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How to Navigate Your Manager Role at a New Company

Managing Up
Managing Expectations
Leadership
Collaboration
New Manager Of Manager
Changing Company

1 July, 2022

Saikrishna Desaraju
Saikrishna Desaraju

Engineering Manager at Marks and Spencer

Saikrishna Desaraju, Engineering Manager at Marks & Spencer, draws from his personal experience to advise new managers on thriving in their roles.

Engineering Manager in a New Company

I started my role as an Engineering Manager at Marks & Spencer eight months ago. Building trust as a new engineering manager is always challenging, especially if you aim to set up a new structure while building trust.

When I joined, the engineering team was in the midst of scaling. There was a lot to be done on my part:

  • Setting up a structure for scaling the teams and processes
  • Reshaping the architecture to support this growth
  • Defining the strategy
  • Unblocking the team as needed

Building Trust as a Leader

MANAGING UP

The first thing you need to do is identify and understand the problem space. Answer the following questions:

  1. What customer problems is the business trying to solve?
  2. What is the technical strategy? Is it aligned with product and business strategy?
  3. How are the tech teams aligned to this strategy to solve the problem?

Technical strategy is never stand-alone. To fully understand the context, you must partner with your stakeholders. Work with the product, design and marketing teams to know the problems and potential growth areas. You can then generate new ideas, make trade-offs to alleviate the constraints and deliver value.

Communicate and gather feedback from cross-functional teams on a regular basis. Make sure you're on the right track regarding your roadmap: what it is, where you are currently, and the next steps.

All these things show your potential as a technical leader and help you create trust with senior leaders and your manager in accurately identifying problems – working even in ambiguous situations – devising strategies, and delivering results.

MANAGING DOWN

Building trust with your higher-ups will make your life easier. Building trust with your reports is necessary to do your job.

You need to be able to influence your team's decisions without playing the authoritative card. Yet you still want them to be questioning and inquisitive; they should challenge your decisions if need be and understand the pros and cons – rather than blindly following orders. For this reason, you need to create a psychologically safe environment for your team (otherwise, they won't bring up the challenges you ought to know).

Another crucial aspect is active listening. Listen to your team's blockers and pain points. Create an actionable feedback loop, delegate and provide sponsorship opportunities. What should you be solving as a manager? What should they be solving with your support?

In short: build trust, listen, understand your team's technical needs and challenges, and enable them to create a plan for overcoming the blockers.

Final Thoughts

  • As a new addition to the team, you will observe some pain points. Sometimes, you'll need to push forward for changes, but sometimes you'll need to step back and give space for the teams to tackle these things organically. Mentor them by asking the right questions and course correct as necessary. This organic mindset works really well with getting engineers to think of solutions and solve problems themselves.
  • Staying motivated in your new role is crucial because you'll be working relentlessly for three to six months (defining your strategy, meeting people, getting feedback, etc.). To get through this period, keep focused on your long-term mission and think of the impact you'll make on the team.

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