The one book every manager in tech needs to read
If you're a manager in tech, there's one book you must read: High Output Management by Andy Grove. It's a quietly famous management guide. Investors give the book to founders, executives at Twitter pass the book around, and its influence on Google leadership is obvious.
Skeptical? We were, too. Most management books are full of platitudes, fads, and gross generalizations. High Output Management is different. The book is full of practical advice that is still applicable thirty-four years after it was written.
The book's cachet stems from the reputation of its author, Andy Grove. Intel grew from a three-man startup into a dominant tech giant under Grove's watch. In 1983, he wrote High Output Management as the President of Intel. By the 1990s, he was the CEO and Chairman. During his tenure at Intel, Grove established a reputation as a fair, firm, and highly effective manager. By reading the book, one hopes to learn the secret to Grove's (and Intel's) success.
High Output Management offers the management training that most tech managers never got. Although management is a distinct skill from engineering or design, tech companies turn employees into managers with little or no training. This book is an excellent guide for managers who are left to learn on their own.
Ben Horowitz summarizes the crux of the book in the 2015 edition's forward:
On the surface it may seem simple, but he clarifies the essential difference between a manager and an individual contributor. A manager’s skills and knowledge are only valuable if she uses them to get more leverage from her people. So, Ms. Manager, you know more about our product’s viral loop than anyone in the company? That’s worth exactly nothing unless you can effectively transfer that knowledge to the rest of the organization. That’s what being a manager is about. It’s not about how smart you are or how well you know your business; it’s about how that translates to the team’s performance and output.
Grove gives specific, practical tips for how to amplify your skills and knowledge through an organization. For example, he explains how to...
- Define and use product quality metrics
- Run meetings and on-on-ones
- Delegate tasks to subordinates
- Write and deliver performance reviews
- Talk to a valued subordinate who wants to quit
If you're already an experienced manager, you might think you already know how to do these things. Read the book anyway; you might be surprised. We were.
The book's main limitation is that it was written in 1983. E-mail wasn't a management tool yet, and Silicon Valley was still focused on hardware. Managers in this world were almost all male. Despite these shortcomings, most of the lessons feel just as relevant now as they did when the book was written.