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The Platinum Rule: Manage Others as They Need/Want to be Managed

Cathy Chen
Capriole Consulting

When I went from individual contributor to being a manager, one difficult thing I learned was that I could not manage people the way that *I* wanted to be managed. I needed to instead manage differently, based on their knowledge, seniority on the team, and more: sometimes that means I need (*gasp*) to micro-manage people. At Calibrate, we will explore and discuss a model that guides you through identifying how to manage others, based on their individual needs and abilities. It has been highly effective with new managers whom I've coached or trained at places ranging from small startups to Google.

So I have a story for you. When I first started at Google, I was the first TPM on the team. There are 25 people. It's also the first woman on the team. And. It was a really interesting time. It was just after the IPO. So you can imagine we were growing like crazy fast forward, about three or four months.

All of a sudden my, my director pulls me in the room and says, Hey, you know, the manager of the team he's resigned. Just FYI. He was like employee number under 50. So, you know, called enrich basically. And so he was good. He's resigned, but I want you to be the man. So I'm like, okay. Shock all the things that different people are talking about today.

And all of a sudden I was the manager of 24 people. It's the largest team I'd ever managed. Many of whom were more senior than I was. So what do you think. This is a description of my day 7:00 AM. I'm on the phone with like people in Germany trying to get stuff like ordered in. I was on the networking team by the way, turned up and like trying to make stuff happen.

And then like, you know, the day starts happening. I have one-on-ones and I have meetings and they have like stat that it dah, dah, dah, and I have like other things. And then I'm like at my desk and then I keep on going and you know, it's like 10 o'clock at night and I'm reviewing. So months of that, just craziness, we were building, we were growing everything's happening.

What do you think happened after a few months after about a year I was exhausted. What do you do? How do you, how do you like recover from something like that? I was absolutely exhausted. And so there's so many lessons to be learned. In recovery and trying to figure out like, how am I doing as a manager?

And so I have this one cool little tool for you today and thinking about like, how do you actually Excel at managing and not burn out? Not, you know, get to this place where you're like doing everything. And at the same time, probably doing absolutely nothing. A little bit about me. Let's see. I grew up in the bay area.

I went to Cal worked at a bunch of different places for global crossing Google. Now I run my own consulting company called Capriol consulting and I do leadership development and coaching of engineering. I also have this cute little dog paw because I took a year and a half off of Google and I went and started a dog water therapy company.

So also on my resume, his dog massage therapist and random other stuff like that. But I still work at Google and I also do this coaching and consulting and now manage a small team of DevOps engineers. And yeah. Do you have questions for me? You can catch me at the brief. So we're going to break into this tool that I really used.

I didn't really know about when I first started managing people and especially when landed with a team of 24 people, how do I actually manage them? And so let's take a case in 0.1 of my engineers. Was a superstar. He was super experienced. And the pressure of Google was really, really, really, really, really, it was getting to him.

We were, we had an on-call shift. They were getting about 50 to 70 pages a week. It was unsustainable. So you can imagine this person superstar really, really smart, newest stuff, but at some point was demoralized by this one. Like action packed place that we were in. And so, unfortunately I didn't do a very good job managing him.

I was like, oh, come on. You just got to like, you know, take one for the team and keep on doing this stuff. And I didn't quite know how to actually change my style to be able to actually get him to a place where he could feel good about his job again, and be the superstar that he really.

So on the back of your handout, what I want you to do is think about a question. This is why there's pens hopefully available. If anyone needs a pen, maybe you can, I don't know if we can run them to you. Oops. So reflection. What is your management style? Maybe answer these questions. Are you hands-on are you hands off?

Do you like to delegate? Do you like things centralized? Do you like making all the decisions or do you allow others to make decisions and do you like expectations to be super clear and like what else, what else is part of your management style? I'm going to give you a minute.

Okay. So may maybe like some of you I'm super hands-off. I really love to delegate. I really love you know, having other people take something and run with it. That's the way I like to be managed. Oops, sorry. I love getting people involved in decision-making and then really then making decision running with tasks.

So sometimes that works for people and sometimes.

I'm also going to define two terms and these are on your paper. So skills, these are abilities experience with actually doing something. I don't know. You can think about training. You think about that knowledge that they need to do the job, do the job of whatever it is that they are doing well on the other hand is somebody's willingness to do the task.

So the way I like to think about this as motivation are they motivated? Do they have other things going on in their life that maybe are affecting them? So it's about attitude. It's also about incentives. So motivations could also be about how much they're being paid. Are they being rewarded? Well, that kind of thing.

And then just like their self-confidence and personal feelings about both job. So, this is not necessarily a model that you apply to a person, but that you apply to where they are like in either a project or some kind of place in their, in their work. So on your paper, write down underneath the definition of skill and we'll write down a couple of skills that your engineers or the people in your team need.

And then write down a couple of things that motivate you. So now everybody stand up.

And so if you wrote down two skills that were purely technical,

Awesome. If you D if you're still standing shout, like I want to hear a couple of these. So just shout, communication, problem solving cross-functional work. Okay. Adaptability, networking. Okay, cool. Everybody here.

so there's a ton of skills that people need that are not just technical skills. And you've got this there's Many different things. And then thinking about like, what motivates you as an individual. I'll just tell you a little bit about what motivates me. I'm what's called an intrinsically motivated person.

I'm just self motivated to go and do a good job. And if I'm not intrinsically motivated, it's really hard to motivate me through other means. It's hard to say, oh, but you're going after that promotion. You're going after that raise. I'm like, I don't really care, but you know, so when I'm burned out, it's really hard to motivate me in that way.

But yeah. You might need to discover for yourself, for your engineers, that work for you, what motivates them? Woo. All right. So I have another skill to teach you. And this is because I'm going to let you go and talk to your neighbor. And so what happens is when you see me up here and I am raising my hand, then what you do is you also raise your hand and you stop talking.

Okay. So let's practice, turn to your neighbors.

okay. And you can't keep talking while you're raising your hand is raised. Awesome. Cool. Thank you. So that's what we're going to learn, how to do next, because I have a question for you. We're going to go through this model. It's called the skill will model. Imagine skill across the, I think the bottom of your grid and will is up and down.

So if we start in the top left-hand corner and we talk about people who have low skill, but high will, who are they? Interns. Yeah, totally interns also, like I got new people on your team, new people on that project. Right. They might have plenty of skills to be able to do the job and you have confidence in them, but they don't quite yet know what they're doing or how they're doing it.

Okay. So this person. In your mind. All right. So what we're going to do is stand up and find a partner and you're going to discuss, how do you manage that person who has high skill or high, sorry, high will and low skill. Okay. Ready? Stand up. Find a partner. Discuss this question.

awesome. That was great. Have a seat.

Working with your peers. This is a key thing. He networking here at calibrate is to talk to people who are around in this conference and ask them questions like this one. How would you manage somebody like that? So hopefully you just got some ideas or you gave some ideas, but here's what the model says.

You can write this in that grid. If you want to is in this quadrant, you need to guide, create a learning environment. Actually do some training. Some teachers. You might need to also find teachable moments for me, this is assigning people, brand new people on my team, tiny little bugs that nobody would fix, but Hey, got them in the code and it got them learning how to like check stuff in.

That was awesome. Giving them frequent feedback on anything, whether it be on communication style, whether it be on technical. And then often how's it going, checking in with them. So talking about those one-on-ones, you're definitely doing them during this time.

We're going to move on to another quadrant. Bottom left, low will, low skill. Hmm. This might be me as a manager, feeling like that. But just thinking about what do you need to do when you've got somebody who's low will and low skill, and who is this person? So it might be your new person. Who's suddenly figured out that there are so much to learn.

They've been set free in the world to go solve all the world's problems and they are feeling de-motivated and they don't yet have this. It could also be a performance problem in your team. Somebody who's not quite fitting in, not quite actually cutting it with their work and their know, they know it and they're feeling de-motivated so lots of reasons why somebody could be here in a project or in, you know, in their life.

What do you do? This is the question. Question for me is what I heard recently from another colleague was, oh yeah, I got this new person and I just let them go free. And you know, they were discovering the world and trying to fix all the problems. And then I finally figured out that they were, you know, they were really getting depressed and I talked to them.

I was like, no, no, your scope is not this, your scope is that. And it just made all the difference. Right. They could actually figure something out. So we're going to stand up again. And find a new person. If you can ask them the same question, what would you do to manage this person?

Awesome. Have a seat.

So in this quadrant would be my weakness. You need to be directive. You actually need to like really get in there and figure out what are they. Figure out a lot about what's motivating them and not motivating them, but also really work on those low skills. And they're not going to necessarily be motivated to gain new skills.

So you might, I have to actually get in there. And we talked about intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. That's like, are you kind of internally motivated or externally motivated? So people might be motivated by praise. They might be motivated by the money. They might be motivated by a whole bunch of things.

And then you really have to go and figure out what motivates you. Clear expectations. That's a big one here. So for my management style, it was really hard to actually say, okay, I need you to do this. I need you to do that. I need you to do this and be very specific. Guess what we're doing next, another quadrant.

So this is high skill, but low will. So who's this person.

Everybody's like,  burned out. Somebody burned out like me in the beginning. Right. Somebody who's just been on a team for five years and they're ready to move on. Somebody has been working on some grungy project and they just, you know, it's just kind of toil and it's going on and on and on. They want something new and cool to work on, so it could be anybody.

So once again, stand up, find somebody talk to them about how would you manage this person?


very cool. We'll have seats.

You probably just got some really awesome ideas. Here's what the script says. You need to work on motivating. So whether or not that be a new project, whether or not that be some praise reward, trying to figure out what would actually motivate.

Last quadrant. This is our high performer high will high skill. They are motivated to do the thing and they're doing it well. And they know how all right. So you're like, yeah, I don't need to manage them like right. No problem. They're awesome. They're taking care of it. Oh, this is actually a hard one. How do you manage this person?

How do you make sure that they stay motivated? How do you actually like. You know, you don't know what to micromanage them, but what do you do? Let's think about that one, one more time. Stand up.

that was a good one. That's a good topic for the break. It sounds like.

So this is what the model says, empower delegate at this point. You want to give them freedom and completing their tasks. And I might want to think about how do you involve them in decision-making, how do you get them more responsibility? How do you actually help have those people really help you lead the team?

Asking their opinion is a great one that is a reward in and of itself, and then other praise and rewards as well. So keeping them motivated, making sure that they have awesome tasks. So why was this one hard? I think, especially for me as a new manager, this one was intimidating. That person is better at their job than I was that person got to do all these really cool, awesome technical tasks that I don't have time for anymore.

But at the same time, like you want to make sure that you're actually promoting this person, bringing them up in the world, trying to make sure that they are doing an awesome job. So all of these things, that's why this one.

In summary, here's the picture I'll get out of the way if you need it.

So in summary, thinking about what I call the platinum rule, the golden rule is when you met, like you basically treat other people how you want to be treated. The platinum rule is when you treat others, as they need to be treated or they want to be treated. So thinking about where the people that you're managing and working with on this grid, it could be project specific.

It could be very much where they are in their life, a little bit of everything, and then really trying to flex and change your style according to what is needed here.

About Calibrate—

Founded in 2015, Calibrate is a yearly conference for new engineering managers hosted by seasoned engineering managers. The experience level of the speakers ranges from newcomers all the way through senior engineering leaders with over twenty years of experience in the field. Each speaker is greatly concerned about the craft of engineering management. Organized and hosted by Sharethrough, it was conducted yearly in September, from 2015-2019 in San Francisco, California.

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