Manager README

This README outlines how I think about work.

It’s meant to help new teammates get to know me and established teammates hold me accountable. That doesn’t mean it’s etched in stone—it’s changed in the past and it doubtless will again—but as far as working with me, it’s the best (read: only) high-level summary I know of.

Let’s do it.

My expectations for my role

I get a “pass” if we’re delivering our objectives in a timely manner, doing excellent work, and growing both as a team and as individual people.

To that end, I’m on the hook to:

  • collaborate with leadership to set priorities, then to get the resources needed to achieve them. I won’t always have the last word, but I do need to make sure our goals are realistic and that we have what we need to achieve them.

  • grow our capabilities both technically and as a team. Technically, I should always be looking for technologies that will give us leverage (and steering us away from overhyped tech that won’t). We can also get leverage through people: both by hiring excellent people and by training and retaining the ones we’ve got.

  • maintain a supportive, inclusive working environment where it’s OK to do things your way (whatever that is) without questioning whether or not you belong. Culture is the product of individual actions, but I’m ultimately responsible for establishing boundaries and fostering a safe, healthy working environment.

  • align interests & talents with business outcomes. Disinterested people tend not to stick around. Balancing personal growth and business needs is easiest when the two overlap—and as much as possible I should keep them close together.

  • keep us accountable to our commitments. Ambitious (but not impossible) goals underpin our best work both individually and as a team—and with others counting on us, we’ll hit them.

  • market our work both inside and outside the organization. Inside the org, R&D is a cost center that tends to be opaque to both leadership and other business units. Outside the org, a reputation for technical excellence (and a great operating environment) can greatly smooth boh fundraising and hiring conversations.

Those are the expectations, and—while I’ll do my best to stay accountable to them—I deeply appreciate feedback on areas where I can improve.

Finally, if I’m not living up to my role (or doing anything to prevent you from delivering your best work), please call me out either directly or to my supervisor.

My expectations for you

Intel’s legendary CEO Andy Grove encouraged managers to think in terms of “task-relevant maturity”—the idea that expectations should be a function of both the job and the person doing it. A senior employee taking on a new job may be just as “immature” as a new recruit, and the manager’s perception should shift accordingly. It’s an important framework.

Whatever the task at hand, though, I expect that you’ll:

  • do your job. You were hired on the belief that you would excel with a specific team and role. If the expectations aren’t clear, let’s talk. Otherwise I trust you to do what you need to do.

  • know yourself. Ask questions when you need to. Raise a red flag if you’re tapped out. I’ll do my best to anticipate issues and resolve them before they get in your way, but you’re the best reference available regarding your own capabilities and preferences. If you’re approaching a limit, say something. We’ll get through it.

  • play well with others. I don’t have many red lines, but I do expect courtesy and respect when dealing with the people around you. Whether they’re teammates, customers, or colleagues in other departments, interactions reflect both on your personally and on us as a team. Be cool to others.

  • grow on the job. Learning is one of my primary motivators in taking a job, and (rightly or wrongly) I tend to assume that others feel the same. That means embracing challenge and keeping an open mind. Manage that and we’ll go far.

I’ll check in from time to time if I need reassurance that you’re getting the support you need; that expectations are clear; or that stress isn’t tipping over into a red zone. By default, though, I’ll trust you to look out for yourself while ensuring the job gets done.

Availability

I’m available to chat. When I need blocks of time to focus on specific things I’ll make them; the rest of the time I expect to be interrupt-driven. If there’s something on your mind, or if we can work through a problem together, shoulder-taps are very welcome.

Communication preferences

During business hours, it’s easiest to reach me by company chat. For after-hours emergencies, email is your best bet, then by my phone.

Communication styles vary. There are talkers, painters, drummers, videographers, and dancers—if you can name it, people do it. Me, I tend to write. Writing is durable, transmissible and inclusive across time zones and geographies. It’s easy to search, easy to index, and leaves plenty of space for readers (including the author) to pause, thinking critically, and revisit what’s being said.

Whatever the medium, though:

  • I try to avoid repeating myself (hence favoring a durable, transmissible medium).

  • Except for private matters or very specific questions, I prefer to communicate through public channels. If important information’s exchanged over a call, I’ll write down a plot synopsis and share it. I’ll ask you before moving anything we’re discussing into a public forum, but I strongly prefer that things stay out in the open.

  • Durable notes are good. I put wikis (or other shared knowledge bases) above mailing lists; mailing lists above individual emails; emails above Slack; and all of them above yet another video call.

Giving and receiving feedback

I appreciate feedback. I assume you do, too, and in my experience both medium and message impact how feedback will be received.

Positive feedback is fairly straightforward. If you’re comfortable with it, I appreciate being able to call out outstanding achievements or individual performances in public channels. These moments are chances both to recognize good work and reinforce positive examples for everyone else.

Negative feedback is a little more complicated. First, it needs to be constructive. Feedback that isn’t constructive is a complaint—which isn’t helpful to anyone, or to relationships within our team. Effective, growth-oriented feedback needs to be:

  • unassuming - we rarely have full context or the perfect read of a situation. Before sharing feedback, I’ll share what I’m seeing to make sure my perception is correct.

  • timely - the sooner feedback is shared, the better. Life happens, though, and if I ask whether you’re open to feedback, it’s OK to defer. Just be prepared to schedule a follow-up time when you’ll be in a better spot.

  • direct - I prefer to share feedback through the highest-fidelity channel available (in person, ideally; then video calls; then DMs; and so on down the line). Non-verbal cues to draw on reduces the risk of miscommunication, and realtime conversation reduces the time needed for clarifications and response.

  • specific - vague feedback leaves you guessing where there’s a problem or what needs to change. Highlighting specific behaviors and their downstream effects helps clarify what needs to change.

  • action-oriented - feedback implies action—that something can and should change within a reasonable timeline. A clear understanding of both “what” and “when” is critical in giving useful feedback.

  • supportive - once actions are set, we’re both accountable to make sure they happen. That may mean a weekly check-in to make sure things are on track, or putting additional resources at your disposal. Whatever it takes, though, sharing feedback implies a strong, mutual interest in the result.

In return, constructive feedback needs to be addressed. If I share reasonable feedback, I expect you to at least take it under consideration. Likewise, if I’ve committed to actions that will ensure your success, it’s on me to make sure they happen.

Calendar

My calendar is yours. If an appointment, meeting, or “working block” isn’t on it, that’s on me.

  • Unless previously discussed, it’s safe to assume that I’m available 8a - 5p Pacific (UTC-7)

  • if my calendar is blocked and it’s urgent, ping me and I’ll do everything I can to make time

1:1s

One-on-one meetings are some of the most important time I spend during the week. 1:1s are our best chance to talk about topics that feel too personal or specific for full-group conversations. Even when we come in with a bare agenda, the dedicated time has a way of teasing out interesting discussions.

Speaking of which: this agenda is all yours. I’ll have topics on my mind, but ultimately this is your time. Not much of my working time is sacred, but scheduled 1:1 time comes close.

I’ll be there.

Meetings

Meetings are places to share information, make decisions, and brainstorm. All three goals can often be achieved without a meeting (and with less investment in time and money), though, and as a rule I will turn to emails, questions, RFCs, and every other channel available before calling a meeting.

Standing meetings are particularly noxious: left unattended, they nearly always devolve into administrivia and a checked-out audience over time.

If we need to have a meeting, though, expect me to:

  • have an agenda. At worst case, an agenda will help keep things on track and make sure the topics that need time actually get it. At best, writing an agenda often answers the questions the meeting was meant to address, and et voilà! We’re back to no meeting.

  • take minutes and document actions. The meeting was called to accomplish something. Writing down what happened—and what needs to happen next—makes it real (and accessible to anyone that wasn’t there). Likewise, if I’m bugging you for a summary that I can’t find it elsewhere, that’s a bad sign. Let’s avoid it.

Please consider doing the same!