Managers do not need to know everything that their reports know
6 December, 2017
Sometimes, as a manager, especially if you've only been in a managerial position for a short time, you won't understand everything your team does. When I arrived at Trello, I was put in charge of two teams. One of the teams was responsible for internal processes (i.e. making sure all systems work well together internally, from sales to accounting and more). My direct reports knew their roles, but I didn't. One engineer in this team worked on automated commissions for sales reps. He owned the process and faced a lot of questions from other devs, sales ops, and sales reps as he was the only one who knew how it worked. He was overwhelmed and would get frustrated, as he wasn't able to spend time coding due to how busy he was busy answering questions. I had to solve the problem, without an understanding of the actual process at stake.
I decided to first talk to the engineer. We agreed on building a flowchart for sales ops and the Vice President. He worked on the flowchart and I then organized a meeting with our Vice President of Sales and sales ops to clarify how to understand commissions. Whenever they have questions, they now have to refer to the flowchart. If they want a change to be made to how commissions are calculated, they need to change the flow chart, then ask my engineer to update the software.
As a manager, your role is to make sure the right conversations happen between the right people, not to actually solve all problems yourself. In the situation above, my role was to help the engineer find a solution and to do everything to ensure the success of his work. My take is that you should know enough to ask questions. I didn't know details about commissions, yet I knew enough about the commission process to ask questions, get a good overview, and brainstorm a solution with my engineer.
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