21 Insightful Quotes on Leveling Up: Becoming a Manager of Managers

On Friday, March 6th, senior female tech leaders & engineers came together to celebrate International Women’s Day with over a dozen tech talks & panels during the Girl Geek X Elevate 2020 virtual conference. Today’s blog includes quotes from a session with Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack; Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com; Ines Thornburg, AVP of Customer Success / Splunk; and Gretchen DeKnikker, COO / Girl Geek X. In addition to the YouTube video replay, a full transcript from the talk is also available.

  1. “When you make the transition from managing individual contributors to managing managers, what happens is you go from this very directive, sort of supporting, coaching state of mind to managing to outcomes.

    When you have a person who is also responsible for managing other people on the team, you don’t want a person who is managing or doing things in the way that you would do them. You want them to manage in the way that feels comfortable for them.

    I would never say to a manager, ‘Hey, I want you to do this, and this is step one, two, three.’ It’s like, ‘This is the outcome. How can I support you to get there?’ You have to really trust them to be able to do it. And so the unlearning comes from wanting to be the person who is the hero, jumps in, saves the day, maybe writes the code — to really growing and empowering that next generation or that next level of leadership.” —Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack

  2. “One mistake I made when I became a manager’s manager was just having one-on-ones with my immediate direct reports. They also have a set of teams and maybe not as frequently, but making sure that I check in with the team members made a big difference. When I hear some of the key themes and strategies being played back in skip level one-on-ones, I think that’s when things are going well. If you hear a game of telephone being played and have a disconnected kind of direction and alignment, you’ll know that things are not going well. Do those skip level one-on-one check ins. They’ve served me well.” —Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com

  3. “I had to learn to balance my time across the different responsibilities in a way that, frankly, I wasn’t getting too involved. I learned to trust the expertise on my team and learn what was good enough. Perfection is not always the end goal. We have to continue to progress multiple workstreams at one time in initiatives, and really make sure that no one gets left behind.” —Ines Thornburg, AVP of Customer Success / Splunk

  4. “I struggled to learn when to stop helicoptering in and trying to rescue everyone. I’m still learning it, but to me, the biggest difference between a junior employee in a very small startup versus a manager’s manager is learning how to do helicoptering in and helicoptering out at the right moments.” —Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com

  5. As you grow in your career and you become more visible, have more responsibilities, the one thing that I’ve learned is that when you say something, the impact of what you’re saying really is that much stronger, that much more gospel, so to speak. When you’re facilitating a meeting or when you’re communicating, you have to realize that, again, as your responsibility grows, people really listen.

    You have to be careful, so if you’re trying to facilitate a brainstorming, for example, what I’ve learned is to facilitate the dialogue, get the conversation going, but I reserve what my opinion is until the end, because I don’t want everybody to just think that my opinion is the right one, because it’s certainly not. That’s why I bring together, and when I’m doing hiring, I always try to look for complementary skills.

    So I’ve learned to really be cautious about what I say and when I say it and to whom I say it, because I realize that what I’m saying does affect and impact a lot of the folks on the team.” —Ines Thornburg, AVP of Customer Success / Splunk

  6. “Be friendly, not friends. If my team’s watching, they’re probably laughing about this, because I say this a lot. Very early in my career when I made that transition to manager, these people are your best friends. You hang out with them every night and when you are friends with the people who report to you, you cannot be impartial, right? You can’t say to your best friend, ‘You really screwed up on that thing. I need you to work harder in this area.’ It can be really awkward.

    And so what I really learned later in my career was how to set boundaries, because I do you a disservice if I’m not able to give you that really constructive and helpful feedback and help you grow. And that doesn’t mean that you have to be this monster who’s just a robot, but boundaries are really, really important and I just wish I’d learned that earlier.” —Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack

  7. “In the early part of my career, I was thinking that I should be the smartest person if I’m the manager, and I was somewhat reluctant and afraid of hiring people smarter than myself. But what I am realizing is that it’s absolutely cool to hire people smarter than me. It actually elevates the team. It improves the quality of the thinking and ultimately, what we deliver to our customers is going to be much stronger. So I think I had to shed that a little bit of early stage career insecurity to really put together a strong team.

    I don’t have to be the perfectionist that knows all the answers. Sometimes a great value as a manager or manager’s manager comes from asking the right question, maybe asking the powerful question that nobody else is asking, because they are afraid or there’s a big elephant in the room.” —Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com

  8. “As your responsibility grows, you’ll have lots of different experts on your team in different disciplines, different business units, and you can’t be the expert on everything. It’s just physically impossible as your organization grows, and so what you do need to do is to be really, really comfortable working with these teams of experts in helping them accomplish their mission.

    As a leader, my value to my team is making sure that we’re working towards the same goals and cascading those company goals down. I make sure everybody understands those goals, that we’re progressing on those goals, and that we’re communicating our progress effectively in working together.” —Ines Thornburg, AVP of Customer Success / Splunk

  9. “Really, you should make your management style situational to the person and to the stage that they are in their career. It really just goes into this first quadrant, which is directive, which you might do to a more junior person. You might say, ‘I need you to log into this machine, do this work,’ and then you move up into coaching, which is you have a little bit more skill and it’s like, ‘All right, you kind of know what you’re doing. How can I coach you through it?’ Onto supporting, which is, ‘You know what you’re doing. How can I support you? How can I help you get to that next level?’ And then the final magic kind of golden quadrant is delegation, and that’s just, ‘I don’t even really need to tell you what to do. You probably are bringing me the problem, telling me what it is that needs to be solved.’

    The thing that’s really interesting is it’s not really a straight line. You might kind of hover, depending upon your skill set, maybe in communication you’re in full on delegation mode, but at technical proficiency, maybe you need a little bit more support.

    When I’m managing managers, I really try to think about each individual’s strengths and how I can help really, really uplift a person’s strengths, and how do I help them really either correct for or counterbalance any weaknesses that they may have?” —Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack

  10. “Understanding what type of leader you are and what you can contribute is way more important than a very specific checklist of skills. If you’re interviewing someone and they haven’t done that exact thing, can they describe to your their approach or their philosophy? What I really look for is ‘is this person a structured thinker? Do they have best practices or some kind of toolkit or some sort of methodology in the way that they approach leadership?'” —Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack

  11. “When I first transitioned to managing managers, I thought I needed to know everything and I was so embarrassed when I didn’t know what was going on. It took me a while to realize I’m just air traffic controller. The less information I have on a tactical level, the less opportunity I have to screw things up… I should just let the expert be the expert.

    And then my most amazing moment as a manager’s manager was when I walked in, I was planning this 10,000 person conference and there were hundreds of people setting up all of these little tiny details that we’d spent a year making. I only knew the names of like six people that I could see at any given moment. And I was like, ‘Okay, this is working. They have this. They’ve got it. I don’t even need to know what’s going on right now. This is amazing.'” —Gretchen DeKnikker, COO / Girl Geek X

  12. “It’s really fulfilling and rewarding to see people grow — to see them go from kind of more junior manager to senior manager to director, to see them be able to come into their own as a manager, develop their own styles. That’s probably the best thing about progressing to higher level of management.” —Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack

  13. “Part of management is about soft skills and developing and augmenting those skills in your team. So that means communication skills, collaboration, meeting facilitation. It means executive presence, making sure that when you’re representing your company or your team, that you do it in such a way that you’re proud of that. So, when I know I haven’t prepared my team and I see a train wreck about to happen, that’s cringe-worthy.” —Ines Thornburg, AVP of Customer Success / Splunk

  14. “My most proud moment is when I’m absent on a sabbatical or extended vacation and the team doesn’t even notice that I’m gone. I think that’s the ultimate success of coaching and grooming the right team. If they noticed you were gone, your team isn’t quite where you need them to be.” —Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com

  15. “During my skip level one-on-ones, I start with a very broad question of ‘How are things going?’ I try to also let the manager in the middle know that we are having the skip level. I think the worst outcome is if the manager in the middle gets alienated in this conversation.

    I don’t really have an agenda during skip level one-on-ones. With some folks, I talk about just their career aspirations. With some folks, since I’m one level away, they could maybe ask more questions about the big picture strategy and whatnot, so it’s a little bit different, but I always let the team member drive the agenda.” —Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com

  16. “I want to be the finalist on all interviews because I really take pride in knowing people. One of the things, as a leader of a large organization, that I like to understand is, is career aspirations. This is where we have a much larger purview of opportunity as a leader, and frankly if I have a conversation with someone and I understand really they want to be in another part of the organization at some point in the future, I would love to make that match and keep that talent within my company rather than seeing people leave and take all that wonderful knowledge and great talent to another company.

    I don’t want people leaving my organization necessarily, but at the same time, if we can promote from within and give people more opportunity within our organization, people appreciate that and I love a team that culturally has a strong morale and knows that we’ve got each other’s backs.” —Ines Thornburg, AVP of Customer Success / Splunk

  17. The top trait to focus on developing if you’re interested in a management role is adaptability, because the thing about being an IC is that it’s a pretty defined trajectory to go from associate to engineer to senior to staff to senior staff, right? You might not know exactly what it is but some part of it is mapped out.

    It’s a little bit more opaque when you’re talking about leadership, because in any given moment, you could have to deal with people’s emotions and you have to coach and you have to support and you have to discipline. It’s just all of these things that you have to do, and so you need a growth mindset. You have to be willing to iterate and change.

    If you’re a person who’s really rigid and you like things just so, you maybe want to consider something else.” —Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack

  18. “At more junior levels, there’s a mindset that meetings are a waste of time. Meetings are your lifeblood when you get to a certain level. If you spent your whole day in meetings, you were doing your job all day — and I think that’s a mindset thing that a lot of people really struggle with changing.” —Gretchen DeKnikker, COO / Girl Geek X

  19. “There are two major mental shifts that occur when you transition into engineering management. ICs generally think about execution for the most part, so you have to start to blend in execution as well as strategic thinking. So I think that’s maybe the first shift you need to make to become a manager.

    You’ll also shift how you think about time horizons. Let me take product development as an example. Maybe when you’re an IC, you’re thinking mostly about next release, the release after that, but when you eventually become a manager, you think about an annual roadmap or a three year vision. I think those are maybe the differences in time horizon of your thinking, and there’s not a right or wrong.

    I think there need to be different parts of thinkers. Some people need to execute, some people need to think strategy. Some people need to think next release, some people need to think about the three year vision, but I think those are some of the shifts that need to occur in order to transition into a managerial role.” —Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com

  20. “To overcome bias and avoid being stereotyped as the ‘quiet, introverted Asian woman,’ I spent extra energy on developing what we usually call the executive presence and executive gravitas, because especially when you become a manager of managers, it’s not just your personal brand and personal reputation any more. It’s your team’s effectiveness that you have to be responsible for. I try to overcome the bias by being more vocal and represent the team more actively.” —Bora Chung, SVP of Product Management / Bill.com

  21. “I think one of the hardest things about being a woman in engineering, especially a woman of color, is just the big issue of low expectations. What happens to me a lot in particular is people think that I’m not technical.

    I’ve had interns be like, ‘Do you code?’ which is a ridiculous question that you probably never ask a male who’s a director of engineering. You face that a lot and it’s really unfortunate.

    On the bright side, I think things are changing, particularly as we get more and more women in leadership positions, I think just having different voices in the room is really contributing to the conversation.

    When I was coming up, there weren’t a lot of people who look like me who did the job that I do, and so it just wasn’t a thing that I could even see myself doing. The idea of a CTO was Andy Grove, right? With the khaki shirt… a blue shirt and khaki pants. So make yourself aware and available, and let people know that you are a source of information.

    Sponsorship is a big thing that people are doing right now.

    If there’s someone that you see who you think has potential, maybe encourage them. If I have people on my team who show interest in management, I try giving them some tasks. Like, ‘Hey, maybe try managing this intern for a summer and seeing how it goes, or maybe you might want to run the sprint meeting.’ That kind of thing. Just give them these little nuggets to see if they have the aptitude and really understand what management is.” —Arquay Harris, Senior Director of Engineering / Slack

To hear more from Arquay, Bora, Gretchen and Ines, check out the transcript from their March 6th panel during Elevate 2020, or watch the video replay on YouTube!

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Episode 15: Managing Up


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This Rachel, the producer of this podcast and we are the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing working with your manager.

Rachel Jones: So I think this topic of working with managers comes up a lot regardless of the topic that we’re thinking about. Just ways to work with your manager kind of weave into the conversation. So, what do you think it is about this relationship that can be so hard to navigate at times?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think managing up is so hard that no one really taught me or it didn’t even come to my attention that I needed to focus on it until, I don’t know, maybe at least five or six years into my career. It’s really hard to know what’s expected of you, how you’re being evaluated if you just don’t know how to manage up. And the best way, I think, is to get on the same page and understand a bit more about what your manager… Or how your manager thinks, what your manager wants to see, what their goals are and how you can help them reach their goals. But it’s not the easiest process to get onto the same page as your manager, for sure. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what may make it hard is that if you’re very early in your career and you’re figuring out your way in the world and how you work and how you work with other people and how you work with a manager and then your manager might be only a year or two into managing. And so they haven’t really figured out how to be a manager rather than an individual contributor to help you learn how to manage up, right? So there’s this sort of… Everyone’s sort of figuring it out as they go along and I think that might create a lot of frustration and confusion.

Angie Chang: Just generally speaking, it’s one of the very popular topics of conversation from a career advancement perspective. But when you’re in the trenches, it feels very differently, right? You’re like, as Gretchen said, you’re doing the things and your manager’s probably also building the plan on the way down. There is oftentimes just too many things going on to really consider the management side.

Angie Chang: But that’s because we come from startups where people are often just kind of learning about the rules as they’re in it. I think definitely having a lot of conversations around what the expectations are and making sure that you have regular meetings that more people will show up to, to discuss how your goals are going to align.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s super important, like Angie said, but to be really direct with this stuff, there’s sort of two ways to think about it, right? Like if you want to just kind of be a better employee thinking about what is my manager measured on, what would make them look good to their boss? What are the metrics, what are the things that they really care about? And when you’re sort of prioritizing your time, definitely prioritize and think about your decisions in the context of like, “How can I get my manager promoted?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Because you can get your manager promoted, you can make everybody look good, right? Not that you have the ability to do that directly, but just sort of as a way of looking at it. But the other thing is, have direct conversations. Do not guess. Do not try to guess. My example is, I was hired for a job and two weeks in, my boss was fired. My brand new boss was fired and he’s really, him and a few other people who were brand new to the company and brand new to the team – we were opening a San Francisco office – they were all I had to turn to.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And so we had a trip planned to go to New York and my colleague who’d only been there a few months longer, he’s like, “Well, I don’t know if we should go.” And I was like, “I’m going, and I’m going to sit down with the CEO while I’m in New York and I’m going to ask him, ‘what were your expectations for my role? What were the goals? What are the things I could do in the first 90 days?’ Because I don’t have a manager anymore and I need to know.” It was a brand new role. And if I hadn’t asked those questions, I would have worked on the wrong things. I wouldn’t have prioritized my time in a way that my substitute manager for the time being, what his expectations were going to be.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And my colleague’s first response was this idea that you shouldn’t go meet and you shouldn’t go ask and that you should just sort of like sit back and wait to see what happens. And I’m so glad that that wasn’t my first instinct and that I went in and I had the conversation.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, that’s a good example. I think for me, I have asked questions like, “What is–” to my manager, I’ve asked questions like, “What is the thing that’s worrying you the most, work-wise? Or what is your biggest goal? What do you want your org to be known for?” And through that I get a sense of where I can insert myself and make my manager successful because that is the main thing. When you’re managing up, you want to make your manager a success in their job by basically managing them. And if I take myself and how I’m doing out of the conversation to start with and focus on what their needs are, then I put myself in that and say, “Okay, which of these align with what my goals are and how can I step in and take ownership of this particular area that’s going to make my manager successful as well as me successful and excited?” Then I’m starting to align our goals together.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Our first quote is from Sandhya Hegde who is the VP of Marketing at Amplitude and she shares her own advice on building relationships with your manager.

Sandhya Hegde: One of the challenges that I had to figure out was this idea of what builds a relationship with your manager and depending on your manager, it can be very different. So like over-simplifying, I would say there are two types. People who find it really easy to build relationships so that you don’t have to do the work. And then there are people who are just like less open, more private people that you can’t tell, “What’s this person thinking? Does she like me? Does she like the work I’m doing? She’s not, I can’t really tell what’s going on.” And so I’ve been in that situation often where I am the over-sharer – I can talk about my feelings for like three days – but I’m working for someone who does considers like, “hi” a conversation. So now, I’m like, “I don’t really know what’s happening here.”

Sandhya Hegde: And that was kind… I think the first time I had a job with a manager, it was like that. Like I really couldn’t tell what was going on. And at first I was just frustrated for a while and then actually just started talking about feeling confused. So I said, “Hey, you’re kind of hard to read and you don’t really talk about like what’s going on in your head, how you’re thinking. And I’m not really looking for like affirmation for like, ‘oh good job, Sandhya.’ Like that’s not the point. It’s not about the work. I can tell when my work is good or bad, like that’s very obvious. But I want to know do you feel like I’m making the right kind of progress?”

Sandhya Hegde: These are the things I would like to know and it wasn’t easy to do this because you have to be vulnerable. You have to say stuff like, “Hey, I care about how you feel about me,” which is a vulnerable place to be. But when I worked up the courage to say it, it made a huge difference. Because you are vulnerable, the other person starts being more vulnerable. So yeah, if you feel like you’re with someone who’s not opening up, honestly the best thing to do is just be vulnerable with them and create that space for them to reciprocate.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how she is… when she gave an example of being pretty direct about trying to get on the same page as her manager. How you do that is really up to you and your personality and how you feel comfortable. But just, I think, the essence of it is trying to understand, what about your manager? Do they like going for walks in their one-on-ones or do they prefer it to be a coffee? Or do they prefer it to be in a conference room? Trying to understand more about what their working style is will help you get on the same page for sure. It will break the ice initially and then you can get to the real stuff. Like what is important to them.

Rachel Jones: I think that comes back to even episodes that we’ve had about personality and communication and just knowing how to relate to individuals specifically. Because if you’re writing your manager these emails that are like, “How’s your weekend?” And all this extra stuff and they are only really reading it for that one bit of information. Knowing that is important. So yeah, just how this person relates. How do they like to show up in the office and how can that kind of inform the way that I’m building a relationship with them and aligning with them on the goals that we’re working towards? I think, yeah, getting to know them and their personality as a manager is really important.

Angie Chang: We’re hearing about this, as Sukrutha said, the personalities definitely shine through and being someone who’s always told that it’s hard to read my expression. I was like, “Oh yes.” So like having a person who is able to tell you, “Hey, you’re a little hard to read. Can you give me a little more? Or like how are you feeling?” And someone who like works with it instead of just getting offended and not asking the hard questions.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I really love that she brings up the concept of vulnerability. That’s in any relationship, right? The willingness to be vulnerable generally is going to bring out a different side in the person that you’re willing to sort of show that softer side to.

Angie Chang: It’s also like the willingness to do a little bit of work and ask more questions instead of just being like, “Well, my manager is not giving me what I want and I’m just going to be resentful.” And just actually like asking more questions to figure out what’s the working relationship going to be with this type of person. I’m sure there’s like professional tests that will then name this personality and give you hints on how to best interact with this type of person that you can investigate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s also making me think about there’s this piece of software if you’re using Gmail for work – I think it’s called Crystal Knows – but you can go in and it’ll tell you actually how to communicate with that person through email. Like if you read mine it would be like, “Use short concise sentences, make your point quickly, don’t use a bunch of flowery language.” That sort of thing. And I thought it was pretty accurate, but it’s super interesting, and I think you can get it like an initial thing for free and then you have to pay, but it’s pretty amazing. Even if you just run it on your own inbox to see, “Oh yeah, that is like how I like to get emails.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it looks really good. I just Googled it, and I think I’d use it. One more thing that I’ve done, actually, is when I’ve gotten a new manager or I’ve been assigned to someone new or moved to a new org, I talk to people who reported to them for a long time to get a sense of what it’s like to report to them, what their managing style is. Just so that I’m better prepared. And that’s helped me so much to know what kind of things do they focus on from someone else’s perspective instead of just relying on how they represent to me.

Rachel Jones: So it’s nice having ideas for ways that you can build a relationship with your manager, but what do you do if you’re having a little more trouble navigating that relationship? Like how do you tell your manager that you need more from them?

Angie Chang: That’s a hard one because sometimes you realize that your manager has technically done it before but is not necessarily a good manager. So I am actually really interested to hear what Gretchen and Sukrutha have to say about working with your manager.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I personally don’t think anyone is a perfect manager, so you know, how good that person is as a manager to you, I feel a lot of that is in your control. I also have had some good managers in the recent past, but I’ve also seen other people struggle to report to them. So just taking into my own hands and really, really focusing on the relationship and managing up. Like I said, doing my homework to get a sense of what it’s like from other people to report to them, what they like and what they don’t like. And whatever they don’t like, if that resonates with something I wouldn’t like, then I would figure out how I would work around it or improve that scenario. I haven’t had a situation in a really long time where things just aren’t working because I invest a lot very early on into the relationship. So, Gretchen, have you had a situation where despite investing energy and time into the relationship, it’s still wasn’t working?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think, I mean, my advice on that is don’t try to read somebody’s mind, but also when you’re trying to have this conversation of going in and if they’re like, “Yeah, that’s fine,” or whatever, and it feels like there’s something else going on, saying like, “I feel like this isn’t quite what you were looking for.” Or saying, okay–Or they’re like, “Yeah, that’s good.” But you don’t feel like they mean it. You know? It’s like, “Oh well, for next time, how could this be better?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: And really opening those things because sometimes your manager isn’t going to take the time, but you can obviously tell that they’re not happy with what you’re doing. I definitely had managers where I can just tell it’s time to over-communicate and to keep them updated on every step of the way that there’s something going on that maybe they don’t even know how to articulate themselves.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But then there are people that are just not people that you enjoy working with and that’s managers or colleagues or subordinates and at some point, there’s only so much you can do to kind of try to smooth that over and then you just either take that person at face value and accept that there are just times where things aren’t gonna work, or you, particularly if it’s a manager, going somewhere else where you just feel like… If you have a manager and you know that they are never going to lift you up. They are never going to put you center stage. They are always going to keep you in their shadow, and I’ve had those, and you have to move on. You absolutely have to move on. You cannot let someone steal your spotlight. Not on your career path.

Angie Chang: I think there’s things people could do if they’re in a bigger company to find a new manager or team or project to work on, hopefully. Being on a smaller startup, it’s nice to imagine, like what Sukrutha mentioned, finding other people that this person has like managed before. I was like thinking back on my tiny startups and like there was nobody that I can ask those questions to, so…

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well maybe not in that company, but definitely people… It’s not like they’ve never worked with anyone before. Right? So you definitely can go back. I’ve done that with a new person at a small company, and seeing if there was someone I could reach out to that they’d worked with before that could give me advice. You just have to approach it from a really positive angle of like, “Hey, I’m just trying to do really great. Like if you could give me three pieces of advice on how to be successful, what would you say?”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s an interesting way of asking for constructive feedback about the person.

Angie Chang: So Sandy Lao, Head of Talent, Culture, and People Operations gave some tips on working with your manager during our dinner with HomeLight.

Sandy Liao: For us as a company, we started doing performance review on an annual basis and then we also do a year-end check-in. We want to understand, hey, even if it’s not a measurable bullet point percentage that we’re looking at, at least on a regular quarterly basis that you are speaking with your manager to talk about like, “Hey, I want to be able to achieve these five goals for the for the quarter. And are you able to do that?” At the end of the quarter, you guys should be sitting down, looking back at all the goals that you have set in this initially. And if you find out that hey, I’ve been able to achieve three out of those five goals, what can the company provide you? With what type of training or what are some of the resources for you to be able to hit the two bullet points in order for you to fulfill all of the achievement and goals that you had set initially.

Sandy Liao: So incorporating performance data is just crucial to the business, as well as yourself. So for any of you guys sitting here, if your manager has not spoken with you for the past quarter or past six months about how you’re doing from a performance standpoint, it’s just super, super important to like hold that in your hands and make that calendar invite and make them have that conversation. Right? Because especially working in a startup, these things kind of get out of hand when we’re trying to do like 100 things at once. But before any of us sitting here analyzing whether or not we’re excited to look for new opportunity or whatnot, it is just necessary to take that step to have that conversation with people that is mentoring you and that are working with you directly.

Angie Chang: I think she [inaudible 00:20:11] put that onus on people to come and tell their company what they need to succeed on the things they could improve on.

Rachel Jones: And using the data as the way to ask for it. Yeah. It’s like, “Okay, we set these goals and I didn’t meet two of them, so like, here’s what I need to meet the rest.” It’s an easier… If you’re able to kind of frame these conversations with your manager objectively, then that’s the way to navigate… If you just have a manager who has a troubling personality or communication style or other people have had difficulty working with them, really taking it back to this objective place of like, “We’re here to do this job. These are the goals along those lines and can you just tell me the extent to whether or not I’m fulfilling that”? I think being able to bring the conversation back to that is a way to navigate a more challenging relationship.

Angie Chang: It’s a good point. So, yeah, finding those, in this case she named five points every quarter, but whatever the companies set up is for those metrics that they’re trying to ask people to indicate in their performance reviews, of the self-performance reviews and using that as a way to advocate for things that you can get from your employer. Like more education, a conference ticket to go learn this thing or maybe you want to go to some kind of training group. There was some excellent t-groups for startups that I went to. Session where you can be with other startup leaders and talking through some of your management or other professional difficulties in a safer setting than your tiny startup.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that probably the hardest part of this bit of advice if you’re earlier in your career is you just may not know exactly what you need to hit those. And being able to articulate to your manager, this is exactly why. “If I had XYZ, then I feel like ABC would…” Right? Because I think the danger is you’re like, “Oh well if I had this one piece of software, right, that I could do this better. Or if I had an extra person I could do this better.” And those are hard cases to make to your manager, particularly if there’s an impression that you’re not hitting your goals already. And so you do want to be very specific on what it is that you’re asking for and what you think the ROI will be. Because a fuzzy ROI is a hard argument to make to a manager to get additional resources. Sukrutha, does this come up in a larger company context?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Out of what Sandy said, I think the aspect about making sure that if your boss doesn’t bring up how you’re doing, it’s just as important… It’s equally your job to bring up how you’re doing. And Gretchen, like you said, all in your career, maybe you just don’t know how to identify what these goals are and where your goals can align with the larger organization goals. But I think that’s when you need to seek out people who are a year or two ahead of you in their career and talk to them. Try to build your resource group that way.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And definitely I don’t think that your career growth is just fully your manager’s responsibility. It is just as much yours. And so if you don’t see those conversations coming up, you need to be bringing it up because I’m… As a manager, I can say I’m super excited and motivated to help people who seem like they want to be helped and who are motivated as well. It’s really difficult to grow someone’s career when they’re just not as motivated to do it. And that’s fine too. Sometimes people want to just stay at their level. That’s totally cool. But if you really want to grow, you want to be bringing it up a lot with your manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know, I think what struck me in her comment was also if you haven’t talked to your manager in X number of months and you definitely want to be having more time with someone and making sure that you have those meetings. And like for me, advice I give to managers is that those one-on-ones are sacred and don’t move them and let the other person set the agenda. And not every manager shares that same philosophy. And you may have a manager that doesn’t look at it that way. But I always felt like I had a lot less fires and a lot less just random unexpected things happen if I kept my one-on-ones. And that also whoever knew that they had this time, my undivided attention, no one was allowed to interrupt and that I wasn’t going to move that meeting unless there was literally no other option.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And that they always had that time with me. And a lot of managers don’t do it that way. And if you have a manager like that, but if you can never get their time… This person has control of your career. And on some level, right? At least your advancement and of your visibility within the company. And if this person, if it seems like they’re investing in other people and not investing in you, rather than just being a manager who doesn’t really invest in anyone in their team, definitely think about, “Is this the right place for me? Is this the right path for me?” Because a manager can have a huge impact on your career and you don’t want to be begging for attention from someone who’s just really never going to give it to you.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. So Gretchen, you mentioned just how important that manager relationship can be for your career. How does that change as you progress in your career?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it changes because you start, you know, managing up and managing down as you progress in your career and you have to… I think you become a much better employee. I think someone said this on one of the dinners, you just become a much better employee once you become a manager because you realize like, “Oh, this is what a manager actually needs from me. And you become your manager’s best employee after you kind of figure that part out.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Vidya Setlur is a staff research scientist at Tableau Software. She spoke about this during an elevate conference last year.

Vidya Setlur: I have found personally that some of the best mentors that I’ve come across have been people who were my managers in the past, maybe at a different company or in a different line whom I have respected and trusted, but because they are not my manager anymore there is a different type of relationship where it can be more mentoring as opposed to managing. There’s a lovely inflection there that happens. So kind of seeking out into your network and finding those canonical examples of people that you’ve worked closely with or that managed you maybe directly or indirectly. And seeing if they can help mentor you in your next path or next effort.

Rachel Jones: Have any of you seen this happen during your career? Managers becoming mentors?

Angie Chang: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve definitely seen former, previous managers serving in mentorship capabilities. Our favorite, I feel like in Girl Geek’s dinners we hear about micro-mentorship quite often and getting really great pieces of actionable feedback or suggestions for future projects or career paths and potential career paths from former managers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, most of my former managers have turned into mentors. I reach out to them for various… With various questions about my career or just like… I’m sure, Gretchen, you have as well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I keep really strong relationships with managers and they kind of do go on to be my mentor, as in they’re people that I go back to when I’m looking for a new job because… Not necessarily for them to hire me, but they know me so well and when I’m kind of trying to figure out what am I good at and what do I like doing and what direction might I go in. It’s someone who knows you really well to be able to kind of give their two cents, even if they haven’t been working with you recently. I mean, not all of your managers are like people that you want to necessarily keep taking advice from, but I think I’ve been really fortunate that most of my previous managers are people that I would want to, that I still do go back and be like, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, help me.” And they do.

Angie Chang: That’s great.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s really awesome.

Angie Chang: This is a great reminder of the importance of continuing to always try to find ways to do more. Like the woman from Amplitude said in figuring out the way to work with your manager, regardless of whether your personality is completely different, which is often the case in the world. Finding ways to ask more questions and figure out how to make your relationship work and benefit your career in the long run because it is your career that you need to own.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think it’s like any other relationship where you need to invest. You need to have candid conversations and to not think that somehow this relationship, because of the dynamic, isn’t something that should be managed like your others. With communication and understanding and clarifying questions. And that it’s not, like Sukrutha said, the manager’s responsibility solely. And that you definitely are half of the equation of the relationship.

Rachel Jones: Just knowing how awkward that transition into management can be for people. That’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re working with your manager. Like a lot of people are put into this role without getting any kind of specific training or support on what it means to be a manager. And so keeping that in mind when you’re interacting with your managers or setting expectations for what that relationship should look like. I think, yeah. Definitely just focusing on the work that you have to do to maintain that relationship and drive your career forward and involve your manager in that.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech. Be sure to like and review us on your podcasting service of choice, whether it’s iTunes or Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones with event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to one of our dinners, visit girlgeek.io where you can also find full transcripts and videos from all our events.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This podcast was sponsored by Amplitude, a leader in product analytics, Amplitude provides digital product intelligence that helps companies ship great customer experiences for business growth.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by HomeLight, a Google-backed startup with a line of data-driven real estate products that empower people to make smarter decisions during one of life’s most important moments, buying or selling their home.