Managing IC’s at a similar level to yourself

Having been a manager of people for many years now, I often get asked questions to help and support other managers in their roles.

There are a few companies now who have duel track frameworks, one track for management and another track for individual contributors.

The duel track framework can be a learning curve for managers as they begin managing ICs were are at an equal level to themselves. Over the last couple of years, this has become an often asked question:

Do you have any advice for managing an individual contributor who is at the same level as myself?

An assumption could be that you just manage in the same way as you do with your other team members.

However, it’s more nuanced than that – in my mind every level requires something different, and every person in your team will be unique anyway.

As a starter for anyone who is beginning to manage an IC at a similar role to themselves, I’d recommend agreeing on ways of working at the earliest opportunity, basing it on the following points which cover of what you will do as their manager and what they will do as an individual contributor in the team…

You will provide

This list isn’t everything, but it’s a good place to start.

Psychological safety

At a more senior level, our individual contributors have opinions and they should be provided with the psycholigical safety to have them. They should be nurtured and protected just as any other member of your team. Ensure that you provide with the pychological safety they deserve.

Protection of time

Whilst our senior and more experience individual contributors have been around for a minute, it doesn’t mean that they should be spread thinly covering off too many things at once. Their time should be protected as any other persons on the team. They’ll then be able to support you in skills growth of other ICs and ensuring work is done to the highest quality. Protect their time at all costs.

Ensure briefs or kick-offs are organised

Don’t force your senior individual contributors to do the leg-work up front. You should be ensuring they’re set up for success with every piece of work. A brief should be available in a sufficient quality and depth for the work to be started with their peers. Do right by them, always.

Prioritise the work

It’s your job to make sure the team works like a well-oiled machine. Having your senior individual contributors running here, there and everywhere on unprioritised work is not a sign of success. You’re an enabler, so enable them to do their best work.

Make sure you have the right people working on the right thing at the right time.

Support with professional development

This is something that I often see forgotten about when folks move into more senior roles. Their managers take less of an interest in their professional development leaving it up to them to pursue. Regardless of how senior they are as an individual contributor, we as their manager, are supposed to know them intimately enough to guide them on their professional development journey.

Utilise them for the development of others

Senior individual contributors are at the top of their game in terms of skill and experience, as a manager, if you observe development needs of others in your team then you can and should utilise them for that.

That should build up the relationship between you both, building trust and working as a partnership for the greater good of the team.

Keep them unblocked

Regardless of whether they’re a senior individual contributor or not, these folks deserve to be unblocked in the same way as other members of your team.

What they will do

The easy direction on this is ‘Everything that is expected of them in their job description’. However, job descriptions aren’t clear and usually don’t run to the depth of clarity that someone should base their expectations on.

So, a little guidance.

Write some very thorough yet clear expectations for your teams. Every level for every role. Your people will thank you for it. It will go towards reducing impostor syndrome over time, too. Win-win.

Don’t forget…

As a manager of anyone, your aim is to:

  • Be motivational
  • Be supportive
  • Be confident in your approach
  • Be a problem solver for literally anything
  • Be responsible
  • Have empathy
  • Be comitted to the team
  • Delegate – have the right people working on the right thing at the right time
  • Keep trust levels high

To close

Manage your senior individual contributors even if you’re the same ‘level’ as them. Trust me, they want and need to be managed.