What’s An Emerging Manager?



under original management againMedicine has interns and residents.  The law has clerks.  The fire service has “probies.”

In tech, we have the notion of a “junior programmer.”

In management, there’s no understood role for a “junior manager.”

This is important.

Once, corporations and the military cranked out America’s managers.

These were not good old days.  There was no golden age of management.

However, there was a notion of “readiness” to manage at a particular level.

Like today, pedigree mattered.  Readiness was assessed by experienced managers, mostly white men.  I don’t imagine that readiness was consistent across industries.   It didn’t need to be:  more people spent their entire career in one industry.

Readiness contained a lot of stuff.  Including actual readiness.   (There’s baby in that bathwater.)

In 2014, I spent some attention considering how we develop managers today, in the absence of structures that used to serve this purpose.

And I started to talk with people about The Emerging Manager.

The Emerging Manager is an individual who has been managing people for somewhere between several weeks and several years.

She might be a developer leading a team for the first time.   Or, he might be a startup CEO or founder.  An emerging manager might lead 2 people, or 60.   She might be 23, and barely out of school; or 45, with a track record as a subject matter expert.

So being an emerging manager isn’t about career experience, or time in the job — though learning to manage people is a 10,000 hour endeavor.  It’s not about the size of the team.

“Emerging” happens in the first hundreds and thousands of hours of learning to manage people.  The work is to develop fluency in a set of basic management skills.

  • Setting, communicating goals; delegating work; giving people feedback
  • Interviewing/hiring with consistent results; advocating for your team/people; managing conflict
  • Addressing performance issues to a satisfactory conclusion; developing other managers; managing extreme change

In a way, these groupings are skill levels.   (It’s a little more complicated, too complicated for today’s post.)

Any emerging manager who wants to plug away at this for long enough will develop a solid proficiency — under the right conditions.

Some of the right conditions:

  • Setting an intentional path through the learning process
  • Finding mentors and coaches
  • Working in an environment with some structure and process around the work of management
  • And…the emerging manager has to want to develop this expertise.

“Subject matter expertise” is not included in any of these groups.   Not because it’s not important.   But because it’s not an emerging management skill.

I’ll come back to this here.   And also next week in a talk at BrooklynJS, where I’ll be presenting some thoughts on programmers as Emerging Managers.   Sign up to join us!

Update:  here’s a link to the slides for my BrooklynJS talk.   Thanks for the warm welcome, BrooklynJS.   And special thanks to the person in the crowd who whooped when I mentioned that my dad had been a programmer at Univac in 1960.   Dad loved hearing this!

Photo: Adapted from Somethings new change by Stephen Dann, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

The Money Value of Time


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Screen shot 2014-12-03 at 8.04.25 AM1:1 meetings at work.   Pretty mundane.  “Waste of time” activity.  Trivial.


Unless “Time is money.”

An incomplete notion.

You can’t earn time.  You can’t win it, borrow it, or compound it.

Lose it, you’ll never get it back.  Not so mundane in real life.

Time is more valuable than money.

And, as it turns out, not really trivial at the office.

Let’s do the math.   To avoid confusing myself, I’ll keep the numbers dead simple.

  • 1 manager, with 5 direct reports.
  • Bi-weekly 1:1 meetings with each team member.
  • Meetings last an hour.

That’s a chunk of your manager’s time, if she’s preparing/following up at all.  5-10%.

Or, conservatively value everyone’s time at $50 an hour.

  • 25 weeks a year X 10 hours X $50 = $12,500/manager
  • 5 managers, 25 team members = $62,500
  • Consider opportunity cost.  How do your people’s jobs involve generating revenue, or affecting user/customer experience?

So, not trivial.   You want to leverage everyone’s investment.   Here are a few guidelines.

Have an agenda centered around people’s formal goals, and take notes.  A key purpose of 1:1 meetings is knowing whether people are meeting their goals:  come into the meeting with a standard supporting agenda.

Where does someone stand?  Have they met a significant goal, or made fantastic progress?   Now’s the time to say, “Good job.”

If they’re struggling, what’s going on?   A manager adds value by helping people to move around barriers, and providing support for people to reach their goals.

This might be by giving feedback, by smoothing a cross functional communication, or by helping to prioritize.   It also includes checking in on professional development goals.

Do take notes.   (Not on your phone.)   This demonstrates active listening, and your notes can be extremely helpful when performance review time rolls around.

Create space for open conversation.   Once you’ve covered goals, use the power of open-ended questions to learn, and go deeper.

“How can I help you to do your job better?” enables people to ask for help.  “How can we make this meeting more effective?” builds relationship.

These and other questions can also set the stage for people to give their managers feedback, in a lower-stakes setting.   If a manager is truly listening!

Make 1:1 meetings face to face — or video conference.  You want to communicate, and to build relationship.   All kinds of research indicates that our words are only part of the picture.   Body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are all key.

Stow your technology.  Seriously.   What kind of interruption is truly necessary in the 30-60 minute confines of a 1:1?   A push notification that someone posted a joke to #random?

Unless your spouse may possibly go into labor (etc.), turn off your phone and anything else that might “ping.”   (Here’s why, via Scientific American.)

Now, this post was inspired by a brief exchange in comments over at Brittany Laughlin’s blog.

Brittany commented, “…it’s especially hard to get feedback…since there are only two people in the room.”

Yes.  Setting expectations that people will use a regular agenda is helpful.  Ideally, HR Chiefs and/or senior leaders would keep tabs on this.*

Founders and senior leaders need to remember:  your people will mirror your behavior.   That’s how culture operates

Maybe you don’t have weekly 1:1s with the managers on your team.   Behave the way you want your people to behave with your team members on the front line.  In case you didn’t take this in earlier:  put your phone away, and really listen.

My guidelines are suggestions.   Time tested, they’re solid.  Maybe they don’t quite fit your situation.

What’s important:   have guidelines, communicate them, and train your people to use them.

Maybe you think it sounds stupid to train your managers to have 1:1 meetings.

Sadly, having seen organizations where this did not happen, I can tell you that it is exactly the opposite of stupid.

The only way to “leverage” time is to use it well.

*Informally, maybe.  In an employee engagement survey, maybe.  It’s an “it depends” situation; it matters to get advice for your situation from a human, not a blog.

Effective 1:1 Conversations, a Template for Emerging Managers is a brief guide I wrote on this topic.   I’ve made the guide available over on Gumroad, where you can pay what you want for it!

Photo:  save-in-time, by DaveBleasdale via Flickr, under Creative Commons license


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