Managing Humans

Cover of "Managing Humans: Biting and Hum...
Cover via Amazon

First book of the summer down.  I started with Managing Humans by Michael Lopp.  It promised to be funny and yet meaningful, and connected two of my favorite areas of study together, geekery/software and management/leadership.  It did prove to be an interesting read, although I started to skip a chapter here and there toward the end that were more specific to software engineering contexts than anything else.  But most of the book is applicable no matter what your industry.

The basic premise is for managers to not think of their employees (or themselves) as cogs in a machine, but to understand our own humanity, and how we tick so that we can all do our jobs better (and feel happy!).  Lopp, in fact, begins the book by saying that a manager’s most important job is to understand the needs of the people that work for him/her and to meet those needs. It’s harder than writing software.

There were lots of good tidbits in here, but one of my favorites was the Rands Test.  It’s a series of questions to determine the health of your team (or whole company).  The questions include things like “Can you say ‘no’ to your boss?” and “Do you have time to be strategic?” Or my favorite “Are you actively killing the Grapevine?”  As Lopp puts it, “In the absence of information, people make shit up. Worse, if they at all feel threatened, they make shit up that amplifies their worst fears.”  This is why, he explains, those who fear losing their jobs come up with conspiracy theories that confirm that fear.  Often leaving you the manager to try to explain that no, you’re not going to lose your job, and that theory is quite a doozy.

Lopp also explained the conflict between the Old Guard and the New Guard in a couple of different places, which I found interesting and enlightening.  And while Lopp is talking about the Old Guard being the company founders and the New Guard being those who come along after, every place I’ve ever worked has this dynamic.  Those who’ve been around the longest lord it over those who have been around for less time.  The New Guard often wants to clear processes in place while the Old Guard doesn’t see the need to.  Lopp explains that the Old Guard essentially embodies the culture of the company, but doesn’t articulate it effectively to the New Guard.  Instead, they just argue with each other.  The Old Guard needs the New Guard because there’s no growth without them.  It’s an interesting dynamic, and made sense to me in a variety of contexts.

Finally, toward the end of the book, he discusses how to leave and what to do about employees who leave.  Some of this I’ve always known.  When an employee gives notice, they’ve often been thinking about leaving for a while.  It didn’t start in the two weeks before.  It might have been a few months before.  The idea of leaving often begins with a small thing that bothers them, something said in a meeting that went against their values or what they believed to be company values, a lack of follow up somewhere, a desire for growth that isn’t cultivated.  Whatever it is, managers must try to prevent them.  It is far less costly to work to keep someone happy and productive than it is to hire bring another person up to speed.  I say this out loud pretty often.

So this book didn’t knock my socks of, but there were some good tidbits.  I would recommend it to anyone working in the tech industry, for sure.  A lot of the details are directly applicable there.  I would also recommend it to anyone who is not a manager, but is frustrated by their management.  It’s a straightforward account of how management typically thinks, and the many things they’re juggling.  So if you want that insight, and to maybe have a better relationship with your boss, pick this book up.