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Busy with Buzzwords: Direct Reports

Ooo! Interesting topic with which to revive the "Busy with Buzzwords" posts....and indeed my blogging as a whole. :)

Something strange has been happening at work lately. Instead of just getting or inferring management/workplace advice, I'm increasingly giving some. This is both unexpected, and unexpectedly unsurprising.

So, a young 'un a few days ago couldn't understand the seemingly puzzling behavior of a normally super-solid senior person at Google, and there are a lot of those! Apparently this person (lets call him/her X) seemed unnecessarily protective of some sub-optimal performance of someone else (Y) which has making the young un's life much harder than it needed to be. The young un didn't get it.

The reason was pretty obvious when I asked "Doesn't Y report to X now?" and the answer was in the affirmative.

For many people, there's something about having people report to you that changes, for both good and bad, how you relate to and judge that person. Many people treat their direct reports like they treat their kids. If they're bad, you try harder not to believe it; also you don't like other people pointing it out.

Managers in most modern, large companies have incentives set up so that their reports' opinions of them, and their reports progress, does matter to their own success (360-reviews etc.), but I think more often the bond is emotional as well. You want to believe that you have great reports and they're doing great stuff.

The problem is that this is both good and bad management. I've been grateful in the past, particularly early in my career, to know that I have managers that'll protect me from the consequences of mistakes that I make, but will be honest while telling me about that. I've responded well to that kind of management. However doing that without actually making the report understand that their screwing up, will make the person ignore the problem if not exacerbate it.

What's the point or the lesson here?

When talking to someone who has reports:

  • talk about their reports like you'd talk about their kids; carefully
  • in general expect that person to be less rational than usual
If you're someone who has reports:
  • They're not your kids! They'll change; they might report to someone else; you'll get more of em...
  • Your reputation as someone who is fair is much more valuable than that as someone who glosses over sub-optimal performance of your reports and refuses to see reality
  • Protect them, but don't coddle em


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