One of the most important skills I learned at Facebook is working with my manager.
I never had a proper “manager” until I joined Facebook. Before then, I only worked in small companies where I was reporting directly to the company’s owner or was the CEO myself.
Not knowing how to work best with your manager isn’t an issue amongst only new grads and people with a background similar to mine. Talking with people who have been in the corporate environment for a long time, I realized this is a widespread situation. Many still see their managers as someone who gives directives and whom they need to please.
Managers are indeed key to a successful career, but not in the terms we often assume. Good managers should be able to enhance your career by providing feedback the right way, helping you focus on your strengths and gaps to fill, and fairly representing you in rating/promotion discussions. Building a strong relationship with your manager is necessary to help your manager do her job best.
At Facebook, I was lucky to work with great managers — a pre-requisite for a good relationship — but nothing felt as good as my last 18 months. Getting ready to start a new chapter in my career, I wanted to understand what changed to kick off my relationship with my next manager in the best way possible and become a better manager myself.
Looking back to understand what made these past months particularly productive, I identified four main factors:
1. Setting clear expectations
The first step was setting crystal clear expectations on both sides. You can’t expect other people to be magically aware of your goals and aspirations. If you don’t set clear expectations, the risk is to be disappointed because your manager won’t be able to provide feedback on how you are tracking towards those objectives. Don’t be afraid to discuss ratings and promotions with your manager openly. For instance, when I started communicating my goals, my manager proposed a set of key results that would have helped her make a case for my rating/promotion. It wasn’t a checklist, but it helped me focus on the right things instead of merely more things.
2. Taking ownership
The second pivotal change was for me to realize that I had to own the relationship with my manager and take responsibility for the things that were bothering me. For instance, a good manager with time can figure out what’s the best way to deliver feedback with each of her reports, but by proactively sharing that information, one can save time and frustrations for both parties. By helping my manager understand how to communicate feedback with me more effectively, I enabled her to guide me towards my own goals in a more efficient way.
You can apply the same concept to other things that might bother you. Next time you find yourself complaining because your manager frequently requests timeline updates, ask yourself what could be the root cause and what you can do to address it. You might realize that proactively sharing updates on a regular cadence can fix it.
3. Being open and transparent
Too often, we avoid discussing problems with your manager or asking for help because we are afraid it would be a sign of weakness. By doing so, you may end up spinning your wheels on an issue that could be solved quickly with your manager’s support, and ultimately making things worse. It’s not your manager’s job to solve all your problems, but she may have context or feedback that can help you move forward with your work. A great approach would be highlighting the problem, presenting your proposed solutions, and gathering feedback on your proposal. Proactively raising issues and challenges can also increase her trust in you because she knows you’ll autonomously surface critical information when necessary.
4. Peers with different jobs
Lastly, I realized that the most significant change was working with my manager the same way I would have done with a peer with a different role. To help your team succeed, you need to help each person to achieve their goals. Following this principle, I stopped looking at my manager as the person you need to impress and who gives you directions; I started asking myself what’s my manager job and what I can do to help her. One-on-ones became more productive and collaborative; product feedback became less about seeking approval and more about bouncing ideas.
I’m aware this approach won’t work for everyone and, especially for more junior folks, can feel awkward to implement. Managers should be there to support you, but you can’t expect them to do all the work. Like every relationship, it requires work on both parties.
There isn’t a silver bullet to build a great relationship with your manager, but the main takeaway is that it’s essential to invest time and energy to build a strong one.