At Kommon, we get asked a lot by managers about what the best things they should do to help their teammates grow. Now, whilst we have our own opinions, we’re humble enough (just) to say that every team member is different, and you should probably start by asking them.
Here endeth the lesson. Thanks for coming.
Or it would be, if someone hadn’t asked a bunch of people the same question on Twitter and given us some interesting insights to ponder.
Step forward Neha Batra, a Director of Engineering at Github. Last year, she posed the question to her followers ‘What’s one thing that a manager’s done to skyrocket your growth? 🚀🚀’. She got over 100 replies, and we wanted to analyse trends in those responses to see what we could learn.
Particularly at this time in the year, if you’re looking to change habits and identify something new you could do for your team members, we thought you might find some inspiration.
If you would like to analyse the messages yourself, we have published our table here for you to play with.
A 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.
Onto some findings.
The first thing to say is that the replies highlighted the incredible range of ways in which managers can help their team members. We counted twenty five.
We’ve written elsewhere of what an incredible opportunity it is to be a manager because of all the different ways you can make an impact. This really emphasises that. Moreover, it demonstrates just how complex it is to be a good manager if your team members ideally want to see something like this range of behaviours on a regular basis.
Almost 30 percent of respondents replied that the number one thing their manager did for their growth was to give them opportunities out of their comfort zone which stretched them professionally.
Always suggested a stretch opportunity when he thought I was holding back. Eg: "Can I do attend this conference in Dec?" Him: "Sure. But their CFP is open why don't you submit a talk?" Me: after a excuses he convinced me that I was ready.... Would have taken me yrs to step outside my fear of public speaking. It was just a start of believing in myself and questioning the imposter inner voice. When I said I would like to be an eng manager in 5-10yrs, told me I'm ready & should apply in the next open call.
This shouldn’t be particularly surprising. There is extensive existing literature on the topic (including suggestions that up to 70% of professional growth may come from stretch assignments). However it is one thing to read an academic paper. It is another to see a series of testimonies from workers who are crediting this type of work with their progress (you can do exactly this by checking out our table of the tweets). It is a timely reminder to make sure each of your team members has these kinds of projects/goals to work on.
Significantly, in almost a third of these examples, the tweeter also credited their manager with supporting them in meeting these ambitious goals. Setting people up to fail is no fun at all. But the combination of challenging goals with support from your manager is an exceptionally powerful one both for professional development, and building a trusting relationship.
Beyond stretch opportunities, our categorisation showed five more significant clusters of behaviour. In descending order of popularity:
New CTO started, met with me and said "I hear everyone likes you, but I'm worried your not getting the opportunities to have your impact on display." He then put me in front of a bunch of high visibility projects. I've never had a job feel this rewarding before.
So, in one, all you need to do is plan your team’s career development, empower them in undertaking stretch opportunities, support them in doing so, ensure they have the skills to succeed, and sponsor them for progression with your organisation.
It was notable that some of the most detail concerned times where managers had taken a very deliberate, caring approach to a team members’ long term development (in one case, disregarding their previous manager’s opinions). Here’s a couple of examples:
Had me print out my resume. Then we sat down, went over it, and he helped me write a better one. Then asked me what I wanted to do with my career, and helped put a plan in place to achieve it. Also congratulated me 2 years later when I got that job.
Took the review from my previous manager, put it to the side, assessed my skills, saw that I was way better than what was said and worked to get me promoted twice and made sure leaders knew who I was and the work I did. My rep went from: is she new (no, 3 years), to she's great!
As the first quote alludes to, this includes planning for career development beyond your team members’ time at your organisation. It may even deliberately include that. A couple of tweets said the best thing their manager ever did was fire them. It’s hard to tell whether they were joking or not.
But jokes aside, we still speak to a lot of managers who haven’t had a detailed conversation about long term career development with their team members. As these tweets make clear, it’s the foundation for everything else. If you’re new to this, the ‘Three Conversations’ framework popularised by Russ Laraway is a great place to start thinking about how to go about this.
Or you can get in touch with us to discuss, we’re happy to give you some tips.
Amidst all the positivity, almost 10 percent of respondents chimed in to say that their manager had done nothing of the sort to help them.
The responses ranged from the surprised:
I don't really think I have an example where a manager purposefully or explicitly helped me grow like this. Now I'm super curious to see how people respond!
To the concise:
What is a manager?
A reminder that there’s still a lot of work for some managers to do.