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Increasing Visibility When Doing Well

Impact
Team Processes

16 March, 2021

Sami Touil

Sami Touil

VP of Engineering at Onfido

Sami Touil, Senior Engineering Manager at Spendesk, explains how he increased his visibility as a manager who was doing well and whose good performance went unnoticed.

Problem

For as long as I can remember -- or more accurately, as long as I have been a manager -- I struggled to increase visibility on what I was doing and providing to the team. While they would be able to grasp what I was providing to them individually, they couldn’t understand what I did for the team on a broader scale. My actions went without any turbulence, smooth and seamless, and that made them unnoticeable. If I would create problems for the team or cause disruption of any kind, surely they would notice that and react.

Actions taken

What didn’t work

At first, I tried detailing all the things I did as a manager in standups. It didn’t work for me. I felt like I was justifying myself and seeking approval for doing things the way I did. Also, I felt I was disrupting standups because all ICs would discuss things directly related to the product and features they were building, and I would be talking about external stakeholders and things only remotely relatable to what they were working on. In addition, I tried telling my direct reports in one-on-ones what I was doing for the team, but that was not good either because one-on-ones should be about them, not about me.

What worked

However, what worked well from the start was my initiative to publish a weekly newsletter named the Engineering Manager Report. The EM Report would showcase what EMs were doing in the past week; EMs would present the new metrics they introduced or announce hiring that was underway. It was done without bragging and with an intent to shed light on things that EMs were doing on a broader scale and that were invisible to most of the team. The Report provided up-to-date information on subjects the team was unaware of due to the nature of their day-to-day work. It also provided them with an opportunity to get insights into what was happening across the engineering department as a whole.

On a personal level, the process of compiling the newsletter was rather stimulating. It forced me to reflect and evaluate all the things I did throughout a week. Oftentimes I would lose track of some of the smaller projects as those larger ones apparently took most of my time and effort. But, when I was producing the Report, I would list down all the projects, aggregating all the smaller ones and connecting them to a bigger picture.

The EM report had lateral benefits apart from the increased visibility I achieved. People on the team became aware of all the different things managers -- including myself -- do, but my managers also gained an accurate insight into what we were doing a level or two down and were able to track our progress.

Lessons learned

  • Taking an indirect route is sometimes the shortest way to go. In this particular case, though people on the team were unaware of what I was doing, approaching them directly and telling them straightforwardly about all the work I was doing for the team could have been counter-productive.
  • People are mostly curious about what it is that you do. But you have to find the right format to instigate that curiosity. I also had to get rid of the feeling that they were only curious because they wondered if I was of any use at all. No, people were asking those questions within the sphere of their own interest and knowledge. If you want them to ask questions outside of their day-to-day work, provide them with visibility into those areas.

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