Ask the people impacted

Fairly early in my career I needed to make a change in my team—I needed to make a couple of people line managers, because the number of direct reports I had was excessive. I knew exactly what should happen, and I even had a couple of people in mind.

However, the managing director told me that, before I announced any changes, I should speak to each team member, in case they had any thoughts to contribute. This frustrated me somewhat, because I just wanted to get on with it, but I took her advice, and had a conversation with each person individually. One of those people was someone who was enormously technically-focused, and had shown no skills or interest in the subject of line management, so I felt the conversation was going to be a tick-box exercise, to make sure no-one was left off the list.

To my surprise, he had some very good advice for me. No, he wasn’t interested in the job, but he’d had one or two bad line managers in the past and didn’t want to repeat that. In particular, he said, please don’t promote someone to a management role just because they’re the best developer in the team—choose someone based on their management capabilities.

In retrospect that’s pretty obvious, but at the time he provided some much-valued clarity. It helped me steer subsequent discussions and the decision-making process. Meanwhile, I silently berated myself for writing off his input and our conversation before it had happened.

Time and again I’ve done this: had a plan that I needed to act on, been clear about the next steps, talked to the people actually impacted by the change, and always received valuable and unexpected input which has altered the result. Understanding the point of view, and the experiences, of those impacted always adds new detail, and often they have ideas I’d never have thought of.

Of course, people want to feel included in these processes, and this helps that, too. But there is a benefit to inclusion that goes beyond the presentational—it makes for a better solution, too.

Photo by Raquel Baranow