《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.

Why Agile Project Management?

I learnt extreme programming in my graduate study. The course name was software engineering and the students grouped together to finish an academic project over the semester in an agile, or extreme programming(then name) manner. Looking back, I have to admit that I didn’t really learn the secret of agile.

My first job was in a big company, the team runs Scrum, but the projects are largely planned top down approach. The product manager prepares details product requirement document(PRD), and the engineers spent long time design and discuss the design of the project to make sure every small change is considered. 

It was only when I started to run the team and the project, I started to think about how the project should be run. I still try to plan the project ahead of the time. But sometimes I see a better approach in the middle of the project and it requires a major shit of the execution direction. I convinced the team to make the change, but I have to ask myself: if I could have found this route upfront, the team would not have to waste their time on the previous approach, is it because I am not good enough? If I know this chance is necessary but the team doesn’t like the shift of direction, how do I convince the team to embrace such change? And stepping back, how do I organize the project better to reduce the risk of drastic changes? These contradicting questions bothered me.

With all these question, I started to read project management, to think more about the practices of project management. I found I didn’t really understand Agile programming. I found that the critical part is about the thought process, rather than the scrum process itself.

I found Agile is a much better choice for environments like my current team, where we have to move fast and adapt to new changes and requirement, where the team doesn’t have enough knowledge to figure out all the detailed tech roadmap upfront and have to rely on the learnings from doing.

Therefore, I started to write these series blogs to introduce Agile project management. I will share my thoughts and learning on the posts. And hopefully it will be useful for you.

Project Management: Agile V.S. Waterfall

What is scrum?

Scrum is an widely used agile process, it breaks down the project into 2-4 weeks intervals called Scrum. While each scrum is a small project that each should produce a working incremental of software. At each end of the sprint, the team will review the deliveries and do a retrospective to the past sprint.

Why using scrum?

But why people use scrum? Before answering this question, we need to know what is the traditional project management process. The more traditional project management is based on the defined process, where the roadmap and the delivery of the project is decided, and the control of the scope, schedule, and cost is also maintained. The benefit of defined process is that it delivers predictable results. However, this approach does not work well in environment where the deliverables are not predictable.

Scrum is based on empirical process, which means based on observations. Both the result and the approach is adapted according to the observation. The benefit is that it is highly adaptable, the risk is that the deliverables are not predictable.

How does Scrum works

There are three typical roles on the scrum project:

  • the product owner that is responsible for overall success/failure of the project and is the final decision maker on the requirements
  • the scrum master facilitates the team, manages the process and resolve the impediments
  • the development is responsible for developing the solution and coordinate with each other on the process.

A sprint usually last for 2 ~ 4 works. The work to be completed is time boxed. During the sprint, there will be a daily stand up meeting to update the progress.

The project owner will do backlog grooming before the start of the next sprint to correctly prioritize the work.

At the end of the sprint, there is usually a spring retrospective meeting to discuss what has been done well and what could have been done better.

Actually, which process to use is not a binary question. Many team utilize a hybrid approach to manage the project. And agile is more of a way of thinking about the issue rather than a practice like scrum.