The other thing managers should remember

When I first became a manager, one thing that was extremely difficult for me to get used to was delegation. When an employee gets promoted to manager, and even after they realize they now have a different and distinct role, it can be hard to let go of the day-to-day work.

Why? In many cases, the person who gets promoted to a leadership or a manager position is someone who is an awesome individual contributor. To be an awesome IC, you need to be very good at getting stuff done.

But as a leader or a manager, you need to focus on asking other people to get stuff done.

You need to make sure your team is working on the right stuff to achieve desired outcomes. As a manager, you can’t do the work of other ICs – it no longer in your job description.

This is counter-intuitive and crazy hard because it is the polar opposite of what awesome ICs know so well.

Speaking from experience, when a leader does the work of an IC it can be very demotivating and become counterproductive. On the other hand, when a manager delegates the work and trusts individuals to get the job done it can be very motivating.

As a leader, you should remember that it is far better for you to focus on figuring out what your ICs should do (and why), and let the ICs figure out how to get the job done (and then, do it).

The one thing new managers forget

I first started managing people when I was 26. Four years later, I was managing a team of 30 developers. On paper, I was fantastically successful; in reality I should have fired myself.

At the time, I thought that in order to lead a team of awesome developers, I had to be an even more awesome developer. I worked frantically to write more code than anyone else not realizing that I accepted a new job the moment I was promoted – and writing code wasn’t it.

It’s something that almost all new managers forget. Being a manager isn’t a glorified version of your old job: it’s a brand new and completely different role. It requires a different skill set and attitude. As a manager, your responsibility is to ensure your team works on the right things at the right pace to deliver the right outcomes.

In my 30s, without any management or leadership training under my belt, I didn’t have a clue how to direct such a sizeable team. As a newbie manager I made mistakes and added further complexity to an already chaotic organization. It was only years later when I truly realized how my lack of leadership contributed to the chaos. I still cringe thinking about it.

I’m not proud of those mistakes, but I learned a lot from them. My biggest takeaway was that being a manager isn’t about rolling up your sleeves and working alongside your team (although there are times when this matters); it’s about understanding where your organization wants to go and deploying your team and resources to get you there.

If you’re a new manager who’s still doing the same work as before, step back and delegate. And, congratulations on your new job.

Out with the old (product features)

The new year means a fresh start. With that in mind, I urge product managers, designers, engineers and developers – anyone who helps develop a product, really – to think critically about the features they are designing. Have you thought about what features you’ll say goodbye to in January? Because killing features now means better business velocity for the rest of 2019.

As a product and its codebase grows, it is not uncommon to see an increase in technical debt. This debt may be because usage of a feature has scaled beyond its original design (you can’t expect a Toyota Corolla to reach 300 km/h no matter how many turbochargers you add) or because a feature, and subsequently it’s code, is used in more ways than originally intended (like a lawn mower turned into a snow blower – it works, but it shouldn’t). Often, technical debt accumulates because old or infrequently-used features aren’t retired.

There is a cost of removing these old features, of course, but removing features is significantly cheaper in the long-run than maintaining relic code. When you support outdated or unused features you’re also allowing security, performance and backwards compatibility issues to arise.

I remember reading an article about Evernote that claimed 90% of their features (and they have thousands of them) are used by less than 1% of their users. Eventually, the company’s velocity grounded to a halt because every simple feature update required numerous discussions across the company before the change could be implemented.

So make no mistake, it is desirable and even essential to purge old product features. Here’s how in three steps:  

  1. First identify a feature that you think should be retired. Then measure the usage of that feature. The data won’t lie. If usage is low, proceed to step two.
  2. The numbers may not tell you the whole story. Talk to some of the old-timers who have more context than you and understand why the feature existed in the first place. In many cases, you’ll be surprised by the reasons.
  3. Decide to purge, modernize or maintain the status quo. Make a decision and then execute your action plan.

Years ago, I was part of a team that dedicated six months to find bugs and purge unused features. On the surface, it seemed we were spending an inordinate amount of time and effort ‘looking in the rear-view mirror’ and not working on things that took the product forward. In reality though, those six months pushed the product much, much further ahead. By the end of it the product ran faster, the UI was cleaner because many unused features were gone, and annoying glitches were finally addressed. The app went from 1-star to 5-star in a few months without adding anything new.

It’s a good reminder: Less is more. Simple is good.

Storytelling for change

Before we rung in the new year, Wattpad released its Year in Review, highlighting the trends and community movements that defined the year on the global entertainment platform. In a year when people around the world were pushing for progressive social change, Wattpad’s community of 70 million users broke new ground in literary representation and created a safe space online for marginalized voices and their stories.

From #MuslimRomance to Mental Health Awareness, Wattpad stories celebrate inclusivity across characters and genres. Check out the full Year in Review below:

Screen Shot 2019-01-02 at 11.09.51 AMScreen Shot 2019-01-02 at 11.10.10 AMScreen Shot 2019-01-02 at 11.10.19 AMScreen Shot 2019-01-02 at 11.10.42 AMScreen Shot 2019-01-02 at 11.10.52 AM

 

When tech giants move next door

A slew of international tech companies – Google, Uber, Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon – have committed to or expressed interest in setting up shop in Toronto. If you’re a homegrown startup or scaleup you can’t help but think about the implications of having these giants in your backyard.

Companies often expand their footprint to lower costs, access specialized talent or for a host of other reasons. It’s not new. They aren’t the first international companies who want to set up shop in Toronto, and won’t be the last.

And why not? Toronto is a world-class city with some of the best universities in the world producing some of the finest technical and business talents. We’re home to an incredibly diverse community who have the perspective and understanding to solve global issues and build products and services that work for the world.  

Colleagues and friends have recently been asking me for my take on these moves. Are they helpful or harmful to the city and the local tech ecosystem?

In my opinion, we should welcome these moves – but be wary of them.

When a few foreign companies decide to move to a burgeoning city, they can help build a critical mass that directly supports homegrown companies by spurring interest in the region. They attract high caliber talent and then provide opportunities for these employees to hone their skills and learn new ones so they can further develop into well-rounded and in-demand workers.

But too many foreign companies in a single locale can make it seem like they’ve colonized the area, leaving little room for local businesses. It gets too difficult to compete, too expensive to stay in your backyard. Think about this: If data is the new oil, do you really want all the ‘oil companies’ to be foreign-owned?

So it’s not a choice of either-or. Having zero international companies who operate locally won’t stimulate the ecosystem. With too many foreign companies, locals lose the ability to control their our own destiny,  and eventually, ideas and innovation become stifled.

For now, I welcome these new companies into our backyard but make no mistake, it can never replace building our own homegrown giants. I’m certain that the incredible Toronto tech ecosystem will continue to make waves regardless of who moves next door.

5 tips for better meetings people will actually want to attend

Over the years I’ve attended thousands of meetings. The best ones respected my time and input. They kept me engaged – and often excited – throughout the meeting.  And the worst ones … well, I’m pretty sure we’ve all attended at least a few terrible meetings and know what that’s like.

Having seen the good and the bad, I wanted to share some simple tips that anyone, at any level, can implement for more effective meetings.

Go beyond the agenda
Yes, circulating a clear agenda prior to the meeting is important, but also consider explicitly spelling out the objective and the outcome of the meeting. It gives participants the right context to prepare for and be fully engaged during the meeting (or decline the meeting if they can’t help meet the objectives/outcomes).

Nominate a facilitator
This person makes sure the agenda is followed and desired outcomes are met. They empower all participants to contribute and get the group back on track if the conversation goes awry. Facilitating meetings is a special skill and not everyone is good at it but if you find the right person, you are practically guaranteed a great meeting. Keep in mind that the meeting organizer doesn’t have to be the facilitator.

Limit participants
Keep meetings participants to 4-7 people maximum. In my experience this really is the sweet spot. Beyond 8 participants, the introverts in the group tend to shy away from voicing their opinions (a good facilitator, though, can help draw out their perspectives and ensure introverts have a voice).

Forget the update
Don’t use a meeting to provide or ask for updates. Save it for email, or better still a collaborative Google Doc. Share these updates in advance of the meeting as pre-reading material so you can focus the discussion on healthy debates and decision making.

Save 10
Use the last 10 minutes of the meeting to recap the discussion. This is crucial. You’ve just spent the last hour having a productive discussion, it would be a shame for it to fall apart in the follow-up. Make note of the essence of the discussion, key decisions made and actions to take. Be sure to share these notes with all attendees and other stakeholders who couldn’t join.

Slight tweaks to the way organize your meetings can have a profound impact. Know of any other hacks to make meetings more effective?  Let me know in the comments.

This simple hack makes email introductions more effective

At some point in your career, someone you know will a) ask for an introduction to someone else in your network, or b) offer to make an introduction to someone they feel you should know.

Email introductions can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can be incredibly useful in connecting directly with an elusive executive. On the other hand, they can suck up a lot of time (and lead to bruised egos) if not done with tact.

The very worst email introductions automatically assume that the connection being made is appropriate and beneficial for involved parties. But the truth is unless you’ve explicitly asked in advance, this is just an assumption.

Here’s an example of an email I recently received:

Hey Allen,

I would like to introduce you to Cindy Lou (cc’ed). Cindy Lou is an expert in X, which you will find useful. I’m sure you would enjoy the meeting. I’ll let you two find the best time to meet next week!

Cheers,
Horton

The problem is, while Cindy Lou might be an expert in X, I don’t really care about X, it’s just not my thing. Naturally, I don’t want to spend even more time feigning interest in X. And I definitely don’t want to waste Cindy Lou’s time either. The other problem: Despite what Horton thinks, I’m mostly out of the office next month so can’t find a time to meet without a lot of calendar shuffling.

I used to accept blind introductions (and subsequent meetings) like these in the past out of politeness. It was an ineffective use of my time – and theirs. Even when I dared to say no, I had to spend time crafting a firm, yet polite email to decline the opportunity. Drafting the email didn’t take up nearly as much time as a meeting would, but it still took time out of my day that could be better spent on strategy or operational challenges. Eventually, it became too much.

Nowadays, when it comes to email introductions, I try to model the behavior I want to see. When people ask me to connect them with someone in my network, I make sure I have a double opt-in. This means I’ve asked for (and received) the permission of both parties before I send a note. Here’s what it looks like:

Pavel would like me to connect him with Uhura.

I’ll ask Pavel to send me a new, well-written email with the request (Pavel should NOT include our previous conversation i.e. the original request). It could look something like this.

Hey Allen,

As discussed, it will be great if you can introduce me to Uhura. Here is a summary of my ask: <insert awesome summary here>

Thanks in advance for your help.

Live long and prosper,
Pavel

Then, I would add a sentence or two before forwarding the note to Uhura (without including Pavel). My addition would provide further context and could be something along the lines of: “I don’t know Uhura well and I haven’t tried her products, but the elevator pitch sounds relevant to you” or “Uhura is brilliant and working on a super interesting project you might be interested in.” This context setting is important, but should only take 30 seconds of your time.

If Uhura agrees to the introduction, then I add Pavel to the thread. If she says no, I’ll let Pavel know that as well.

Double opt-in email introductions work well for a number of reasons.

  1. The onus is on the person requesting the introduction to write an awesome email detailing why the connection is valuable. It’s not the facilitator’s responsibility to make the case
  2. It avoids putting people in an awkward position of accepting a connection or meeting when there is zero interest in the product/service/pitch
  3. It encourages frank dialogue. If a person wants to decline an introduction, chances are he/she is more likely to provide a candid reason in a private one-on-one email with a trusted connection. It allows the facilitator to filter the information appropriately while still providing a truthful explanation to the requester
  4. It allows for brevity, without sounding cold. Since the facilitator has established relationships with both parties, a to-the-point email doesn’t come off as arrogant or rude

I make lots of introductions, and I am more than happy to do so. It’s great for community building. I hope the double opt-in method helps make introductions faster and a better experience for everyone!