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As we grow, we'll increase the number of managers at PostHog. Here's what a manager at PostHog looks like.

What does a manager at PostHog do?

A manager at PostHog has a short list of responsibilities:

  1. Setting the right context for your direct reports to do their jobs
  2. Making sure your direct reports are happy and productive
  3. Acting as the hiring manager for new roles in your team
  4. Creating good plans for new person onboarding and small team offsites
  5. Raising team performance concerns with the relevant member of the exec team if you need help

That's it.

A manager at PostHog is not responsible for:

  1. Deciding compensation - we have a compensation calculator and the process is managed by James & Tim
  2. Setting tasks for your direct reports
  3. Providing a career progression plan for your team
  4. Figuring out team structure - today that is all handled by the exec team
  5. "Approving," whether that's projects, expenses, days off, or accounts - people should have admin access by default to most things
  6. Dealing with HR issues - you should escalate these to Charles
  7. Anything legal-related, e.g. someone wants to quit or thinks they did something illegal - route this to the exec team
  8. Deciding to hire or fire people - the exec team do this

Part-time managers

Because of the relatively short list of tasks that managers have, management at PostHog is a part-time job. That means everyone, including the CEO and CTO, still spend the majority of their time on practising what they do best (which likely isn't management!).

As an engineer, you wouldn't respect the opinion of someone who can't code on a coding specific question. As a designer, you really want your manager to have an eye for design. As an operator, you want to be managed by someone who has scaled a business. That's why it's important for managers to keep practising their craft.

Management tasks do come first, as giving context to your team tends to have a multiplying effect vs getting one more PR out. After that though, it's back to work.

How do I set context?

At PostHog, we hire highly experienced people for 99% of roles. That means managers won't need to spend time telling their direct reports what to do.

However, for those people to make the best decisions, they need context. The things a manager can do to set context include:

  • Creating a roadmap that the team can work towards
  • Helping someone figure out who else to talk to within PostHog - this includes the exec team!
  • Enabling or encouraging the team to measure their impact
  • Improving the process in which a team works (things like standups, reviews etc)
  • Organizing a team offsite or other meetup to work in person

The shift here, and the biggest difference between PostHog and other places, is that in the end it is up to the individual to make the decisions. All you can do as a manager is set context. From there, you'll have to trust that we've made the right hiring decisions and that the individual is able to execute on that. If they can't, we have a generous severance policy.

Decisions aren't just about buying a piece of software or choosing a color for a button. It's also about what to work on, what to invest time in, or where to take entire parts of our product.

As a manager, it's tempting to see yourself as the sole owner of all the information, and give it out sparingly. People will come to you often with questions (because they don't have the context) and when they do you'll get more validation that holding all the context yourself makes you an Important Person. What managers should aim for at PostHog is to make themselves obsolete. Share as much context as possible, in written form and in a public channel. That way everyone will be able to do their best work.

How do I make sure my direct reports are happy and productive?

The most important thing you can do is to schedule regular 1:1s. There are three types:

  • First 1-1 when a team member starts
  • Weekly 1-1s as a regular check in
  • Bi-annual 1-1s to talk about longer term career plans (make sure you put these in the calendar!)

Talking about long-term career plans every now and again is really important but easy to let slip when things get busy. If you can help people achieve long term plans while hitting PostHog's short term needs - whether at PostHog or not - you'll get people's best work! We have a set of handy templates to use - feel free to adapt these for each team member.

Ongoing support for managers

We run a monthly, totally optional discussion group for managers, which Charles leads. We follow the same agenda each time:

  • Go around and give an update on how the last month has been for your team, plus any particular challenge you'd like to discuss. You don't always have to bring a discussion topic. - 10min
  • Group selects 1 or 2 challenges to discuss in depth. Usually you'll find there will be a topic applicable to multiple people.
  • Roundtable coaching - 45min

There are a million good books out there and you'll want to read more widely, but these ones have been recommended by multiple members of the team:

Specifically for engineering managers:

A note on team leads vs managers

You'll sometimes hear us use the term "team lead". A team lead is the leader of a small team. By default they also manage the individuals that are part of their team, though very occasionally they don't, such as when a new small team has just been created.

Team leads are simply responsible for making sure the team performs well. That includes things like setting context and direction within the team, and making sure the processes and rituals the team uses work well. Like everyone else, team leads should give the people in their team frequent direct feedback.

Team leads should make sure sprints take place on a regular basis, and are conducted transparently. Setting direction means the team leads finalize the sprint priorities. It's ok for team members to change what they picked to work on during the sprint, but it's the team leads' responsibility to help make sure team members have the right context to make good decisions if they change plan, and that everyone starts the sprint pointing in the right direction.


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