Why managers matter

I am a technical manager, and work with many others.  We’re people who “grew up” in the industry with our arms elbow-deep in source code.  It’s not unusual for me to hear my peers complaining about “overhead” work and wishing they could do “real” work.  But what they might wish for as work isn’t necessarily what their teams need them to be doing.

So what is it that we as managers do that matters?

I recently had a conversation with a close friend about his experiences working with zero management (or incompetent/temporary management) for close to three years before finally getting a competent/permanent manager.  I plan to mine our conversation for future blog posts, but I figured I would write a short one today giving the cheat-sheet version.  So, according to this one conversation, in the eyes of our team…

We matter when we:

  • add credibility/weight to our team members’ expert opinions (aka defend them when needed)
  • help navigate the tricky waters of career planning
  • provide meaningful reviews
  • manage underperformers in a way that improves group productivity and morale
  • eliminate dangerous influences on the team (poisonous co-workers)
  • make sure the right people are involved in customer interactions
  • handle resource allocation and planning, including minimizing feature/responsibility creep

And we don’t matter (or have a negative impact) when we:

  • unnecessarily impact flexible work arrangements (make/enforce rules just because we can)
  • rearrange priorities capriciously or too frequently, give in to every demand
  • make the review process stressful

An interesting note from my friend?  The time he had no management (about 18 months) was preferable to the time spent with incompetent or temporary management who had no commitment to the team, but having a competent and committed manager is infinitely preferable to both.

Of course, reality is much more complex than this.  Our managers probably have their own lists which look a lot different than these.  Our HR departments may have a different view as well.  But if you’re struggling to feel like your work is important, if you feel like you’re wasting time on “overhead”, you could do worse than start here and think about what you’re adding or subtracting from your team’s productivity.