Co-founder of Mad Devs
After a year in people management roles, I discovered that people are the toughest part of it all. You can find perfect tools to automate your routine tasks or build fantastic processes causing you no trouble. You can get all other issues resolved, but the human factor will still be your biggest risk.
Currently, I wear two official corporate hats. I am a Marketing Strategy Adviser at Mad Devs and a Senior Community Manager at Postgres Professional. So I am deeply involved in managing contractors, supervising my colleagues’ work, and people management in general.
Below is the list of dos and don’ts taken from my own experience. I decided to share it as these simple rules have brought me a lot of good at work and in my volunteer projects, too.
I’ve seen my team striving not just to do their job — they said, they were trying to please me, too. I managed to become a person of high trust. I was told sensitive information from them on time and, thus, could prevent disasters. I got informed about blockers and enjoyed 100% smooth collaboration. So this list is battle-tested, it has served me well.
I have always enjoyed the difference between fight against and fight with. If your team feels that you fight with them, being their brother or sister in arms, they will trust you. If your team member is looking for external help from anyone except you, it is not a good sign. They feel some tension as you fight against them, consciously or not.
Let’s imagine you are not the first person your inferiors share their concerns with. What will they do then? They will escalate all issues to your manager or leave your team. How to avoid this?
Don’t pretend to be a superhero — share with people your failures, not only wins. Use self-irony where possible. Don’t treat people as functions. Remember that they have families, health issues, hobbies. Let them live a life, no one is obliged to sacrifice themselves to work. Share their grief and joy — be a human, not a function, too.
Another person can never meet your expectations by 100% because they are not you. Great managers say, if work is done the right way by at least 50%, thank the guy and provide them actionable feedback. Another 50% of issues might be resolved thanks to your remarks. You never know until you try.
Very often we are focusing on what people under us are doing wrong. You will surely spot the loose points and things you are unhappy with, criticizing is the easy part of it. Try to find words of support for what people do the right way. Someone has completed an important mission on time? Express some gratitude, not all people are responsible enough to do so! If someone works long hours and weekends, don’t pretend that it’s okay. Thank the hard worker and make sure they have enough time for rest, too.
People hate when the results of their efforts are stolen. Don’t position yourself as the only one working on important tasks. Otherwise, you’ll face many departures in your team. If you report the completion of an important project, mention all contributors. Use public praise extensively. Communicate the progress every team member makes to C-levels and HR. Ensure that timely promotions and bonus payments go to everyone who deserves them.
People want fair treatment. Bear in mind, that everyone tends to overestimate their role and contribution. It’s normal and you need to stay aligned with your team’s expectations. And they expect praise and respect for what they do. Whoever authored a win, always mention this guy. If you are great at that, it will also encourage people to own their mistakes. If they know that you prefer to praise people, not scold them, they are less likely to conceal their failures.
People feel discouraged if they share a good idea in vain. Be a person who cares for people’s proposals. Otherwise, they’ll find a better workplace where their voices can be heard. Let them speak freely and offer you feedback too.
Caring staff members are never silent, they bring innovation to the table. Of course, you cannot accept each and every idea. This might introduce chaos and break the existing process. However, if their initiatives are not even considered, people usually stop even trying. Consider every proposal. Let your answer be well-grounded, be it a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If you cannot implement 100% of the employee’s plan, put in place 50% — people will be grateful for it, too. Your staff doesn’t expect change to happen in the blink of an eye. They simply want to see things moving and take part in this process.
On a busy day, we all tend to scan our inbox rather than read emails one by one. Yet, not all people are great at subject lines or clear messages. Something important can always slip away because we are not robots. Re-read emails from the silent team members who rarely remind you of their existence. They might be important.
What looks easy to handle for you, might be a matter of life and death for your employee. Remember that your starters might be frustrated and see a tragedy in every minor mistake. Remember that your most experienced game players might need more rest. While reading a message, try to see the person’s emotional condition behind the lines. Are they stressed or disappointed? People do expect advice and interest from you. If you feel that something is wrong, ask about it. In many cases, it decreases turnover. Just ask.
Setting wrong expectations is a common mistake. Not only with customers, with your staff too. Imagine that you know for sure that the company won’t promote a person from your department any time soon. Don’t use promotion as motivation in this case. Don’t pretend that it became impossible all of a sudden due to the employee’s recent failure.
Underpromising is much better than overpromising. If you surprise your team members by a special bonus, it will trigger excitement. Imagine that the bonus is just being discussed. You know that it depends on a contract with a big name customer which might or might not be signed. Don’t talk about it in advance. Otherwise, your inferiors will blame you for extra expectations and the consequent disappointment. If you are not sure about something yet, don’t mention it.
Let people go for the tasks assigned to them. Don’t prevent them from doing their job popping up here and there and criticizing what is not yet ready for review. This is disrespectful and proves that you are not a mature manager. If your team perceives you as someone willing to catch them by the hand for a round of scolding, it won’t bring you any good.
Let’s say you need to control the progress your team makes on a large task. Find a special time for demo sessions where the team will present the changes to you. Discuss all blockers there and correct mistakes on the go. Let people know that you struggle for the best possible result. Give them a hint that you don’t need the crown of the smartest person. In this case, they will take your criticism much easier.
A good result should be the only goal of any work-related activity. Usually, it’s a measurable thing. An amount of money on your recent contract. A number of your software downloads, or repo followers. Non-profit organizations also track the number of people served monthly.
Don’t use your workplace to play any kind of ‘superior-inferior’ games. It will ruin your career and reputation with time. Do you make people feel bad to enjoy yourself as someone possessing power? Do you give a person a task they obviously cannot cope with? Deliberately propose unrealistic deadlines? Make long hours a regular practice without any real need? Compare two team members making them compete with each other? All these things should be on your ‘avoid’ list. Make sure that you are King Arthur for your team, not a suppressor. People hate being insulted or humiliated. They quit.
Everybody makes mistakes, and you are no exception. In fact, you are in a position to make bigger mistakes — the ones that may affect the future of the entire team. If you have come up with a misconception that proves to be a failure for your co-workers, own it.
Be honest about the mistakes you have made recently or in the past. Only strong people admit that they are imperfect. You won’t lose your team’s respect honestly saying that you were wrong. Especially if you do something about your mistake. Moreover, other people on the team will more likely share their mistakes too. Be their fellow "imperfect colleague".
No one likes that “boss & fools” game. Don’t look for a person to blame for every failure. It is unproductive and bad from an ethical viewpoint. After investigating what went wrong, focus on fixing things, not punishment. You can look into the reasons after firefighting. Most likely you’ll discover that there is more than one person and factors behind every problem.
If you have a ‘scapegoat’ on the team, you may be biased against this person so take immediate action. If you don’t like working with someone, talk to HR and other hiring managers. Discuss the possible transfer opportunities for this person. Make sure that these opportunities are communicated to them. If you cannot work together for some reason, be honest about it. Someone incompatible with you can still bring value elsewhere within the company. Good managers handle such cases fast if they inherited a team from another manager. If you hired a wrong person for your team, you own it, too. Invest your time in training them. You might have to let them go, sharing the responsibility of departure with them.
People management is never a smooth journey. Once promoted to management, you’ll have to keep a distance from your employees. You are in a leadership position and can build a team you've always dreamt about. Look at the bright side of things, remain human at all times, ask for advice when in doubt — and you will surely succeed. Seeing your employees grow and willing to recommend you is super rewarding!
Previously published at https://maddevs.io/blog