Reducing layers of management
6 December, 2017
When I joined Zoosk, I was brought in as a senior director of engineering and was put in charge of managing other directors and managers. Within the first month of starting here, I set up one-on-ones with my reports and other engineers on my team. Very soon, I realized that there were a lot of layers for a relatively small team of 35 people.
I met with each person to figure out why the hierarchy existed, and what I found was that people were promoted into management roles if they had done a great job as an engineer. While the company did have dual career paths, where engineers could focus on technical career growth or management career growth, this was not widely known or formalized. I also found that if you continued to do well you would then be promoted to a director role, where they were expected to manage a manager. However, they didn't receive training around how to be good managers or directors.
I met with each of the individuals. They had strong personalities, very passionate about the company and were very smart engineers. I wanted them to be in a role where they would be successful. I also got to know some of them didn't really enjoy management but stepped in to do it. Talking to those managers directly about dual career path and their long term growth helped few of them make a decision to move back into Individual contributors. However, while I was attempting to reduce layers and complexity, one manager wanted to increase the layers by adding a manager under him, and he had identified an engineer on his team as his successor. I asked him why he wanted to be in this role and he kept saying that it was important to him to be a director and that having an additional layer would give him more time to code. I had to explain to him that it doesn't work like that and he would be expected to coach the manager under him, and would be expected to start thinking about team strategy and get involved with the team's direction.
I finally worked out that it was the title that was important to him. He didn't care about the hierarchy, but had thought that the only way he could get the title was by having a manager working under him. I worked with our HR department and my SVP to create a new role. It allowed people to become a tech lead and then progress to a technical director role. In this role, people weren't expected to manage people but you have a director title and are responsible for larger initiatives. This immediately changed the engineer's perception. He is now a technical director, and he gets the time he wanted for coding and really enjoys this work. I was able to reduce the layers by understanding the motivations of each of the individuals.
Having a dual career path is very essential for a company to set up people to be successful. As a manager, it is important to spend time with each of the team member to understand their strengths, weaknesses, goals to groom them in the right direction. In this case, my engineer had already shown that he didn't enjoy management. Adding another layer, where he would have managed managers would have been bad for his career. Finding a solution really made a difference. Sometimes people get caught up in the idea of having a title. It's important to attempt to understand why they want what they want. If your company allows for it, see if you can make it happen.
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