinate’s task relevant maturity.
    • For each kind of task, different subordinates would have different levels of maturity. This is more accurate than judging a subordinate as ‘experienced’ or ‘not experienced’: instead, you must judge the subordinate as ‘experienced with regard to this particular task’.
  • If you delegate tasks that you don’t know how to do, check your subordinate’s thinking by asking her for a plan. Then check the output against that plan.

3: How to Train Without Becoming a Bottleneck

  • The ‘thing’ your systematised training should produce is a training document.
    • If you are a software engineer, you should freeze a copy of your codebase (e.g. create a git branch) and hand this frozen copy to your new hire. Then, give them a series of tasks that operates on this codebase. Bonus points if you give an actual (but edited) specification for features that have already been built into your product. Then, you may compare their solutions with the actual code your team shipped, and use this to train them on what a real, deployed feature looks like in your company.
  • Doing this — that is, using a simulation of an actual task — is better than training using a real task, because it is a repeatable process.
  • First, think about the tasks that you are most likely to delegate in your team. Break each of them down to the smallest possible components, and then order it from the most simple to the most complex. Write this down as a series of tasks you will ask your subordinate to do. After testing this program once, go back and tweak depending on the task-relevant-maturity that you see in your new subordinate.
  • If you are good at training, you should find that the set of tasks you may delegate reliably to your team to grow over time. Conversely, if at six months you still find yourself diving into the weeds and fixing things for your subordinates, this is a strong signal that you need to improve in your training. Diving into the weeds to fix things for your subordinates should be the exception, not the norm.

4: How to Prioritise and Regain Your Sanity

  • Visualize the four quadrants prioritisation model
  • Fill in the blank of the four quadrants prioritisation model
  • More productive manager:
    • She does her work faster (that is, she does more work done per unit time)
    • She increases the managerial leverage of her activities
    • She changes the mix of activities so that she does more high leverage activities and less low leverage ones.
  • Consider your information sources. Are there sources of information that you have not considered before, or are paying only a little attention to? Andy Grove wrote that he spends a portion of his time reading customer complaints while he was CEO at Intel, because he believed that it was an extremely timely information source with relatively high accuracy, and therefore a high leverage activity.

5: One-on-Ones: How to Prevent Blowups From Happening

  • One-on-ones are a powerful tool that enables you to catch problems before they happen.
  • Grove recommends that managers in Intel schedule their one-on-ones according to the overall task-relevant maturity of the subordinate — juniors warrant more frequent one-on-ones, while seniors could be met with once every quarter. In order to prevent meetings from being skipped, Grove recommends scheduling the date and time of the next one-on-one at the end of the current one. That way, any interruptions such as vacations and crunch periods would be taken into account. These are all worthy options, but the point is that you should figure out what works for you.
  • The one-on-one should be the subordinate’s meeting. The subordinate should prepare the agenda for each one-on-one, and the manager should merely send a reminder to remind the subordinate to prepare for their meeting before it happens.
  • Techniques for rants
    • The first technique is called the mirror. When your subordinate is ranting, keep her going by repeating what she is saying back to her in the form of a question. For instance, if she says “I can’t stand Andy, he’s full of shit and he takes up so much of our time during staff meetings!” You say, in a non-judgmental tone: “Takes up so much of our time?”
    • The second technique is the ‘label their pain’ technique. As your subordinate is ranting, you label their emotions back to them. For instance, to play off the earlier example with ‘full-of-shit Andy’, a response could be: “Oh. Wow. It seems you’ve been feeling this way for some time.”

6: Where to Go From Here

  • Framework for evaluating all of management: that essentially, the manager’s job is to increase the output of the team. I argued that you should use this framework as your North Star — that with every technique that you apply, with each experiment that you do, with everything that you learn, you should pause and evaluate: “Have I increased the output of my team? Or have I decreased it? If I’ve increased it, how may I increase it further? If I have decreased it, how might I prevent that from happening again?”