招聘杂谈:先招高级工!

招到合适的人是经理最重要的任务,但是新人经理最容易犯的错是给团队招聘太多初级员工。这个错误一般是两个情况造成的:第一是团队需要快速扩充人手,第二是初级候选人数量众多又容易招到。新人经理可以凭借业务能力带领相对初级的团队,但这很快就会成为他们进一步成长的绊脚石。

团队扩充人手的冲动主要来自产品版图扩大和业务量增长。招聘初级员工是解决这个问题最容易的出路。初级候选人数量众多,薪资竞争不大,比较容易从职业前景和财务机会的角度说服。高级候选人则完全不同,数量稀少,薪资竞争激烈。他们经历丰富,选择众多,对职业规划也比较清楚,发展机会、财务前景、公司文化、管理风格等任何方面的问题都可能是他们的顾虑。

新人经理解决人手问题之后,起初会发现初级团队没有那么难以管理。新人经理业务能力尚且强大,他们仍然可以带领团队在一线冲锋,创造较高的执行效率。但他们很快会发现这种模式是不可持续的。

初级员工的管理成本非常高。他们需要大量的指导和培训,在许多方面的技能尚不熟练,往往需要经理亲自上阵。最终,经理或者疲于在各个会议中填补技能空缺,或者不得不将大量精力投入到员工培养中。而从初级到高级的跨越往往需要数年时间,通过内部培训选拔是个投入巨大收效缓慢的过程。

这样的状况会损害经理的进一步发展。如果经理的大部分精力被处理业务问题、培养团队占据,那么他就很难证明自己尚有余力承担更多职责。相反的,一个相对高级的团队可以为经理节省大量时间。高级成员的管理成本低得多,同时能为团队创造更大的价值。他们清楚自己的方向,不需要过多业务上的指导。他们可以独立带领项目,为初级的队员提供辅导和帮助。所有这些都将大大减少经理的任务,使他们可以聚焦在更加战略性的问题上。

总之,新人经理一定要抵住诱惑和冲动,从高级员工开始招聘起。尽管这对招聘技能尚未成熟的新人经理是一个更大的挑战,但不这样做未来需要付出更大的成本修正这个问题。

面试杂谈:Google Engineer 的问题

我面试候选人的时候发现Google 这类大公司的工程师普遍有两个问题:对基础设施端(Infrastructure)了解不足,主动沟通能力不够。这两个问题根植在大公司的运行模式和企业文化当中,在这类公司的候选人当中非常普遍。

对基础设施了解不足主要是工程部门职能划分细致,分工明确,产品品部门缺少机会、意愿和能力了解基础设施的细节。产品部门负责产品创新和迭代,基础设施部门负责服务扩容和支持。服务扩张的需求转移到基础设施部门后,产品部门被隔绝在基础设施的细节之外,缺少了解细节的机会和愿望。另一方面,当产品到达一定用户和流量规模之后,基础设施的设计往往非常复杂,一般产品部门的工程师没有能力理解这些设计,更不用说主动贡献其中。这一点在以自建基础设施出名的Google尤其明显。

主动沟通能力不足表现在只会照章办事,缺少推动能力。大公司为了协作顺畅往往设置各种流程。很多工程师误以为在这样的流程之下工作出色就是沟通能力到位了,比如在Review Meeting上阐释产品和技术细节。其实被动沟通和主动沟通是两种能力。前者更像是回答考卷,只需按程序将问题解释清楚。主动沟通则需要了解各方的需求,克服流程和组织的限制达到目标。主动沟通的能力才是在创业公司获得成功的关键。

个人的成长离不开环境赋予的挑战,细致的分工和明确的流程当然有助于在所在领域做到极致,但往往也限制了个人发挥的空间。

《The One Minute Manager》Book Review

Instead of summarizing the book, I organized my learnings from the book in Q&A format to highlight how these hidden theories in the book could be applied to our daily management practice.

Part I: Book Summary

  • What is the one-minute goal setting?

Agree on your goal and see what good behavior looks like, write out each of your goals on a single sheet of paper using less than 250 words. Read and re-read each goal, which requires only a minute or so each time you do it. Take a minute every once in a while out of your day to look at your performance and see whether or not your behavior matches your goal.

  • Why do we need one-minute goal setting?

People are not motivated because they don’t know what their goal is. Most managers know what they want their people to do, but they don’t bother to tell their people in a way that they would understand. Instead, they assume they should know.

However, the one-minute goal setting only works for winners and those who have potentials. They know how to achieve these goals. So the manager’s more important job is to bring in the best person to the team.

  • What is the one-minute praising?

Tell people upfront that you are going to let them know how they are doing. Praise people immediately, tell people what they did right, and be specific. Tell people how good you fell about what they did right, and how it helps the organization and the other people who work here. Stop for a moment of silence to let them feel how good you feel. Encourage them to do more of the same. Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear.

  • Why does one-minute praise work?

It’s important to help people understand how well they are doing. The number one motivator of people is feedback on results. The most important thing in training one to become a winner is to catch them doing something right.

We don’t expect people to do things right from the beginning, but with coaching and other help, they can gradually moving them towards the desired behavior.

  • What is the one-minute reprimand?

Tell people beforehand that you are going to let them know how they are doing and is no uncertain terms. In the first half of the reprimand, reprimand people immediately. Tell people what they did wrong and be specific. Tell people how you feel about what they did wrong and in no uncertain terms. Stop for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel. On the second half, shake hands, or touch them in a way that lets them know you are honestly on their side, remind them how much you value them. Reaffirm that you think well of them but not their performance in this situation.

  • Why does one-minute reprimand work?

The one-minute reprimand works because it makes sure people hear the feedback. People become defensive and can’t hear the feedback if they are attacked or if they feel you are not with them. The one-minute reprimand asks us to focus on the behavior instead of attacking the people and always make sure people know they are still valuable.

Part II: Hidden Management Theories

  • What’s your primary goal as a people manager?

A good people manager makes people work best with each other, they produce valuable results and feel good about themselves, the organization and the other people with whom they work.

  • What is “leave alone-zap”?

“Leave alone-zap” is you leave a person alone, expecting a good performance from them, and when you don’t get it, you zap them. The end result of this style is people do as little as possible.

  • When would people get motivated?

People get motivated for many reasons. But when get motivated, they feel good about themselves. Helping people to feel good about themselves is key to getting more done.

  • People-driven or result-driven, what type of manager do you think you are?

Many thought managers either cares about results or people. Result caring managers seemed to be tough and autocratic, while people-driven managers look nice and democratic. However, in order to be effective, you need to care about both.

  • How to help people find out the solution by themselves?

Ask the team to describe to you the problems they encountered in observable and measurable terms. Sometimes people focused on attitudes or feelings, which is not helpful for clarifying the problem. Then ask them to describe what they would like to be happening, and work with them to analyze what may have caused the discrepancy between the actual and desired.

  • How to explain your intention of sharing the feedback with the team?

It is important to let people know that sharing feedback is to help them become more successful. First, let them know that it helps them understand how they are doing in their work better, then, let them know that you wanted them to succeeded and be a big help to the organization, and to enjoy their work.

  • How do you explain to the team that your interests are aligned?

Explain to the team that your success depends on their success so they understand that your interest is aligned and you are with them. Explain to them that the more consistently successful your people are, the higher you rise in the organization.

  • What do you do if your team performed well however things are not going well?

Responds to people where they are, not where you are, still praise people even when you annoyed by other things if they’ve done well.

  • How to not discourage people when sharing constructive feedback?

The key is to separate the behavior and the people. Remember that when you give constructive feedback only focus on the behavior instead of the person. Always remind people that they are valuable and worthwhile?

  • Why separating people’s behavior and they as a person is so important?

Because we are managing people, not their behavior. People are more complicated, they will become defensive if they are attacked. Your power of management style comes from you care about people. Your reprimand would not work if the people don’t feel that you are with them.

  • Do you give positive feedback to the team? Do you think it is important?

Positive feedback is as important as constructive feedback. One mistake many managers made is to focus on the negative feedback, they set the goal and wait for the people to fail.

  • Is management manipulate people?

No, manipulation is getting people to do something they are either not aware of or don’t agree to. That is why it is important to let each person know upfront what you are doing and why.

Hiring: The Hidden Job Description

The internal standards we used to hire a candidate is way different from the job description posted on the company’s career website. It could be that the company’s using a standard hiring process with a generic job description, or it could be that the hiring managers intentionally keep the description vague so that we can be flexible in the hiring process. Published or not, we as hiring managers has to be crystal clear about the expectation of the position we are hiring for.

Smart Question use The hidden job description to describe these unpublished internal job description. The hidden job descriptions, unfortunately, will not be clear unless you written them down and validate them with the right principals. For example, not all expectations for the position are equal, some are crucial, some are important, while some are just nice to have.

The first thing SQ suggest us to do is to write down the job descriptions. Then you need to differentiate the crucial skills v.s. important skills. And then you should design your questions around the expectations. The most important piece is to trying to find out whether the candidate is a match for the position.

For example, I would want to hire a tech lead for my own team and hence the following three qualities are important for the person to be successful in this position:

  • Technical leadership

D: The ability to design, plan and organize the tech initiative from the day to day tech decision making to architecture change. Q: Can you describe to me how the project is organized in your current team and your responsibilities in organizing the work?

  • Tech mentorship

D: The ability to mentor and develop the team member’s tech skills as well as unleveling the team’s tech craftsmanship. Q: Can you give me a few examples how you help the team members that at different stages to develop their tech skills?

  • Communication skills

D: The abilities to work with different product and engineering team to drive the various initiatives related to the team. Q: Can you describe to me the challenges you faced when you drive a major initiative?

I would say the tech leadership and communication skills are crucial, while the tech mentorship can be developed and hence I rate it as important.

The hidden job description not only applies to professional recruiting, but also apply to other scenarios like looking for life partner. Not every time our answer to the question of “what is your expectation for your life partner?” is clear and well thought. Most of the time they are vague expectations.

People seeking life partner through online dating app is facing the same challenge as when they search for a job. Each of us have multiple choices while we have very limited time to know each other. The time we can spend with each candidate is very limited and when we are trying to evaluate the candidate, we are also being evaluated. Whether we can effectively find out the possibilities of matching with another person, whether we could present out self clearly to hopefully send out the right signals is a challenge.

The framework presented in SQ hence can also be applied to the dating interviews. First write down the hidden job description, then find out the what’s going to be crucial for you and design your question around that. In the mean time, present your self clearly during the dating to help the other person understand your expectations faster.

However, dating interview is different from job interview, even if a candidate matches with all our expectation, it is not guaranteed that we would develop the relationship with him/her, as passion something that we can’t define ore measure, is still the driven factor in establishing the relationship.

Manager Training: Stakeholder Communication

Why

As an engineering manager, you are responsible for business outcomes. And most of the time, you alone don’t have full control over the outcomes. You need to work with multiple other teams or departments, say the product management team, the operation team, the design team, the business analytics team. In order to achieve almost any meaningful outcome, you need to manage these stakeholders effectively.

Over-communicate

The most important step is to make sure you are on the same page with your stakeholders. Any misalignment can pull the team in different directions. One suggestion is to have regular 1:1s and/or a leads meeting at least weekly for the key partners.

When you organize such meetings, you should: Try to keep it small: only invite the min group necessary to take action for the success of the team. Many studies show that a large group could make the meeting ineffective. Align with your partners the priorities, and the strategies behind hitting them. Raise any flags of what you’re worried about that may hinder success. Such as feedback for each other or other team members, new areas emerging, etc. Problem-solve together, walk away with AIs.

When you are in the meeting, trying to be transparent: sharing everything. Teams are intertwined, it is very important as you plan for your team that stakeholders are in the loop to plan accordingly and give feedback.

Bridge the gap on tech

As an engineering manager, many times you need to explain your tech work to the nonengineering stakeholders. Tech work here meaning the work that is not tracked on the product OKRs, say improve the service reliability, improve the code quality, etc. Your cross-functional partners should be able to articulate the “why” behind these work as well as you do because they need to justify it to their own organization as well. One way is to try to answer this question: if I am an end-user, why do I care about that. And you should try to write these reasons down and pass it over to your stakeholders.

It is also important that when you plan for the work, you should try to plan the project so that you can deliver incremental impact or benefits, even if some times this means you need to take a detour.

Handle Disagreement

An important part of communication is to handle disagreement. The first point is to have empathy. You should be your delivery’s advocate, but in the meantime, as a thought experiment, try to switch sides with the other person and try to convince yourself from the other’s point of view. It is said that “S/he is no good layer who can not take two sides”, this also applies to the leader.

If you can’t convince the other side, try to propose an alternative path forward or middle ground to try to solve at least part the problem of your stakeholder. It is not enough to just say no.

When you don’t have enough information to make a decision, you can use a “disagree and commit” strategy, as gaining too much information to make a decision is too slow in most situations. But you should pick the battle and use this strategy wisely, it is better to be wrong than to be indecisive.

When you and your partner can’t reach an agreement or both of you agree to escalate, you should consider escalating the case. You should use this strategy carefully because if you escalate all the time, you are asking your boss to do your job. And when you escalate, it is important that you keep it clean: you should set a time with the mutual agreed decision-maker and commit to whichever outcome the decision-maker choose. You should try to avoid escalate without notifying your partners as this erodes trust. The decision-maker doesn’t have to be your boss, for tech discussions, you can reach out to more senior engineers.

Communicate Upwards

The most important part is probably to agree on the cadence of your report. You can set a calendar reminder to fill the report out consistently: consistency goes a very long way. You should also be transparent on the issue you are facing: your updates are not only for accountability, but also to identify problems and help to get the project back on track.

You should also minimize the overheads for your own reports just so that you can save as much time as possible for them to do the work.

Holding effective meetings

If the communication to your stakeholders goes more than 3 ~ 4 emails or JIRA comments, you should hold a meeting. And here are a few tips to keep the meeting productive.

Prior to the meeting, think about what it takes for the meeting to be successful and productive. During the meeting, don’t be afraid to inject if the discussion is off the track. And after the meeting, send an email reminder to all attendees to document the key decisions and listing AIs. And you should assume it is on your to get the AIs done.

Manager Training: Coaching and Delegation

Coaching

There are three tools that can help the subordinates to improve their efficiency: teaching, mentoring, and coaching. Teaching is telling the person step by step how to accomplish the task, mentoring is to analyze the situation with the person to find out the solution, while coaching is to help the person to come up with the solution by themselves by asking the right question.

Coaching is an important skill for mangers. It help develop the subordinates’s skill by having them go through the thinking process. People would feel more empowered being coached to finish the task rather than being taught to finish the task.

Coaching can also be challenging for managers. Coaching is different from teaching, where the latter focusing on showing the people steps to solve the problem. Coaching is more about coaching people’s reaction to the question. The coach needs to quickly find out the best questions to ask in order to further the conversation.

The best questions for coaching should be open ended question. For example, ask more questions about what and why, say ask the person to define the term they use, ask them to describe their feelings, etc. Don’t ask why questions, as this would be interpreted as the challenge to their motivations, and people might response with defensiveness.

The general structure for coaching is called TOP. T stands for topic. You should ask question to help the coachee to clarify the real topics. O stands for options. You should ask right questions to help the coachee to find out different options to solve the problem. And P stands for path. In this phase, you should focus on asking the coachee to evaluate the pros and cons of different options.

However, coaching is not necessarily always the best strategy. It takes longer time to help the people develop the required skills to solve the problem. Teaching, on the other hand, is more efficient, while it is less effective in helping people develop their skills. It is really about the constraints and where we want to take the tradeoff in terms of balancing the effectiveness and efficiency.

Delegation

Over 40% of the manager’s work could be delegated. But why they are not? Majority of the time it is because of the time is limited. The manager often under the pressing time constraints, many times they are promoted to their position because they could do their work better than anyone else in the team, so they tend to do the work by themselves instead of delegating to someone else, which could potentially take more time.

Another reason blocks our delegation is about the quality. Many managers worry that their direct reports could not finish the task as well as they do. It is true that it takes time to develop the team’s skill until they could deliver the task with high quality. For such concerns, the managers could gradually step back from involved in the actual task when they see the people are more and more comfortable with the work.

Sometimes, managers also worry that if they delegate, they might loss the details about the task. For such concerns, it is suggested that they focus on the output and learn the low level details when time is limited.

The other two major reasons are concerns about identity and the perception of the team. For example, the manager would worry that if they don’t any actual work, the team might think they are not doing anything. And they worry that the team might resent being asked to the work.

In order to delegate well, you need to consider about the following elements:

  • Context: why you would like to delegate this work or responsibility.
  • Motivation: why this person should be excited about this delegated work.
  • Information: what it takes for the person to finish the task well.

Ask the Most from Your People and Get It, Part I

The managers should ask the most from the team for many reasons. The biggest reason is that the company and the organization expects you to deliver work as a group. Your value is measured by how much value your team can deliver. The more effective your team is, the more value they could deliver and the more successful you are. This is largely why as a manager your success is determined by the success of your team.

However, some of the first time manager including feel frustrated about asking the best from their team. Some of the first time managers get promoted to the manager position because they are the most effective people on the team. And they inevitably set a high expectation on his team: the team should deliver as good as he could and he get frustrated because apparently people won’t be as effective as him.

In other times, we feel frustrated because we carry an unrealistic expectation for motivating people. We thought managers are like the inspirational speakers that he could give great speeches and inspires his fellow, or religious leaders that his fellow follows, respects, and admires him. To some extend, a great manager should be like the great speakers or religious leaders, that he could motivate his team by inspiring them to be a better themselves. However, an incorrect goal can be very misleading. As a first step, let’s try to distinguish the different skill set of a manager and a leader.

First all of, we have to realize that it is impossible to motivate people. Mislead by the wrong examples, I had once believe people could be motivated because they don’t know what they want and your job it to tell them what they should pursue. However, I gradually realized that people are only motivated by themselves. The manager’s job is not to find out a way to incept the goal to the team member’s mind, but to find out what the people truly want and put him in the position that he could achieve it.

Finding out what people truly want takes skills, and most importantly, it takes lot’s time. Many of the first time managers, including me, spent more time thinking about the strategy and execution roadmap: what the team should do, rather than thinking about what people want to do. These managers are good at providing feedbacks for people’s execution and coaching their skills. But they would find it hard to ask even more from people besides the feedback you’ve given.

In the next part of this article, I am going to discuss some of the fundamental skills I learned about asking the most from the team.