I’m an engineering manager currently transitioning my entire team of direct reports to new managers. In an effort to guide through the transition, I designed a Manager Handoff Worksheet to accompany a proven model for manager handoffs.
Hi, my name’s Steve Wozniak (no, not that one), and I’m an Engineering Manager at Meetup. I’ve typically managed web engineers throughout my career, but this summer I’ll be taking a new opportunity by joining our Mobile Engineering team! Before I can make the move, I’ll need to transition all eight of my direct reports to new managers. I’ve performed several manager handoffs, but typically it’s only been for one report at a time.
Since I started managing engineers in my career, I’ve looked to Lara Hogan’s guide to Manager Handoffs for influence. It provides a solid foundation to changing a report’s manager. She captures the “what” and the “why” of the process, along with recommendations on hosting effective 1:1:1 meetings. What Lara has left to the reader, is how the manager can best prepare themselves for each transition. In this post, I’ll share how I prepared for eight manager handoffs over a short timespan.
One area to highlight: one of the reasons I find Lara to be an effective writer is her ability to intertwine her managerial values within the recommendations in her posts. By reading more about her approaches, readers are also left with a strong sense for her priorities as a manager. Following her lead, here are the values I want to prioritize in the manager handoff process:
- I want each of my direct reports to feel like they’ve received the personalized care they deserve.
- I want to be transparent in the relevant personal information I’m sharing.
- I want to be both sensitive and empathetic to human beings who will be experiencing change in their professional lives.
- I want to set up my direct report and their new manager for success.
A rough start
To start, I took a pass at writing some notes about the first report. I wrote down some key details about the report, our history together, and feedback from their peers. After a short while, I took a quick glance at my progress, and I immediately stopped writing. It was… dense. I realized I wasn’t just writing key points. I was writing out every single detail. It was difficult to read. And above all, there was no way that this overly verbose document would actually help out the report or their new manager through the transition.
I knew I would benefit from a structure to emphasize sharing the essential details. Because I would do this eight times over, I would need to be efficient. So with that, I had my two goals: outline the process for manager handoffs, and define a handoff format, optimized for the most important information to pass along to a new manager.
My process for manager handoffs
- Inform your direct report in a private 1:1
- Complete the Manager Handoff Worksheet
- Host a 1:1:1 Handoff meeting with your report and their new manager
- Inform HR & other stakeholders
Let’s focus on the second step: the Manager Handoff Worksheet.
The Manager Handoff Worksheet
The Manager Handoff Worksheet is organized into three sections: the schedule, the email, and the context handoff. I share this completed document with both my direct report and their new manager in advance of our 1:1:1 Handoff meeting.
I include the schedule so all three parties know when the transition is happening, and a reminder that I’m owning all things that need to be done.
I include a copy of the email introducing the 1:1:1 Handoff meeting. It’s one less place to have to look when preparing for the meeting. It’s also a useful tool as an introduction to the meeting itself.
The third section is the context handoff. This is where the bulk of the writing will take place, and it covers three areas: feedback, professional development, and logistics. This space is designed to help equip the new manager with the correct context for their new report. To do so, I’m going to reflect on their recent feedback and performance, their professional development goals and growth areas, and finding the right balance of coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship.
Most recent review cycle feedback
At Meetup, we facilitate the 360° Feedback Review twice per year. I link to their most recent review in the document, and we’ll talk about the highlights in the 1:1:1. This includes both my feedback as their manager along with peer feedback from their teammates. I’ll also share direct quotes from peers here (if they’re relevant, specific, and I have permission from their peer to attribute it to them).
Some of my direct reports haven’t gone through the review process yet. In that case, I’ll substitute the formal review cycle with my own onboarding feedback, along with feedback I’ve already received or sourced from their new teammates. Because this feedback is regularly shared in our 1:1s, there should be nothing significant surprising my report.
Additionally, for someone brand new to the team, I expect them to have received more feedback than they have given. I’ll use this space to encourage them to share feedback they’ve been thinking about sharing with their team. I’ve already done some form of 30/60/90-day check-ins with them, and will share notes from those meetings as well.
More recent feedback, projects, and other info since the last review cycle
This isn’t a meeting for status updates, but it’s still good to discuss recent work and other events in their work life. I will also highlight any outcomes and reflections we’ve discussed in our 1:1s from recent projects they’ve completed.
Professional goals, growth areas, and other opportunities
We use the GROW model at Meetup. I’ll link to their worksheet here and I’ll emphasize the highlights from that exercise (particularly the Options and Will sections).
It’s also a good section to share options and ideas for sponsorship. Which opportunities have I been looking out for? Where have I already found options for this individual? What have they already accomplished (and how did it go)?
Shared documents and other things to know
This is more of an FYI — examples below.
- Manager Handoff Worksheet (that’s this document)
- Their previous review cycle feedback
- Their GROW Professional development worksheet
- Their resume
Things to know
- Current team, mentor(s), and mentee(s)
- Start date
- History of managers
- Out of office time (scheduled/remaining)
- Professional development plans
- Schedule notes (leaves by 5:30pm for night classes, works from home on Fridays, etc.)
- Communication preferences
And… that’s it! I attach this to the 1:1:1 Handoff meeting calendar event and encourage both recipients to read through it before the meeting.
I’ve completed six of my eight handoffs, and at this point I’d consider this exercise a success. The amount of time I spend preparing for each handoff has dropped significantly, but the meetings themselves feel just as effective and engaging as previous handoff meetings. The new managers have shared they feel well prepared to start managing their new reports. Overall, this process & the worksheet helps ensure I’m sharing the right information to make manager handoffs a success.
Lastly, a few suggestions from me:
Ensure direct reports hear it from you first
I had one big request for my manager: I want to share this update privately with my direct reports before we announce it to the team.
I like to keep my reports informed. I’ve received positive feedback that my reports can depend on me to keep them informed. So what would happen if they indirectly learned that I might not be managing them any more, and worse, possibly without all of the other details? Why didn’t I tell them? What was happening to my team? What would happen to them? Is their job safe?
It’s a formal change, so I felt strongly that I should be the one to disseminate this information and with the clearest picture possible. I value psychological safety and I strongly feel it’s a critical component of a healthy team. This process respects the concept psychological safety in several ways:
- Being proactive, open dialogue: As soon as the decision was approved by all parties, I reserved a private meeting for each of my direct reports the next day. Once everyone was informed, we announced it in a bigger team meeting and opened up for followup discussions.
- Speaking human to human & anticipating reactions: I came to each private meeting prepared to talk about several points: the reasons for my move, my commitment to manage them through to their next manager, and both how and why this would not result in their professional development taking a break or a step back. I left several of my meetings with congratulations and well wishes from my reports, and a solid understanding in how I would still be a resource for them until the handover took place.
- Being collaborative: While the manager prepares most of the materials, Lara’s strategy encourages everyone to collaborate in the handover meeting, and explicitly gives the direct report permission to participate and challenge, disagree, or share their own perspective.
Handing over a report is not like handing over a codebase
As I mentioned above, my first attempt at writing a handoff document was a bit of a disaster. I realized that my history as a software engineer had led me to approach this like I was writing documentation for a technical project / codebase handoff.
Also, people are nuanced in ways that your code is not (hopefully!). My first pass at writing felt academic. With the worksheet, it felt informative. Your report and their new manager are going to build their own relationship together, but you can help them out by pointing them in the right direction.
Talk with your reports to find ways to ease the transition
This sounds straightforward, but it’s important to think about how you are managing your reports in the weeks leading up to the handoff.
It’s worth asking your reports what, if anything, is concerning to them about the upcoming change. One of my reports shared that they was nervous about the manager handover because of how a similar situation went poorly at their last job. Another felt like they were restarting their progress towards a promotion each time their manager was changed. In both cases, I was able to spend more time coaching through details in those areas.
If any of your reports are feeling anxious, you should offer to meet with your reports in a month or so after the transition happens. Everyone thanked me genuinely — so far, no one has reached out.