Socially visible progress

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Our brains are trained to look for socially visible progress.

We get dopamine hits from it!

And when we were ICs, it was EASY to make socially visible progress on important stuff. We shipped something! We could see it, and everyone around us could, too.

But—management work is SUPPOSED to be invisible:

So it’s really hard for us to get that sense of socially visible improvement or progress, unlike when we were ICs. There’s no confirmation that progress has been made by your peer set or bosses or your teammates because management is such a black box.

And even if WE can see the work that we’re doing as managers, there’s often still a long lead time between when we do a thing or say a thing, and knowing whether or not it made ANY impact at all—good or bad.

So how on earth can we feel progress when there’s no socially visible way to see it? Are we sinking or swimming? How can we work towards getting this core need met?

In this newsletter, I’m eager to give you two tactics to try: measuring your progress on the core needs you have at work, and sharing your progress—in confidence—with others.

May you have a reflective holiday season, and return refreshed and ready to go in the new year. :) —Lara

Measure your BICEPS progress.

A list of the six core needs at work, with measurements on Monday and Friday

Let’s start by measuring how you’re doing, on each of the six core needs that humans have at work—at the beginning of the week, and at the end of the week.

At the beginning of the week, ask yourself: for each of these six core needs, one a scale of one (undernourished) to five (feeling great), how are you feeling?

I’m not talking about measuring how WELL you’re doing as a manager; you’re not grading yourself. Instead, you’re tracking which of your BICEPS core needs is needing some attention right now, and then marking down any change in that feeling over time.

It doesn’t need to be 5’s across the board! It’s important to see the 2 at the beginning of the week to the 5 at the end.

You can even just pick one to focus on during the week. Let’s say I choose to focus on the core need of Improvement/Progress; I gave it a 1 on Monday, so what can I prioritize doing this week to help me feel better about this core need by Friday? Maybe I’ll create a list of tasks to check off each day, so that I can regain some of that progress feeling. Or I can block out some focus time to dedicate to a particular project, and cut out more distractions that have been pulling me away from making progress on it. Hopefully, by the end of the week, this core need will feel a lot better, and I’ll be able to give it a 4 or 5.

Measure them all, because it’ll be even BETTER to see this data over time. But you don’t have to work on nourishing ALL of your core needs every single week—be patient with yourself, and remember that having these core needs is a normal part of our existence as humans. :)

Share your progress with peers.

At Etsy, Paloma Medina (of BICEPS acronym fame and the owner of 11:11 Supply) created a program called Dens; these were confidential, every-other-week meetings for 8-10 managers across the organization, to talk through challenges we were facing.

This was a GAME CHANGER for me, and for many other managers. Imagine: a space in which you can share what you’re struggling with or working on, while maintaining confidentiality. That means that those folks are gonna check in with you, see how you’re doing, and they’ll want to hear how it all turns out.

That means that we routinely paused a Den meeting to say—oh wow, CONGRATS, the desk move happened and everything’s okay now?! Whoa, wait a minute, don’t just move on to the next thing—this is important! You DID THAT!

How often do we just move on to the next thing? ESPECIALLY in our work as managers! There’s no launch party for a reorg :D There’s no trophy for writing that really hard email, or delivering that really challenging feedback.

Find trustworthy peers to lean on so that they can celebrate YOUR progress, and you can celebrate THEIRS, too. It’s a game changer.

Be patient with yourself in this season, and every season. As Marco Rogers says, “Good management is more about gardening than firefighting.”

Lara Hogan

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