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How To Successfully Transition From a Manager of ICs to a Manager of Managers

Goal Setting
Meetings
Feedback
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

7 December, 2021

Bobby Asher
Bobby Asher

Sr Engineering Manager at Bloomberg LP

Bobby Asher, Director of Engineering at Bloomberg, explains how he succeeded in his transition from managing ICs to managers, shifting his mindset to focus on coaching.

A Change of Mindset for Transitioning Managers

The transition between managing IC’s and managing managers was a difficult transition for myself and my colleagues. Creating a scalable process to check in on organizational health was essential to being a successful manager. Setting up these systems was vital, as becoming a manager of managers meant that I would be one step further from the day-to-day. Some of these systems needed to be in place before I transitioned and some could be done during or after the transition.

The Transition of a Manager of Managers

Growing Managers Internally:

Before I transitioned into a support role for managers, I began taking on supporting tasks. I found it essential to prepare ahead for my transition and put individuals in place for my next role. I was transitioning into a growth role with a rapidly scaling team, meaning I needed managers to support each of these teams. Before my transition, I needed to start coaching these individuals who wanted to grow with me to prepare for their new roles.

Talking Over a Team:

Another situation I have been in is when I transitioned to a team with managers already in place. In this scenario, it was most important for me to put systems in place to understand the pulse of the organization’s health. I implemented skip-level one-on-ones, all-hands, informal meetings with ICs, and platforms for cross-functional team collaboration. Many of these practices helped me better understand the inner workings of the organization and what I could improve.

Through these meetings, I also gained a lot of feedback about my managers. Informal meetings and one-on-ones allowed my IC’s to speak freely about the managerial successes and growth areas. Whenever I’ve grown a manager from within, I understand their strengths, weaknesses, and skillsets. When moving into a different team, I don’t have the same visibility and establish these processes.

Implementing Well-Defined Goals:

When transitioning to manage managers, I wanted to ensure that goals were well-defined. My mindset changed from revolving around execution to goals and OKRs. Since I was further away from the system and my scale grew, it was difficult to monitor every project daily. To see the progress of these projects, I set up metrics, OKRs, and goals for my team to complete. These also motivated my teams, as it was sometimes difficult to understand their progress while working remotely.

Enacting a Coaching Mindset:

As a manager of IC’s, my mindset revolved around mentorship and finding solutions with team members. As the transition happened, I noticed that my managers supported some high-performing ICs, and I needed to change from a solution to a questioning mindset. I found it vital to ask my managers to own the solution and the problem rather than using my own past experiences.

Act Situational:

I also found it beneficial to act situational based on each manager and interaction. Some managers were highly seasoned and preferred autonomy and goal-setting. Other managers required other types of support, such as mentorship and ample resources. By comprehending each manager's strengths and experience level, I was able to customize my leadership strategy to help my teams grow.

Staying Technical:

When I was further away from the day-to-day, it was difficult to continue my technical skills. I had to be much more involved in personal development by reading technical resources. I had to pick and choose specific projects where I wanted to make a large impact on. During the transition, the question changed from ‘am I solving the problem right’ to ‘am I solving the right problem?'

Lastly, making the developer experience better for engineers allowed me to keep my hands on the technical details. Enabling them to ship code as quickly as possible lets me show my teams the right path to deliver products.

Tips to Be a Successful Manager

  • Using a template approach to coach and support managers will not work as well as acting situational. Each project and team you manage will be very different and require different strategies to enable them. Understanding the individual and everything will benefit your management.
  • Coaching is better for high-level management than mentorship. Mentorship is more about shared experiences, and coaching pushes individuals forward to find their own solutions and problems.

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