Tag Archives: people matter

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.

Encouragers Make The Best Bosses.

photo-1450226840871-893c2e0bf620

I just finished Jason Gay’s excellent book of advice, “Little Victories”, and in the chapter about work, he touches on something I’ve been thinking about a lot:

“The best bosses share a common characteristic: they are encouragers. It’s easy to be an ass-kicker, to find holes in someone’s professional ability, but good bosses see a flicker of something and just let it barge out the front door.”

Two parts of that quote really spoke to me. The first was the “flicker of something.” In my career, I’ve had a few dozen of those ideas. I’ve had some big, crazy ideas, and I’ve written my fair share of memos trying to prove that my ideas could become a piece of great work. Many of my ideas were outlandish and were justifiably ignored. A handful were too good to ignore. But then there’s this strange middle ground of ideas: ideas that with the right team and a bit of work could become something great, but that could also be dismissed outright.

Which is where the type of boss comes in — because they’ll be the ones that decide which types of work get done. Like Gay wrote, some bosses are “encouragers.” To that, I’ll add the (obvious) second category: “discouragers.”

Encouragers tend to react with support to your ideas. When you’ve got a great idea, they’ll get the resources, talent, and money to make those ideas into great work. But when they hear a half-baked idea, they’ll give you the space and time to turn it into a really good idea. They’ll ask questions to try to draw out the idea. They’ll suggest that you talk with co-workers who might be able to help the idea along, or they’ll pass along a good article or book that might get the idea moving. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Encouragers try to turn a decent idea into a great idea, and a great idea into great work. When you try something and fail, encouragers back you up, share the blame, and don’t let it affect future work.

Discouragers tend to react with skepticism to your ideas. They’ll generally get behind your great ideas, but when it comes to anything less, they’ll try to pick holes in your idea. They’re critics. They’ll ask questions that are intended to find the faults in your pitch. Whatever your idea, you’ll have to prove it and maybe even debate it. You will not get the benefit of the doubt. Every idea has to stand on its own. Discouragers hear a half-baked idea and work to keep it from becoming a fully-baked flop. When you try something and fail, you will take the blame.

I think every boss needs be a bit of an encourager and a discourager — the perfect mix is probably 80/20, with a heavy lean towards encouragement. There certainly are times when it’s important to set boundaries and to say “no.” And when an encourager says “no,” that comes with some credibility, because “no” isn’t their default setting.

In general, I prefer to work with encouragers. When you’ve got a “C+” idea, it’s nice to know that you have a boss and a team that’ll work to turn it into an “A” idea. Working with a discourager is harder. It can feel like you have to reestablish trust with your boss every single day. Sometimes, you shy away pitching anything but your absolute best because you’re afraid of the debate that might come.

With encouragers vs. discouragers, it’s not just about positivity vs. negativity. It’s about support vs. discouragement. It’s about knowing that you have a team behind you, and that you don’t need to prove and reprove yourself.

Jason Gay’s not wrong: The best bosses are encouragers.

———

That photo of horses traveling together comes via Unsplash and photographer Susan Yin. There’s a metaphor there somewhere about teams traveling together, maybe? (OK, that’s a stretch. But you get the idea.)

We Should All Stop Eating Those Sad Desk Lunches.

16130260600_dacbdd5909

BuzzFeed’s grown a ton since I started in December 2012 — not just in prestige or influence or monthly UVs, but also in raw size. We had about 175 staffers in New York when I started. Now, we’re so big that we take up two different offices — one across the street from the other.

And we’ve seen a few unexpected side effects of that growth. Here’s one: We don’t have nearly as much space in our canteen to eat lunch in anymore.

When I started, I regularly ate lunch with co-workers from across the company. We talked about what we were working on, and interesting ideas and projects often sprung from those lunches. But as we grew, and as space became as issue, I started eating more and more lunches at my desk. Eventually, it became my daily routine.

And because I started doing the Sad Desk Lunch, everyone on my team started doing it, too.

But a few weeks ago, I noticed one team at BuzzFeed that was still actively eating together — our team focused on content distribution. They’re run by Summer, who happens to be one of our best (and friendliest) managers. I noticed them eating lunch, enjoying conversation with one another, and I realized: My team needed to follow suit.

So on the newsletter team, we’ve made a new rule: On Mondays and Wednesdays, we grab lunch, head to the canteen, and eat together for 20 minutes. It’s a time to bond as a team, and it’s an opportunity to talk about work in an informal setting. Sometimes, you need to get buy-in from team members through a formal meeting or an emailed request. But other times, over a sandwich, you can talk about an idea and actually set some work in motion, and that’s also great! Some of our best ideas — our Dude A Day newsletter, for instance — have come out of those informal lunches.

Collaboration, communication, and a sense of camaraderie. They’re all wonderful things that have come out of a simple act: Eating lunch together.

———

That photo at top comes via Flickr’s Link Humans.

My Favorite Question To Ask Candidates In A Job Interview.

tools

If you’re interviewing for a job on my team, be ready to answer this question: What tools or apps do you use to work?

When I’m hiring, I’m looking for people who are going to be able to work well with my team. If a candidate has the right work habits already, I’m confident that we can teach them the skills and give them the confidence to do great work. So that’s where my question about tools comes in — because the tools you use to work secretly reveal a lot about your work personality.

I’ve learned that:

◦ People who use a to-do app (and there are a million good ones) are typically detail oriented.

◦ People who save lots of links with an app like Evernote, Pinterest, or Delicious usually have lots of big ideas.

◦ People who swear by a calendar app like Google Cal or Sunrise are often very punctual.

◦ People who love an inbox app (Boomerang, Sanebox, Rapportive, Mailbox, etc) are almost always super organized.

This question isn’t everything — I always follow up with more questions about why that person loves an app so much, and what they use it for. But it’s a great way to dig into the mind of a candidate and catch a glimpse of how they work, and that usually gives me a good idea of whether or not they’d be a good fit for my team.

———

That photo at top comes via Unsplash and photographer Todd Quackenbush.

For Whatever Lies Ahead.

photo-1428278933650-bf34c57c1713

Stand in my shoes for a second. You’re standing on a hill above the Pacific, maybe an hour north of San Francisco. You kayaked here from a bay, across unexpectedly choppy water. Your arms are sore. You set up camp on the beach, and then you start hiking up this hill. You’re not sure how far away the Pacific is, but it’s there, you think, somewhere beyond the ridge. The hill rises straight up out of the bay. You go, up and up. At the top of the ridge is a fence, and you climb that. Beyond is what looks like miles and miles of nothing. Clouds, perhaps?

No, your friends tell you. The Pacific.

You walk closer, across the hill. It’s more clear from here. You look south. You’re so high up, the waves don’t seem to move. They’re frozen, rising but never breaking along the beach. The fog is moving in. You can see the path down the coastline, the hills breaking into cliffs, the cliffs diving into the Pacific. There is a narrow stretch of beach that rolls all the way south. The coast does not end; it fades into the fog. You can see a large, black mass in the distance. You cannot tell what it is, or see it clearly through the fog. But you know whatever it is, it’s there.

Imagine following that path, down the cliffs, down the beach, down to whatever lies beyond that fog. From this vantage point, you could look back, sure, and see the journey already traveled, and you can look forward just a little bit — just a few miles down the coast. Beyond that, the fog, and whatever happens next. There is a path, absolutely, but you don’t know where it leads, or how far it leads you.

Imagine yourself on that path: the Pacific on one side, the cliffs on another, the fog, and the road unknown ahead.

Ask yourself: If you were brave enough to go on that path, who would you bring with you?

I know what I would want: Someone to laugh with on the thousands of steps ahead; someone for support when the steps slowed; someone with the joy and the curiosity to push us onward. I’d bring Sally; I cannot imagine the path without her. She’s the best I know.

But who would you bring? Who would you want with you for the next thousand steps, and beyond? Who would you want for when the path gets strange, when the journey demands everything you can give?

Stand in my shoes for a second, and imagine the first of those steps, and the people you’ll need to get to whatever lies beyond the fog — and whatever lies beyond that. Imagine it. This is the path, and for whatever comes next, you’ll need the best people you have to travel it.

OK?

Onward.

———

That photo of the Pacific coastline — and whatever lies ahead — comes via Unsplash and photographer Sebastien Gabriel.