Think of managing a team as a set of deliverables
In my prior article, I describe the dynamic of promoting a top individual contributor to management as a form of reward, only for it to turn into punishment. Yet this is not inevitable. You can find top individual contributors who become top managers. After all, if your top performer was able to learn one series of complex skills as an individual contributor, it stands to reason that the top performer is able to learn a second series of complex skills as a manager.
However, what are those skills? In individual contributor roles, people are expected to deliver something, and this is what they get used to as good work: “If I produce X, at quality Y, and in time frame Z, then I’ve done a good job.”
It’s a set of deliverables that tend to be pretty well defined.
Now the individual contributor becomes a manager with a team of three. The dynamic is suddenly, “Now there is four of me, and now my team needs to produce 4x at quality Y and in time-frame Z.
What the manager needs to produce is now ambiguous: Do you help produce all that stuff? If one person on the team is a lower performer, do I have to double my efforts and produce myself the gap in productivity? Do I stop producing individual stuff and monitor the work of the lower performers, risking lowering the productivity of the team?
The natural instinct for a new manager is to keep doing the individual contributor work, and hope that others will do as well. The problem is that the management tasks become a distraction from that individual work, and you get both an unmanaged team and a distracted, formerly high performing individual contributor. It becomes a mess where formerly rational employees become yelling managers and, in general, manage from a deficit.
So here’s a way to present to the manager what they have to do in a way that makes sense to an Individual Contributor: Management is a series of deliverables. They are different deliverables from the work done as individual contributor, but deliverables specific to being a manager.
Here is a sampling of what these deliverables are:
–A team “what/how grid”
–A performance log on employees
–Team expectations for performance
–Employee performance feedback delivered and documented
–Documented efforts to improve how the team works as a team
–Documented efforts to improve how the team works with partner teams
–Efforts to improve processes and tools
These are all tangible actions performed by the manager. They can be called “deliverables.” All of these things can be documents that identify what the manager is doing. All of these are focused on increased team performance, and none of these are focused on the manager doing what the individual contributors do.
If the manager produces enough of these deliverables, improved team performance will result. The team will not just produce 4x what was produced with one person, but could improve exponentially, to 40x with better systems, tools, and teamwork. That is what a good manager can achieve.
The results will be indirect, and return on investment of improvement efforts will likely take a while, so managers need to first be assessed and rewarded on whether these deliverables are produced, rather than expect managers to achieve increased particular productivity results.
Of course, if dramatic results occur, this should be rewarded when the results come in, but usually such results are a severe lagging indicator.
If you are looking to evaluate what a manager has done over the course of a year, you should look more closely at the deliverables:
Ask, “Do you have a team strategy document?”
Ask, “Have you provided performance feedback to your team?”
Ask, “What efforts have you documented that strives to have the team perform with better teamwork?”
If the manager cannot produce anything on these levels, they are not doing much as a manager, and are probably defaulting to “managing from a deficit” behavior, or regressing to doing individual contributor work and not manager work. They are hoping that the results are good. If the results are good, they are lucky. Expect the next year’s results to be highly variant, however, since this manager is essentially gambling with the team.
If the manager has these deliverables in place, and they are of good quality, and they don’t need to wait for the results to come in to know whether or not they are good.
So think about the manager task as a series of deliverables, and rate the managers on the deliverables, rather than wait for the lagging indicator metrics to come in. You’ll get the metrics eventually, but you probably need to assess the manager now. This is how you do it.
For you management designers out there – do you wait for aggregate team metrics and lagging indicators to evaluate a manager? Or do you look at manager-related deliverables to rate manager quality? What have you done to document what managers in your organization actually have to produce, and how to you assess this output?