Managing Up: A Lesson in Clarifying the Expectations
30 July, 2020
As a brand new VP at AdKnowledge, I was overwhelmed with all the responsibilities and challenges. Overnight, my peers became my reports which is a challenge in and of itself, and at the same time, I was responsible for the success of an entire Engineering Organization. That included having to deal with a different set of “non-technical” peers along with managing expectations of a “non-technical” boss — the CEO of a mid-stage startup.
Getting to know my boss.
As a first-time VP, it can be intimidating to deal with a CEO. I remember setting up a one-on-one with him -- it seemed easy because he was a non-technical person and it looked like I could get away with anything. On the other hand, I felt he did not understand my world. During that process, I ended up meeting with them regularly and getting to know them at a relational level. It helped me understand their world and what they needed from me. Overall, some good questions that could help in a similar situation are:
- What keeps you up at night?
- What is success for you this quarter/year?
- What is one thing I could do to make your life easier?
Getting to know my peers.
I would set up regular meetings with heads of product (immensely important), marketing, sales, and finance (do not ignore this function!) to understand their worlds and how I as the VP/CTO could help them and what was success for them. If you could make your peers successful, you would probably make both your boss and your company successful.
Understanding each and every one of your reports.
It was critical for me to get to know the folks in my department and what their world was like. I spent a lot of time with my reports as well as the key technical leaders in the department to get a pulse of the department.
Keeping an eye outside the company.
Being a new VP and with a plethora of problems/challenges/opportunities, there was a tendency to be so internally focused that I would get overwhelmed at times. Therefore, I made sure to keep an eye out for what was happening “out there”, in terms of the technical advances, product innovation and competitive landscape.
- Know your boss’s success metrics. As is the case with most startups, the VP or CTO is the sole technical voice in the Board room and at the Executive Team. And so the onus is on you to translate the technical jargon into the business metrics and how the bits and bytes translate into dollars and cents. That can be hard for a first time VP who has been consumed all their life with technical folks around them.
- Understand the business. It is imperative to know the key levers of your business. Your job as the technical leader is to understand how the business operates and how the technical architecture and expenses affect the business and the P&L.
- Relate to your peers. Not only from a human and emotional intelligence perspective but also from a business and problem-solving perspective, it is extremely critical to understand the world of your peers. This will give a better understanding of your boss’s world as well as help you as a leader to lead your department as they deal cross-functionally with other departments
- Don’t forget that you represent your department. There can be a tendency to “too CEO” focused that will cause you to lose the respect of your reports and the members of your department. So it is important to understand the pain points of your reports as well as having a vision of where you want to take the department so that you can be a “well informed” voice at the executive team.
Virendra Vase, who has had numerous Executive Engineering Leadership roles like CTO, COO, SVP at startups like Patreon, Life360 as well bigger companies like Salesforce, Yahoo and Experian, elaborates on how managing up is all about clarifying the expectations with your boss and ensuring that there is a mutual understanding what success looks like.
CTO/COO/SVP at Patreon, Life360, Salesforce, Yahoo
No stranger to the meaning of team unity, Kowsheek Mahmood, Principal and CTO at Archetype, demonstrates the necessity of aligning goals and explicitly communicating needs.
Principal & CTO at ArchetypeTech
Evan Carmi, Engineering Manager at Airbnb, discusses how to approach higher-level managers and express your dissatisfaction with the poorly made decisions.
Engineering Manager at Airbnb
Herman Man, CPO at BlueVine, explains how product managers could build and maintain a good relationship with founders with a product mindset.
CPO at Bluevine
Rishit Shah talks about a one year period that caused him anxiety due to a poor relationship with his manager and how he managed upwards to build trust and credibility.
Director of Engineering at TripActions
You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.
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.