Managing your manager

Arturo Béjar
Oct 26 · 4 min read

Getting the support you need to get great work done is a responsibility that you share with your manager.

In order to get a sense about how your manager is doing in supporting you rate the following statements using the [strongly disagree | disagree | neutral | agree | strongly agree] scale.

  1. I have the support I need to get my work done.
  2. I am getting feedback that helps me develop, from peers or my manager.
  3. I get to spend most of my time doing the work I love.
  4. I am clear on next steps for my career or personal development and feel like I can make progress on them.
  5. I think the strategy and priorities for my team are good.
  6. I feel my feedback is valued and that I’m part of decisions being made.

If you answered ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’, or even ‘neutral’ on any of these, then there is something wrong and it is essential that you talk about it with your manager in your next 1–1.

It is your manager’s job to make sure that you answer agree to each of these questions, and while addressing any issues will take time, you should have a well-defined, time-bounded plan to get there.

As you approach this conversation there are few important things to know about your manager:

  • They are human as you are, which means they are good at somethings and bad as others. We all have blind spots, imperfect understanding, and lack awareness of issues that might be critical to the people around us. Develop ways to come to a mutual understanding of strengths and flaws.
  • As with any relationship, communications is a shared responsibility.
  • Sometimes because the other person is the manager or has seniority, we think they are aware and will drive a conversation, but if you are aware of a an conversation that you feel needs to happen, it is up to you to make it happen.
  • Communication diligence and debugging is necessary: What are you not saying? Sometimes what we don’t want to say is the most important thing to discuss. Is there something you’re not hearing that would be help you?
  • Don’t expect that your manager knows what you need. Talk about your needs and expectations, and communicate any changes in them. Ask for help, it is their job to provide it and work with you on solutions.
  • Understand what your manager can give you. As you develop, your needs will become more specialized and you will get less from your manager. Develop a support structure beyond your manager that can help you learn or give you feedback.

In order to develop a plan that works well for both of you, there are a few tools that you can use: contracting conversations, meta conversations, and a support structure.

The most important tool here is contracting conversations, i.e. the process where both of you articulate what you need and expect from each other, in such a way that it is clear to both of you. If your rating is important, then discuss and agree on a model that it is clear to both of you. If you’d like to spend time on non-engineering work, then specify that, but also understand that there is a baseline of engineering work that is necessary.

The meta conversation: If you find yourself having the same conversation twice, or feeling like you’ve communicated something but behavior doesn’t seem to match what you think you discussed, then have a meta conversation along the lines of: “I’ve tried to communicate X, but that did not seem to be working, can you please help me figure it out?”. Communication is not what you said, but what happens in the other person’s brain, ensuring that communication is successful and agreements can be made is critical in working relationships.

Build out a support structure: Your manager should not be the only source of support you have, seek out peers or people you admire to help keep you learning. A good exercise here is to think, of the people you work with, who do you admire and why? Then seek them out, so they can help you develop those aspects of your work.

In short:

  • It is critical to find a way to have authentic conversations with your manager, specially when there are things that you may rightly feel like you can’t or shouldn’t say. Or things that you’ve already said but have not seen a change on. Understanding each other’s point of view is a shared responsibility.
  • Evaluate how you’re doing, the 6 questions above are a tool, but there are many others, are you looking forward to going to work on Sunday night? It is important for you to own your experience at work, as it is important for your manager to support you on that.
  • Develop tools and strategies to deal with issues once identified, getting on the same page with your manager about what’s important to both of you will have a positive impact on your work life.

A note for managers reading this:

One of the best things you can do as a manager is ask these questions of the people you support once a quarter. Not as an anonymous survey, but as a way for each person to let you know how they are doing.

If anyone you support has a ‘disagree’ or stronger, it is important to quickly put a plan in place to address the issue. A good plan is objectively measurable and has a well defined time frame.

If there is a pattern in the data you get, for example 3 people disagree that they are clear on the next steps for their career, then that is an area for you to work on.

Developing ways to create and maintain a shared understanding of goals, challenges, and needs is one of the most important things you can do as manager.

Arturo Béjar

Written by

Arturo Béjar worked at Facebook on helping people navigate difficult moments, stopping malicious people, and developing core technologies.

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