Our core needs at work are exactly that: needs that must be met in order for us to feel safe and secure. That means our work as managers is incredibly important: to help our teammates (and ourselves) navigate surprising emotions, work through challenges and change, and develop a healthier and more stable state for our team.
Hi, I am Michael Ruggiero. And today I'm going to talk about being the daydream believer, which is how to manage people who aren't doing their best work. So who am I? This is who I am. It's a picture of my face. I am a senior engineering manager, invoice conductivity at Twilio, and I worked at other places too.
These are some of them. One of them was shared through. I want to thank share through and the sponsors for putting this on. So we should clap at this point.
I think Dan Greenburg told me to say that everything I learned, I learned to share through. So I just said that so great. But what we're going to talk about is how people are different. We're gonna talk have a story about that. Something not to do something to do instead. And then we'll we'll review.
So some people on your team may not be doing well. Let's say this is so it happens sometimes. But specifically one person in particular needs to get better and they're not doing terrible. They're not the worst person you've ever met. But they're not really moving forward and you're, you're seeing this happen over and over again.
The first thing you need to remember is that people are different. So I know that you know that, but I think also as engineering managers, or as people who are becoming engineering managers or are new to management, you need to start with what your frame is. And if you're managing people, there's a strong possibility that you have thought more about.
Fix the broken things do more, be focused, get it done. That's part of what made you gravitate towards management, but that is you. So take a second and separate yourself from your reports because that's something that you focus on that make sure you understand the stories that your reports are telling you.
So, one, one hack that I use sometimes is to think of myself as like a high school guy. The people who are in your team, even if you hired every single one of them, they're coming from all different places and all different backgrounds. And you should think of it as a high school guidance counselor got assigned to letters, a through J and whichever student would come in was just as another person in the alphabet.
So mapping yourself to all of their perspectives is, is comforting. And it's nice to do, but think of them as a random collection of people and you. Make sure that you're investigating what's going on with them and getting curious about what it is that they want. So, one question that I ask in one-on-ones is what do you want to do in five years?
And people laugh and they are uncomfortable. Cause that's kind of a weird question. And then you say, what about 10 years? What about 30 years? And again, when you're trying to find out is what are their daydreams when they stop and think about where they're going and why they're even coming to work every day.
You want to take a temperature, check on that and think, what do they find out? Whether they're thinking about their own lives? Now of course, let me, we'll say, why are you asking me these questions? This is a weird question to ask me. You can keep it light talking about what you want to do. You can say these are some my daydreams and here's some crazy ones.
Keep it light, but be persistent because some people will be reluctant to do it. There'll be a little uncomfortable with that. But it's your job to get really curious here about what people were thinking. So Ted is someone who worked for me. He was really smart and we hired him as a senior engineer, but I noticed after a good long time, he really wasn't making an impact.
There were important initiatives that were happening and I was encouraging him to like, get involved. Let's let's you, we need your help to design these solutions. And he wasn't really collaborating with the team. And he, wasn't taking a large part of the new projects. And I was just like, I wonder what's happening here.
Like this person really should be taking off based on everything I'm looking at on paper, but it's not really happening. So in our one-on-one I said, Hey, write down the 10 things you really want to do that don't involve your current role. Now I could think of five to 10 things that I really want to do that don't involve my current role.
They tend to be engineering II types of things, like learn this technology or, you know, go back to school and get a graduate degree or things like that. You know, other things that are a little more off, off the rest. But, but that was the main thing that I would think about. And the first thing he said was Claudie trading.
Okay. I'm a scuba instructor. Okay. That's, that's a different thing. And then the third thing he said was flipping. So none of these things had anything to do with his day-to-day job. And it turns out a lot of his friends are doing things like this. So he was trying to figure out, you know, maybe they're onto something.
But he wasn't looking at his job and saying, this is who I am, which is something that I do every day. Like I think of, well, just, I'm a, I'm an injury manager, I think about being engineering manager stuff. So. People are different. He and I were not alike. And I had to get out of my own mindset to understand where he was coming from in order to kind of get through and understand what was happening.
So what do you do
remember? He was hired as a senior engineer and he wasn't performing at the level that I had kind of hoped he would. Now a lot of management books will say these are good. You put them on a plan, performance improvement, plan a PIP. And we'll talk about that in a minute, but here's the thing. When you are all managery and you decide I'm going to put this person in a pit, you have to really think about it carefully and structure your thinking.
Now, is it measurable? Are you, are you giving them kind of an abstract PIP of, I want you to improve. If this person were measurably awful, you probably wouldn't be having this conversation with yourself because you'd be like, well, their, their performance really isn't what it needs to be. And you wouldn't even be debating it in your own mind, but, but then again, you could, you could say, no, I'm gonna give him a pit, but then if you give them a Pivot's too hard because you, you see the area of weakness, then you're sort of setting that person up for failure.
If you think that the person needs to. Work more with peers and that's a real blocker for them. Then when they don't do it, you can say, well, I gave you a chance and if you aren't afraid of terminating this person's employment, you might give them something that's too easy. And then the problem isn't really getting solved.
So before you do a pet, make sure that you're able to do these three things, greater measurable goal. That's not too hard, but also doesn't lower the bar too much. But I would say. Take a breath. Don't do it yet. Let's shift gears a little bit and go back to what you're trying to achieve here. So daydream believer, why, why other daydreams important?
He had all these interesting ones. He was flipping houses or commodity trading all over the place. And I could have said, you know, things need to improve because I am the manager. And I say so, but that wasn't even where his head was at it. This book Shannon talked about this book. It's a very good book called difficult conversations.
And it talks a lot about having these kinds of conversations you need to have with someone. And some of these are hard, but they will be harder if you decide that what you're going to do is tell somebody what they need to do to change. Because if that is your mindset and I'll read this quote, because it's kind of long, how often do you change based on what someone tells you.
And how likely are you to do that? When the person who's trying to change, you doesn't seem fully aware of the reason you see things differently. So again, telling some, I mean, how many times of your life, as someone said change, and you just did it because someone told you to, even if your job was on the line.
So what people need is feedback more than they want your advice. You have tons of advice to give you advice, advice. But feedback. People want to know that you actually know them for that feedback to stick. So this is a framework it's a little bit similar to some of the frameworks have been talked about today.
It's for the center for creative leadership and it's called situation behavior and impact. So essentially you captain situation, and you're very specific. You describe some behavior, but you remove some of the adjectives that make it more pejorative or judgy. And you acknowledge the impact using statements that are linked to the impact that you've observed.
So here's an example. I've noticed that the last five epics you haven't really participated in the design phase when debits are now inst you haven't volunteered to participate in the design. I think if you, as a senior member of this team and I'm, I'm it hasn't been released, curious about what's going on, what do you think is happening?
And then you've opened the conversation to I've observed this behavior. I'm wondering what's going on. Help me understand. So situation, behavior impact. I think what I want to advocate is rather than give them a PIP or give them a lecture or give them advice, give them a project. And on that project, give them relevant, constructive feedback, be direct regarding the context of why you're giving them that project.
You know, I want to see you grow in this area. I want to be able to delegate to you. You can talk to people on their one-on-ones about how they, how do they want to grow and then find stretch goals or projects that map to those, those personal goals that they have. But in Ted's case, I told him, I said, I really want to be able to delegate stuff to you.
I want to be able to give a significant project to you and have you execute it and have me not stand over your shoulder. That's what I want. And the it's a little tricky picking that project. You want to pick something that's not true. But it can't be critical either. And I, I agree. I can see that that's not easy to pick, but there's a lot of ways you can collaborate with people in picking that project.
So there may be something around process that needs to change. There may be something around the architecture that they see as needing improvement just broken windows stuff that no one else has tended to. There's all kinds of things you can do. And you really, part of your work here is helping them take this.
And make sure it's it's right size. So you can really give them a lot of beefy feedback. One other thing too, that you can do is find your bosses project. The thing that really bugs your boss and find a way of getting this person involved in that project that really raises their visibility, because the chances are that you see this person is not doing that well.
Other people in the org, you might be seeing that as well, including your boss. So raising that person up and saying, Hey, why don't you pick. The vice-president on this idea that you have, why don't we put a presentation together that you'll present, but I'll help you fine tune it as we go again, that's a way of raising visibility on this project, but also telling him this, this is important.
This is important for you.
And again, feedback going through the project with them, helping them as they go and saying here's the them, some of the things. Here's some of the behavior that's going on. Here's the impact that it's having and use the project to highlight the kind of improvement you're looking for. If they're doing well, you have something to reinforce them.
Here's where you're doing. Well, this has impact. This is really great. If they're not doing that well, you can say, Hey, here's some things that need to change. So here are my little talking balloons that wasn't successful. So it could've been, or that was really successful. Keep doing that. And. There we go.
All right. It sounds like a lot of work. It is. It's a lot of work and I've talked to other people about this and they're like, well, you already know this. Person's not really killing it. You know, maybe it's an upper out thing. If they're not improving, you should just think about letting them go. I personally believe that everyone can be excellent at something it's might not be the job.
This might not be the place where they can do it, but it's not, there's not a category errors where someone is just not good or is lazy or doesn't know what they're doing. The point of this is this not a PIP. It's a conversation. It's the first of many conversations. Now I will grant that. Sometimes you do need to think about.
Letting somebody go. So before you decide to do that, you have to get your stuff together. First of all, have you given them clear and specific feedback that needs to improve? Have you given them a chance to improve? You have to be really clear about that. And again, situation behavior impact is really important is their performance rating the team, because if, if someone is not performing and it's impacting the team, You know, no matter how much you think, you know this could get better and you, you have to temper that with the fact that people on the team are walking at you and they're observing you and how you're handling someone.
Who's not helping the team. So that can do a lot of damage. So keep that in mind. And the third thing you should do is, is get a second opinion from someone you trust, hopefully someone who's Spanish people and describe the situation because having another set of eyes on the situation really helps you to.
You get, get some feedback yourself, like someone could say, you know what, they've been there three months. You need to give them more time or tell me again, what's going on. Give me more details and really get that sounding board happening because you need objectivity as well. And some of this advice comes from this book, which Rob Slifka recommended to me.
It's a very, very good book. So if you can read this book, you should, but Kim Scott and. You may be wondering what happened with Ted Ted was not a success story. It didn't work out, but it was worth it for me to try out this framework with him. I've tried this framework with other people and it has worked to great success.
But with every person that I'm sorry, every person that you bring in, remember you're bringing people into your company. You're hiring them. You're spending a lot of time trying to figure out what the pipeline is and get them involved with everybody who comes in. If you think you need to let them go, or you think you need to reorient them, take as much time in consideration as you would trying to bring people in.
You've invited them into your place of work. So you need to be really deliberate about the way that you. Move them either into the next step or into some of their situation.
So one of the takeaways, people are different from you. They're very different from you. And you need to not think in terms of being a manager, but think in terms of what their story is and get close to what their story is to give them a project. And three, this might not be the right job for them, but give them a project.
And you should believe what they say, because if they're saying they want to do something, you should hear what that is. Thank you. And we are hiring .
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.