Advice from a frontline manager

By Katerina Arzhayev, SUSE’s Leader of COO Initiatives

At the age of 25, I began managing people for the first time. My new direct report was just starting her full-time career. Seemingly overnight, I became responsible for her professional and personal development. As an individual contributor, my success was based on my performance. Now, my success had a component outside of my control: someone else’s performance. So, I did what anyone would and sought council. The best advice I heard came from a surprising source – my nineteen year old sister who had been people managing for several years as a supervisor in the service industry.

I was told that if I worked hard, studied often and performed well, one day I would manage a team. My sister didn’t get the memo, so three months into her role as a barista she volunteered for a Supervisor role to manage a team of peers – people she laughed and joked with, 17 and 18 year olds she considered friends. Overnight, she became a boss.

“I stopped treating my coworkers as if they are my family” she said. “I forced myself to have the mindset that you’re supposed to have in a service job, which is ‘I am here to work’. I had the mindset, ‘If I don’t like you, I won’t like you’, but I am a shift lead. So even if I am mad, I am still nice to them. I got a more realistic view of my job.”

This important realisation helped her understand that difficult conversations and critical feedback are not personal – not to her, as the giver, and not to the employee, as the receiver. Her communication of company processes and policy did not make her a bad person, no matter the side glances or hushed complaints.

Yet, here I was, afraid of delivering any feedback that could be perceived as negative for fear my relationship with my new team would be damaged. How would my entire personality, built on being liked, handle a potential conflict?

“When I manage, I remove myself from the situation,” she said. “If I am managing someone, I put their needs and perspective first. It’s not about how I feel. If, all of a sudden, they get emotional, I don’t take that personally. I am the manger.”

Being a manager is a different kind of role, she explained, but it is not one where you need to change who you are, or who you want to be.

“I know all the employees on a personal level. I try to customise my approach based on the person, because I know them. I did my research. I am not a people pleaser, but I am not shy. I am not going to stay quiet if someone needs managing.”

Yet, this takes time. Step by step, we can build those relationships. My sister’s rules are simple and by following them, both her managers and her team know who she is and what kind of manager she aspires to be. This may seem like such basic advice, yet all of us need the :

  1. Don’t talk about me with other employees, or about other employees with me. If you have something to say, talk to me in private, say it to my face. Don’t say it to other people whom it doesn’t concern. Don’t be afraid to address the problem head on, when it arises. Do not let things fester. Avoiding conflict causes longer, and more drawn out, conflict.
  2. Don’t set me up to say things. Be direct with your questions and comments, instead of leading and secretive. Be upfront, don’t play your cards. Don’t manipulate the situation. Through open conversation and an honest desire to resolve things, we can all move forward.
  3. Don’t focus on me. Micromanaging sows dissent and turns off my creative desire to be and do better. When I know everything is set, I stop being proactive. I stop demanding more from my team. I am in this role for a reason, I was promoted for a reason, I manage people for a reason. Provide me with support and guidance, but also let me take risks and fail.

Note: The content of this interview was in the scope of primary research conducted by Katerina Arzhayev with the goal of describing the average career journey of women, and identifying and documenting their best practices for managing and being managed.

About SUSE

SUSE logoSUSE is a global leader in innovative, reliable and enterprise-grade open source solutions. We specialise in Enterprise Linux, Kubernetes Management, and Edge solutions, and collaborate with partners and communities to empower our customers to innovate everywhere – from the data centre, to the cloud, to the edge and beyond. SUSE puts the “open” back in open source, giving customers the agility to tackle innovation challenges today and the freedom to evolve their strategy and solutions tomorrow. Follow SUSE on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Using data to make decisions

Katerina Arzhayev, SUSE’s Leader of COO Initiatives, talks about how companies can use data to help make decisions.

This video was provided by SUSE, one of Ada Lovelace Day’s generous sponsors.

About SUSE

SUSE logoSUSE is a global leader in innovative, reliable and enterprise-grade open source solutions. We specialise in Enterprise Linux, Kubernetes Management, and Edge solutions, and collaborate with partners and communities to empower our customers to innovate everywhere – from the data centre, to the cloud, to the edge and beyond. SUSE puts the “open” back in open source, giving customers the agility to tackle innovation challenges today and the freedom to evolve their strategy and solutions tomorrow. Follow SUSE on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Talking about mentoring with Tech Talent Charter

Back in July, Suw chatted with Tech Talent Charter’s CEO, Debbie Forster MBE, about mentoring best practice.

They covered a lot of ground over the hour, starting off with a look at the benefits that mentoring brings not just to mentees, but also mentors and businesses. One big challenge for STEM businesses is that women tend to leave the industry mid-career, which is one cause of the gender pay gap. That’s something mentoring can help with.

They also went over things to think about when you’re setting up a mentoring program, in particular, how to think about matching, why your program needs structure, and how KPIs can help your business understand success.

They also talked about some of the myths that persist around mentoring, including the worries mentors have about how much time they think mentoring will consume and the doubts they have about whether they have the skills to be a mentor.

There were a lot of great questions, including ones on the importance of good communications when you’re recruiting participants, measures of success, improving retention and the financial cost of losing a member of staff, as well as thoughts around collecting data and choosing tools.

So please do enjoy the conversation, which starts at about 08:28.

If you’d like to learn more about starting or improving your own mentoring program, Suw can help. Email her now to set up a free, no-obligation 45 minute call!

About TCC

The Tech Talent Charter is a government-supported, industry-led membership group. They bring together 700+ Signatory organisations and equip them with the networks and resources to drive their diversity and inclusion efforts. If your company’s not a member, join up now – it’s free!

The future belongs to diverse companies

Woman standing in front of windows that look like a rising bar graphWe’re all used to seeing the stats now. Diversity and inclusion pays all sorts of dividends, both in terms of staff happiness and for a business’s bottom line.

As Emma Ascott writers on AllWork, the future of work is inclusive. Companies with racially diverse senior leaders have a “36% higher likelihood of financially outperforming companies with little or no diversity”, and “companies with greater gender diversity perform 15% to 21% better than companies with little or no gender diversity among staff members.” Furthermore, “68% of U.S. consumers expect brands to be clear about their values, while Millennials and Gen Z workers have the highest expectations of all age groups”.

In short, your employees want to work for a company that values diversity and your company will make more money if you pay attention to them.

Ascott lists McKinsey’s three recommendations for improving diversity:

  1. Make diversity a priority
  2. Challenge biases to increase equity
  3. Improve inclusivity

But what does all that really mean?

1. Make diversity a priority

McKinsey focuses on how profitable investing in diversity ultimately is, but they tiptoe around the fact that you’re going to have to spend some money on meaningful diversity and inclusion work. Think of it the same way you would marketing, product development, or anything else that grows your business: Put someone in charge, ensure that they have budget and staff, and empower them to make decisions.

You should also bring in consultants to work with your DEI team on specific aspects of your strategy, such as gender equity, neurodiversity, and disability, just as you’d hire in other specialist expertise.

2. Challenge biases to increase equity

McKinsey focuses on removing bias from the early hiring process, but the need to tackle bias runs much deeper than that. Bias exists everywhere, from hiring to promotion to how the business actually works on a day to day basis. Whenever people interact, there’s a possibility that bias is affecting the outcome.

Unconscious bias training has been the go-to solution for bias, but there’s very little evidence that works and some evidence it can backfire. Even when it does work, staff turnover means that you’ll need to keep repeating the training again, and again, and again.

Instead, look at how the impact of bias can be mitigated across your company through improved workflow, policies, structures and processes. Tackle bias at the institutional and systemic level so that change becomes permanently embedded in your culture. For example, instead of leaving it down to individual recruiters to write unbiased job ads, decide what a balanced ad looks like and create standards, templates and review processes that ensure ever job ad is widely attractive and avoids biased language and assumptions.

3. Improve inclusivity

Diversity is nothing without inclusion. You can have a diverse workforce, but if your employees don’t have a voice then you aren’t going to benefit from their expertise and experiences, and they aren’t going to stay with you for long.

McKinsey splits inclusion in two, looking at both employees’ “personal experience and the way they perceive their organization more broadly”.

On the level of personal experience, tackling bias as detailed above will automatically lead to a more inclusive experience for all employees. But it’s also important to think about day-to-day interventions that can make a difference. For example, how do you run meetings? Does everyone have the chance to speak? Changing meeting culture is one of the most obvious but least addressed issues that affects how inclusive companies are in practice.

Equally important are management processes, such as how reviews are carried out, promotion criteria, and complaints and disciplinary procedures.

And on a broader level, companies should consider how they organise socially, what support structures they have in place, and how they run their CSR programs.

DEI isn’t a nice to have anymore, it should be – it must be – a fully funded business priority. And it needs to be viewed holistically. There are few parts of a business that aren’t affected by DEI and companies that take a robust root and branch approach will reap the rewards of lower staff turn over, and higher staff happiness and higher profitability.

If you want a hand developing a robust DEI strategy or reviewing your existing programs, I can help. Email me to set up a free, no-obligation 45 minute call!

A round-up of our amazing STEM role models

Over the years we’ve written over 100 blog posts about women in STEM and their discoveries, inventions and achievements, as well as posting videos of dozens of talks and discussions by and with women in STEM on our YouTube channel. To save you searching, here is a handy compendium of our links:

On the blog

On YouTube

Please note that, whilst most of our videos are suitable for all ages, there are a couple where swear words have crept through as Ada Lovelace Day Live was an event for adults. Please review videos in full before showing them to children.