Less Doing, More Managing
I mentioned in my last post that my team was being forcefully promoted to management class. By the end of March, each member of my muppet team had a couple of people working for them. My own two guys I thought of as consultants A&B.
Having people under you to do the actual day-to-day tasks that need to be done (filing certain forms, incident management, troubleshooting, responses to pageouts and alerts) is, in some ways, less stressful than actually doing the work.
Because instead of being constantly cranking, all I have to do is sit back and oversee them. Evaluate my underlings. Train them and provide feedback. It’s time-consuming but also easier in some respects.
This would seem like a great development except for a few things:
- I’m less professionally satisfied because I’m no longer doing as much technical work. The low-level grunt tasks are actually where I derive my core job-satisfaction: solving a difficult problem, or architecting a cool solution that no one else thought of.
- I suddenly have to do a whole bunch of additional paperwork for these guys. Like every other sane human on this planet, I find that these tasks to be unpleasant. So now every month I’m filing evaluations on their performance and keeping track of how they are spending their billable hours. At the same time, most days I’m spending an hour or more staring at a monitor with multiple windows of Microsoft Project opened. For those of you who don’t know, this is a resource planning application. I’m breaking down big projects into dozens of lower level sub-tasks, then assigning these tasks to members of FinancialCompany (employees, consultants A&B), and filling in an estimate of hours that I think that job will take, along with tentative completion dates. Hopefully this description has made you vomit a little bit inside of your mouth, because that’s what I did every time I had to launch this app. If I could get the complete mailing list of programmers that created Project, I’d sign them up for male-enhancement spam as punishment for their earthly wrongs. Please excuse me for half an hour now — I have to play some Donkey Kong just to get these recalled experiences wiped out of working memory.
- In addition, I now have to think about about things like how many sick days they’re taking and when they’re showing up to the office and whether they’re on top of their work or not, etc. This requires less mental capacity than it takes Barbie to furnish her Dreamhouse.
Consultants A&B are OK guys. They’re decent human beings. I train them up and plug them into FinancialCompany’s systems.
In my 1:1s with Cthulhu, though, I feel intense pressure to dump on my guys. To throw them under the proverbial bus. When there’s an issue he wants to insinuate that it’s consultant A&B’s fault. If I say, look: no, it’s not those guys’s fault that some trading application was down for a while today, his followup statement becomes THEN ITS YOUR FAULT YOU MUST ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY
Uhh… could it be our fault, maybe? Like, a big happy family of we-all-blew-it?
Look, I quickly come to despise evaluating the performance of these guys. That’s not a word I use lightly. Personally I think they’re doing a totally fine job, all things considered, but when you get down to it, when there is an issue, there must be blame assigned. This is part of the culture of the company; a scapegoat must be located.
In many ways I come to miss the lack of direct control over issue resolution. Prior to becoming a manager, at least if I had trouble with a certain task, I had no one to blame but myself. Having to trust my future to other people made me less comfortable, and feeling compelled to string them up was the worst part of all.
Still, I’m embarrassed to say that over time, I succumbed to personal weakness and management pressure to start talking crap about the guys under me. It was one of the only things that made Cthulhu happy — dumping on the consultants. I could tell he enjoyed it when I made negative comments about them because he’d sit back in his chair a bit and his tentacles would wag appreciatively. It totally makes sense: he fed on negativity and conflict like Jerry Springer overseeing a fight happening on his set.
So I spread the blame around because, in the end, there were too many heavy vehicles coming down Interstate FinancialCompany and not enough bodies to chuck underneath the tires to slow them down. Everyone on Muppet Team Cthulhu ends up with dirty tracks on our chests, from me down to consultants A&B.
I made sure of it.
I mentioned that I’m no longer doing nearly as much technical work. Sure, I get plugged in from time to time as the Big Gun to solve the more difficult issues, but shortly after I start delegating the majority of daily tasks, I’m finding I just don’t have enough interesting stuff to do. The only part of the job that I genuinely liked at FinancialCompany was doing the low-level problem solving work. As stressful as it is, I’ve always enjoyed playing detective and solving puzzles. Poke around long enough and you’ll find a clue that leads you to the solution. Nifty!
I mention this because as early as May of my third year — a little over a quarter of the way in — I’m able to see clearly that the transition to management is not going to work for me, long term. I’m jealous of my guys. The little bit of fun stuff there is to do at FinancialCompany, they’re already doing, and I’m left with the disappointing remainder. Now the best parts of my days are consumed cross-training them and helping them with problem-solving.
When I’m not with them, I’m most likely either a) in a valueless meeting or b) doing paperwork, i.e. evaluations, project planning, resource management, or c) managing perception by talking to various folks AKA networking and liasing and schmoozing and drinking the kool-aid, etc.
In Year 3, I found firsthand that abstracting yourself from real work and getting lost in mountains of deadening tasks and demeaning politics, all while degrading others (ideally, others who are subordinates) is really what becoming a manager is all about at FinancialCompany.