As a manager your job is to make sure your team is successful; to cultivate an environment where people can do their best work. But let’s face it, it’s not easy.
In today’s increasingly complex workplaces it is all to easy to fall into a pattern of reaction. There’s always more meetings to attend, emails to reply to, and fires to fight. Once you’re there, it can be incredibly hard to get your feet back under you.
Five minutes of reflection at the end of the week allows you to catch things while they’re still small and can help you stay on top of everything. Add a recurring calendar event every Friday afternoon, and ask yourself these questions:
#1. Does workload need to be rebalanced?
Over time it is easy for work to become unbalanced among your team members. Someone will have three critical tasks on their backlog while someone else will be working through low-priority items. This is natural, but it’s best to intervene before someone starts complaining and deadlines start being missed.
#2. Is anyone starting to show symptoms of burnout?
Full-on burnout is hard to recover from, so it’s best to act swiftly if a member of your team seems like they could be starting to suffer. Burnout isn’t always the result of too much work, but can be related to lack of control, monotony, and fairness. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms and be ready to have a conversation if you notice anything off.
#3. Does anyone need more of a challenge?
In a safe and supportive environment, we learn the most when we’re pushed slightly out of our comfort zone, sometimes called our “growing edge”. Ask yourself whether anyone on your team could have more autonomy, take on bigger projects, or assume other leadership responsibilities. Remember, bored people quit.
#4. Is there anything we should be celebrating?
In many ways, culture is shaped by what you recognize and celebrate. If you only celebrate launches, people will yearn for the dopamine hit of a launch spike and will neglect the essential followup work. Look for people living your values, doing work that is unseen, or taking initiative and filling in gaps, then celebrate them in a meeting, all hands, or with an email to the team. Also, gratitude is a strong indicator of high performing teams.
#5. What should we stop doing?
Even when you’re aware of the sunk cost fallacy, it can still be hard to put a stop to things. You might be worried about disappointing your team, but I wager they’ll be happier to drop a task midway than spend a bunch of time working on something that doesn’t matter anymore.
Five simple questions, and you only need to take a few minutes each week to reflect on them. Make a note of things you observed while answering the questions, and use them as a task list to get your Monday morning off to a running start.
More about Range Our team at Range is obsessed with figuring out ways to help teams work better together. If you’d like to know more about what we’re building, you can read more at www.range.co.
Can software nudge us to be more creative, inclusive, and fair at work?
This article was originally published in Quartz at Work on December 1, 2017.
In 1967 Mel Conway proposed that organizations inevitably produce systems that are reflections of their communication structures. A company like Google, which historically had a very open and organic culture, will produce open but somewhat inconsistent systems. A company like Apple, which is more uniform and controlling, will produce more neatly integrated, but restricted systems. Differences that are exemplified in the Android and iOS ecosystems.
This phenomenon is now gospel and companies are starting to organize themselves with user needs and software interfaces in mind.
I propose a corollary to Conway’s Law:
Organizations are shaped by the software they use.
An organization’s culture is defined by how people interact with each other and is governed through processes, social norms, and reward systems. More and more of these interactions are facilitated by software. And if we want to ensure our culture evolves in a direction we like, leaders, managers, and workers need to intentionally consider how we’re using software.
We need to look at not only the functional aspects of software, but at how it is shaping our behavior.
When the web was young, Laurence Lessig wrote a book titled Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. In it, he proposed the idea that computer code could regulate behavior in much the same way legal code does. More generally he claimed that we humans — who he called “the pathetic dots” — are regulated by four forces: Law, Norms, Markets, and Architecture.
Take speeding as an example. It is illegal to drive too fast (Law); if you are caught you are fined. Yet people still regularly exceed the speed limit. We can apply extra forces to help shift people’s speeding behavior by adding speed bumps, chicanes, or removing lane markings (Architecture), or by making speeding socially unacceptable (Norms).
In organizations, software systems provide a form of architecture and they have already inspired multiple shifts in work behavior: uncapped email inboxes, threaded emails, collaborative document editing, and realtime chat, to name just a few. Slack has been a huge success partly because it shapes behavior in a way that helps people feel better about their work environments. It introduces a level of levity and whimsy that encourages people to bring their whole selves to work, something absent in otherwise sterile enterprise tools. And it provides a sense of empowerment and agency through seemingly simple design choices, such as allowing anyone to create a channel.
In the same way mass transit can unlock the economy in a suburb, tools can unlock new processes, new ways of interacting, and potentially even new levels of cognition.
But much of the progress to date has been emergent and reactionary. If we know architecture can influence culture and behavior, and we know software in certain contexts acts as architecture, can we design a new generation of enterprise tools that helps solve the perennial issues of bias, inclusion, and creativity at scale?
There’s an app for that
There’s a rising skepticism of the earnest hubris that emanates from Silicon Valley: The idea that code is king and tech can solve all the world’s problems. And rightly so. Tech news in recent years is rife with stories of naiveté, insularism, and misplaced good intentions.
The reason people find it hard to believe that technology can play a role in shaping work culture for the better is, of course, that software can’t solve all problems. But also, it’s that the type of problems we’re seeing in contemporary organizations requires diverse teams to solve, and there’s a growing distrust in Silicon Valley’s ability to look beyond its own boarders to society at large.
Trying to positively shape work culture won’t work unless we listen to people outside of tech, and draw on the wealth of research from fields such as organizational design, relational psychology, and cognitive theory.
Tip of the iceberg
The concept of shaping behavior through technology is already being explored in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy. A project called WoeBot, for instance, provides users with a “choose your own adventure self-help book.” Its bot checks in on you via Facebook Messenger and provides a form of talk therapy. Another, from a company called Big Health, provides a “virtual professor” that promises to solve your insomnia. In a clinical study, their app helped alleviate depression/anxiety in 68% of patients.
You can imagine similar tools oriented towards solving organizational issues or democratizing the type of coaching usually only reserved for executives. These tools don’t need to work as well as human therapists or coaches, because they are ever-present, and the effects of small nudges compound over time.
Early examples of these tools already exist. One called Crystal Knows guides users through a personality assessment, offering insights about their communication and work styles. Based on those insights, its plugins for Gmail, Calendar, and Salesforce coach you to adjust your communication style to better fit the recipient. If you were to email me, for example, it would suggest you keep emails to three sentences or less, and to get to the point quickly…
ATS systems such as Greenhouse and Lever provide ways of setting up structured feedback for interviewers. Simply moving from free-form text boxes to focused prompts has been shown to help reduce implicit biases from affecting hiring decisions.
“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” — Churchill
Amazon is a company known for ruthless efficiency, and its culture has a reputation for being harsh and unforgiving. After bad press in 2015 and following internal pressure to change, the company started to look for ways to have the best of both worlds: How can they continue to push hard and be successful, but without leaving a trail of collateral damage?
An Amazon employee recently told me that the company had added a section to its company directory that is titled “What do you like to do outside of work?” Bezos and a vanguard of VPs led the way, sharing one or two sentences about their personal life, modeling the vulnerability and transparency they hoped would help correct aspects of their culture that were becoming toxic. And crazily, it seems to be working.
The Amazon employee I spoke with told me that meetings have become more congenial and emails less fraught. “I think this simple change has had a humanizing effect similar to a team happy hour, at scale,” he said. “It’s easier to remember that an eight-character company login number is a person with interests and feelings, beyond their job responsibilities.”
If that’s the power of a well-placed text box, imagine the possibilities if we apply a humane lens to all of our corporate tools. This is software as architecture; changing our behavior.
As software becomes more and more intertwined into our work lives, it is inevitable that it will continue to influence the way we work. Company leaders need to start paying attention to how software is shaping culture, in the same way they look at benefits, office layouts, and reporting structures.
But more importantly, software developers need to acknowledge the power they have, and start using it more responsibly.
Our team at Range is obsessed with figuring out ways to help teams work better together. If you’d like to know more about what we’re working on, read more at www.range.co.
We don’t believe it serves anyone to keep our hiring criteria secret. Interviews are stressful at the best of times, so we want to do everything we can to eliminate some of that stress and make sure people feel they are able to be their best selves.
To that end we want to be open about what we are looking for when we are adding people to our team.
These attributes will evolve as our company and team grows, but for now we look at alignment across four areas: values, team, stage, and skill.
We’re a purpose driven company. Given our size it is important that our mission resonates with you and that you feel aligned with the goals we have for both our company and product.
MissionResonates — Sees that workplaces need to change and understands the effect workplace culture has on employees. Demonstrates a desire for organizational change, or has pushed for change in the past.
Humanist — Believes that the individual experience at work can and should be improved. Views the roles of managers as coaches who serve the team. Understands that a balanced life is necessary.
Inclusive — Understands that diversity and inclusion are both moral and business imperatives.
Service — Sees their role as contributing to the service of our customers. As a teammate, sees that we are here to serve each other.
We’re hiring a team, not individuals. There are a number of traits that we think will help our team work together well.
Perspective — Adds psychological diversity or a different point-of-view.
Communication — Able to effectively communicate and understand concrete and abstract ideas.
Awareness & Empathy — Is self-aware and aware of others. Able to reflect on their own motives and emotions as well as those of others. Views others’ opinions with respect, see Ontological humility.
GrowthMindset — Recognizes their own agency in solving problems and resolving conflict. Takes critical feedback as an opportunity to change and grow; doesn’t give up. Has grit and resoluteness.
SystemThinking — Understands that organizations and products are composed of systems, while being part of larger systems. Sees that the interactions and relations between components are often as important as the components themselves.
Humility — Comfortable doing all kinds of work; no work “is beneath them”: taking out trash, picking up the mail, etc. Can objectively look at their strengths and weaknesses.
We’re an early stage company which has implications for work style and preferences. This will change as we progress.
Autonomy — Able to self-direct and plan their own work streams. Unblocks themselves by asking for help or making decisions.
Comfortwithuncertainty — Comfortable working and executing with high degrees of uncertainty about the company, the product, and the week’s work. Able to shift gears quickly.
Resilience — Understands the journey and the commitment we’re making to one another and the company. Is able to work in an unstable environment, handling the ups and downs of early startup life.
Skills are obviously role dependent, but we are committed to finding ways that allow you to best demonstrate your skills as best as possible. We will work with you to structure the interview process.
We look for people who are self starters and have a proven high-rate of change (though we know this may not manifest through job titles). We don’t look for experience at specific schools, education level, or companies.
In 2012 I left Google to join The Obvious Corporation, a small company with the mission of building systems that help people work together to make the world better.
One of the things that attracted me to Obvious was how much Ev and Biz were thinking about the company they wanted to build, not just the product. They were asking why companies got worse as they got bigger: why do people become less engaged, teams become less productive, and bureaucracy ends off feeling like a force of nature? Shouldn’t work be better?
“Why do network effects make internet products better but make internet companies worse?”
As I took over leadership of the engineering team and helped grow the company’s operations, working on how we work became a personal mission of my own.
In every minute of free time, I explored the nature of work and researched how the most progressive companies operate — from Netflix to Bridgewater, Patagonia to Spotify, Disney to Amazon — I started to see patterns and opportunities. Many perennial problems had been solved, but often within the confines of a single organization. Everyone seemed to be reinventing the wheel, and when best-practices did emerge, they seemed overdue.
To paraphrase Gibson, the future [of work] is here — it’s just not evenly distributed.
I realized that instead of solving these organizational challenges for the one company where I worked, there was an opportunity to build software that helps people solve these organizational challenges everywhere.
So, last April I partnered with Jennifer Dennard and Braden Kowitz to start a company — Range Labs Inc. — with the goal of helping people build healthier companies. To range is to explore — to search the world for what’s next. The world is changing and organizations need to adapt and evolve.
Jen’s career choices show she has a passion for helping people enjoy their work — and their lives — more. She’s worked with companies big and small to improve their workplace culture during times of pivoting and intense scaling. We met at Medium, where we collaborated on new people programs, and company wide org design efforts as we changed operating structures. She’s an advocate for a new approach to human resources that focuses more on the person and their needs.
Braden was an early designer at Google and has built products used daily by millions. He co-led design on Gmail for several years, where we worked together on Gmail Chat, pushing against the capabilities of the early web. Then at Google Ventures he advised dozens of startups, teaching them how to listen to customers, scale design teams, and build processes that support innovation. He is the co-author of the New York Times Bestseller, Sprint, and has spoken at design conferences around the world.
At Range, we believe that healthy companies aren’t simply better places to work, but do better work and will ultimately be more successful. We know that software can’t solve all problems, but the fact that so much of our work-life is mediated through software means that there is a huge opportunity to rethink how our tools affect how we work with each other.
Over the last few months I’ve joked that we’re not very good at being a “stealth startup.” We’re too excited about this space to keep our mouths shut.
We nerd out about meetings (not in meetings… about meetings), team structures, and work cadences. We love talking to people about people-centric leadership, learning organizations, and helping friends diagnose organizational issues. We believe in networks, in transparency, in individual empowerment, and in the need to bring more humanity to our work.
And we believe in working in the open and sharing knowledge, so follow this publication as we each share what we’re working on, what we’re excited about, and what we’re learning from folks we’re talking to.
Hello World was originally published in Range Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Over the last few years, awareness has risen about the problems that arise from a lack of diversity, but many companies are still struggling to make headway or don’t even know where to start.
I don’t have all the answers and I have a lot left to learn. But with the help of an awesome team, I was able to meaningfully affect the demographic make-up of an engineering team as it grew from 30 to 60 people.
What follows are two techniques that I think provide a solid foundation for a more extensive D&I strategy, while also shining a light on other factors that might be inhibiting your progress.
1. Measure what you want to change
In product and engineering we measure everything. We have dashboards for latency, error rates, sign-ups, time on site, etc. etc. If your team is working to increase the number of photos uploaded, you’re sure as hell going to be looking at that metric everyday. If your team is working on production stability, you’re going to be reporting on uptime and error rates. So why do so few teams track diversity metrics?
Build a spreadsheet; make some graphs. Track demographics, tenure, and experience of your team and your candidate pool. As the CEO, functional lead, or hiring manager, you — not recruiting or HR — should own this metric.
The first step in changing or managing any metric is simply to be aware of it.
2. Start at the top of the funnel
If network referrals, inbound resumes, and candidates sent by your investors are predominantly white-male, what do you think the composition of your team will be?
Fixing this means actively sourcing outside your immediate network. You can also increase the diversity of inbound candidates by choosing meet-ups, conferences, and communities that are themselves more diverse — though this is a longer-term strategy and has to be approached authentically.
The demographics of your funnel should map to the population you are trying to track. Put another way, if you were trying to increase the number of iOS developers on your team but only 1 in 10 of the people you interviewed knew ObjectiveC or Swift, you’d feel pretty dumb.
I’d suggest trying to match the demographics of the US population, but tracking tech demographics could be a good interim milestone for some companies. This does get harder as you get bigger, but for start-ups hiring a few people a week it should be reasonable.
If your funnel is diverse, but there is no change in team composition, you now know you have a problem with your interview process.
Too many companies I talk to are trying to start from first principles, expending valuable time and energy on work others have done. We need to learn from each other’s successes and failures if we want to see change on a reasonable timeframe.