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Identifying Prospective Managers

High Performers
Meetings
One-on-one
Ownership
New Manager
Career Path

8 February, 2020

Before transitioning an engineer into a new manager role, Dmitry Alexeenko, engineering manager at Stripe, has a series of measures he uses to decide whether or not this person is suitable for the position.

Problem

During one on ones, people often allude to wanting to become a manager at some point in their career. I think that some of them simply aspire to learn something new and get bored fairly easily, which is an indicator that something else might be broken. This lack of engagement or motivation could lead to bigger problems such as leaving the team or company. In my experience, there is a high chance that they don’t even need to be a manager, but are merely lacking some interesting or motivating projects. Similarly, the desire to have more impact or influence can also indicate another problem that could be solved in a different direction than by becoming a manager. 

Actions taken

  • I try to understand what drives people to want to lead teams and be managers. I participate in a series of one on one sessions with engineers and reflect on those conversations and answers to figure out if being a manager is what is truly driving them. 
  • I am always on the lookout for engineers who are really amplifying the work of others. There was an engineer during my Airbnb time that helped organize an exercise to better connect the team and subsequently build more trust. As an end result of that activity, we came up with a bunch of team norms. We then wrote down our core beliefs on the norms we all thought were important and want to adhere to. That person drove this idea without any other focus than thinking it would be helpful. 
  • I speak with the people who are around these future managers to gather some feedback and buy-in from the team before making any concrete decisions. 
  • I use mentorship, both formally and informally with other managers from successful companies to bounce around problems and viable solutions on this topic. 

Lessons learned

  • Even before engineers say anything about wanting to possibly go down the manager track, it should be visible that they spend time and energy helping those around them without much agenda. I have seen several examples of people wanting to multiply productivity and success which is a great reason for someone to try the manager route. 
  • There are many books and articles outlining what makes a good manager, and while they are helpful, observing other experienced leaders has been most beneficial for me. Actually being able to see something close to you that is either working or not working allows for a faster pace of learning. 
  • Before making an official change or announcement, speaking with the team about future managers builds trust with the team by demonstrating that their voice truly matters. I once had a senior engineer thank me for doing that because it reassured him that his opinion counted and it wasn’t just some change that was decided behind the scenes.

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Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.