Management as a “second career.” Empathy needed please.

When I first learned about blogs, one I’d read somewhat regularly was John Porcaro’s. John is a manager in Microsoft’s online marketing communications division.

Back in October of 2004 I sent a trackback to his blog, writing As a manager, which metrics are your everyday reality? in response to a posting on his blog called We’re Listening…. I noticed that someone arrived at Talking Story after clicking on it today, and so I wondered if John had kept his blog going. Clicking over, I found a post in which he talks about attending a 4-day “foundational” training event for Microsoft, explaining,

“I took a similar class several years ago, but since the company has changed so much, along with our culture, I assumed that the management principles have changed too.

Today we covered many basic principles of management, but I was impressed that a lot of the day was spent speaking about the culture, and the role managers play in the ongoing climate.”

These were his observations

One thing that caught my attention was the struggle that still exists as new managers in the room transition from individual contributor to manager.  In many instances (especially in the past), managers were assigned because of their technical skill–not because they would be good managers.  Many terrible people managers were brilliant technically, and even had a broad background that allowed them to be good strategists.  But without the right mix of interpersonal and communications skills, they drove good employees down (or out).

Some new managers express the fear of "losing their technical edge," and not being able to set the direction for the team, or not being able to make decisions about technical issues.  They don’t realize that they’re moving into a "second career," where new skills are required, and older skills become less important (in fact, could even be a liability).  The old adage of "hiring people smarter than you" is not just a good idea, it’s a necessity.  Your team will be taking on things that you won’t have the skill to do yourself.  Your value will come from a other things you do.    

I’m glad to see the company bringing a lot more focus on bringing managers (with or without experience) together to build a common foundation of expectations.  I happen to work on a team with some great managers (especially my own), and I’m seeing the value of management skills being recognized and valued more and more. 

If you are someone who manages other managers, he gives a lot to think about, doesn’t he.

While it is true that workplace cultures change continuously, there are some basic needs that managers have, particularly newer managers, that remain constant. They may seem to be new challenges just because the present-day context is new, but they aren’t. The only question is if you still pay attention to them, or if you’ve become desensitized to them.

“Been there, done that” still means empathy is needed daily. Yet another reason for the Daily Five Minutes. Your managers need to be on the receiving end of the D5M too.