In this episode we are kicking off a series called "Better Report, Better Manager" - in this series, we'll discuss how you can improve your relationship with your manager from a practical standpoint.
Your relationship with your managers is likely one of the most critical relationships you'll have in your career. In this episode, we'll start by getting you aligned with your manager by asking 3 calibration questions.
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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
The most impactful relationships you will have in your career are most likely going to be the ones that you have with your manager. Regardless of the kind of company that you are in, your manager will have the largest impact on what you do throughout your career. And so I've decided to do a short series, I'm not really sure how long we'll go with it, but a short series on how to get the most out of your manager report relationship, particularly you as the report. How can you make the most of it? My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developers. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. And most companies, engineering managers, are designated as a responsible party for their team. Now, this doesn't mean that the manager is necessarily directly responsible for implementation or dealing with all the technical detail of the work their team does. Sometimes that is the case, sometimes it's not. But rather it is the manager's job to align and coordinate and empower and provision what they need to provision for the engineers on their team to create clarity, to create a pathway towards accomplishing some set of goals. In the ideal scenario for a manager report relationship, the manager is interested not only in accomplishing those goals as a team, but also in the long term health and the career goals of their individual reports and aligning those two things together. And when things are working well, when you have a good manager that has a good relationship with a report that is driven and dedicated and focused, then the manager report relationship is one that multiplies value. When the relationship is bad, however, people tend to leave their jobs, sometimes leave the industry altogether. Often we find ourselves somewhere in between these two extremes where our relationship with our manager is lukewarm. We're not really getting a lot of value out of it. They seem to be playing their part and we're playing ours. There might be some times of tension and all of the problems that humans face with relationships and dynamics are on full display in our manager report relationships. And these relationships end up having an outsized impact on the course of our careers. And so it makes sense to focus on this relationship and to invest in it, invest in it regularly. You as the report, you have the opportunity to make this relationship better. We're going to talk about different ways to do that. In today's episode, we're going to focus on the next three questions you need to ask your manager, especially if you haven't already asked them before. But even if you have these three questions, if you haven't asked them in a while, are something that can be asked on a regular basis. These are clarifying questions, they're tone-setting questions. So let's jump straight in to this first question. And you can ask this in your next one-on-one, hopefully you're having regular one-on-ones. If you're not, we'll talk about that in a later episode in this series. Make sure you subscribe if you want to hear that. But the first question I want you to ask your manager goes like this. Setting aside the job description temporarily. What are the two or three signals that you specifically are using to determine how well I'm doing in my role? I'll say this in a shorter way. Ignoring what the job description says, how do you decide if I'm doing a good job? What are you using? What kinds of signals are you using? And the reason why we're setting aside the job description in this question is because your manager is very unlikely to keep your job description at hand ready to judge you based on whether or not you're hitting everything in that description. You're unlikely to have a whole skill matrix that they're regularly referencing with relation to your activity and your job. What's more likely is that your manager, like most managers, is paying attention to a couple of things that you're doing and using these things as heuristics for how you're doing more over. Some obvious examples of this are activity on some kind of board that you're using to track your work together. Maybe it's like a combat board. Are you moving stories through? Are you taking responsibility for those pieces of work? That's an easy heuristic that your manager might be using. Another heuristic they might be using is how you're interacting with other team members during meetings. Are you sharing your opinion? Are you contributing value to the meeting? Are you helping the meeting move along? These are all things that a manager can passively gather that kind of information about how you're interacting. But this question does some overtime work when it comes to how your manager is evaluating you. If your manager is like most managers, they may not know exactly what signals they're using. In other words, they might be using some intuitive sets of measures or they might have an ad hawk way from week to week to determine how well you're doing. Maybe they're using your report to them in your one-on-ones. Maybe they're using what they're hearing from other people as heuristic for how you're doing. Or maybe they are looking at the team as a whole and applying how the team is doing down to the individual level. There's a lot of ways that managers can do this implicitly. In other words, they're not actually thinking about those measures explicitly. And by asking this question, you've triggered their thought process to think about this more explicitly. This is likely a good thing for both you and for your manager. If you know what they're looking for explicitly, then now you have some clearer markers for how you can succeed with reference to what your manager is hoping for. We have other questions here that we're going to get to that help us avoid that kind of gamification of just doing those things that your manager lists off and responses to this question. But it's a good starting point to help identify ways that maybe you don't even know that your manager is paying attention to. So again, going back over this first question, setting aside the job description that I have temporarily, what are the two or three signals that you as my manager are using to determine how well I'm doing in my role? We're going to take a quick break and then we'll come back and talk about the two other questions that you need to ask your manager as soon as you can. Developers is probably supported by LaunchDarkly. LaunchDarkly is feature management for the modern enterprise, fundamentally changing how you deliver software. Here's how it works. LaunchDarkly enables development and operations teams to deploy code at any time, even if a feature isn't ready to be released to users. Rapping your code in feature flags gives you the safety to test new features and infrastructure in your production environments without impacting the wrong end users. When you're ready to release more widely, you can update the flag and that the changes are made instantaneously by the real time streaming architecture that LaunchDarkly has created. I'm going to go off script here for a second and talk about a scenario where feature flags are enormously valuable. Let's imagine that you have a team of multiple developers, five or six of you, and you have a feature that you believe is co-complete, but it means a little bit more testing. Then you have a hot fix that comes in. This needs to go out immediately. The problem is that the new feature is already in your staging and you don't want to push the hot fix out in front of that new feature. What do you do? You can't really expedite the testing process and pushing the hot fix over the top of it means that your production is out of sync with your staging and it just becomes a mess. With LaunchDarkly, there's no more mess. Hide the first feature under a feature flag, push your hot fix on top of it, and you're ready to go. Another bonus here is that a lot of the testing that you would otherwise do and the maintenance that you would otherwise perform on a staging environment can actually be done in your production environment and it'll be much more accurate to how users will experience it. Go and check it out. Head over to launchadarkly.com. That's launchdarkly.com. Thanks again to LaunchDarkly for their support of Developer Tea. In today's episode, we're talking about improving your relationship with your manager, getting the most out of that relationship. In this specific episode, because this is going to be a series, we're going to talk about this more, we can't cover it in a single episode, and this is such an impactful relationship that you'll have and it's actually more than one, you're going to have multiple managers throughout your career, most likely, almost certainly. This is a very critical relationship to pay attention to and to invest in. In today's episode, we're talking about the three questions that you need to ask your manager immediately if you haven't already. Just a kind of calibration questions. They set the tone and the stage for how you're going to work together and more importantly, what you should be focused on. We already talked about the first question, specifically, setting aside the job description that you have, what are the two or three signals that your manager is using to determine how well you're doing in your role. The second question that you need to ask as soon as you can is what is the most important accomplishment that you are trying to achieve with our team? This is you to your manager. What is the most important accomplishment you're trying to achieve with our team? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you might be surprised by the answer to this question. The reason for that is sometimes we assume that the goals that our manager has for our team naturally align with, let's say, some product or release plan. That the manager's goals are just to enable the product or release calendar. While you shouldn't be surprised if they do say something along those lines, it's also quite possible that your manager has a different goal that is top of mind for them. Maybe they are taking for granted the idea that the team can deliver on the product expectations and instead they're focused on, let's say, preparing the team for growth or maybe they're focused on helping the team deliver a higher quality software regardless of what the release calendar says. Why is this important? Well, the first reason this is important is because if you understand your manager's intentions, if you can dig in on this question especially and understand what exactly is it that their goal is pointed at? Are they trying to improve the quality of software? We'll go with that one. What is the reason? You can ask a follow-up question on this one. You can ask them why? Why specifically are you focused on quality? You might uncover the underlying motivations of your manager and those extend beyond whatever the company's motivations are, whatever their specific goals are that are set by maybe their manager. By understanding your manager's motivations, you'll have a clearer and more complete picture of how work should get accomplished by the team. In this case, for example, your manager might view a premature delivery of the software, let's say that you're trying to deliver on time so much that you're willing to cut corners, your manager might see that as more of a failure than if you were to, for example, deliver a week or two late, but at a higher quality. Ultimately, having the awareness of what your manager cares about gives you a clearer picture of what you can focus on. When you see an opportunity to do something that helps your manager accomplish their goals, you're investing more and more into that relational capital and most likely improving your chances at continued growth in your career. Now I know that there might be questions on this one because they popped up in my head as well. What if their goals are not aligned with some kind of higher level company goal? I found that this is rarely the case. It's really true that a manager is trying to do something that's actively not aligned with their company goals. This is usually not a real concern, but even if it is a real concern, there are ways that you can kind of check your intuition about this. You could have a skip level meeting, for example, with your manager's manager and make sure that what you're doing doesn't totally misalign with what they're doing. Additionally, there's a lot of opinion that goes into whether a particular goal is in alignment with another one. If you've ever worked in the company for long enough, you know that people can have disagreements. They can have different kind of incentives that they're working towards without creating a major conflict or without creating a major issue within the company. By default, it's likely that you can trust your manager's direction on this and as a heuristic for you to use, the downside for you, if you don't trust it and you're wrong, is fairly large. It's a relatively safe thing to listen to the goals of your manager and try to align with those goals when you can, when you can find ways to do that. The third and final question that you need to ask your manager in your next one on one or as soon as you can is what problem, project, or decision can I turn my attention to to have the most profound impact on those goals. This is kind of connecting the dots between what your manager has just explicitly stated as their main motivation, their primary goal, and you being a catalyst towards that goal. This is definitely some specific and intentional communication strategy that we're employing here that you are kind of directly helping them achieve what they want to achieve, but it's also not artificial. The fact that you're asking this question and your manager is actually going to provide you with an answer, maybe they won't provide it right away, maybe they haven't even thought about this, but you are actually actively helping them determine pathways towards a solution, determine pathways towards actually achieving the things that they care about achieving, and you are acting as an agent of that, of accomplishing those goals. Now recognize that we have three different things that we're asking in this question, problem, project, or decision, and these are in different kind of sizes in terms of impact and in terms of investment. The smallest of these is likely the decision. Most of the time decisions are relatively small in comparison to the other two items on this list. Sometimes decisions require a little bit more investment, but generally speaking, this is probably the fastest of the three, the next largest one is going to be a problem, and then of course the largest is a project. Multiple decisions are likely to be made for a given problem and a project probably houses multiple problems. By asking this question this way, you're hopefully elucidating if there is a specific thing that is on your manager's mind, a specific decision or a specific problem, maybe, or if the manager is much more open and it doesn't have something super specific on their mind, in that case it's likely the project. You're likely to hear a project level answer to this question. Ultimately, by having these three questions answered, you've calibrated with your manager what you should be focusing on, and not only what you should be focusing on from their kind of lofty expectations based on the company's desires or the company's intentions and goals, but also their own. By asking these questions in the way that we've phrased them here, you're team yourself up to be right in the line of value delivery and accomplishing the work that needs to be accomplished to help those goals actually get achieved. Now I want to address a concern that I can imagine you might have if you're listening to this and particularly if you are a younger engineer, younger in your career, less experienced, you may feel intimidated by putting yourself in this position. By asking these questions of your manager, but here's the critical thing to remember. Your manager should have a clear picture of what your capacity is and when you ask them to give you feedback or direction, it is their role to moderate that to your capabilities. If you ask them what problem project or decision can I turn my attention to to have the most profound impact on that goal, your manager should be able to moderate based on your experience level. I believe that you, specifically with the experience that you have, can turn your attention towards this decision. It's also likely that if you have a good manager, they're going to point you in the direction of collaboration. This effort is not to get kind of an in with your manager. You don't want to be your manager's pet, so to speak. They're favorite on the team. It's not the goal here. Instead, it's to try to uncover some of the otherwise hidden goals, some of the otherwise hidden criteria for success. This doesn't disqualify you from collaborating with other people. If you are that younger engineer, if you are that less experienced engineer, take all of this and strive and recognize that you have the opportunity to take these answers, go and talk to another one of your teammates about it. So tell them what you've learned and then come up with a plan. Additionally, in follow-up episodes, we'll talk about the critical role that trust plays between you and your manager. If you ever feel like your manager is asking you to do something that you can't do, you should not only feel the freedom, but also the responsibility and the opportunity to be honest with them about your skill level. This gives you the open door to talk about the gaps in your skills, how you might address those gaps, whether that's through collaboration or maybe you actually going and doing something new, gaining those skills that you don't yet have through experience. But none of that can happen if you don't have a clear and open relationship, a trusting relationship with your manager. We'll talk about that in follow-up episodes. I hope you enjoyed this discussion on improving the relationship that you have with your manager, the most critical relationship or series of relationships that you will have over the course of your career. And as an important note, if you are ever on the track to become a manager, all of these same things still apply to you, both from your role as the manager, but also because you're still going to have a manager yourself. You're still going to need to have this series of skills in your back pocket. So thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks again to today's sponsor, Launch Darkly, head over to launch darkly.com to get started today with Enterprise Grade feature flagging. If you enjoyed this discussion, I'd love for you to join us on the Developer Tea Discord. You can do that totally free, heading over to developertea.com slash discord. You'll find engineers who are ready to support you in your decision making processes and your questions about your career. You can provide feedback to me. I'm actually in that discord as well, sharing my opinions. It's a great place to ask questions about various books or different technology stacks. There's a lot of information that you can gain from other engineers who are just as motivated as you are to become better in their careers. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.