Self-Evaluating Success as a Manager

In the first part of my series on understanding the difference between management and contribution, I focus on the challenges of evaluating success.

Posted by Tejus Parikh on January 10, 2018

When I talk to newly-promoted managers and team leads, I’ll often hear them say something like “gosh, today was busy and I didn’t even get anything done.” They didn’t spend the entire day browsing social media or playing internet games. Instead they spent their entire day in meetings and working with other team members. In other words, things managers do.

As if managing others wasn’t challenging enough, becoming a manager when you’ve been a solid individual contributor makes everything you knew about self-evaluation obsolete. This gets more difficult if the introduction to management is through a hybrid role that expects both management and individual contributions. It’s no wonder that so many engineers view management as something unpleasant.

A new manager is given responsibilities that have nothing to do with how they were contributing in the past, leading to new uncertainty in ability. Doubly troubling for those that will still contribute individually is a decline in that individual contribution as more time is spent on management. These two feelings combined often give way to personal feelings of stress and unhappiness.

Management takes time and the value of that time should be attributed like any other contribution. A manager’s contribution may not directly lead to the team completing a goal, such as delivering a new feature, but the team hitting a goal is partially due to the impact the manager has.

So the answer to the question of how to self-evaluate your own contributions is changing individual evaluations with team evaluations.

Instead of:

  • Am I improving?
  • Did I get my feature done?
  • Has my understanding increased?
  • Am I getting any closer to my career goals?

It should be:

  • Is the team improving?
  • Did the team get their work done?
  • Is the team’s knowledge increasing?
  • Are the people in the team getting closer to their career goals?

When taking the broader view you can see not only how, but where, your contributions can have the most impact as a manager.

That’s the theory, practice is different. The reality is that most of us are conditioned to be humble and not take credit for work that we did not do. On the surface what we know makes for a good contributor appear in-conflict with feeling success as a manager. Are the blow-hard managers that take credit for everyone else’s work onto something?

Delegating, removing roadblocks, training, and being a listener is work and work that all good managers do. Every final outcome incorporates the time the manager spent doing that work. Most individual contributions are a cumulation of smaller pieces of work for multiple people when viewed through this lens. A manager should feel pride and accomplishment in the parts they played. Good managers do it without taking away from other’s contributions.

Team success is the manager’s success. So the question really shouldn’t be “what did I get done”, but rather “did my actions help others get things done today?”

Original image is CC-licensed [original source]

Tejus Parikh

I'm a software engineer that writes occasionally about building software, software culture, and tech adjacent hobbies. If you want to get in touch, send me an email at [my_first_name]