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Engineering leadership | Blog Post

Five ways to empower your engineering managers

July 8, 2020
Linzi Nield
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A few decades ago, stepping into management looked much different than it does today. 

The transition meant zeroing in on becoming a great people manager, and handing over the majority of individual contributor responsibilities. In this way, being a manager was viewed as a skilled craft, and central to the success of many companies.  

Fast forward to today, however, and most managers are being thrown into management positions for the first time, without any training. In fact, a study by CareerBuilder.com in 2018 found that 58% of managers reported not receiving any management training from their employers. Many managers today also remain burdened with individual contributor responsibilities in addition to the demands of people management. 

That’s a glaring red flag, and especially knowing that the success of an overall company hinges on a manager’s ability to motivate and lead productive teams. Managers are on the front lines for driving team output and job satisfaction within your company. 

This means that the effectiveness of your remote teams depends largely on the leadership training and guidance that new managers receive from their direct supervisors in upper management. Knowing this, are you and your leadership team putting in the necessary energy to empower your managers to be great people managers? If not, it’s time to take action. 

Here are five essential steps to move you from passively monitoring to actively empowering your mid-level engineering managers.

1. Build impactful 1:1 meeting structures

Manager 1:1 meetings can vary from in-depth conversations to quick status updates, and are great opportunities for managers to nurture the development of their remote direct reports by providing a safe and consistent space to hear their needs. To make these meetings more effective, ask your direct report in advance to add agenda items to an ongoing 1:1 document so they enter the meeting prepared and focused. 

Manager 1:1s can also be impactful for the learning, development, and growth of a direct report. Use this time week-over-week to track which projects your direct report has had the most success with, and to check in on their overarching career goals. You can use these metrics to meaningfully assign projects that will guide them towards their vision for growth within the organization. 

2. Institute 360-feedback reviews

Beyond weekly 1:1 manager syncs, it’s wise to invest in training your engineering managers on how to perform 360-feedback reviews. This is a powerful way for new managers to receive and integrate honest and constructive feedback from supervisors, direct reports, and peers. These 360 reviews can even be held semi-annually to speed up internal feedback cycles. 

These 360 moments also give direct reports a clear outlet for airing any challenges they are encountering. This gives managers greater transparency into any fumbles that may need to be improved upon, and avoids issues being tucked under the carpet—which is a sure way to have problems surface in the future. 

As a supervisor, you can also use these 360-feedback sessions with your managers to proactively seek out any red flags, such as managers and employees not hitting goals and possible disconnects between HQ and remote teams. If you do see a red flag, get involved and offer support early. You may be able to quickly remedy the situation. 

The Six C’s of Effective Management 

Jennifer Farris, Terminal’s Chief People Officer, recommends the six C’s framework to instill great management practices: 

Clear purpose: Does everyone understand the Vision for the company and “why” the work they are doing is important? This is a hugely motivating factor for many people, and if you’re seeing a lack of focus or drive, it may be that they feel disconnected from the overall purpose. 

Cascading goals: What are we doing this month/quarter/year and how does it align with the purpose of the company overall?

Clarity of role: Does everyone know their roles and expectations? 

Continuous feedback: Have you created mechanisms to give and receive feedback?

Coaching: Do you have effective one-to-one communication and recognition with your team?

Career journey: Does each person on your team have career goals they are personally motivated by that you check in on and actively support?

3. Give your managers a travel budget

As the team leader, it’s likely you have money set aside to visit your remote teams on a regular basis. It’s wise to give this same opportunity to your managers –after all, it’s essential that remote managers also foster tight relationships with their on-the-ground teams. Given today’s travel restrictions you could instead put this budget into an investment into learning and development for your remote managers.

This investment also demonstrates that, as a supervisor, you care about the quality of the relationships on your manager’s team. It also shows that you value your managers enough to give them the time and space needed to nurture these relationships in person, similar to how you give yourself the necessary time to build relationships with your own direct reports in management. 

4. Ask managers to make themselves available to their team 

Engineering managers are often not able to have daily interactions with every single direct report. But, it can be highly motivating for all direct reports to feel that their managers understand their work and are tracking its progress. One way to solve this is by hosting monthly office hours where people can pop in and connect. Managers can also select 5-10 developers each month for a “coffee chat” where they discuss work and get to know them personally. 

For even more contact, managers can institute weekly standing office hours, similar to how a professor in college would make themself available to students at a set date and time each week. Remote managers can create a waiting room in Zoom for these weekly office hours, and then let one team member in at a time to provide a more private space for answering important questions. 

5. Hire remote engineering leads

Beyond having remote engineering managers, at Terminal we recommend hiring a remote engineering lead as well in each market where you have larger remote engineering teams. This remote engineering lead can take on a local leadership role where they help by providing direction and camaraderie for the on-site team. This is especially useful if your company has large remote engineering teams in distant hubs around the world, where individuals will certainly benefit from having a team member on site that can provide guidance directly.

Ready for more tips on building and managing remote teams in our Remote Teams Playbook? Download it here.

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