If you’re repeating yourself, debug it

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Managing managers

This article is part of a series on managing managers.

Myself and Rebecca are sitting down to dinner. She asks me a question.

“Were you doing lots of one-to-ones today?”

“Yeah, why’d you ask?”

“Do you realize that you pretty much said the same thing over and over again, all day?”

“Huh. I had no idea. No wonder I feel so tired…”

Do you ever feel like you’re repeating yourself? You probably are.

Whether you’re managing one team or multiple teams, part of your job is gathering and distributing information. You likely have unique access into what is going on – and what is coming up – in the rest of the department and company, therefore it is your duty to ensure that others are continually informed.

However, without conscious effort, your communication efforts can be drastically inefficient, and you may not even realize.

Since we tend to use our one-to-one meetings with our staff as our primary way of discussing in-depth topics, we as managers can find ourselves using those meetings to additionally broadcast useful information. 

For example, you might want to update people about the roadmap planning that is underway for next year, or perhaps share the latest status of the budget and what that may mean for hiring new staff.

After all, it seems reasonable to batch this up into your weekly one-to-one meetings and then to deliver that information face-to-face, physically or virtually. It’s a nice personal touch, right? Well, maybe. But you might be using your time ineffectively. And you won’t ever get that time back.

You wouldn’t do it in code

If you found yourself repeating a laborious manual technical task again and again, you’d probably sense that you’re being inefficient and then you would do something about it. 

Perhaps you might:

  • Turn the technical task into a program, such as a bash or Python script so that you didn’t have to manually perform the steps every single time.
  • Commit that program to a known codebase or repository so that others could find it and improve it themselves if they needed to.

This was a common pattern during the early days of Brandwatch when we didn’t have a customer support team: the engineers did a lot of manual hacking until those hacks could be turned into features. A lot of our automated scripts became the first version of our internal admin interface for our software.

However, when it comes to communication, managers find themselves writing that metaphorical code again and again and again, without necessarily thinking that there could be a better way to operate. There almost always is. And not only will it save their time, it may even make the communication itself more impactful as well.

Extract and broadcast what you repeatedly communicate

In a given week, how much information do you communicate that is broadly applicable to all of your direct reports? If your direct reports are managers, how much of that information is applicable and relevant to all of their staff?

Here’s a little exercise for you to try out.

Have a think through everything that you discussed in your one-to-ones this week. What percentage of the information that you shared was repeated from one meeting to the next? You’ll be surprised: often it’s quite a lot.

Then you should apply your engineering brain. What you should do in the future is batch up that information as the week progresses, then hoist it up a level and then communicate it in a way that gives you the maximum one-to-many impact for the effort that you put into communicating it in the first place. (If I was to use a silly management term, I would say that you want to increase the leverage of your communication effort.)

There are a number of different ways that you could do this:

  • Write a weekly written summary to your staff. As you collect relevant information throughout the week, start building up a bullet point list of anything that you think is worth sharing more widely. Then, once a week, turn it into a digest that you send around to everyone.
  • Alternatively, record a video. Some people find speaking easier than writing, so why not record a short video walking through the same information if it makes the process simpler and faster for you?
  • Organize a regular information sharing meeting or town hall. The benefit of this is that it also enables participation and you can answer questions. You can record it for future reference.
  • Keep a document or wiki up to date that people can view at their leisure. If you have lots of “nice to know” information rather than critically important news, then this is a way of not overwhelming everyone’s inboxes. Instead, they can browse at the frequency that suits them.

Even if it takes 30 minutes out of your week in order to prepare a broadcast communication, it’s still probably less time than you would have spent repeating yourself saying the same things over and over in your one-to-ones. 

What’s nice is that you can also be sure that everyone has received exactly the same information, and you can take your time to ensure that it’s being broadcast in the most clear and concise way that you can muster. 

What’s more is that it frees up precious time in your one-to-ones for career development, coaching and helping your staff work on their biggest issues. It makes you a better manager.

So go on: you wouldn’t write that code again and again. So why would you communicate the same information repeatedly? Extract, abstract, and broadcast. 

At the very least do it for the poor souls overhearing your video calls.

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