My Manager README

Posted on Wed 08 August 2018 in Blog

When I transitioned from being primarily a software engineer who was an individual contributor on a team to managing a team of engineers, I didn't have a clear sense of who I was going to be as a manager. I knew the sort of manager I wanted to be, but the shift from peer to leader isn't always clear cut.

After close to two years in the role, I learned a lot about who I am and who I still want to be as a leader, but had no clear way to communicate that to my team.

One of the engineers on our team left the organization after five years in the role, and while hiring their replacement I took the opportunity to get a fresh start and reset.

About six months prior I had come across a few posts about the practice of creating a manager readme as a way to reflect on who you are as a leader as well as provide new hires a sort of guidebook or operating manual for how to work with you as their manager.

I wanted to start my new engineer off with not only a clear understanding of how I saw my role but also what I expected out of them.

To do this, I looked over many examples of great manager readmes from top tech companies to draw inspiration from.

Ultimately, I wanted this document to be both explanatory and inspirational for my team as well as aspirational for myself. A sort of contract I could hold myself to. So that my team could say, "You said you were going to do X." And I could make sure I was holding myself up to that same standard.

So, I drafted a welcome letter and appended my Manager README in the true python spirit of:

explicit is better than implicit

Being a programmer, I also couldn't help seeing this as yet another program to write. A set of instructions for myself to operate by. So, of course, I had to check it into source control and track changes. Like any other codebase, I knew it would inevitably evolve and grow. And I wanted to be able to git blame myself if it went off the rails. =)

Without further ado, here's what I've come up with, so far:


Manager README

In an attempt to be transparent about my leadership philosophy and my expectations (both for myself and my team), I have put together this document. I think explicit is better than implicit and I want this to serve as a way to hold myself accountable as well as to clearly articulate my expectations for my team.

My Role

  • I strive to be a servant leader: I believe managers work for their teams, not the other way around
  • I am an advocate for you and the team with the rest of the organization
  • I will set the context for your work, not tell you how to do it
  • I want to support your growth and provide you with opportunities to learn and apply your skills
  • I am also an individual contributor on this team and hold myself accountable to the same expectations I set for the team

My Availability

  • While I usually have a lot on my plate, very little is more important to me than talking to you if you need to talk. If you want to talk, let's talk.
  • If you have questions, have a roadblock in your work, or just need a thought partner I'd love to hear about it as soon as possible. You don't have to wait until our scheduled one-on-one meetings. Come by my desk, stop me in the hall, catch me on slack, call me, or just put some time on my calendar anywhere that's open.
  • If my schedule is blocked when you need me, let me know so I can make sure we find time to connect
  • My commute is hell. I tend to work from home frequently and work non-standard hours. My regular schedule is M-W-F in office from 9:30/10-6ish and T-TH at home 8ish-5ish. If you need to schedule something in person, early morning, let me know and I will take extras steps to be there on time.

My Assumptions About You

  • You are agile and adaptable. We wear many hats and our roles and work evolve as the organization's needs change. I will expect you to change gears as needed and work on things you may have no prior experience in. Innovation means trying new things and not always knowing how to do it right away.
  • You are a directly responsible individual. I expect you to take ownership for your work and your mistakes. I will create a safe space for productive failure as well as give you credit for your successes.
  • You are good at your job. I wouldn't have hired you if I thought otherwise. If it feels like I'm questioning you it's because I am trying to gather context or trying to be a sounding board and rubber duck for your ideas. However, you know best how to do your work. I'll ask questions and vet your ideas, but won't override your decisions. I will expect you to own those decisions though.
  • You feel safe debating with me. I believe in productive disagreement. I find that ideas improve by being examined from all angles. If it sounds like I'm disagreeing I'm most likely just playing devil's advocate and want you to articulate and refine your position. This does rely on us being able to have a safe debate. Sometimes the right answer is one neither of us started with.

Values

  • I value your transparency. I want you to keep me in the loop and let me know about issues as they arise. Be transparent with me. I will do the same for you.
  • I value your learning. I know that it takes time to learn new things and that novel projects will require additional time to experiment and iterate.
  • I value your time. I don't want you to waste your time on busy work. I want you to provide value and feel valued. I want you to have pride in your work and feel inspired and purposeful in the work you do here. That doesn't mean we won't ever have a slog or work we have to power through. However, if you feel like you are wasting your time on menial work, let's find a way to automate it!
  • I value your input. I put processes in place to make us more effective. I don't believe in just going through the motions or process for the sake of process. If you think something is getting in the way of your work, let me know. I want to improve our processes so they work effectively for all of us.

Focus

  • The quality of our development work increases with the amount of concentration we give it.
  • Attention is a valuable resource. Be prepared to defend it. Deep work is vital to quality.
  • We work in an open space. Feel free to use headphones or move to a quiet space if you need to concentrate. I find I do some of my best coding when I'm not at the office.
  • You are not paid to maintain your inbox or attend meetings. Block off time on your calendar if you need to. It's okay to say no to an immediate request for your attention or to ask to circle back later.
  • Troubleshooting a problem with a teammate, though, is a valuable exercise. There are always things to learn from unplanned collaboration. Be open to help others when they need it and they will return the favor. Just be judicious with how much of your time you dole out for interruptions.

Feedback

  • Radical Candor makes a lot of sense to me. I want to give you feedback because I care about you and want to help you grow.
  • I prefer to offer and receive direct feedback in a timely manner. The tighter the feedback loop, the better.
  • I expect people to call BS when they see it and not be afraid to speak up.
  • Feedback is best when it is actionable and explicit about what improvement looks like.

Work/Life Balance

  • I want you to work smarter, not harder. Don't burn yourself out. There is always more work to do. You don't have to solve everything today.
  • I believe in working to live, not living to work. We are mission driven and everyone wants to give 110%, but we have to be mindful of the stress this imbalance can cause.
  • Unless there's an emergency, I don't expect to communicate with you outside of business hours. If you get an email from me late at night or first thing in the morning, I don't expect you to respond immediately. That's me working when I need to. Pick it up when you get a chance during your preferred schedule. If I call your cell or text you directly, it's likely urgent. Please respond accordingly.
  • Most people work somewhere between 7am (earliest) to 7pm (latest). Figure out what works for you and let me know. I'm flexible about your schedule and know that things come up that may require coming in late or leaving early.
  • I support working from home. It's good for mental health, supports deep work and productivity, and is definitely a quality of life issue for me. I also recognize the value of in person meetings, face-to-face collaboration, and informal discussion. We are not full-time remote.

One on Ones

  • I think 1:1s are important and want us to check in regularly. I will strive to prioritize our 1:1s ahead of other commitments and be there on-time and committed to listening. I will give you my full attention.
  • These meetings are for you and I expect you to set the agenda. It's not just a time for status updates (although I am happy to chat about your project status). If I have things I want to ask you, I will, but this is your time.
  • I think hard discussions are frequently facilitated by taking a walk. That doesn't mean if I ask you to go for a walk that something is wrong though. I like stretching my legs and walking meetings can get the mind moving in different directions. I am also open to taking a meeting over the ping-pong table or grabbing some coffee.
  • For remote 1:1s, I have a difficult time focusing and connecting unless I can see your face over video. If you're doing the whole work in your pajamas thing, fine by me. You don't have to dress up.
  • I expect to check in at least once per sprint, usually at the mid way point. But the length, frequency, and medium are up to you. I will carve out at least 60 minutes for these but if you need less time or want to run over, let me know.

Relationships

  • I think strong teams come from great working relationships. I encourage you to connect with your peers as well as other teammates across Aspire.
  • A former Aspire teammate once coined the term frolleague(friend-colleague) and I find it very fitting. I consider a lot of current and former teammates to be friends. I hang out with folks at Aspire on my personal time and am usually up for happy hour. There is no expectation that anyone here is your new best friend, but I do think that the presence of someone you work with you consider a friend to be a strong indicator of healthy working relationships.
  • I'm happy to make introductions for you or provide networking suggestions to help you do that.
  • I think it is important to get out to school sites and see the work of the organization in action. I will make efforts to provide you opportunities to do so as soon as possible.