6 Things to do when training Engineers to be Managers

I was recently given the opportunity to train an engineer in my team to take over my role. This engineer volunteered to become a people manager. Now, obviously, not everyone is cut out for people management. This is just a few of the steps I took to help transition the engineer.

1. Determine their motivations

Just because someone is asking to become a people manager (Engineering Manager) in this instance, doesn’t mean they will be a fit. You need to determine what their motivation for becoming a people manager is. Hint: if it’s for the money or bigger opportunities they probably won’t be a fit.

What I looked for was if this person has a passion for people. Do they want to help improve their colleagues? Do they want to see people grow? If they couldn’t answer these questions honestly, then they might not be an initial fit. Every company is different, but at Careem, we want to put our colleagues first. We want to nurture talent.

What else motivates them in their career? I looked into what their personality was like. Did they want to build things? Can they clearly communicate their ideas to other people? I made sure that this person was qualified based on my experience with them and what previous behaviours they have displayed.

2. Let them know what the role is really like

It’s hard to define an Engineering Manager. It will be a different role for every team or company you work in. If you have a strong tech lead, then maybe you should step back and focus on managerial topics that not every engineer can do.

Interpersonal communication is the number one skill you need. As a manager and a leader, people will look to you for the answers (not always). Company policies or decisions will need to be clarified at a personal level. You will need to use your skills as a human to empathise with every situation.

They need to know that they will need to look beyond the daily tasks and into the future. What are our goals for the week, month, quarter, year? They will need to plan growth for the team as well as the products.

Do they know what kind of problems you face as a manager? I let this engineer know some of the challenges I’ve had and how I dealt with them.

3. Learn about the craft

Management is not something easily learned. I’ve come to realise that most of my training has been on the job. However, there are some good resources out there to help first-time managers get on the right path.

There are plenty of books on management. I don’t need to list them all here. But some of my recent favourites to help first-time managers could be:

  • Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth
    This book will help you and your team focus. Not just for managers, but really important ideas to make sure you are measuring for the right things.
  • The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
    Do you want to level up your one-to-ones? Try some techniques from the book to help you coach your colleagues on what the real problems they’re facing are.
  • The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You
    This is the ultimate guide for first-time managers. Zhuo goes through her growth from individual contributor to manager. I enjoyed reading through this and I’m sure others who are new will too!

A course that I found useful that I also shared with this engineer were:

Become a Manager
This is a course to introduce management in a light way. Has a lot of foundations.

What I made sure before letting this engineer tackle any management, was that they were committed to this path. So, I checked their progress on the books and courses that were offered. At Careem, you can expense all the books (if they aren’t in the library we have). We also have LinkedIn Learning available. So, there is no financial barrier to following this path.

4. Test the waters

So far, so good. The engineer is committed and still willing to change their path to management. They’ve now met with a few managers around the company to get a feel for how different people manage teams.

We began this journey with on-the-job learning. This engineer shadowed me during hiring manager interviews. Before we began each interview, I introduced the engineer as a manager-in-training to the interviewee and let them know that they would just be shadowing me.

This taught skills about what questions I ask during interviews. Technical interviews are very different from hiring manager interviews. The types of questions you ask are more personal and harder to judge. I asked for feedback on what they thought of the candidate to see if their thoughts were aligned or how they saw the interviewee fitting into their team.

After a few interview shadows, I let the engineer run the interview while I shadowed. I wanted to see how they would perform and what they would look for. The truth around this is that you shouldn’t expect a clone of yourself. However, the manager-in-training should be professional and as unbiased as possible.

5. Let the team know

It’s hard to answer when someone is ready to take on management. Some are thrust into it and others are gradually brought in. I wanted to make this transition as smooth as possible for both the manager-in-training and the team.

My mentor and I came up with the idea to gather feedback from the team about this engineer transitioning. We wanted the team to be heard and their concerns to be given high priority.

I took feedback during one-to-ones and made sure our colleagues felt they were comfortable and that their feedback is super important. It’s not always going to be roses. There will be concerns raised and it’s your job as the manager of the new manager to make sure that those concerns are addressed.

Feedback can be addressed in many ways. Some more training might be appropriate. Or, you can weigh the trade-offs. Some team members might be transitioned to a different manager, especially more experienced team members who may need higher-level coaching.

6. Time to Transition

To make the transition as smooth as possible, I decided it would be best to double one-to-ones during the next phase. That means that I had one-to-ones with our colleagues as well as the manager-in-training. This was to make sure that the team didn’t feel abandoned.

As long as our colleagues were happy, I stepped back more and more from the daily business from the team. The more steps I took back, the more the team trusted the new manager-in-training.

Now, I’m not saying this transition period was perfect. There were storms that our colleagues needed answers from that a new manager would need guidance. But overall, the new manager is settling into their job pretty well.

We should make sure the management path is right for them before letting the training wheels go. We should also give them an out in case they discover that management is not what they thought it was. Allow engineering managers to become engineers again if it’s not right.

Management styles are all different. The best thing to do when training a new manager is to let go and trust that they will do the best thing for the team. Let them know they are not alone and help them grow as you did.

Originally published at https://www.alexaitken.nz on February 13, 2020.

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Writer and engineering manager @ Traveloka // www.alexaitken.nz

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Alex Aitken

Alex Aitken

Writer and engineering manager @ Traveloka // www.alexaitken.nz

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