Tag Archives: people matter

Talk To Your Friends.

“Two men in Conversation”

We’re interviewing candidates for a new member of my team right now — exciting, I know! And that’s gotten me thinking about what I wish I knew when I was on the other side of the table, trying to get that offer.

I’ve written before about things recent grads should be doing to get an offer:

Let’s add another to this list: Utilizing your network of peers.

When I was interviewing at BuzzFeed, I was wading into brand new territory. I’d never worked at a start-up like that before. I didn’t have a good sense of how much they’d pay, what my hours would be like, or whether or not their offer of stock options was something I should take seriously.(1)

I’d made this mistake once before: In the final months of my senior year at Mizzou, I’d been offered the chance to run a blog network, and I turned out it down without talking to my network. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the size of the opportunity I’d refused. As I wrote back in 2012:

What I’ve learned since is the importance of a really good conversation. You need people who can advise you, guide you and — most importantly — ask the kind of questions that will help lead to you the right answers. When you have an opportunity, talk about it with smart people. It’s amazing how a good conversation can really open your eyes to your full potential.

I made a similar mistake with BuzzFeed. I talked mostly to my family during the interview process, and I accepted BuzzFeed’s offer. But I ended up accepting an offer for less than I was worth.

What happened? I didn’t utilize my network correctly. I should have also been talking to:

1) Colleagues a few years older than me — They could have told me more about what to expect from a growing company like this, and helped me understand how to approach a difficult salary conversation.

2) Peers my age — They could have told me more about what they were making doing similar jobs in the same city, and made sure I understood how much I really needed to make to live in New York.(2) That would have helped me set a salary floor for the negotiations.

Why didn’t I talk to my network? Honestly, I was just a little nervous about bothering people. I was worried that it might sound like bragging if I told them about the exciting new offer I had on the table. I was scared that they wouldn’t want to open up about their personal experiences.

I was wrong on all counts.

Five years later, let me offer this simple advice: You should always ask for help. Utilize every resource you have to make sure you get the best offer at the right company.

This is your career. You should never be afraid to ask for the help you need to get it right.

———

That drawing at top is called “Two men in Conversation” by Hans Schliessmann (German, Mainz 1892–1920 Vienna). It’s part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, and is licensed under C0 1.0.

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  1. Looking back, I definitely should have.
  2. More than I ever would have guessed!

The 1-1-1 Model.

d9hv7uxenei-danka-peter

A friend forwarded me an email the other day — Mikki Halpin’s Action Now newsletter. It’s an email series geared towards inspiring progressive activism, but she said something so wonderful that I wanted to give it a little shoutout here.

She wrote:

Think about all of the things swirling around you, all the opportunities you have to do things and act on your values and choose these three things:

• One thing to be a leader on

• One thing to be a follower on

• One thing to make a habit of

I love this so much. If I had a cubicle wall, I’d print this out and hang it beside my desk. It’s so simple, yet potentially so powerful.

I’ve been trying to think about how to adapt this for my team. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

One thing to be a leader on — There are always so many projects in the works. Instead of centralizing power among just a handful of leaders, why not spread the responsibility around and give everyone something to take charge on? Even a smaller project — overseeing some design fixes to our newsletters, for instance — could be a great opportunity to give a junior staffer the opportunity to lead.

One thing to be a follower on — As teams gets stretched thin with additional work, it’s easy for a team member to be left alone on a project. And that should never be the case. Everyone should have someone to bounce ideas off of, or to support the work. It’s true that when two people work together on a project, their total output far exceeds what you’d expect from adding 1 + 1 together. Every leader needs a follower to support them.

One thing to make a habit of — Building good habits matter. Whether it’s making time to read in the morning or starting a new routine at the gym, I really believe that building good habits can change your life. And you don’t need to wait for New Year’s Day to resolve to build better habits. You can start today!

That 1-1-1 model — lead, follow, and build good habits — is an amazing example. I can’t wait to bring it to my team.

— — —

That photo of someone to follow comes via Unsplash and photographers Danka & Peter.

Ask, Listen, Learn, Decide. (The Tevye Theory Of Leadership.)

Fiddler

Can we talk about “Fiddler on the Roof” for a second?

I love “Fiddler.” I love the music, and I love the story.(1) And as I grow into a leadership role at my office, I’ve been thinking a lot about the main character of Tevye, and how his role in “Fiddler” has partly inspired the way I try to make decisions at work.

If you’ve never seen “Fiddler,” here’s the 15-second version: It’s the story of a humble milkman (Tevye), trying to lead his family and his Jewish community through a period of huge upheaval in Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Over the course of the story, Tevye’s homeland rejects him for his religious beliefs; his daughters grow older and marry, but not to the men he’d once envisioned for them; and his family is uprooted from their home. It’s a fascinating — and heartbreaking — story.(2)

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about Tevye’s role in “Fiddler” story — specifically, the way Tevye adapts to the realignments happening around him. As his world changes, Tevye deals with every new issue by moving through the same four steps:

1) Ask — Tevye asks a lot of questions, seeking to understand the “why” behind changes that affect him.

2) Listen — He listens carefully to what the people he trusts most (his family, his fellow villagers, even some Russian officials) tell him.

3) Learn — He’s receptive to a variety of viewpoints, and willing to accept ideas that aren’t his own. He challenges himself to see things through other people’s eyes.

4) Decide — He tries to make the best decisions he can with the information he’s been given.

And by using the same method for every major change — ask, listen, learn, decide — Tevye consistently makes good decisions. He surrounds himself with people who support him, but who are also willing to challenge him. And Tevye has the humility to understand that by listening to those perspectives, he can push himself towards the best possible decision. In his family, the decisions are always ultimately his, but Tevye never makes a decision without going through that decision-making process first.

All of this matters when you’re making decisions as a leader in your workplace. You have to surround yourself with smart people who are willing to confront you with hard truths. On a team, dissent and disagreement can be a good thing — as long as you’re willing to recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Together, the team can always get to a better solution than you will alone.

The next time you watch “Fiddler,” watch it with Tevye’s process in mind. I think you’ll be impressed at how such a humble character can show such wisdom as a leader.

———

That photo of a “Fiddler” playbill was taken by Deb Nystrom and used here thanks to a Creative Commons license.

  1. I especially love the Lin-Manuel Miranda version of “To Life”, but that’s for another day.
  2. For Jewish families like mine, watching “Fiddler” can feel like watching a biography of our ancestors.

Look Up.

the morning 6 train

I’ve lived in New York City for four years, and in those four years, I don’t believe I’ve ever gone all Tom Friedman and written a post in which I take a tiny public transportation experience and make it into a big thing.

That, sadly, ends today.

So with apologies to the Times’s op-ed page, here’s a story:

I’m riding the subway down to work this morning, and the arrival board on the downtown 6 train has one word on it: “Delay.” I wait for a few minutes, but the subway still hasn’t arrived.

And then a voice comes over the loudspeaker: There’s a sick passenger on the train one stop away, and it’s not moving. If you want to go downtown, please go to the other side of the tracks, take a 6 uptown one stop, and then take an express train back downtown.

It’s annoying. But it is what it is.

So I start walking to the uptown platform, and a handful of people are walking there, too. But everybody else on the platform is just standing there.

The voice comes over again to repeat the message, but most people still aren’t moving.

I get to the other side of the tracks, and I look back at the downtown platform. There must be a hundred people still standing there, completely oblivious to the message from the loudspeaker. I look up and down the platform. Everyone’s in their own world, listening to something via headphones, or loudly locked in conversation with someone else. The trains aren’t moving, and they’re too busy to even notice.

Now here’s where Tom Friedman would make a profound statement about the state of the world based on that one story, and since I’m already this deep into my anecdote, here goes:

We all have ways of building little bubbles for ourselves, and shutting the rest of the world out. You throw on headphones. You hide in our offices, doors closed, or in corners of the building where you won’t be bothered. You tell yourself that you need the quiet, or you need to be productive. You need to get away.

But here’s the downside: That leaves you isolated. You miss out on the things happening all around you — sometimes little, sometimes big and obvious.

I used to laugh about a manager at my office who was infamous for a leadership style called Management By Walking Around. It seemed like such an odd way to lead. But I’m starting to see the benefits. Being visible and keeping your eyes open exposes you to what’s happening around you — at least at the surface level. It opens the door to serendipitous conversations, and as a manager, it’s certainly not a bad thing to be a noticeable presence around the building.

But first you have to open your eyes and ears. Things are happening all around you — it’s up to you to decide if you want to pay them notice.

———

That’s a photo of my subway platform, taken by yours truly.

This Behind-The-Scenes Video Of The ‘SNL’ Crew Tearing Down A Set In Two Minutes Is Absolutely Fascinating.

I love learning about the way other people work — not just what they do during their day, but how they do it. A few years ago, I remember grabbing a burrito at Chipotle late in the afternoon, in the dead time between the lunch rush and dinner. The manager was training a team of new hires how to move customers through the line. The new hires were taking a full minute to get a customer from “Hi, what would you like to order?” to the cashier. The manager wanted them to get it down to 22 seconds. He explained that if there were a dozen people in line, serving a customer in 22 seconds meant that last person in line would be paying for their burrito in a little over 4 minutes. At their current pace, that last customer wouldn’t pay for 12 minutes — and would probably abandon the line for another lunch option long before then.

So I watched as the manager trained each member of the team in ways to shave seconds off of every step of the burrito-making process. The manager kept driving home this message: One person’s work impacts the success of everyone else on the team. It was fascinating to watch.

Which brings me to this video that the “Saturday Night Live” YouTube channel posted a few days ago. Watching the “SNL” crew tear down an entire set in two minutes, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the way everything moves. Four seconds after the actors finish saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”, the crew is already on stage dismantling the set. Then the crew starts dismantling the walls of the set — a set, I should say, that was built specifically to be assembled and dismantled as quickly as possible. And all along, you hear the voice of the director, imploring his team to get the stage clear. We have a family friend who likes to say, “Don’t rush, but hurry up” — and that’s exactly what the director is conveying here.

In less than two minutes, the “SNL” crew manages to make everything on set — the actors, the walls, the fake fireplace, the carpeting — disappear, and those of us watching at home on TV never notice it at all. It’s an impressive bit of teamwork. I don’t know how they move so fast or stay so calm, but they do. I’d watch an entire “SNL” episode just of what happens behind the scenes — I’d love to know more about how their crew trains for the live show. There’s a lot to learn from a team like this.

Stuff I Didn’t Know Was OK When I Started My First Job.

feeling reflective

It’s okay to say, “No.”

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

It’s okay to be wrong, too — sometimes your intuition points you one way, or the data points you one way, and you end up being wrong. Happens.

It’s okay to ask for what you want.

It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask uncomfortable questions.

It’s okay to try hard things. And if you’re trying hard things, you should ask for help! Working with smart people on something hard is how you get better.

It’s okay to reach out to smart people — even outside your company — to ask for advice. (Just remember to ask good questions and bring them coffee!)

It’s okay to be the quiet one at work. And it’s okay to be loud, too. Either way, as long as you have a boss who supports you and your team, you’ll be okay. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not to do great work and get noticed. You have a team behind you to support you and your work.

It’s okay to hate meetings. (Everyone hates meetings.)

It’s okay to take your vacation days. (That’s why we gave them to you!)

It’s okay not to respond to that unexpected late-night email from your boss until the next morning. (7-to-7 is fine! But be someone who responds to emails within 24 hours, OK?)

It’s okay do something different, and it’s definitely okay to make mistakes.

It’s okay to feel completely lost.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

It’s okay to be the one who asks a few extra questions to make sure you understand.

It’s okay to pitch big ideas, and it’s okay to be the one who tries to turn those big ideas into big work.

To be honest: As long as you work hard; listen well; respect your team and your co-workers; and show up every day ready to do the work, then it’s okay to be whoever you are. We hired you for a reason. It’s okay to do your thing.

— — —

I picked that photo from Rosan Harmens and Unsplash.com because I was (sorry in advance, but you’ve been warned) … in a reflective mood.

Working With The Best People Matters Most.

Buildings, by Alex Wong

Here’s something I’ve noticed about people who read a lot of business books that promise big ideas about the future of our industries:(1)(2)

Those people tend to put a lot of faith in systems. On a Sunday, they’ll finish a book about the latest trend coming out of Silicon Valley, and on Monday, it’ll be the future of everything. Those books often promise the secrets to unlock great work. They’ll say: “They do it this way at Company X, so we need to switch everything to do it that way, too! This is the future!”

But to me, they’re not gospel.

I like business books, don’t get me wrong! And I’m a fan of great routines that can help teams work faster/better/smarter, and of big ideas that can crystalize a team’s mission.

But systems or big ideas aren’t everything.

People are.

I believe that great people, working together with the right tools and a clear mission, are unstoppable. Ask me about my team sometime — I’ll gush about them. I think they have the potential to do great work that can have impact on millions of lives. (In fact, they’re doing that already!) I believe in them, and I believe they are smart, hard-working, and flexible enough to take on ambitious work.

If I had to start with only one thing — the right systems, the right ideas, or the right people — I’d always choose people. A good system or idea is only as good as the people working to make it happen.

———

Sometimes, you want a random, generic image for a post like this — and hey, this one by Alex Wong from Unsplash worked!

  1. **WARNING: YOU’RE ABOUT TO READ A VAGUE AND OVERLY GENERAL STATEMENT, BUT HANG IN THERE WITH ME.**
  2. FWIW: I spent a lot of time in airports last month, and I spent a lot of that time in airport bookstores, and seeing the same business books in so many cities drove me a little mad.

What Do You Do On Your Best Day?

sunrise over Spain

There’s a question that Facebook’s recruiting team asks potential new hires, and it’s a great one:

“On your very best day at work — the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world — what did you do that day?”

I’d have done two things:

1) I’d have a great conversation with a co-worker. — Every one of my best days involves a great conversation. Some of those conversations help a co-worker find a way to get past the roadblocks that are keeping them from their best work. When you help someone find a solution like that, it’s an AMAZING feeling. I don’t always have the answers, but on the rare day I do… that’s an awesome day.

Other times, I’ll have a conversation that gives a co-worker the chance to vent about their problems to a sympathetic ear. I don’t always have much more to say than “I’m sorry” or “That sucks.” But just being there to listen is often enough to help them — and help make the workplace a little better that day.

2) I’d launch something. — I love to launch new projects. I’ve launched big projects at BuzzFeed and small projects on my own. Some have grown into big things, and many more have not. But I love the feeling of launching new stuff. I’ve read interviews with stand-up comedians where they say they’re obsessed with the sound of laughter; I’m obsessed with the feeling you get when you put new work out into the world and get to see how the world reacts. I love coming up with an idea, finding a team, and sharing it with others. And on a great day, I’d get to launch something new.

So that’s what I would do. What would you?

———

That’s a photo I took eight years ago off the coast of Spain. It was a pretty great sunrise, and a pretty good day.

What’s Your Name Again?

Hello, by Travis Wise

A few weeks ago, I read a Q&A with Walt Bettinger, the CEO of Charles Schwab, and I keep coming back to something he said:

Q: What about lessons you learned in college?

A: A business strategy course in my senior year stands out. I had maintained a 4.0 average all the way through, and I wanted to graduate with a perfect average. It came down to the final exam, and I had spent many hours studying and memorizing formulas to do calculations for the case studies.

The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, “Go ahead and turn it over.” Both sides were blank.

And the professor said, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”

And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.

It was just a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of people who do the real work.

I love this so much. For one, it’s a wonderful message about being decent to the people you work with. There are a LOT of Dotties in my life, and I need to learn more of their names.

But another thing: Learning these names (and a little about these people) is also good for your career! When I was first working as a stringer covering D.C. sports a decade ago, I noticed something about the best beat reporters: They were usually there a long time before the game, casually chatting up everyone. It wasn’t just the players and coaches — it was the equipment managers, the trainers, the ushers, the elevator guy. They knew everyone’s name. They built relationships with everyone, because they never knew who might open a door for them one day.

We could all be a little friendlier to the Dotties around us.

———

That photo was taken by Travis Wise and is used here thanks to a Creative Commons license.

Well Done!

2135057566_cf5b1bbaed

Last summer, I asked my team to start doing a very simple thing: Every Monday, I wanted them to send an email to a co-worker who’d done a particularly good job that week. And the work didn’t have to be related to our team. If a co-worker in LA made an awesome video, they could send an email to say, “I loved your video! Nice job!” If someone in the London office wrote a great post, they could say, “Great work on that post! Congrats!”

The mission was to be friendlier as a team. But the goal was bigger than that.

When I started at BuzzFeed, we had 175 employees and two offices. Now we’re over 1,250 employees (give or take a few) in more than a dozen offices worldwide. My team works with teams in New York, LA, London, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, and Sydney on newsletters. This year, we’ll work with even more.

And it’s hard working with new teams. They don’t always know us or know our work.

The one thing we can control is our relationships with these teams. If we’ve got an established relationship with a team, that often paves the way for us to work together on a project.

Hence these weekly “Congrats!” emails. They’re often 1-3 sentences long. They exist entirely for us to drop a line out to another team or another office and say hi, and let them know that we’d seen their work and loved it. It’s with little emails like those that we’ve been able to establish relationships across a big company. And this year is the year we try to build on those relationships — and build great work from them.

It takes more than a quick email to establish a relationship. But it’s a start. In the long run, it helps put us top-of-mind when other teams are deciding what teams to work with — which is huge — and it might open doors for us. The emails don’t take much time — literally, a minute or two every week. And the best part: Even if they don’t lead to work, they still make our workplace a little bit friendlier.

Which makes me wonder: Why doesn’t everyone send an email like that on a regular basis?

———

That super-generic thumbs up photo comes via Flickr and user hobvias sudoneighm.