The Busy Manager’s Summary
- Why should you read this: as a manager, it can be hard to know what to prioritise to maximise your team’s development. Fortunately, prominent leaders sometimes ask their thousands of twitter followers and we sift through the hundreds of replies to let you know! We’ve done this once already with Neha Batra, and a couple of weeks ago, Hiten Shah gave us another opportunity to find out what our team members appreciate the most.
- Number one - ‘support’: it seems incredibly basic, but the fact it was so consistently referenced and appreciated suggests managers aren’t doing it enough. Team members want to know that you believe in them, and that you have their back. Particularly when taking on opportunities that could be exciting, but hold the risk of failure. Managers are often advised to ask in 1:1s, ‘What could I be doing to support you more?’ If you haven’t asked it in a while, it might be worth checking in to see what else you could do.
- Consistency with previous findings: it was reassuring to find out that the remaining top responses were consistent with those identified in our previous article. Team members are looking for stretch opportunities, empowerment, help with career development and skills development, mentoring and trust. Along with support, these categories were mentioned significantly more than other factors.
- Fortunate firings: the main difference from our previous piece was a significant number of responses in this survey claiming that ‘firing them’ was the best thing a manager had ever done. While some of these may have been sarcastic, others elaborated and told stories of how it was the push they needed out of a job that wasn’t right. Similarly, whilst not involving a firing, there were ‘career development’ stories where managers were credited with suggesting team members find opportunities at different firms because their existing employer wasn’t a good fit. Together, they remind us that our roles as managers include taking a longer term perspective on coworkers’ careers. In some cases, advising people to move on (and helping them do that) may be the best thing any manager has ever done for them.
In Depth: The best thing a manager has ever done
If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that earlier in the year we analysed a series of tweets in response to a similar question posed by Neha Batra, a Director of Engineering at Github. It’s been one of our most-read articles - we suspect because hearing real-life stories helps bring home to managers the impact of their work.
So when Hiten Shah, a US-based tech entrepreneur, recently asked his 240,000 followers what the best thing their manager had ever done for them was, our ears pricked up.
Like Batra, he got a lot of responses, and by categorising and analysing them we can draw some conclusions which might help you prioritise how best to manage your team.
If you would like to read all the messages yourself, you can either check out the twitter thread or we’ve compiled them all in a table for you here.
A quick caveat: this is by no means a rigorous scientific exercise. The categorisations we have put in place for each tweet are necessarily broad. Whilst we have tried to derive the genuine intention of the tweeter, it may be that we have made a mistake and for that we apologise. There is likely also some self-selection bias here towards the tech industry, and the sample size is still relatively limited. Nevertheless, we got a lot of value out of the exercise and we think you will too.
Number One: Support
This seems incredibly basic. But perhaps that’s what makes it most striking. By far and away the most popular responses were expressions of appreciation by team members for when a manager had their back or believed in them.
“Took me seriously and believed in me”
“Ask me, how would I solve it? Told me to go ahead and that he would support me.”
“Gave me real opportunities and backed me when I made wrong decisions. I was a fresh graduate in the early days of my job. This had a crucial role in my career.”
Whilst straightforward, it’s really important. The fact that so many chose to pick it out also suggests it’s not the norm, and that many managers still aren’t doing enough in their words and actions to show that they care.
One of the questions managers are often advised to ask in 1:1s is ‘What could I be doing to support you more?’ If you haven’t asked it in a while, it might be worth checking in to see what else you could do.
As the third example above demonstrates (and there are others), your support is particularly critical when asking team members to take on those stretch opportunities which are so crucial to their development.
Next time you delegate an exciting (but probably slightly risky) opportunity to one of your team, rather than just patting yourself on the back, make sure they’ve got the frameworks in place to succeed. And perhaps more importantly, make sure you’re ready to support them if they don’t.
Consistency with Previous Findings
We’ll admit, when we started working on categorising Shah’s responses, we were a little apprehensive that we’d find completely different answers to our previous article! Especially given the pretty informal nature of the research, as we acknowledge in the caveat above.
So it was really pleasing (and interesting) to see so much consistency in the responses across the two sets of tweets. Perhaps we really are closer to understanding what people want from their managers.
After Support (24%), there was a significant cluster of responses which included between ten and fifteen percent of respondents. If you’ve read our previous piece you’ll see that these almost exactly overlap with the most popular responses from that survey. It’s a reminder of what remains at the core of great management.
Gave stretch opportunities
“Gave me the opportunity to prove myself and fought for me to be promoted to do harder, more involved work that caused my career to balloon. Shoutout to my ex-manager he was the best.”
“My manager handed me projects and made me understand the value of owning and growing your work. After each & every day we used to sit down and reflect for 5 minutes on two questions: what went right, what could have been done better. It has transformed me.”
“Being brutally honest that he'd not be able to offer new challenges for my growth, and educated me on what I could do next, within and outside the company. He had a strong sense of ownership over my career as a manager and felt responsible for it deeply”
“Showed me how they identify and prioritize work, and agreed to some "work-swap" with me after we identified gaps in my knowledge and experience. They took on some of my in-the-weeds work and they let me take on some of their higher-level strategic work”
“Demonstrated how every dev project can be treated like a product and pushed me to learn the financial side of tech. Priceless mentoring!”
They trusted them
“It was inclusion. I was in many rooms early on in my career where I had no business being in, with board members, investors, and customers. That trust accelerated my career growth.”
By far the greatest discrepancy in the two sets of responses was the high number in this survey (11%) who said the best thing their manager had ever done for their career was to fire them.
Now, some of this might have been said sarcastically, but there are a decent number of responses which elaborate and suggest that it genuinely furthered their careers by forcing them to move onto something better.
“Fire me. It’s exactly what I needed at the time to build my skill set and challenge myself”
“Getting fired me from my first grown-up job at 22 that I hated and was too afraid to quit. That led me to move to NYC and forced me to take ownership over my career.”
At the time we’re sure some of these people felt different. No matter the positive impacts down the line, the insecurity and stress of losing your job is a hard way to make progress. But some of these stories are not too far away from ‘Career Development’ responses where rather than being fired, managers encouraged coworkers to look for a career more suited to them.
“Inspired me to look out for change and hence found a much better job”
“Told me that I was too good for this organization and told me to seek further studies.”
So the takeaway here is probably not that people like being fired (spoiler). But to recognise that there is great value in assessing whether someone is right for your team, and if they’re not, taking proactive steps to help them develop their career elsewhere, rather than letting them stew in a role that’s not right for them.
It’s true, some of these stories don’t end up in friendly advice and a job offer, but a firing. But as Kim Scott says:
“Remember, the reason you have to fire them is not that they suck. It’s not even that they suck at this job. It’s that this job—the job you gave them—sucks for them.”
You can help them do better. And as this survey showed, if you do, it might be the best thing a manager has ever done for them.