Confession of a people manager


I am a technical and people manager. Whether I like it or not, it’s the truth. Do I like being a people manager, I hear you ask? I do like my job, the challenges, the perks and all, but I don’t like the label. People managers get a lot of bad rep and it just makes me cringe when I am being labelled as one.

So I thought I’d analyse all the myths about people managers and let you see my life as one.

Firstly, who are people managers? To me, people managers are those who have a team of employees reporting to them. Therefore, people managers are not just those with the word ‘manager’ in their tiles; titles for people managers could vary, one could be a team lead, a head of a department, a director of a domain, a manager, a senior manager, or even a CxO of a company. Not everyone who has the word manager is a people manager and not every manager is a people manager.

Myth 1: People managers are always the first to let go because they know nothing and do nothing

A good people manager adds value to the organisation. A good people manager inspires his or her team, leads by example and ensures productivity and efficiency from the team. A good manager sees the big picture but also understands details and makes sure there is an alignment between the organisation’s goals and individual contributors’ goals.

If a people manager who adds such value to an organisation is let go then the loss is to the organisation.

Myth 2: People managers like to micromanage

One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. This statement is pure generalization and is often caused by not having a capable team or a trusting relationship with the team. This problem should not exist if the people manager has an open and transparent relationship with his team and can trust the team to deliver. As a people manager, I’d rather not micromanage but if someone is not performing then there is no other choice. My advice is that if you are an individual contributor and dislike being micromanaged, always go an extra mile, show that you are capable and can be trusted to deliver with little or no supervision.

Myth 3: People managers have it easy

If only this was true. People managers’ lives would be easy if every employee was talented, hard working, capable, possess great attitude and communication skills. Indeed, if that was the case, people managers can just sit back and smile while their teams work happily and efficiently. When hiring, people managers are always told to hire the best talent but it’s just one part of the equation. Everyone is different. Some employees are talented but are not focused. Some are not talented but are loyal. Some are well-intentioned but are easily distracted. When people managers are lucky, every once in a while, we are fortunate to have a team member who ticks all the boxes, talented, diligent, hard-working, friendly, and helpful. Then we count our lucky stars. As a people manager, one needs not only leadership skills but also a lot of empathy and understanding of human psychology to bring out the best in people. Also, most people managers not only manage people, they also have other responsibilities such as stakeholder management, strategic planning, resource planning and program management.

Myth 4: People managers have no technical skills

Ouch. As a technologist, and someone who loves technology, I consider this an insult. All the people managers I know were once hands on technical people. People managers may not be doing technical tasks day in day out anymore, but to say we have no technical skills is taking it to another level.

While writing this article, it also made me realise one thing. I have learned so much about people and processes as a people manager in the past few years than I have ever learnt during the first decade of my career. While I will always love hands-on technical work and find great pleasure in building things, being a people manager gives me skills and experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise get if I were to just sit at my desk and code all day long.

I now have a new found respect for great people managers who are warm and kind yet firm and knowledgeable. When I look back at my career one day, I hope to feel satisfied and happy that I have done my best in whatever role that I played. So my conclusion is that being a people manager is half not as bad as it is made out to be. Regardless of bad rep and myths, every job is worth doing well and a people manager role is definitely one of them.

5 things I learned from my daughter about negotiation

Negotiation skill is one of the most valuable skills that any person could have and it can be applied to all areas of life. There are a lot of professional training available on negotiation skills and I have done a few in my career. Funny thing is, I have learned a lot about negotiation in the last few years from my daughter than any book or training has taught me. Therefore, let me share with you 5 things I learned from my daughter about negotiation.

Understand the other party’s situation before negotiating
The success of a negotiation depends a lot on how the other party is feeling. When my daughter is overtired and grumpy, there is no point in doing any sort of negotiation, be it asking her to eat, packing toys away or helping out with chores. Yes, she needs to learn all these but the timing just isn’t right. I have learned that in those situations, it’s better to postpone negotiation than fight a failed battle. It’s also important to remember that just because you have some sort of influencing power or authority, it doesn’t mean you have an upper hand in negotiating with them. Just because I am my daughter’s mother and that I’ve given birth to her, it doesn’t mean I can get her to agree to everything I say. Every situation is different and you have to tailor your style and offering to cater for the needs of the situation and the other party.

Do not make the first offer
Never ever make the first offer even if you know what the other party wants. Let them tell you and then work from there. For example, my daughter might want to eat two pieces of cake, and I’d like her to have just one. Rather than offering her a piece of cake, I’d wait to hear what she wants. If she tells me that she wants two pieces, I can tell her to have one right now on a special plate and save the other one for the next day. As long as I make an offer that’s hard to refuse, in this case, a special plate and a chance to eat cake again the next day, negotiation will be a success.

Keep an open mind
Sometimes we get so caught up with our own assumptions and judgements that we forget to see things differently. I have found that in my occasions I am pleasantly surprised by how understanding, generous and kind a four year old can be. Keeping an open mind helps us communicate with empathy and create a win-win negotiation. After all, we want to play a long game and not a short one.

Don’t be aggressive or pushy
This may sound like a common sense but many times, we could come across as pushy when we are too eager to close a deal. With my daughter, she is a reflection of myself. If my tone of voice is aggressive, hers will become aggressive. On the other hand, if I’m calm and relaxed, she will respond in a similar way too. Negotiation is a two-way street and at the end of the day, it is important for both parties to feel satisfied with the end result. Feeling of satisfaction cannot be achieved when one feels threatened or pushed into agreeing something.

Listen actively
Great listening skill gives you an advantage when negotiating. Listen for words that are not directly spoken may not be easy but it is not impossible. By watching gestures, facial impressions, taking note of tone of voice and choice of words, you can get valuable information and understand what type of proposition would work best for the other party. For example, my daughter would always say she is not tired to go to bed, even when her eyes are puffy and she is yawning. By listening to her unspoken words and watching non verbal cues, I am able to provide an offer that she will likely agree. The key point is to make the other person feel like it is in their best interest to accept the offer.

Negotiations do not just happen at workplaces. We are constantly negotiating, be it at home, at work, at schools and even when we are out and about, at family gatherings, or networking events. As a mother of a young child, a lot of my negotiations happen at home, with my daughter. The key to great negotiation skill is, practice practice practice. With practice, one feels more confident and relaxed and is able to negotiate in a way that results in a win-win deal. So keep practising and even if you don’t do too well some days, some days you will be surprised at how good you’ve become compared to a few years ago.

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