Resilient Management Book Review

The shift from developer to manager is a challenging one, requiring a completely different set of skills. Resilient management by Lara Hogan is full of ideas and tools to help team leaders whether they are new to the role or experienced. This book could justifiably have been called “Management: The Missing Manual”.

Chapter One

Hogan sets things up in chapter one using psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s four stages of group development to frame her approach to management. These stages are:

Hogan argues that understanding some basic brain science relating to human needs and emotions is helpful to managers as they navigate teams towards the performing state. She talks about the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, but I think Dr Steve Peters analogy of the Chimp, the Computer and the Human set out in his book, The Chimp Paradox, is easier to understand. His basic idea is that the psychological mind consists of three separate brains. You are the Human, the logical, planning, fact-based brain, the Chimp is a primitive emotional brain driven by simple drives. The Computer is the storage area and automatic functioning machine, the autopilot, helping you to perform tasks with which you are familiar.

Whichever way you label them, the key insight is that the chimp and the human are different entities and have very different modes of thinking:

"The Chimp interprets … information with feelings and impressions. When it has got a feel for what is going on, it then uses emotional thinking to put things together and to work out what is happening and form a plan of action … the Chimp makes guesses and fills in detail by assumptions that are typically based hunch, paranoid feelings or defensive thoughts. The chances therefore that the Chimp will get the right interpretation as to what is happening may not be so good … the Human, on the other hand, will interpret information by searching for the facts and establishing the truth. When it has done this, it will then put things together in a logical manner using logical thinking and form a plan of action based on this."

Steve Peter's book is about helping you to manage your chimp to ensure it does not hijack control and make bad choices based on unreliable emotional thinking. As managers we need to be aware of these different brains, and mindful of the basic needs of Chimps. Hogan references six core needs that human’s have in the workplace, which can trigger the Chimp if they are perceived as being under threat:

These needs give the handy BICEPS acronym to help remember them. Hogan argues that there is variation between people with regard to which core needs they care most about. Therefore getting to know which needs really matter to each team member is important in understanding how to manage them effectively.

All this discussion of psychology might give you the impression that this book is quite theoretical but all this is covered pretty quickly in the first chapter and then it is straight into the practical stuff. For example, Hogan suggests a series of first 1:1 questions to ask each team member when joining a team to help establish a rapport and a steer on how to understand and help them such as “what makes you grumpy?” or “how do you prefer to receive recognition - publicly or privately?”.

Then Hogan moves on to understanding your own personal management style with a series of reflective exercises and advice on how to communicate this to your team. Hogan rightly points out that your team need to understand your style as much as you need to understand them:

"When managers share their approach to management with their teammates, it can create an opportunity to develop better working relationships"

I like to give my team members control over their work, because I value choice and autonomy, but if I don’t explain that they might just assume I don’t care.

Chapter Two

Chapter two covers the storming stage and the different hats that leaders need to wear to grow the team:

Hogan states that the vast majority of managers that she speaks to spend 90% of their time with the mentoring hat on. However, Hogan argues that coaching can be a much more valuable approach as it helps the person grow their own skills:

"Choose coaching when you’re looking to help someone (especially an emerging leader) hone their strategic thinking skills, grow their leadership aptitude, and craft their own path forward. Coaching mode is all about helping your teammate develop their own brain wrinkles, rather than telling them how you would do something."

Personally, I think I’ve been guilty of this bias towards mentoring and I had never really considered this kind of coaching as an empowering way to help my team.

Sponsoring is a fairly straightforward hat to understand, about being open to opportunities for your team members to take on projects to grow in areas that are important to them for their career progression.

They key aspect of this chapter concerns delivering feedback, which is one of the hardest parts of management, and likely to get Chimps jumping up and down if handled incorrectly. Hogan provides a formula to use.

Start with a statement of your observation of behaviour, don’t refer to your feelings, just the facts. Next, describe the impact of the behaviour, trying to find an impact that the person will care about. Finally Hogan urges coaching mode, ask an open question to get the person to really reflect on the issue:

"… if you’re always defaulting to making a request, the other person doesn’t have to do much thinking or problem solving on their own about this behaviour or its impact. They might not develop a new level of empathy, and also might not see additional environments or ways in which the behaviour is negatively affecting others. His pause on the mentoring mode conversation and go into coaching mode instead!"

It is human nature to go on the defensive when an issue is raised with your performance, this approach helps to diffuse that tendency and makes the person part of finding the solution.

Finally in this chapter Hogan provides areas that managers should aim to cover in their regular 1:1 sessions with team members:

Chapter Three

This chapter covers the norming stage and how to help establish and communicate norms. This involves some standard business stuff like RACI matrices (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed). Hogan also discusses the use of responsibility Venn diagrams to try and map out responsibilities when no one’s quite sure what they’re supposed to be doing day to day.

Hogan then covers how to map out the team’s vision using a hierarchical structure moving from top level vision through mission, strategy and objectives, with each subsequent level being more concrete. All of this is brought to life with her own experience from working at Etsy.

Hogan the covers team hygiene stuff like wikis, meetings and communication practices. There is nothing new here but it is useful to have a sensible approach mapped out with some useful templates to help keep things on track.

Chapter Four

This chapter covers effective communication, probably the second trickiest part of management after delivering difficult feedback. It is hard to control the dissemination of information and nothing is going to irritate staff more than hearing about a major change on the grapevine rather than from a manager. Hogan puts quite a bit of structure on this, suggesting that a written communication plan should be used, providing a template that covers timing, owner, channel and talking points.

Hogan covers thorny topics like sensitive information, confidentiality and misalignment, where you don’t agree with the company policy. Here she talks about “disagreeing and committing”:

"Disagreeing and committing is the most mature and transparent move you can make. After disagreeing, committing looks like putting your own reservations on hold to give things a try and trust in leadership’s decisions. It looks like weighing the pros and cons of a decision, speaking up for potential issues to other leaders, and then agreeing to support the decision even though you’re not jazzed about it."

Hogan provides plenty of good advice on choosing the communication medium, with emphasis on meetings with email largely being used to recap key points. Hogan also has some interesting points to make about communication styles, visualising this with a set of coloured styles. Hogan points out that whilst you will have a default style, sometimes the nature of the message might call for a different approach to make it more effective, and this too has to be considered.

Chapter Five

The final chapter of the book covers off the resilience of the title, with guidance on dealing with the mentally exhausting nature of management, especially in times of organisational crisis. Hogan describes different modes of management:

Hogan points out that context-switching between these modes can add to mental fatigue and suggests colour coding meetings to help spot trends and organise things to avoid too much switching.

There is also sound advice on managing workload via successful delegation, using it as a sponsorship opportunity to grow the leadership skills of a team member. Last, but not least, the art of saying “no”.

Hogan finishes the chapter with advice on building your personal support network, both within the organisation and outside of it. She recommends finding people who:

There is a resources section at the back of the book with a host of handy links that are well worth exploring, it covers research, blogs, templates and more.

Conclusion

There is a slight American cultural slant to this book, but not so much that it will be ineffective for a British audience, or that it is annoying. I tend to avoid the business/self-help genre as a rule, because I find it usually has the whiff of snake oil about it, but this book is practical and well grounded in psychological research.