From Analyst to Manager
I will begin this post, as I do most conversations in life, with an (overly) revealing personal insight. I became an intelligence analyst for many reasons: the enjoyment of solving complex problems, soothing anxieties and empowering those exposed to risk, and to continue learning about and traveling the world. The remaining draw, and a surprising proportion of it, sprung from the perception that as an analyst, I would have relatively little reason to dedicate extensive energy to keeping up professional-social networks. I assumed my colleagues would be a similar group of quietly diligent introverts and the work would be mission-oriented and require hyper-focus. No endless rotation of suave sales lunches necessary. This was the independent person’s dream job.
I succeeded for a long time in working, for the most part, intensely and in isolation. However, as I began to advance in my career it became clear that the intelligence field is not special in basic career principles, like upward opportunities requiring less of the tactical skills that set you on your path in the first place. As a Program Manager in Microsoft’s Center of Intelligence, much of my focus is on motivating a team towards a shared vision. I am still amazed at how much time and energy it takes to do this.
It took me a while to get settled into a management rhythm and one of the first things I noticed when starting out was how few peers I felt I could turn to and how little practical training there was. As our field grows, management opportunities are increasing. My aim here is to open a conversation about intelligence management in the private sector, especially in a larger organization.
While most of the analysts I know are very sociable, I suspect I may not be the only one who experienced some reluctance in transitioning to managing a team and having some hurdles to deal with along the way. Some truths and tools I discovered are below:
#1 A New Perspective On Value and Achievement
In my initial role as a manager, for years in fact, I argued to retain regional analytical responsibilities out of a discomfort with moving away from task-oriented work as an independent contributor. I clung hard to the tangible list of reports written. In case you missed that, I actually argued for more work for years. In many ways, this setup was what I needed to baby-step my way out of my comfort zone. I am proud of what I achieved. I matured and worked harder than ever, gaining a new respect from my peers–turned-reports. Looking back though, I made life far harder than it needed to be. My fear of relinquishing the subject matter expertise, and the task list of reports that proved it, stunted me from seeing my own value in a different way.
#2 Beginners On-Set Doubt: Sometimes It’s Not You, It’s Them
Whether you are new or familiar to your team, they will doubt you. If you were promoted internally, it can be particularly difficult to redefine your value proposition, not only getting comfortable with it personally, but in how you relate to people who were accustomed to working with you in your past role and/or are unsure what your new role will mean for them. When I was first promoted one former peer said to my face, “I just thought you would be doing more of an administrative role.”
It is important to accept that doubt and skepticism are not personal, but a natural part of change and growth. In my observation, most successful people come to accept that they will never please everyone -and your energy is better spent on other aims.1
#3 Make Your Map
As a manager, particularly in middle-management, your priorities can be elusive. You’re the one who must fuse the interests, skills, needs, questions and so on of your team with top-down strategy from leadership and the broader organization to execute on a plan. It can be easy to feel that despite your best-laid plans, you’re the team Monkey in the Middle.
A couple of years ago, when a partner organization started a massive new cross-functional project, as Intel’s manager I was added to a seemingly endless lineup of project meetings and a growing list of demands for knowledge, databases, and so on. Much of this was run through external consultants that had little context on my group’s function and role.
There is not much that demotivates me more than feeling like I don’t have considerable control of my day-to-day. This project was a wakeup call. I could no longer rely on my natural defaults of nice and flexible. If I were to continue to develop myself and team in meaningful ways autonomous to the obligations of this project, I had to be able to define sound personal boundaries. As a nod to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People2 and many other leadership books, I investigated my own passions, interests, and long-term vision – yes, to include my life as a whole - to set my personal roadmap. Clarity of vision not only provides a source of renewed passion and tenacity, but it also helps you to distinguish and communicate the work that you must do from what may not matter as much.
#4 Visions That Align
In the book Better Together : a Little Book of Inspiration by Simon Sinek (famous for the viral video on millennials in the workforce), the author talks about the concept of “finding a vision” for your work. Sinek argues that there is a misperception that everyone should have or make up a unique vision - when really it is okay to find and follow an existing vision that resonates with you. I agree. Once you have a sense of your personal roadmap, the next step is to understand where those convictions align with your organization’s vision. Discuss with your boss how you see the vision and your part in it. This goes far to build trust and motivate.
#5 Meetings: Squeeze Out Every Second
The importance of communication within a team, or in any relationship in life, is immutable, well-known, but difficult. In my role, most communication is done in remote meetings. When most of your team dialogue occurs without eye contact or body cues, relies on the mute button, and startles with the occasional baby coo, dog bark, and Starbucks barista, it can be difficult to gauge whether you are creating a culture of clarity, energy, and action.
While there is no simple fix to creating positive, inclusive, and effective communication across a team and beyond to stakeholders, I strongly believe that a big part of a manager’s role lies in maximizing meetings. Meetings get a bad rap. There are plenty of great office memes that I wanted to insert here. But in my experience, getting meetings right is critical. When done well, it is hard to identify a better return on investment. They nourish team culture and offer a nursery for productivity.
This short book is a great resource for improving meetings. I also have a few golden rules of my own.
- Your own rhythm: Don’t fall for the lure of the recurring meeting. They are stable and comfortable, but passionless. Meetings can have some consistent structure or guiding questions, but for the most part, they should be original each time. Yesterday’s meeting is not what you need today.
- Active agenda: Consider carefully what to discuss. Send an agenda with time allocations for specific topics in advance. Know who and why each member is participating. Factor in team and personality dynamics as you work through topics. Then, get to the point and don’t beat around the bush. Nobody enjoys wasting time.
- The “follow-up” note: Notes significantly affect accountability and action. They are also an underacknowledged tool in connection. Good notes show that we are listening to others.3
#6 Training: Establish Your Expectations & Write Them Yourself
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz offers a lot of comparisons to private sector intelligence. Horowitz, a leading Silicon Valley entrepreneur, offers advice on making start-ups succeed and offers non-traditional business advice. One of the most impactful concepts I took from this book was on training. Horowitz argues that managers should train their employees directly. He tells the story of when he was the director of product management at Netscape and was frustrated with an underperforming team and with the lackluster trainings offered by consultants. Inspired by Andy Grove’s classic High Output Management4, he wrote a short document titled Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager. In a short time, his team became the highest performing in the company. When Horowitz moved on to LoudCloud, he invested heavily in in-house training and credits this with the company’s success.
Horowitz’s Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager document was surprisingly simple. It was so approachable, I decided to write something for our organization.
This guidance has given us solid baseline expectations for performance management. As we grow, and attrition becomes more a part of our rhythm, this also has become an avenue to share our cultural heritage (architecture of partners, products, processes), and hopefully to maintain the integrity of the sources of our success.
A lot of time management is helping people see things; putting visuals to ambiguous concepts, conveying the perspective of another organization, and taking the time to make presentations for your team. Personal rule-of-thumb: If your external partners could use a demo or educational session on your ideas/project, your team will too.
#7 Professional Athletes: Whole Person Approach
One thing that I discovered early on was that my team was very open to training and development around non-technical skills, like personal growth, leadership, and soft-skills that enhance effectiveness. I think analysts who work remotely benefit particularly well with this type of exercise. For example, several years ago our team was making initial steps to divest some legacy work but struggling with how to do it without risking relationships with these same partners. At our in-service that year, I asked the team to read the Harvard Business School case study on the fateful 1996 Mount Everest expedition and prepare to discuss some questions around business decision-making. The debate and answers the team gave were surprising – and fun!
I remember asking, ‘Who is our team most like - is our character more akin to the paying client or the confident guide?” Every analyst responded the same, “Neither…the Sherpa” (spoiler alert: the Sherpas die.) This story gave us words and images to discover characteristics of our collective nature and how we interact with partners, good and bad.
I was nervous to introduce these topics at first. I had a pit in my stomach the night before the Everest talk. But once I saw the benefit, we added them in whenever we had time together.
An area I focus on a lot is energy. It is my firm belief that analysts have a unique challenge in combatting professional burnout and fatigue.5 How they learn to manage themselves – beyond time management - and work collectively is critical to retention and job satisfaction. Sports analogies, such as periodization, are a great tool. (Check out: the TED Talk by Tony Schwartz: The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working and other content from The Energy Project).
We incorporated Energy Breaks from a concept developed by Mind in Motion, a group that helps revive executives from burnout and find purpose. During long conference days, the rule is to get up and away from your computer. I’ve seen analysts use this time to call loved ones, walk, and find ways to turn random office equipment into exercise devices. People really do open. And they remember these things (although they will never admit to it). After the flight home, as the to-dos pile up, they know that you have a holistic approach to excellence. They may take the afternoon to rest or ask for help.
# 8 Release & Reflect
The analysts on my team are warm, collaborative, diligent, highly capable, and self-motivated. Back to golden rule #1; get out of your own way… and everyone else’s. Take time to look back at your goals from a few years ago – how far have you come? Read through a few old books, journals, or even mementos your team may have given you over the years. You put your heart and soul into this thing; feed yourself every now and then.
There is so much more I could write about. Would love to hear your thoughts,
 The hardest part can be feeling that you’ve lost your set of peers to back you up. With the transition to a management or leadership role comes the weight of new responsibilities and the isolation of making decisions solo. At times your decisions and style will be the topic of occasional office murmurs and your team won’t share and commiserate with you like they may have before.
Another great concept from this book that my team talks about is organization maturity from becoming co-dependent, to independent, and ultimately to interdependent.
 “Meeting follow-up notes reinforce to participants what you accomplished, alert all stakeholders to key decisions, and ensure that all have heard the same message or information.” Harvard Business Review
“Management guru Peter Drucker once noted that famed General Motors CEO Alfred P. Sloan became an outstanding executive in part through his succinct, clear, and powerful meeting follow-up memos” The Hard Thing About Hard Things
4 “Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let’s count on three hours of preparation for each hour of course time – twelve hours work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class.
Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts result in a 1 percent improvement in your subordinates’ performance, your company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hour of work as the result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.” Andy Grove