How should I best make use of my time?
In the previous post, we looked at some techniques that I find useful for keeping all of my information under control. Certainly, for the new manager, striving for a situation where each day has structure and feels more regimented is a positive place to start. However, once that structure is in place, how should one engage in activities and conversations to best create a positive outcome for the business?
For this article, we’ll expand on 4 categories that were outlined in what I feel is the quintessential book on management: High Output Management by Andy Grove*. He uses these categories to frame the different types of interactions that happen in the workplace.
- Information gathering
- Decision making
- Being a role model
As you may have gathered (pun intended) from the previous articles, as a manager, the information base that you hold is critical. This is why I recommend having everything documented wherever possible: 1 to 1 notes, actions from meetings, a place to capture informal information, and so on. Your knowledge base is what you use to understand the many activities of the business and fundamentally what you base your decisions on. Information gathering feeds this knowledge base.
It is worth noting that information can be gathered in many different places other than formal interactions and meetings. For example, you could be having a conversation at the coffee machine with your colleague, and then she mentions that her team is building a new API. You realize that this is incredibly helpful for your own team, so you note it down. Weeks later, your Product Owner notifies the team that this particular feature arriving in another of the businesses’ products would be perfect for your own. You already know that an API was written, so you make the connection between the teams.
Keep adding more information to your knowledge base. Always. Keep as little in your head as possible. Tools such as Google Drive and Evernote make this so much easier than it was 10 years ago, and they’re all free. For me, the simple act of writing things down also commits them to my memory better than if I’d just made a mental note.
This is one of the more obvious answers to the question “What does a manager do?” You can make decisions of all sizes. You could make a small decision as to grant a holiday request or not during a busy period of work, or you could make a large multi-million-pound decision as to whether to migrate the entire infrastructure into the cloud or keep it within your own data center.
Always take decision making seriously. It is easy to forget that there are many in the business who do not have the power to make decisions, so you must always give them your full attention and take responsibility for the ramifications of making said decisions. Every decision is an inflection point: should we hire Bob or Susan? Should we split the team into two teams? Should we refuse to begin estimating the work required for this project when the proposal for the product is so unclear? Decisions such as these may seem like they are small in that moment, but extrapolated over time and bringing in the cost of the different outcomes, they are actually big decisions. Treat them as such.
The concept of nudging is influencing a decision by contributing your own viewpoint to the discussion. For example, you may be involved in a discussion about whether to build or buy some particular software, and you make it clear how you feel about the situation. You are not the decision maker, but you can influence the decision. Like decision making, nudging can occur for decisions of all sizes. You may put your viewpoint across about whether to book a meeting immediately or tomorrow, or equally state your case in a discussion as to whether to open an office in the UK or abroad.
Try to view your daily interactions through the lens of nudging, and you’ll soon see that there are ample opportunities to broaden your influence on the organization, thus increasing your output as a manager.
Being a role model
Being a good manager is about walking the walk as well as talking the talk. The best way to demonstrate to your staff and your peers is to lead by example. Give talks, get involved in day-to-day discussions and contribute technically if you have the time and inclination. Demonstrating the standards that you wish to see others perform to is the best way to create change: lead from the front. If you wish for your team to communicate better in person but you personally prefer to talk to them over email rather than face to face, then it’s unlikely that the situation is going to improve with the rapidity you desire.
You can also be a role model for your department by making connections outside of your typical influence sphere. If you are in Engineering, for example, you may have regular check-ins with influential staff in other areas of the business, such as commercial. These connections can give vital feedback, help you discuss ideas and issues, and identify stakeholders for future projects.
A day through a lens
Let’s have a look at a fairly typical day and see how we can categorize the interactions.
8:45: You sit down and prioritize your to-do list. You read your emails and unread Slack messages. Here you are information gathering.
9:00: You answer your emails. You contribute to various discussions with your viewpoint, which is nudging. You decide to make an offer to a candidate you interviewed yesterday. That’s decision making.
9:10: While in the kitchen and making a tea, you have a conversation with a colleague and learn what they’re working on. Information gathering. You share how your own team tackled a similar technical issue with a degree of success. You suggest taking a similar approach. Nudging.
10:00: You attend a meeting to review a number of CVs that have come in over the last few days. You choose which to invite to a first interview. Decision making. You suggest to the CTO that it is a good idea to open the position out to more junior candidates now that the local universities are a few months away from having large numbers of students graduate. Nudging.
11:00: You are in a 1 to 1 with a direct report. Lots of nudging but less decision making as ideally you want to steer them into making their own decisions. You learn a lot of things about what she has been working on this last week, and how the issues have overcome. Information gathering. You offer some opinions of how problems might be tackled. Nudging.
12:00: Lunch. You gather some food, rather than information, at this point. However, you do have a conversation with a colleague whilst eating about his experiences using Jenkinsfiles, and your team has moved across to using these recently. You give some advice about who to talk to. Nudging.
12:30: You catch a colleague in the breakout area who shipped some new functionality last week. You tell her that she did a brilliant job and that customers are really appreciative. You do this because you want your department to get better at delivering honest feedback. Being a role model.
13:00: You go through your emails and messages, both information gathering and nudging. You have a decision to make about whether some work should be put into your team’s backlog or not. You decide that you need to talk more in person, so you set up a meeting for later.
15:00: You have the meeting about the work. Your product owner describes how the work can make your own product more compelling, and you also know that you have the technical expertise to build it in such a way that other teams can use it too. You both decide to take the work on because contributing to other teams as well as your own is a good example to set. Being a role model.
16:30: You spend the last couple of hours in the quiet going through items on your to-do list. One of these items is preparing a technical talk on your latest project (being a role model). At the end of the day, you read your email (information gathering), review some pull requests (decision making) and take part in a discussion in the backend development channel about logging (nudging).
When viewed through the lens of the 4 key managerial activities, it is possible to see how even fairly mundane interactions can be transformed into an opportunity to exert your influence and improve the organization that you work in. Try it out. It’s fun!
* I’ve taken the liberty of using an affiliate link for the High Output Management book. If you happen to buy it, which I highly recommend you do, I make a few pennies that contribute to my coffee spend when writing these posts. Thank you kindly.