I’ve been openly skeptical of many newer fads in workplace culture, namely unlimited vacation time (see my rant here), working remotely (no articles yet, but I just don’t think they work for many types of product teams), and open office floor plans.
It makes sense that as the market demand for top software talent increases, so will too the office perks, including chefs, beer, games, etc.. But, why is it that so much emphasis is placed on open environments, vs. giving engineers a dedicated space where they can have quiet and focus?
I quit. After about three years in a high growth tech startup I have decided to move on. In that timespan I saw the company grow from about 30 employees to almost 200. While I know this isn’t the fastest growing startup ever, it definitely qualifies as ‘high growth’ in my book.
There are some lessons learned that I would like to impart on other software leaders who are entering this type of environment. While I had worked in many startups before, I found very different challenges in high growth vs. other operating modes.
Check out this email from Elon Musk to employees at Tesla on communication within the company:
Subject: Communication Within Tesla
There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.
Check out this awesome video of Steve Jobs responding to an insult. Well worth your 5 minutes.
I found this video to be fascinating and think it has several takeaways that all leaders should note:
As a leader, you need to handle being put on the spot.
Resist the initial emotional reaction. Breath. It’s OK to pause to collect your thoughts.
Admit they are right. Point out where you agree with the accuser.
Steer the conversation to the bigger picture. Why are we here in the first place?
Acknowledge the hard work of the team.
Admit you may be wrong, but that’s OK because decisions are being made, and course corrections will occur.
What I loved about this strategy is that it’s really hard to disagree with any of the points above. You end up nodding your head and agreeing with him by the end, regardless of the original point being made by the accuser. He ignores the personal attack and does tie his response periodically back to the original question.
I’m now on my second company that offers a policy of ‘unlimited vacation time’. As an outsider coming from a company with a rigid time off policy and time card system, this sounds very alluring. But, does it actually work?
As a manager, it’s very easy to quickly lose your technical edge. Most of your day will get filled with meetings, planning sessions, strategy sessions, tactical status updates, 1 on 1’s, etc. On top of a day filled with meetings you will need to figure out how to execute various initiatives, and spend nights catching up on email.
Given the above time and mindshare constraints, how can anyone expect you to have time to keep up with technical skills?
The simple answer is, “it doesn’t matter”, you need to figure out a way to do it regardless!
As a manager, I’m always on the lookout for better tools to help increase my productivity. I tend to be a visual person, and like to draw diagrams for everything. When I came across Roadmap Planner from Keepsolid, it seemed like a simple tool that would allow be to quickly throw plans together. Here are my first impressions with the tool: