Preparing to be a manager?
December 3, 2012 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Questions for my boss's boss about preparing to be a manager?

My current boss is pushing me to enter management at a medium-large tech company. It's not something I imagined myself doing when I joined (for many reasons similar to this) but after a couple of project cycles of being a technical-lead I'd like to step out of my comfort zone and figure out whether it's my thing... or whether I'll be just another victim of the Peter Principle.
My boss is on vacation but I'll soon have the opportunity to meet his boss for an Informal Discussion. A couple of questions I'm preparing are specific to my division, but I'm having trouble coming up with more general "what am I doing here"/"what's it like" ones.
What should I ask about preparing to be a manager?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure whether this is the kind of thing you are looking for, but here's a potential question for you to consider asking that I find interesting and important myself:

"I heard it said somewhere that one very important attribute that all successful managers have in common is that they are highly 'conscientious'. I was wondering whether you agree with that and what you think that means in practical terms as far as how they do their jobs."
posted by Dansaman at 3:06 PM on December 3, 2012

Who will I be managing? Former co=workers or folks I have not previously worked with?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:09 PM on December 3, 2012

I moved from software development into management many years ago and I've managed a lot of new managers. That transition, from individual contributor to manager, is the most difficult, I think. The good part of being a manager (IMHO) is that you have some power over how your group operates - you have the opportunity to create an island of sanity. However, the bad part is that you have to implement decisions that you had no part in and perhaps disagree with, but it is your job to implement them. E.g. a layoff.

I would ask your manager's manager, what support the company provides for new managers. What was his/her transition from individual contributor to manager like? What advice would he/she give to a prospective new manager? (This is worth taking notes on because it tells you how he/she will judge your performance). Does he/she you as a viable candidate for promotion? If not, what steps do you need to take to become a viable candidate?

You might also want to do some reading on the subject -- either blogs or books -- and ask for his/her opinion on what you're reading -- both in general and also how it plays out at your company.
posted by elmay at 3:44 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was promoted to manager a few months ago. One thing I have come to realize, at least in my company, is that managers are expected to have a plan to grow their employees in some way. My boss is working on growing me into the management role. You may want to discuss what methods there are for you to grow your own employees. Are there internal, or even external courses they can take? Is mentoring available, for yourself or your employees? These might be issues to discuss.
posted by veerat at 3:48 PM on December 3, 2012

I would ask about management development opportunities. What kind of support will you have - formal training, coaching, mentoring, etc.?
posted by jeoc at 3:52 PM on December 3, 2012

One thing to think about is that managing people is not a skill progression from an individual contributor role. The skills are different; the drivers of job satisfaction are different.

Questions to ask - how will I get feedback as I start my new role? How frequently and from whom? Is there a mentorship program for new managers?
posted by 26.2 at 4:01 PM on December 3, 2012

Unless you know boss's boss very well, LET HIM DO THE TALKING and follow the conversation where he leads it! There are many, many more ways to be a BAD first time manager than there are to be a good one, and boss's boss will have seen many of them, and will be more on the look out for them than he will be on the look out for signs of your promise. For the love of God do not convey that you have a well-worked-out theory of management, vision for the company's next 10 years, etc. Convey instead that you are open-minded about how to lead and excited about the opportunity to learn how successful junior managers at your company got that way.

Don't be afraid to show ambition and desire for higher compensation. In tech, individual contributors have lots of different ways to get "paid" -- salary and options, of course, but also respect, autonomy, control over hours, wearing shorts and flip flops when they feel like it, job security, ability to speak their minds, what have you. MONEY is how managers are rewarded and in professional organizations the junior management role is often very light on the non-monetary compensation of management -- you will face longer hours, senior management who is not obliged to treat you with the kid gloves that professional individual contributors usually expect to receive from their direct supervisors, and in many cases a very frustrating lack of input into the goals that you will be expected to lead your crew to achieve, to say the least of perks. (The first time a VP hands you a six-hour PowerPoint revision job as you step past his business class seat to the seat in economy where you'll sit for a twelve hour flight to Asia, you'll know what I mean...)
posted by MattD at 4:02 PM on December 3, 2012

In similar situations, I have asked, "What were you completely unprepared for when you became a manager?" I've also asked "In retrospect, what was the best thing you did to prepare for your position as a manager?"

The answers I've gotten have given me some ideas about things I should do in my own career, and also some insight into the minds of people who have held positions I'd like to someday have.
posted by Shohn at 6:57 PM on December 3, 2012

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