My director recently changed my job description because he wants me to design more. I lead a team of four designers and I feel it is my full time job to improve their performance. Is it okay to perform the same tasks as my direct reports?

jhack's picture

Why did your director make this change? Was the design output of your team somehow deficient? Is the goal greater productivity?

Start with looking at the deeper reasons for the change in job description. Talk to the director to find out if there is another way to achieve those goals.

There is no hard-and-fast rule.


TomW's picture
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[quote="jpb"]My director recently changed my job description because he wants me to design more. I lead a team of four designers and I feel it is my full time job to improve their performance. Is it okay to perform the same tasks as my direct reports?[/quote]

Almost every manager you meet has work they need to do in addition to guiding and developing their staff. In your case, it just happens to be the same work as your staff.

I think the only people who get to develop a staff full time are trainers, like software instructors, leadership consultants, etc.

US41's picture

You are classified as a working manager. With only four reports, this makes some sense. Four reports are not enough to float you as a management-only manager. It is OK to perform the same tasks as your directs. In fact, in some ways this is the easiest kind of management, because you have direct knowledge yourself of how to do the job, and you can set the example your directs follow. This can also be the hardest kind of management, because managing your own work and getting things done through others are entirely different mindsets, and they are hugely incompatible with one another in many ways.

Do a good job with your folks, and you'll be rewarded with more reports, more responsibility, you will delegate your projects, and things will sort of accelerate from there.

WillDuke's picture
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I agree with US41 that 4 reports probably isn't enough for a full-time manager. I also think John's right about asking why this change from your director is coming along now. It could be that the company is running well and the direct has had time to review each department and it was a pure headcount issue. It could be that productivity is off. It would be nice to know, though perhaps not feasible.

As someone who is a "working manager" I have some suggestions:

* Identify the skills, if any, you have that nobody else on your team has. Assign yourself those tasks, but bring in a team member so they can gain those skills.
* In your "manager" role you'll recognize areas where one of the team is falling behind, or a project is slipping. Save some of your time to be the "little dutch boy" and shore up the team in general.
* Enjoy the work. Sometimes it's fun to get back into non-management tasks.

jpb's picture

my director made this change to move my focus to front end research and development instead of back end manufacturing. output is still good and we are still on schedule with all active projects. My issue is the goals of this move have not been made clear to me.

I have two open spots but there has been little need to fill them. My staff is made up largely of new graduates. I focused on training them for about a year and now they rarely need design help. My main focus now is schedules and skill advancement to increase productivity.

As a working manager do you ever experience internal competition or other issues such as feelings of betrayal? Most of our products are developed by one designer and they feel a great deal of ownership for their work. It has been my experience when my work is chosen over my direct's they feel undermined. I have addressed these issues in 11s but there is a stall in communication and trust issues. I have a very sensitive team...

thanks for the help. these posts have helped clarify some issues for me.

WillDuke's picture
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My situation might differ from yours. I own the business. :)

I give all the credit to the direct. I don't need it. I want my clients to believe that they're getting as good, or usually better, service from my directs as they could get from me.

For you, I don't understand the competition thing. You both create a product then choose the one that's the best? That seems really inefficient. I must not be understanding you right.

When I am working on a project with my directs I have them give me the outline first. (Or we brainstorm it if necessary.) When I have their outline, I ask them pointed questions - have you considered this, what are you going to do about that. Then I ask them where I can help them. They can be the project manager. I'm the support person. Their project succeeds, my direct succeeds. It sounds weird, but it works great.

tcomeau's picture
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[quote="jpb"]Is it okay to perform the same tasks as my direct reports?[/quote]

I certainly do. I spend about half my time doing systems engineering on a key JWST subsystem. That subsystem is actually easier than most of what my guys work on, because the part I'm doing is actually very well understood.

I like it, because I stay very close to the technical details of how the systems are being built. I spend the other half of my time managing my branch, and managing my project.

My boss has 13 managers and six direct reports, including his deputy. He manages full time, and handles very little technical content. His deputy, however, spends maybe a quarter of his time on management issues, has just wrapped up one major project, and is working on starting up a major new project. He spends more time in technical content (albeit at more mission architecture level) than I do.

So I don't see any problem with doing the same kind of work, particularly if you get to pick the work you assign to yourself.


jpb's picture

my team is responsible for the product design of ceiling fans for Hunter Fan Company. Each designer has several projects which they lead from concept to production. Most of these products will be judged against one another to determine which is the best to present to clients and take to the market.

generally I work with the designers to streamline their concepts, design for price-point, ease of manufacture, and aesthetic value. I think this is similar to what WillDuke wrote.

I have experienced this kind of competition in the past. One of the first things I had to do when I was promoted was to make it clear to the designers that the Director was not promoting his work over the others.

maybe I'm over thinking this...

WillDuke's picture
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Maybe. I would expect your relationship that you've built up with O3s and feedback to carry the day over any perceived competition. Once they know you're on their side, interested in their success, then everyone will work as a team.

I'm a fan of a little friendly competition, but it shouldn't threaten anyone's employment or compensation. If it doesn't in your environment you're probably better off than you think. :)

jhack's picture

The trick is keep your tasks out of the critical path. Your management duties might keep you from focusing on your individual contributor duties, and if those are critical path, you're the bottleneck on your own project.


jpb's picture

I am afraid of holding up projects but I can be selective about the designs I take on. I oversee about 250-300 projects throughout the year so there's no shortage of work.

O3s have helped smooth out a lot of issues. Feedback helps too but I'm not quite as good at this. My focus has been learning to be a good manager so it was easy to remove myself from the design work. I think I can get back into it now.

thanks for all the help. you guys are great.