Travis Kimmel talks with Lara Hogan and Deepa Subramaniam about evidence-based tactics that leaders can use to increase clarity and build healthier, high-performing organizations. Their conversation covers: diagnosing and treating problems that are slowing product, design, and engineering teams; “organization smells”; clarifying roles and responsibilities; improving documentation; facilitating better meetings; improving inter and intra-team dynamics. Audio
When I was getting ready to join Kickstarter as VP of Engineering, Chad Dickerson (who was the CEO of Etsy when I worked there) offered to send me a bunch of advice. Chad had been a CTO multiple times before being CEO; he knew that this executive-level role was brand new to me, so he offered to help give me a steer and a foundation as I walked into this totally new territory.
As an Engineering Director at Etsy and VP of Engineering at Kickstarter, I sent a “Week in Review” document every two-ish weeks to my whole team. This doc helped me set records straight, disseminate info to lots of people at once, and open up conversation internally, while reflecting on the themes that had come up in weekly one-on-ones, backchannels, team meetings, etc.
Search for “leadership styles” on Google, and you’ll find lots of different articles describing the various types and numbers of leadership styles. Here are some examples of articles that say there are five, six, seven, eight, nine, and twelve leadership styles.
Step one: Color code your calendar based on the kind of brain you use in each event. For example, in my week, I’ll have:
one-on-ones where I’m coaching others (listening/empathy brain)
planning meetings with senior leaders to set strategy and timelines (strategy/tactics brain)
calls with potential consulting clients to discuss what kind of work they need (sales/logistics/planning brain)
Step two: Use those colors to analyze how much context switching you’re doing each day. Also analyze how much you’re drained at the end of the day when there’s large blocks of the same brain.
Are you finding yourself using different mental energy every other hour? Is there a way to make shared-brain meetings follow each other in your day?
Relatedly, if you have a day where you JUST do one-on-ones, maybe you’re far more or less drained on those days than the other days. Make a note to yourself at the end of each day for two weeks how tired you are, and what the calendar colors looked like that day.
Step three: Defrag or reorganize. Move some things around so you’re doing less context-switching, and see if that helps. Or scatter the super draining events throughout the week to see if that makes it a little less taxing.
One of my suggestions is to calculate whether you compensate and promote people fairly, which requires some level of manual analysis.
Read Jason Wong’s post Bootstrapping Inclusion: Education & Effecting Behavioral Change to read about how he structures Compensation Calibration meetings. Also check out this example template for tracking and measuring compensation changes, based on Jason’s original comp calibration template.
It’s helpful to walk into your 1:1s with a game plan to build trust, help your direct report grow, and tackle some problems together. To do that, it’s important to find a balance between the three main hats you can wear as a manager: mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring.
Use this worksheet to plan your 1:1s, based on what your direct reports each need most.
Dealing with surprising human emotions is one of the most challenging aspects of being a manager. Generally, when someone appears triggered, or angry, or some other strong emotion that’s surprising, it’s likely that their amygdala has been hijacked, which I’ve written about before. Our amygdalas are in charge of our emotional reactions, and they’re critical to our “fight or flight” decisionmaking process. When our core needs feel threatened, our amygdala kicks into high gear.
While I worked at Etsy, the company’s Culture & Engagement team rolled out the following “Charter of Mindful Communication”. I’m not sure if it’s been updated since, but I’ve found this language incredibly useful throughout my work ever since, and even brought it over to Kickstarter. I hope it’s valuable to you!(read more)
Plenty of tech companies are attempting to make their pipeline of candidates more diverse. But an organization won’t find much success recruiting a more diverse group of employees unless its leaders are aware of their existing internal inclusion and equity issues. Unless leadership has already started to tackle these issues, it’s likely that these new hires will enter into an environment that they won’t want to stick around in for long.
Y’all know how crucial I think one-on-one’s are for managers to get to know their direct reports: what they need from their manager, how they like feedback, what makes them grumpy, and so much more! But what happens when a person switches managers?
During my four and a half years at Etsy, I learned a ton, from a ton of people. Honestly, the lessons are innumerable, and I’m forever indebted to this crew not just for letting me learn and grow there, but for all that they taught me. Here are just a handful:
Stealing a page out of other leaders’ books, I began writing a “Week in Review” post every two weeks or so at Etsy, with a link open to anyone internally, and a distribution list of the people in my organization. I used it as a reflection on themes that were coming up in weekly one-on-ones, backchannels, team meetings, etc.(read more)
These are terrible times. You may be facing these events head-on as a member of a marginalized group or as an ally, and if you’re a manager, you likely have direct reports who are doing the same.
This past week, an engineer who I hired a few years ago transitioned into management. It’s been years since he reported to me directly, so we had a first-one-on-one-redux in which we talked through my first 1:1 questions. I realized it might also be helpful to reset expectations about:
As an engineering director, my week is filled with meetings: one-on-ones with my direct reports, skip-level one-on-ones with theirs. Meetings to make decisions, meetings to share information, meetings to teambuild. I have meetings to provide mentorship, or feedback on a presentation, or to get coaching.
I remember working as a developer at a company and complaining that I had no idea what the bosses did all day. It felt like while we engineers were working hard and shipping stuff, managers just talked to a lot of people all the time, or sat in their offices behind closed doors, and I had no idea what their work looked like.1(read more)
In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of kicking off lots of new reporting relationships with both engineers and engineering managers. Over time, I’ve learned that getting some particular data during an initial 1:1 can be really helpful, as I can refer back to the answers as I need to give a person feedback, recognize them, and find creative ways to support them. Most of these I’ve stolen from some really amazing Etsy coworkers.
I had a blast talking with Monika Piotrowicz, Chris Coyier, and Dave Rupert about career paths - where we started from doesn’t always equal where we’ve landed. Freelancer? Go to university or college? Find a mentor? It’s a common ShopTalk Show question and we did our best to answer from our experiences.
Cate Huston’s post The Hardest, Shortest, Lesson Becoming a Manager recently resonated with me. She writes about the shift from day-to-day engineering to day-to-day management of engineers, and focuses on the reasons why it’s probably a smart idea to step away from coding as a manager.
As a female Senior Engineering Manager at a tech company, I’m in a weird spot. There are lots of women role models ahead of me who I look up to, and who I’m fortunate enough to call mentors. There are a bunch of women who I mentor, too, and many more women just entering the industry.
Popforms Leader Of The Week is a feature on their blog where they highlight an outstanding leader and share their insights on leadership, career, and being awesome at your job. I wrote about taking the high road, having an awkward career trajectory, and what I look for in a great hire.
As an engineering manager, there’s one major realization you have: managers go to lots of meetings. After chatting with a bunch of fellow engineering managers at Etsy, I realized that people have awesome hacks for managing their calendars and time. I wrote up the best ones from a recent poll of Etsy engineering managers.