With the EMEA Regional Advocacy role, we were in a high growth phase, I went from having 0 reports to 14 and from managing one stakeholder to dozens across five regions. Also, we just had a beautiful baby boy 👶!
I had a lot on my plate and I needed to get efficient with my time... fast. Some things I'm proud of, some things I could have done better, if you are in the same position as I was then these are my top 5 tips for you.
If I was being a perfectionist the title for this article would have been "5 Tips For New Managers Leading Distributed Developer Relations Teams", but that's quite a mouthful and most of this advice is applicable no matter what type of team you are, so pick and mix whatever works for you 🍬
No 👏🏽 One 👏🏽 Touches 👏🏽 That 👏🏽 Day.
Don't take meetings of any kind, it's your deep thought day. It's your day to catch up on reading about industry news, recording that podcast, finishing off that article, writing that proposal. The rest of your week is not yours anymore, this day is for you.
There is this concept of manager vs maker time, to do any meaningful deep creative work you need long blocks of uninterrupted time. As a manager, your time is now cut up into 1hr blocks, and people need to be able to contact you in any random set of those blocks on any given day.
My day was Friday. Part of my team was based in Israel and Friday is a holiday there, so Friday was the right choice for me. My team knew that Mon-Wed were their days, anytime they wanted me I was there for them, Thursday I also blocked out, but that was more so I could book time with stakeholders and finish admin work. Friday was my deep thought day, My only regret was that I started this process about 6 months into my role, I wish I had done it from day one.
It's called First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently (What a title!)
I've read a bunch of books on management this one was the most applicable. It based on a study by Gallup after analysing questionnaires sent out to millions of employees from large and small companies over 25 years.
It had a few conclusions, the first is there is no consistent set of rules which all good managers should follow, so just throw all those books that claim otherwise away.
Another conclusion was that employees who answered positively to a set 12 questions are more productive and a lot less likely to leave.
Out of the 12, there was a core set of 6 questions:
A productive, happy team is one which answers positively to all 6 of those questions. Every organisation is different, find out what your team needs to answer yes to the above and give it to them.
I saw my role in 1-1 as making sure people were pointed in the right direction or we'd course correct. I wanted people to have confidence that if they continued in their current path, they would be rewarded at the end of the year.
Since we all travel for events, it can become really tough to schedule 1-1s at friendly timezones which means you could end up missing several 1-1s in a row! To help resolve this I started having async 1-1s using online documents (e.g. Word O365).
The huge bonus of this process is that you end up with a documented summary of all your 1-1 conversations. Those docs became gold when it came time for yearly reviews, compensation & promo justifications.
Be careful to also have more personal non-structured 1-1 chats as well. This is something I could have done a lot better, in hindsight, I would have made a lot more time for these. There needs to be a space for a more free-form conversation about personal goals and just life.
Remember the book I suggested in point 2 above?
The first question was "Do I know what is expected of me at work?". This is a question about clarity, "Do I have clarity?".
There will be lots of ambiguity in a developer relations manager role, far more than in an engineering manager role. The higher you get, the more ambiguous it becomes and it's on you to find clarity for your team. If in doubt you have to make a decision on a direction and create the clarity and thing is, it might turn out your decision was wrong.
I can't guarantee your experience will be the same as mine, but I was never criticised for making the wrong call if anything I was praised and supported for adding clarity.
There is a good chance your manager is in the same boat as you, and they are working in a world that's even more ambiguous than yours.
If unfortunately, that isn't the environment you find yourself in, try to at least create that environment for your team. If people in your team make the wrong decision in adding clarity, be supportive and praise them for having the courage to try.
All of this really leads to the most important point, which is make a safe space for your team to exist. The developer relations world is scarey and the developer relations role is so inherently uncertain. Every day you have to put yourself out there in emotional harms away. Hosting a meetup no one might turn up to, presenting a talk where the demo fails, writing an article that no one reads. To do our best work in that environment, we need to feel safe and secure at home.
I feel the safest when I have clarity of role and purpose and I know someone else is looking out for me.