Recognize your management wins

Originally posted Sep 23, 2020

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A question I get a lot is: what’s a big manager mistake you’ve made?

I have so many answers to this question. I talk about times when I managed someone the way that I wanted support, instead of the way that they wanted support. I talk about terrible reorg decisions, and even MORE terrible reorg communications. I share examples of when I’ve given feedback poorly. I can go on and on.

I understand why I’m asked this question so much. We need to feel SOME acknowledgment that managers mess up! It’s valid to want to hear more people with power acknowledge their mistakes, because managers’ work and choices have such a direct impact on other people’s lives.

But a question I wish we asked more often is: what’s a big win you’ve had, doing manager work?

I coach folks as they recover from management messes all day. Maybe it’s selection bias, but I’ve noticed that most managers can identify when things have gone wrong, and how they’ve contributed to the problems, too. The managers I work with also have a relatively easy time identifying their teams’ wins, and their direct reports’ wins.

But I’ve noticed it’s incredibly hard to spot the wins from your own work when you’re a manager.

I want to help you recognize it when your wins happen, and feel that sense of improvement and progress that we all crave. So I invited folks on Twitter to share some of their wins, as inspiration.

Below, I share the themes I spotted, and some examples. If you’re not sure how to spot your own wins, scroll to the bottom for extra advice. :)

Yours, —Lara

We help our teammates grow their skills, and their careers.

Here’s some of what folks shared:

“Coaching senior engineers out of cynicism into supportive teamwork”

“They feel small, but recently a few folks I’ve been coaching had some fantastic AHA! moments… they realized I was coaching, AND they knew they got to the answers on their own.”

“We had an amazing intern this summer… he said he wanted to learn about several domains outside of our team. I reached out to other managers for experts to have technical deep dive meetings with him.”

“seeing someone flourish as an engineer who I helped make their career change”

We change folks’ outlooks.

“Creating dashboard of progress that got one team lead to say ‘we’re doing more than we think’”

“I’ve run a few ‘role retros’ with people recently and the look on their faces when they suddenly realise they CAN shape their role to suit them perfectly is wonderful”

“Convincing higher management to not do something that was decided, by showing them the sheer cost and the loss of agency this would cause.”

We create new, supportive infrastructure.

“training interviewers to interview well AND combat bias”

“improving training in our internship programme which resulted in the number of underindexed folk getting perm jobs offers improving 500% (& sustaining)”

“Pushing forward the creation of a career ladder for our engineering department”

“instituting proper calibrations, facilitated well so that managers can help each other spot & address bias, safely”

“putting in place a proper salary framework and securing appropriate pay rises so people aren’t punished financially for being loyal to a company”

Crucially, we work towards pay equity for our teammates.

“Advocating for pay rises, growth opportunities and transfer “

“Getting an engineer a proper compensation review, and resulting raise, who had been treated unfairly for years”

“doing proper pay equity reviews and fixing the problems. Once meant a 41% raise for someone. They were sat next to someone doing the same job at a lower standard of quality & delivery who was earning 41% more”

Notice: it’s often in the most arduous times that our manager wins happen.

As I scan through this list of themes and examples, it strikes me that a lot of them occurred when things (project work, organizational culture, global changes) were hard.

It’s a manager’s job to address inequity and unfairness. To create clarity out of ambiguity and cycles of unending change. To identify a plan for growth when things are stagnating, or when roadblocks appear. To shift team culture and mindsets so that psychological safety and good work can happen.

Without serious workplace challenges, there wouldn’t be a lot of work for managers to do. :) I’m being glib, but I’m eager to remind you that during these awful times, there is a LOT of work you can do as a manager. And that work leads to big, important wins on behalf of your teammates.

But how do you recognize the wins?

You might still be feeling stuck on how to identify your own wins! Meri Williams beautifully summarized the common ways we might recognize them, based on her experience. I’ll generalize her thoughts here:

And if doing a retrospective exercise would be helpful to you, here’s one:

Jen Dary leads attendees of her incredible So Now You’re a Manager training through a “highs and lows” exercise. Participants map a high or a low to individual sticky notes and place them in chronological order. The result looked like this: a timeline of management work highs like de-escalating a crisis, and lows like firing someone you trained.

If you were to create your own timeline of highs and lows as a manager, what would it look like? What would go on those sticky notes?

And don’t forget: once you spot those wins, celebrate them. :)

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Lara Hogan

Author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry.

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