Growing and mentoring managers of managers
16 April, 2018
Many organizations have created the impression that management is the only future path of growth, so it's not uncommon to see engineers who feel that they must become managers to get to the next level in their career. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys or is best-suited for this path.
To combat the perspective that "I have to be a manager to grow," I proactively communicate that our organization has two separate tracks, both of which are equally respected and deserving of the same levels of compensation, seniority, etc. One is an individual contributor path, and one is a management path. Beyond this, during 1-on-1s, I encourage managers to discuss with their employees which track is of greatest interest to each individual and to focus growth and exploration accordingly. If someone expresses interest in the management path, we start by having these individuals in mentorship or lead positions, managing interns where appropriate, and having management training options at the ready for when the time feels right. Through this process, some engineers have been successful in their management attempts, while others have not. In cases that have not worked out, we have encouraged the person to realize how valuable their talents are as an individual contributor. In some cases, this is sufficient, whereas in other situations, the person wishes to continue pursuing management. There is no rush, so if this is a person's passion, it's something we allow for continued pursuit, but the change is never made until it feels right for all affected. To grow managers, we encourage enabling autonomy and trust by not having "skip level" 1-on-1's, instead focusing on empowering managers to be autonomous and gain the direct trust of their team. At the time time, it's necessary for directors to keep their doors open should a "skip level" meeting be requested. For managers of managers to stay connected to their departments, we encourage auditing situations that come up through regularly scheduled conversations with team members that are directly impacted by the department's work.
Management isn't the only path, and it's important to be vocal in your organization about that. We've had to clearly lay out a career path with levels and hierarchies, paralleling the management path with an "equally senior" individual contributor path. Beyond this, having managers of managers audit their teams and engage with those affected by the team's work is a great way to balance enabling autonomy with identifying areas of improvement for your team.
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