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Adapting to the Challenge: Why Managers Learn on the Job

Frank Blecha
Frank Blecha
2 min read
Adapting to the Challenge: Why Managers Learn on the Job
Photo by Drew Beamer / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Most managers have to learn how to do their job while actually doing their job. This is equivalent to asking pilots to figure out how to fly while taking off, flying, and landing the plane. Unfortunately, every person on the team is along for the ride while their manager learns how to do their job.

I’ve been a manager for a bit over twenty years, and I’ve learned a lot in that time. A lot of that is spending time with the new managers, talking to them about their problems, walking them through different scenarios, and being a sounding board as they work through their daily issues. Much of it is what not to do as a manager, and the best way to learn from other people’s mistakes.

With COVID-19 hitting in March of 2020, I lost that ability to spend time in person, so I spent the next few months putting my thoughts on how to be a better manager into writing. Questions like:

  • How do you staff a team?
  • How do you hire contractors?
  • What does a team cost to fund?
  • How should you organize your department?
  • How should you communicate changes to your team?
  • How does working remote change how you manage?
  • Etc.

Over time, I recognized a pattern in how I thought about managing and organized my thoughts into a framework. The framework is composed of five major components:

  • People
  • Execution
  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Finance

People: The most crucial part of any team is the people, and you’re typically going to need a team (or teams) of people to accomplish delivery.

Execution: You must know how to execute to deliver. The rest of this stuff doesn’t matter if you can’t deliver and keep the lights on at your business.

Communication: You must talk with people to accomplish the delivery (notice I didn’t tell them what to do). But not every person on your team is in eyesight these days, so you’ll need to be able to email, chat, present, etc., in person and online with equal skill.

Organization: Even for small teams, you’ll need to organize so that you have clarity of purpose and goals. As your responsibilities scale, you need to understand how to structure your organization to give your overall team the best chance at success. Have you thought through how to handle attrition at the leadership level? Have you built a management and leadership development problem so that you are constantly training new managers in house?

Finance: Last but not least, do you know how you and your team are funded? Do you know how much it costs to operate your teams for a given year? How is your funding calculated and organized? How can you use your budget to make it easier for you to accomplish your delivery?

As I worked through my notes for each framework component, I started structuring them as a “book” that a manager would read. Maybe they’re a brand new manager that’s trying to learn what’s actually part of their job, or perhaps they’ve been managing for 2-3 years, but no one has ever coached them on some of the significant parts of their career.

I wanted this book to be a guide, such that if you read it and really understood it, you’d be a #ReallyGoodManager at any firm.

If you have feedback, let me know.