Balancing Empathy with Discipline
15 July, 2021
A bit of context: I’m the director of product and user experience at my current company and I’ve been in the industry for ten years now. My job involves much more than simply managing the people on my team. I still have deliverables and need to find time to move my own projects along.
When you’re an IC, sometimes you may find yourself working without guidance governing you and your work. This is especially true in the world of product management. You’re expected to perform and to deliver.
Some leaders put a lot of emphasis on delivering without any regard for the person doing the work. One of the challenges that you may run into as a manager is finding that balance between managing a team of top performers while also maintaining that emotional connection with each one. When you manage people, they’re people, not robots or numbers.
Think about it like this: I am managing people, not individual contributors. My sole responsibility, however, is not only that human aspect. We still have a list of things that need to be done for the company. Their performance reflects my own. No matter how difficult things become, however, I always make time for them to come to me for support.
“Radical Candor” by Kim Scott was a really great resource for me. In essence, your number one priority is the well-being of your people. Until you accept that, you will resent every interruption from one of your reports. You will be resentful of the problems that they bring to you for support.
You may be thinking in your head, “Can’t you just settle this yourself?”. After shifting your mindset to a more people-centric orientation, however, you will recognize that these meetings are scheduled for a good reason. You will enter them with compassion and patience, which is so necessary when managing others.
I managed to build a great system for myself, but it did not happen overnight. Regular one-on-ones are vital; I have them at least once every two weeks with every single one of my reports. When onboarding somebody new, more frequent weekly check-ins may be better for them as they acquaint themselves with the company. But, after you really know your team well, a half an hour every two weeks is plenty.
During these conversations, we’re not following up on projects. We’re not talking about work; I conduct separate meetings on our off-weeks dedicated to checking in on progress and deadlines. This is time spent becoming familiar with the personal aspect of that employee as they exist and operate within the company.
- Are you fulfilled?
- Do you have any frustrations?
- What are your career ambitions?
- Are they still in line? How can I help?
It’s also an opportunity to exercise your sense of transparency. This goes both ways. Encourage your employees to be very forthcoming with any challenges or roadblocks that they see down the line, and vice versa.
It has to be a two-way conversation. I cannot say it enough. This way, when the time to evaluate the employee’s performance has come, there will be no surprises for them. Talk about what you both can work on, and make time to celebrate the good, as well.
- All of the people on your team are human beings. They may be carrying baggage with them that you might not know about. This may present unique challenges to them professionally.
- The consensus is that a single person can manage around eight people directly without overwhelming themselves. People who manage twenty or fifty direct reports may not have the time or the energy to give each IC the attention and support that they need.
- I have a touch-point with my employees at least once a week. This does not necessarily entail a one-on-one, however. My office door is always open to my team. Make time for them, especially for those casual, friendly, relationship-building conversations.
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