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A manager is the interface between the company vision and his team

Andrew Miklas

Co-founder at PagerDuty

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Problem

A few years ago, one of my engineering managers came to me, and presented me his list of upcoming projects. I noted that several of the projects weren't consistent with the company vision. In fact, some of the projects were inconsistent with each other. When I tried to understand why he wanted to pursue this set of projects, he explained to me that that he selected them because they were the ones that his direct reports were most excited to be working on. Since the manager believed his primary responsibility was to keep his engineers happy, he concluded it was better to encourage the engineers to work on the projects that interested them personally, even if they didn't contribute to the company vision, and in some cases even conflicted with each other..

Actions taken

I had a conversation with the engineering manager to discuss that, while they should strive to be supportive of their team members, their primary job was to ensure that their team was making the maximum contribution to the achievement of the company vision. The engineering manager remained firm that his priority was the work the team wanted to do. He felt that keeping engineers happy would create a better product, even if the work didn't directly correlate to the business goals.

Lessons learned

Managers have a responsibility both to the company and to their direct reports. They must ensure their reports feel fulfilled and are bought into the work they are assigned, while also ensuring that the team is contributing to the company's overall objectives. In this situation, I would:

  • Provide team rewards tied to hitting company metrics (i.e. half day fun offsite)
  • Encourage the product team to provide more concrete goals for the engineering team.
  • Notice if a team was starting to think of their success distinct from the company's success. More generally, notice if individuals seemed to think of themselves as more tightly aligned to their team or manager than to the company's overall mission.
  • Encourage more mixing between teams by promoting cross-team building activities and occasionally reassigning people between teams.

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Andrew Miklas

Co-founder at PagerDuty


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