Anant Jain

Resilient Management

Book Review

Resilient Management by Lara Hogan

Resilient Management by Lara Hogan repeatedly gets recommended by my manager friends as one of the highest signal-to-noise ratio reading to learn about the craft of building and supporting high-functioning teams. This book had been on my reading list for a while, and I’m very glad I finally got around to it.

The book is a fairly short read at less than 100 pages — it is part of the “A Book Apart” series, which is well-known for producing well-written, terse books for busy people. In this section, I’ll capture a quick chapter-by-chapter summary.

In chapter 1, “Meet your team”, the author lays the groundwork for the different kinds of teams that exist, the stages of team development (forming, storming, norming, performing), and goes into detail about how the brain works for humans - amygdala (flight/ fight analyzer) vs. prefrontal cortex (thinking, logic). In this section, the book introduces a concept called BICEPS (Belonging, Improvement, Choice, Equality, Predictability, and Significance), and how threats to any of these activate the amygdala. This chapter also gives “first 1:1 questions” for managers. Another core learning for me was the importance of building relationships by sharing what you are optimizing for, and what management skill you are hoping to improve.

In chapter 2, “Grow your teammates”, the author outlines the different hats a manager wears: mentor, coach, sponsor, and delivering feedback. Being a mentor is the easiest as you get to share from your own experience, but it's important to keep in mind that the experience may be irrelevant and unfit for the situation your mentee is in. Coaching is the most recommended hat as it encourages your teammates to do the thinking and introspect themselves. To be a coach, you must ask what, where, how, why, when questions. However, be careful with “why” questions as they can come across as judgemental and “how” questions as it forces you to go into problem-solving mode. As one is asking these open-ended questions, it's also important to reflect what you are hearing back to your teammate. Sponsoring is the next mode where you can vouch for your employee to your own manager, in public, or by giving them more visibility through stretch projects. And finally, when giving feedback use the following framework: observation of behavior + impact of behavior + request/question = specific, actionable feedback. And when coaching teammates on how they might give feedback to each other, always ask the question: “what is the impact?”.

In chapter 3, “Set clear expectations”, the author stresses on the importance of documentation and involving the entire team in the process: including what the team’s roles and responsibilities are, their vision and priorities, how they should be collaborating, communicating, and shipping work. The author also introduces a new framework to better collaborate: RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed). Using these frameworks ensures clarity when everyone thinks they get a vote in the way decisions are made. In situations where there is too much elbow bumping day-to-day, a responsibilities venn diagram is deployed. This is easy and malleable and can be shared in any setting: Example: PM, EM, and Designer, or Recruiter, Sourcer, Hiring Manager. Finally, the author talks about how to work with the team on what the Vision, Mission, Objectives, and Strategy for the team are and how it can help drive clarity for members internally and outside of the team. The chapter ends with advice on documenting team practices like how to have effective meetings, when to use slack, team email alias, etc.

In chapter 4, “Communicate effectively”, the author provides really good communication plan frameworks: Header (author, date, status), Background (the what and the why), People (who knows, who will be directly impacted), Timeline (what will be said in what channel), Talking points. Another template I really liked was about how two leaders will communicate the same information to several teams and the communication channels (Leads meeting, Team All-hands, Company-wide meeting) they’d leverage. The author also advises on how to deliver sensitive information and to think about the BICEPs concept for the individuals. Throughout this chapter, the author stresses on the importance of planning communication rather than delivering it on the fly. I also really liked understanding the 5 step process on how to communicate in an All-Hands. The author touched upon the debate on what should be an email and what shouldn’t (things that are more delicate and nuanced) and highlighted that recap emails are important for documentation and provided a four messages framework: 1) The stated company line about this topic, 2) Facts about what this means in practice, 3) Personal take, and 4) an invitation for questions. Finally, I enjoyed reading about the color scale to identify different tones/energies to influence communications. Example: Black (direct, straightforward, rational/logic, cut and dry) to be used when you want to cut a lengthy discussion short and get to the point even though naturally, you might be a Purple communicator (Creative, flowy, great at storytelling).

In chapter 5, “Build resiliency”, the author shares her take on how to manage times of crisis. As a manager, you are perhaps the one that is most likely to understand when someone is facing a crisis. It's important to not make them feel like they have to reassure you. But if they do anticipate a dip in productivity, offer questions that will help them create a plan B like: How else could we meet this goal? What can I do to help you meet this goal? What would be the impact of moving this goal? etc. To manage your own energy levels, the author shares a tip: color-coding your calendar for when you need to exercise different parts of your brain. Example: 1:1 with direct reports (manager brain), group meetings (dissemination of information brain), leadership meetings (strategy brain), solo time to make headway. She also urges us to experiment with scheduling these meetings at different times to understand their impact. Next the author introduces the famous Eisenhower matrix framework (Urgent/Important: do now, Urgent/Not important: delegate, Not urgent/important: schedule for later, Not important/Not urgent: Eliminate). The author also gives some great tips on how to say no to tasks: 1) Get someone on your team to hold you accountable, 2) Calendar item at the beginning of the day to spend 20 minutes figuring out what to say no to, 3) Draft graceful “saying no” email templates. Finally, the author shares the importance of building a “Manager Voltron” to identify a group of people that you can count on to help brainstorm managerial challenges you’ll encounter. She shares tips on reaching out to people that will push you out of your comfort zone, have different levels of experience than you, experience in a different industry, and be good at things you are terrible at.

I would highly recommend reading this book for all managers (new and old) as it provides real, actionable tools and frameworks that can be put into practice immediately.

This is #67 in a series of book reviews published on this site.