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Communication, Management

Why Your Team Needs a Win Outlet

January 7, 2016

Remember Whack A Mole? That carnival game where, depending on the amusement park, the prize ranged from a keychain to a stuffed elephant the size of a small child? And when you won that big stuffed elephant, what did you do? You instinctively, with the bat still in your grip, looked to your left at the best friend/crush/stranger there next to you, to say: “Look! I won!!”

We all need that win outlet.

We may not be bopping little plastic woodland creatures on the head anymore, but we’re still regularly “winning” at challenges throughout our days. If we don’t have an immediate outlet to share those moments, it’s a huge opportunity loss for building relationships and knowledge sharing.

As humans, we thrive on those words of congratulations and recognition, especially if we’re shy introverts who don’t regularly ask for it.

This is why it’s so important to have a platform for sharing these wins within any organization.

How to create a win outlet

What you need is a reliable communication platform where anyone can easily send a brief message to the entire company with zero barriers. The zero barrier part is important:

  • No approval queue needed, the person should feel encouraged to share without checking whether it’s okay first.
  • Goes to everyone. The feeling of having an entire organization hear you is very powerful, and increases the number of people who will be able to cheer in response.
  • Supports, and encourages, brief 1-2 sentence messages. Win announcements should not take the form of An Important Memo. Consider a 140-character Twitter message — people’s expectations are very different from an email, which most people still expect to have a greeting and signature. Less newsletter, more Facebook status.
  • Enduring. Not everyone will see it at the same time; choose a platform where latecomers can still send their congratulatory messages, and the sender can receive them throughout the day — keep those highs going.
  • Stability. Pick a stable platform so that technical difficulties don’t knock the wind out of your sails.
Why low-barrier? Why to everyone?

When a win happens, the broadcast to everyone should be instantaneous, when the person is still feeling their high of achievement. Don’t let that go stale. It’s all too easy to tell ourselves after that initial rush of excitement, that “it’s not that big of a deal,” or “others don’t care.” “This is just my job.” When we don’t fall into that trap, and do tell others, we can exponentially magnify that rush and keep it going — every time someone responds with a “hell yeah!” we keep the rush going. Like drugs — we’ll still come down from our high, but it will have been sustained enough that a little bit of it lingers. Just enough to make us crave it again, which means we continue to do better.

Sustained wins

It’s important to keep wins coming at a sustainable rate. By celebrating wins, we give them the acknowledgement needed to count them as wins and to give us that fix. This is a habit we don’t want to kick. By regularly feeding that endorphin rush, we’ll be positively rewarded to keep making them.

So which ones to celebrate?

All of them. Landing a big client – that’s a no-brainer. But don’t forget to celebrate the little wins like clearing out your inbox. Anything that you’ve felt some amount of struggle with, it’s worth mentioning. You’ll see that others can relate, and you might even motivate someone else to cross that same item off their list.

Tips & How-to

Group chat platforms are great for this — Hipchat, Slack, Campfire, even IRC. Create a room for general company chatter (we called it “Watercooler” at a previous company), where anyone can participate by reading and posting. It’s low-pressure – messages can be as simple as “Hey everyone, how’s it going?”. Encourage a culture where this isn’t seen as a “waste of time.” It takes 2 seconds to send that message, and approximately 4 minutes at most to play out that conversation should someone respond. There should be inherent trust that people who are heads down or feeling particularly prone to distraction don’t have that room open when they need to concentrate.

In the absence of these chat tools, you can even use email for your win outlet – just make sure there’s a dedicated thread whose purpose is for sending quick low-barrier messages. Set the precedent that no salutation or signature are required, and that brief messages are not frowned upon.

All done? Congratulations! You just improved your company culture.


I Don’t Want to Sound Like a Robot

January 5, 2015

I sometimes worry that I’m turning into a robot. Management is a funny thing. You get into management because you care about people and processes and doing things right. But a peculiar threshold emerges as you’re given more people and responsibility to manage. At some point, to be as effective as you can possibly be, you start considering these people and processes as one big organism. Like a 3D puzzle where you have to blur your eyes to see the full picture.

When you blur your eyes, you become a robot.

Why robots are bad

Robots don’t see all the nuances. They skip over complex emotions, like curiosity and frustration. Humans are complicated creatures who have such emotions. A robot can’t inspire a novice developer to learn a new technology, or listen sympathetically to someone who’s venting. When a company is run by robots, souls shrivel up until they become robots themselves.

I met an entrepreneur recently. He’s developing a new tool for developers. His mockup for the home screen ran rampant with unruly code snippets in a million small boxes. Even if I weren’t an ex-designer, I would’ve felt… uncomfortable. He said he didn’t care about fun. He was solving a problem here, a very important one! What mattered was quick access and efficiency!

Wait, did I hear “I don’t care about fun”?

Without fun or curiosity, we stop inbuing fun into our output. And fun is attached to a whole slew of things, like delight, engagement, stickyness, and impact. When we become robots who stop caring about fun, we no longer build products that move people. You want to move people, don’t you?

The Worst Part About Being a Remote Robot

Like many things, being a robot gets exponentially worse when we’re in a distributed team. This is because you are more likely to be seen as just a robot. The number of interactions we have are fewer, and funneled through 30-minute video chats. How you speak will give away that you’re a robot, and there won’t be watercooler jokes or a hokey souvenir on your desk to dispel that.

Signs You’re Becoming a Robot

It starts innocuously enough. You’re looking at bottom line, financials, and you realize that you’re going to have to “cut costs” or “drive more revenue.” In times like these, it’s helpful to see everything in front of you as “assets.” But people aren’t utilities, are they? They aren’t fixed outputs. You invest in them, not knowing whether they’ll depreciate or grow. And that’s the fun part of working with people instead of machinery.

It’s around this time that someone will say to you, “Maybe you’re just not cut out for management.”

Don’t listen to them.

This post was originally written in 2014 and published in January 2015. Here’s why!

Communication, Management

Why The Future of Work is for Everyone

January 2, 2015

You don’t find much fully distributed working in the wild yet. Maybe in small pockets of startups, and some consultancies. But in 2014 “remote” still meets with mostly head-scratching. And no, large corporations with satellite offices don’t count. I’m talking work-in-pj’s-if-I-want-anytime-I-want distributed working.

What if every employer, large and small, worked this way?

Imagine the largest company you know – maybe the one where your great aunt Susie’s daughter’s cousin works at. Or maybe it’s you that works there. Imagine if you stopped going to that office tomorrow. You choose your favorite things from your desk (camera lens mug, and framed picture of Fluffy), and leave behind the awkward rolling chair and cheap coffee. And so does everyone else. When new members join the team, they ask you what your home office is like. You train the webcam on your mug and Fluffy says hello from your lap.

Now imagine that it’s you running that company. It’s a scary thought, not having all your employees in one place. A little like sending your kids off to college. What will they do there? Will it even vaguely resemble work?

What’s in it for bosses

There’s the obvious reasons for going remote. If you give people choice and freedom, they are happier individuals. Happy employees are productive employees. Agreed? Agreed. But how is remote distributed teams going to directly impact the “bottom line?”

Not limiting yourself to geography suddenly opens you up to a myriad of talent that previously didn’t consider you because you were not ideally located for them. If we think everyone who has skill and ingenuity wants to live in New York, San Francisco, or London…. well, we’d be wrong. There’s many other perks of setting up distributed, but we’ll stick to exploring this one for now.

Are Consultants Out of a Job?!

If companies were able to hire anyone from anywhere for exact fit, does this mean vendors become obsolete? As managers, we always want to grow our teams but it often becomes overhead in the greater desire to experiment and innovate and throw ideas against the wall. If we need to produce two additional long-term salaries in order to give new product line Z a try, we may not be so bold to take that risk. There will always be room for the fast-moving supplemental team who can insert themselves quickly, get shit done, and leave the company a better place.

On the frontline, there will always be developers and designers who thrive on solving wildly different problems from month to month. On the other side of the fence are folks who prefer to dig deep and grow with one problem, seeing it through its entire evolution.

Why I’m For It

If everyone — and I mean, not just the people in your own company, but everyone — worked the same way, imagine how much we could accomplish by simply skipping over the mundane task of “getting set up.” Part of the reason why programming frameworks like Rails was so successful is because it was “opinionated.” Wanted to add an image? You knew exactly where to put your file, because the framework told you where to put it. And guess what? Every developer picking up your project knew exactly where to find it.

Imagine a world where no one had to ask:

  • “How much vacation time do I have left?” (you take what you need)
  • “Can I work from home?” (yes, you can work wherever you want)
  • “How do we communicate our status to each other?” (daily standups)
  • “Do we influence what gets done around here?” (plannings and office hours)
  • “Is it okay if I try this?” (yes)

There’s any number of aspects of “work” that could be shared in this way, from vacation norms to communication styles to utility of physical spaces. And if everyone embodies at least the intention of those norms, we could all show up to work on the same page, with the same expectations and comforts, enabled to hit the ground running.

This post was originally written in 2014 and published in January 2015. Here’s why!