“I am almost never close to the problem just by virtue of my position. So it's my job to make sure that the people close to the problem are empowered to make the decision. They know how to get advice, they know how to get support, and they're making decisions."
In this episode
In episode 38, Katie Wilde tells us what hiring and onboarding look like for an all-remote team.
Katie Wilde is the Vice President of Engineering at Buffer.
As an Engineering Leader, Katie is guided by two missions: crafting productive teams and delivering a world-class software product.
In today’s episode, we talk to Katie about her early days at Buffer and her experience working in a holacracy environment (a system where there are no assigned roles).
We also explore the concepts of defined management and deliberate feedback – and the impact both things can have on our teams. Lastly, we talk about what hiring and onboarding look like in a remote company and the unique approach that Buffer takes with potential candidates!
Tune in to hear all about Katie Wilde’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.
A self-taught coder from Stanford
Looking for solutions leads to success
No managers here
What holacracy did to top performers
Leadership is about influence
To praise, or not to praise
Dolphins and positive reinforcement
Four steps to remote success
Hiring asynchronously through Slack
Decision-making and decision-makers
Optimized for learning and improving
No canceled meetings, it’s time to learn
The importance of a peer support network
- Follow Katie on Twitter
- Read Katie’s book, Atomic Migration Strategy for Web Teams
- Michael Lopp’s Supermanagers episode
- Katie’s Blog posts
- Sign up for Lara Hogan’s newsletter
- The Decision Maker by Dennis Bakke
Aydin Mirzaee 2:36
Katie, welcome to the show.
Katie Wilde 2:37
Thank you, Aydin It’s great to be here.
Aydin Mirzaee 2:39
Yeah, very nice to have you on. Where are you located? Today?
Katie Wilde 2:42
I am in Vancouver. I’m also in Canada, Vancouver, BC.
Aydin Mirzaee 2:45
That’s awesome. It’s very, very good to be able to chat with another person in Canada. And were you born and raised in Canada.
Katie Wilde 2:53
I am actually from Cape Town, South Africa. I moved here about five years ago now via London and the SF Bay Area as a lot of us in tech. Yeah. And I’m just incredibly happy here in Canada. So nice to see you here as well. And for anyone listening Canada has a tech scene. It’s great.
Aydin Mirzaee 3:11
It’s not as cold as most people would think. Right? Because where you are it’s not cold.
Katie Wilde 3:16
It’s like eight degrees and sunny. Come on. And that’s January.
Aydin Mirzaee 3:19
Yeah, that’s pretty good. I won’t I won’t tell the audience how cold it is here. We’ll let them look that up. Yeah. The point is that Vancouver has great weather. So yeah. So Katie, I think there’s a lot for us to talk about. But what I wanted to do was just kind of kick things off and ask you about something that I found really interesting in in your background. You know, obviously, you’ve had extensive leadership experience at buffer and we’re going to get through that. But you also have a master’s in managerial economics from LSE, the London School of Economics. And you wrote this book, Atomic Migration Strategy for Web Teams, which sounds awesome. But what most people might not know about you is you actually taught yourself to code. Tell us about that. How did that happen? How did you do this kind of you turn in your career?
Katie Wilde 4:13
The problem with education is people don’t tell you the kind of job it prepares you for. So yeah, I did a philosophy and economics undergraduate, I then went and did a master’s in economics from the London School of Economics. And then I was like, okay, like, what should I do with my life? And I was really trained up to be a management consultant at a drill that factory in Manchester something. I was like, No, I’m not a very corporate person. And at that point, what do you do right? It’s like you’re in the situation and it’s not easy as a young person to get you know, the first job and specifically if you’re not sure if you suited for major corporations. So I, I had kind of dabbled with web things previously, you know, made little sites, I found that interesting. And then of course, my personal decision was, well do I want to be in Cape Town or London working for a big company like a KPMG or Deloitte and McKinsey, those were sort of the things like, could reasonably do if I could get a job there. Or did I want to go with my then-fiance to the Bay Area, this hub of tech where he got into Stanford University, and I could maybe teach myself to code? And that way, I’d be able to get around gray area US immigration laws where you can technically work remotely if you’re visiting because you’re, you know, it’s not the spirit of the law, but it’s the letter of law. So I had South African clients at that point. And what I did was I taught myself to code started a small, you know, web design development agency. And essentially, I was an entrepreneur, a sort of self-employed one-person agency, and kinda, it was very stressful this period in my life because you’re telling people like, yeah, I can build you a website, and I’m thinking shit, I’ve got to figure out how to build a website, you know. But I was also surrounded by a lot of people that were very skilled in this area, I had moved to the Bay Area, you know, just walked into Stanford and took that classes, like, you just walk into the lecture theater and sat down, you know, you’re not gonna get credit for it. But like, you can do that. But if you have a university down the road, and you’re interested in what the class is all, like, just walk in, they’re not gonna,
Aydin Mirzaee 6:35
That’s a big life hack.
Katie Wilde 6:36
Right? Exactly. It’s like, unlike so like, how did I learn about recursion, I’m like, I learned that at Stanford for free. It was great. So that was my journey into learning to code. And I would say it was, it was difficult, it was stressful. But it was also very, very rewarding because it’s so on your own terms, you know, tech, you can work freelance, you can join a startup, you can start your own startup people were so creative, it was so different from the kind of, Okay, well, let me get a job working 60 hours a week in spreadsheets, wearing a suit, and not really being close to any kind of product or problem or so I enjoyed it a lot. And I then started working for a South African startup. And then when I moved to Canada, I joined Buffer, which is where I’ve been for the last five years. So the other thing I always worried about learning to code myself was who will ever hire me if you can hire someone with a degree? Turns out 52% of developers on StackOverflow actually are self-taught.
Aydin Mirzaee 7:40
So that’s crazy. I had no idea.
Katie Wilde 7:42
Most people don’t know that, like more than half of developers have nontraditional backgrounds, which is like, well, I guess that’s the traditional background, right? It’s the new nontraditional.
Aydin Mirzaee 7:52
Yeah, and you know that that’s super inspiring for all those that like, may have an interest in technology. But yeah, are worried that they don’t have the degree. That’s awesome. And so you know, you’re doing this, you start to code, you run your own agency, I have to ask you, When was the first time that you became a manager? And have you ever had a traditional boss yourself?
Katie Wilde 8:17
And nor, and a lot of managers in smaller companies? I know, don’t I’ve, I mean, I’ve had people that I’ve had to report to, of course, but I’ve never had a traditional manager who’s going to give me feedback on my work, I tend to to do well, of course, having them run my own business, having worked in this situation where you’re just dealing with a client directly, and there’s no one to solve the problem for you. If they don’t like what you’ve delivered, you have to change it. So I think coming from that kind of background, I didn’t expect to have anyone really helped me solve problems, I would just go and solve them. And so when I joined a startup that, you know, it was a team-based structure, I realized, okay, well, we have some problems. For example, we don’t really have any designs, and I just kind of saw it as my problem to get that, you know, it’s like, well, we need the thing, we’ll get the thing. So it was almost instinct to take on a manager role. And when I joined Buffer, I kind of kept doing this just solving problems as they came up, making sure the team had what we needed, whatever that was, if people were feeling demotivated about their career, you know, I would talk to them about it, you know, have you tried, you know, learning these skills, maybe that’ll be, you know, a good growth path for you. And eventually, when I been at Buffer six months, I went to the CTO, and I was like, I just need to tell you, I don’t code 100% of the time, I do a lot of this other stuff. But it’s very important, but I just want to tell you, because I know you hired me to be like a full-time Dev. I just want you to know, like, I’m so productive. But you know, just so you’re aware. And he goes to me. Yeah, that’s it. The thing that’s called engineering management. I’ve been watching you and like, you may as well just be our first engineering manager because clearly, we need this. And I was like, Oh, I kind of walked out of a meeting where I was like, ooh, should I tell him but I gotta be honest. And I kind of walked out of there being like, I guess I’m a manager now, which was, which was an interesting experience, right? Because again, it wasn’t this kind of situation where I really got trained into it and got advice. And so when working with other managers, now I try to focus on one of the things that I wish that I’d been told or didn’t have to learn the hard way. I know so many leaders that were promoted, like me, or they were just kind of naturally started doing this stuff. And then someone said to them, okay, well, you be in charge. Now go away. You know.
Aydin Mirzaee 10:47
That’s super interesting. And, you know, something that you said, and I have to emphasize it, is that you really, it sounds like you looked at everything, whether it was you know, obviously you’ve been doing this for the software development in the engineering side of things. But you really started to look at everything else, almost like a system and just saying, like, Hey, this is a problem. And why don’t I tackle this from just an engineering mindset, just like treating it as a system? Except there are people?
Katie Wilde 11:13
Yeah, totally. It’s like, well, what needs to be solved? Not just while I’m here to code, so I’m going to do exactly my specific job. And I think that’s really underlined my management, you know, philosophy sounds so grand, but the way I think about management is your value add, you know if you’re not actually making your team more successful, more productive, more engaged, why do they need you? And you should always be thinking about that yourself, you know, ideally, as a manager, you’re in that position, because the value you’re bringing to the team is self-evident, you’re actually solving problems, you’re unblocking, you do not sort of in charge, and you’re making decisions. No, you’re making them better. You’re very much in that servant mindset. And of course, when I joined buffer, we were in a state of holacracy. self-management, no one had any managers so very much as being one of the first managers the first and engineering, there’s the sense of, well, you better do something useful, or else we just gotta like, get rid of all managers again, right? So
Aydin Mirzaee 12:17
I’ve read about holacracy. I know some companies like I think Zappos and maybe medium tried that for a while. So was buffer actually doing holacracy For real? Or was it that there was just no managers when you joined?
Katie Wilde 12:29
It’s a good question. By the time I joined, we’d been doing something that is, it’s called a teal organization. And it’s very similar to holacracy. For our listeners. holacracy is this idea that everyone in the company is a decision maker is kind of part of this holistic organism, and you’re somehow all collaborating together. And there’s no hierarchical structure that is like, Okay, well, you are the boss of this person, or this team, everyone’s just kind of deciding for themselves. What am I going to work on? What am I going to do? And to the extreme and buffer of like, well, how much am I going to get paid, you know, salaries were being said, just individually, they’d be like, Well, I think I shouldn’t be earning this. And that was the salary. The problem that we had is actually we lost our top performers, it was quite difficult. But we had the situation where a couple really, really talented people actually resigned, and they were like, this is not working, I am leaving. because of the sheer amount of chaos of not having coordination. And I’m not saying holacracy can’t work, you know, maybe we just did it badly. But certainly, we had a situation where people were finding it very difficult to coordinate what was happening, there was a lack of sense on of, am I doing a good job? Am I actually adding value? Am I progressing in my career, because of everything’s just self set? It’s like, I don’t know, if you’re, if you’re an arrogant person, you’ll probably feel great. If you have imposter syndrome, you’ll probably feel horrendous. There’s no kind of outside person who’s gonna sit down and do a performance review with you and say, Okay, here’s where you stand as a developer, here’s where you can improve it.
Aydin Mirzaee 13:26
I mean, it’s really interesting that you say that, because I mean, yes, there’s this concept of holacracy. Other companies have tried this past. I think, famously, there was a time where there were no managers at Google, I think, you know, one person managed, you know, a ton of people. There are no managers. But I think like you said, over the course of time, people actually want a coach, they actually want feedback. And to they actually desire those things.
Katie Wilde 14:40
That was our experience. Yeah. the experience was, it ended up being a real problem for especially our top performers.
Aydin Mirzaee 14:47
Ultimately, I think that people you know, crave this concept of feedback from their leaders. And I think that’s a really important part of the process.
Katie Wilde 14:58
Yes, I definitely think specifically your top-performing, most talented teammates, they are going to require more from the organization. And often that role is it doesn’t have to be done by a manager, but it typically is like on so I’m not saying holacracy can’t work. But the problem we’ve seen, I also think the organizations that are attracted to holacracy, it’s helpful to unpack the assumption thereof Do you think that the only leaders or managers and only managers can lead and is very important, a leader could be anybody. Leadership is about influence, it’s about decision making, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the boss of someone. Management is like a specific operational role. It’s a nuts and bolts thing where you do want once you conduct performance reviews responsible for hiring, like there’s a whole list of things that managers do. So managers are typically leaders as well, but you get many nonleader managers. So at buffer, we’ve moved away from holacracy. But that doesn’t mean that the only people with power in the organization are people a in a managerial role. We have a lot of very influential ICU leaders, we have staff engineers, we have directors that are not having any direct reports that are extremely influential in the organization. And so I think that’s an important thing to notice that it’s a lot of people are attracted to holacracy. Because it’s like, well, it empowers the leadership in everyone. And I’m saying you should do that anyway. You know, you should encourage everybody to show leadership management is just a very specific nuts and bolts role.
Aydin Mirzaee 16:39
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So I’m curious. So when you first started out, I’m sure there were some things and some mistakes that you made, what were some of the early learnings for you are things that maybe you started out doing that you realized that maybe you should do differently?
Katie Wilde 16:54
Yeah, well, one of the biggest learnings I had was as an early career manager. So in the formal position of management, I was very afraid of praising talented engineers, more senior engineers, because I was worried that if I said, you know, Wow, great job on something. And they thought that maybe what they did was easy, that would undermine my credibility. So I decided, well, I’m going to be very serious. And I’m not gonna say, hey, you did a really good job on that. And I appreciate your work because I don’t want them to think I’m dumb. And as a result, I did not have the greatest sort of relationships with direct reports, because like, who wants to work for somebody that like, you can never do anything, right? Like, they’re just never praising you. And I was actually in a slack group, the rands leadership slack group. And there was someone called Roy report was his screen name. He is at Netflix, the director. And I asked this question to channel I was like, I don’t really praise engineers, because I don’t want to say like, good job on your, like, React components. And they’re like, wow, that was easy. Like she’s, you know, not, not impressive. And I remember his advice. So clearly, he just said, fuck that praise all the time, praise as much as possible. Like that is the number one mistake. like to be told that bluntly, like in a public channel that has like 1000 members like that is the stupidest idea. But he did a very kindly, you know, he was like, that is that is a misconception, you should be praising people as much as possible. And you actually want five to seven positive interactions for every critical interaction. So as a manager, you’re going to have to give feedback to the job. So when it comes that you need to say to somebody, hey, you need to do something differently. You want to have already given them five to seven kind of pieces of good job on this thing? Well, I appreciate your, whatever, five to seven positive interactions. So that was probably the sort of most big direct thing and I see that in other people as well. I see that in a lot of other new managers where there’s this hesitancy to praise for me, I didn’t want to look dumb for other people. They don’t want to be seen as unfair, like if I praise Alice, then I need to praise Bob as well. Everybody must get equal praise. No. It’s only does something praiseworthy, praise them praise the behavior that you want to encourage. If Alice did something praiseworthy, and Bob did not praise Alice, don’t praise Bob, just ignore it tomorrow, Bob’s probably going to do the same thing. It’s very important for not just your relationship with your direct reports, but also for the organizational culture that you’re using praise as a tool to get the behavior that you want to see more of basically, people will do whatever gets praised.
Aydin Mirzaee 19:45
Yeah, I think that that’s super interesting. Now, you also mentioned and I’ll just point this out for the listeners, rands who’s Michael lop has this leadership Slack channel. We do recommend it and actually, Rands was on our podcast as well. So if you haven’t checked out that episode, make sure to do so. But to dig into the praise aspect of this, I think another, you know, another thing that I’ve definitely heard is, well, I only want to praise things that say, like, really praiseworthy. And maybe it’s, it’s the, it’s the word praise. And maybe for some people, it’s a high bar. And like, what if I ended up, you know, complimenting or praising that something that just seems to be part of the job. And so what do you have to say about that,
Katie Wilde 20:31
it’s like, I’m talking to my past self aid. And it’s like, but that’s just if I’m like, good job writing code. They’re an engineer, like, that’s the job. I would say what Roy said to me, fuck that praise. possible, you can never possibly praise too much, you know, people are very worried about diluting praise, like it’ll become less meaningful. And that’s just not true. Praise does not become less meaningful. If you praise people often, if you want to make a distinction between say, somebody actually gets promoted, they don’t really like good job. And it’s exactly the same. You can do different things, you can write them a handwritten card, you can give them a longer, you know, note. So I’m not saying you have to, you know, write war and peace about how amazing every PR is not at all. But you don’t get praise tokens that are going to get used up, you’re not going to get praise inflation, where like, if you do too much praise, the value of praise goes down. That’s just completely false. And if you think about it, in your interpersonal relationships, I mean, do parents try to ration how often they tell their kids, they love them? Because they don’t want the kid to like, not think it’s meaningful, it’s like, I’ll only tell my kid I love them on their birthday. Like what parents do that, you know, you know, or with a partner, you know, it’s like, you’re not gonna say like, oh, like, I’ve used up my I love you caution, you know, for the week. Yeah, I would just say that’s, that’s totally false. I disagree with that. And organizations that have high rates of praise, there is research that shows they do better because humans want these positive interactions, you want many more positive interactions than negative. We also know from training dolphins, that positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement and changing culture and changing behavior. And apparently, I’m not saying that that definitely works for humans, but early research shows that it is quite similar. We’re not that different from the dolphins.
Aydin Mirzaee 22:21
Yeah. So it’s really interesting. So I have to go back to from a very tactical standpoint, so you hear this feedback? And do you go back to work and like, the next day, you solve the problem? And it was just solved? And everybody got a lot of feedback? Or was it something that you had to work on? And as you work on it,
Katie Wilde 22:40
it’s never gonna be solved? Yeah. Because you’re, you’re busy, you’re doing your job, it’s hard to slow down and remember to say, well done good job, or to say thank you. That’s the other habit that it’s difficult to train yourself into saying thank you. So I keep working on it. It’s something I intentionally revisit. We have a slack integration called Hey, tackle. And you can give a little taco emoji to somebody if they do something praiseworthy. So you could say add Aiden, he has a taco, thanks for that. And you’re allowed to give five a day. And I never managed to get through my five day for any number of days in a row. But that’s something that it’s quite helpful for me, because like, I just tried to get through all my tacos to try give them away, you know. So yeah, it’s a habit that you have to build and keep building.
Aydin Mirzaee 23:28
Yeah. And I think it’s a show I think, like the variation of it, where it’s you don’t have to come across as saying, oh, my god, that was so amazing. It could also be, hey, I appreciate this thing that you did. I noticed that thing that you did, I thought that was very thoughtful, or just anything along those lines. So do you actually tally these things? Like do you have? Or is it just like a mental tally of, you know, before I give this person some constructive feedback like I’ve been giving them a lot of constructive feedback, I’ve got to tone it down and move the other direction?
Katie Wilde 24:01
No, I don’t count my pieces of praise and feedback. I don’t know who has the time for that. But I know that it’s you always going to need to fill out that praise by and cried because you’re going to need it. So that’s sort of the underpinning. But no, I I don’t count and Aiden, I totally agree. You don’t have to give Gwyneth Paltrow his Oscar acceptance. time someone does something good. You can say, Thanks, great job. You know, that’s fine. Or like, Hey, I appreciate that. It’s fine. It can be short. It doesn’t have to be a whole thing.
Aydin Mirzaee 24:32
Yeah, that that’s awesome. I and I love this concept of you referring to it almost as a bank. Maybe if you think about it as like deposits into the bank and then maybe constructive feedback is like withdrawal then
Katie Wilde 24:46
I don’t know if my economics background is showing through it all…
Aydin Mirzaee 24:49
Yeah, but I like that. That’s a cover for the financially minded folks out there. That is an interesting way to look at it.
Katie Wilde 24:56
Yeah, you gotta show up your like positive relational credits. Yeah, so that’s something to draw down on if you need to.
Aydin Mirzaee 25:03
[AD BREAK] Hey there before moving to the next part of the interview, quick interjection to tell you about one of the internet’s best kept secrets, the manager TLDR newsletter. So every two weeks, we read the best content out there, the greatest articles, the advice, the case studies, whatever the latest and greatest is, we summarize it, and we send it to your inbox. We know you don’t have time to read everything. But because we’re doing the work, we’ll summarize it and send it to your inbox once every two weeks. And the best news is completely free. So go on over to fellow dot app slash newsletter, and sign up today. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview. [AD BREAK ENDS] So Katie, you at Buffer. I mean, you were all so early on this remote bandwagon. And now everybody is, you know, on this dance bandwagon and doing it, but you were doing it before it was cool. So I feel like there’s a lot to learn from you and the things that you do there. One of the things that I wanted to really dive into was this concept of some of the things that you’ve talked about in terms of four steps to remote success. Obviously, you’ve talked about hiring, decision making, collaborating, and managing and why don’t we start by this concept of hiring, how does hiring work at buffer? How does onboarding work at buffer?
Katie Wilde 26:35
Yeah, so, um, two separate topics, hiring and onboarding? You know, onboarding starts once the hiring is ended, of course, we have a hiring system where we do our first interview actually, completely asynchronously, we open up a Slack channel with the candidate with Yeah, so unusual take. So we open up a Slack channel with the candidate, we add them to the channel. And then it’s a conversation between a member of our people team right now that’s Keesha doing this, and the candidates, and we allow them to sort of respond during their own time. I actually got this idea from an interview Kate Huston at Automatic, she’s an engineering lead who I really look up to.
Aydin Mirzaee 27:21
We’ve had her on the podcast too!
Katie Wilde 27:24
Yeah, exactly. So of course, their hiring process is completely asynchronous. It’s all text-based. So we have a 25%, asynchronous for an IC role, we usually do four interviews. The first one is totally asynchronous. People can respond when they get the chance. And we’re trying to assess their written communication skills, tone and text, how they come across all of these things. And also give them a little bit of a sense of an asynchronous experience. Some people really don’t like it. And that’s okay.
Aydin Mirzaee 27:54
So this is fascinating to me, tell me more about this. What happens during this asynchronous process? Are you do you give them a bunch of questions? And then the answered? Or do you ask a question, let them respond, and then ask another one what goes on?
Katie Wilde 28:07
Yeah, so we’ll give them a a couple of questions. You know, you don’t want to ask, you know, a huge wall of text, and then they take forever, thinking that through right, huge amounts. So we’ll drop in a couple of questions, introduce yourself. Other people in the channel, the hiring manager would be usually in that channel, other members of the hiring team will usually you know, say, Hi, we’re here, if you have any questions for us, and we let them respond to their own pace. We give guidelines about like response time, it’s like, hey, if we could get these back, you know, within the next, you know, 24 hours or 48 hours or by Monday, if it’s a weekend, whatever. And then we’ll ask follow on questions based on that. So we might say like, Oh, I noticed here where you said, you have experienced working in an agency. Me too, I used to run my own agency, what did you find about dealing with clients tell me about a high conflict situation. So we might then and then the person would have a chance to respond? We’re usually we’re doing this for the first interview. And we’re running a lot of these in parallel because the obvious question is, I mean, doesn’t that take long, you know, you could get on a half an hour call and go through it. So we’re doing a whole lot of these in parallel over the course of, you know, a week or two weeks. And then we have our synchronous interviews, which shows your typical video call at buffer, we have a mix between synchronous and asynchronous working like we do have team meetings, stand-ups calls, and then we also do a lot just over text. So we want to have both represented in our hiring process. The other kind of slightly different thing we do for interviews is we always have more than one interviewer. So partly, that’s for the candidate to get to know more of the team they might join. And for us to be able to train interviewers and to have more people with insight into the candidate. But we found it’s really helpful because it kind of cool creates this more conversational dynamic. And it’s a little bit less question asked the question-answer as it is with two people. So we might say, you know, tell me a bit about your background. And then the other interviewer might say, Oh, that’s really interesting. You know, I have a question. And it sort of changes the dynamic. And I was really unsure about this when we first tried it. But I’m a big fan of that. That second interviewer as well,
Aydin Mirzaee 30:26
Yeah, this is really interesting to me. Because, you know, generally speaking, a lot of people believe in and I do as well, which is, you know, as much as possible, if trying to make the interview, similar to the working environment that you’re going to be into kind of test, you know, the actual work the way that the work is going to happen. And that that’s generally a better predictor than, say, a brain teaser puzzle, or just giving them something like that. So it’s really interesting. Yeah, I mean, it’s very interesting that you actually take this concept of remote working, it’s so integral to what you’re doing. And you’re actually building that into the hiring process in that way. We’re trying to Yeah, and so should the intentionality behind it is obviously to be able to do a lot of these in parallel, I assume a lot of people have buffer work in different time zones. So this probably helps that, and then it’s just understanding how they write and they communicate.
Katie Wilde 31:20
Exactly, exactly. And a lot of our communication is going to be asynchronously written. So it’s something that from a skills perspective, that that is a skill and we need to assess it somehow.
Aydin Mirzaee 31:31
Yeah. So what about decision-making? How does it work? When people are in different time zones? You’re not all there at the same time? How do you argue about things? How do you make decisions?
Katie Wilde 31:42
Yeah, that’s something that we talk about quite a lot, quite a lot. It’s very important when you’re making decisions that you have clearly defined decision-making roles. So people know who’s responsible for making a decision, we use a framework called racy R stands for responsible to make a decision, A stands for accountable. C stands for consulted on the decision, and it stands for informed. So for larger decisions will typically try to clarify the structure. And that helps it from being this kind of endless forum where people can just keep adding their opinions and you’re waiting for I don’t know what like consensus or someone who’s in a position of literal authority to decide like, none of these are great ways to make decisions. And this is this format, this racy format, it’s based on a model called the I’ve seen a called the decision-maker, there’s a book by Dennis Baca, the decision-maker, I’ve also seen a called the directly responsible individual, where you make it very clear, like who is actually responsible, and that person, it’s their job to to seek advice to get input. But ultimately, they need to reach a decision, and it’s their decision to reach. So that’s really important because otherwise, you do end up with a situation where someone’s like, Hey, what do you think about this different schema, and sort of slowly over the course of weeks, various opinions just keep getting added on, it’s just not at all clear. What’s going to happen. So we use that format. And we also timebox things we say, you know, Hi, I’m making a decision, here’s the context at so and so or, I’d like your thoughts, and I need them by tomorrow, end of the day, you know, and if they don’t give their thoughts you move on. So you need to be clear on these things if you’re working asynchronously because otherwise it will carry on. And then we do just have meetings if it needs to be done. You know, it’s like we’re not against meetings. So if there’s a really difficult situation where we need to really debate through options. Doing that on paper is extremely painful. You want to rather do it on a video call. So we will just schedule a call, get everybody in a room and make a decision in the meeting.
Aydin Mirzaee 33:51
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I love this concept of time boxing. One thing I wanted to ask you is when is it so what kind of things are you using this Rassie framework for and when is it overkill? Is it just assume that because obviously, you run engineering that you’re always the person making the decisions are never the person making the decisions? That
Katie Wilde 34:14
Yeah, if I make a decision I consider that a serious organizational failure. It’s like I would make a decision as a last resort I’ll make the decision. But that is a massive problem. My job is not to decide things. My job is to ensure that things are getting decided correctly appropriately at a good velocity all the rest I build systems I don’t be the thing inside the system that’s actually controlling what happens. So no, I I find it very alarming. If someone’s like, Katie, you have to decide I’m like, sure this is what we’re going to do. Why did we have such a breakdown that a decision got escalated? There are very few decisions that I would say a VP needs to make even at a small company like buffer we’re only at 30 people in engineering. It is unusual for me to need to make a decision, and I think I, appropriately might make decisions a couple of times a month, that’s probably a good amount of decisions. You want people to be making decisions that are close to the problem, they understand what’s going on, they’re directly affected, I am almost never close to the problem just by virtue of my position. So it’s my job to make sure that the people close to the problem, are empowered to make the decision. They know how to get advice, they know how to get support, and they’re making decisions, I am much more likely to say, Why haven’t you decided what to do then? Okay, here’s what you should do. When is overkill? Yes, it often is overkill. And people will default to try to use a framework or try to ask their boss like it’s a very human thing to do. So the heuristic I use is for decision if you can reverse the decision, err on the side of just making it. Because as an organization, we want to optimize for learning and improving. And if you can reverse what you decided easily, you’re going to overall win through having a higher quantity of decisions. And this sounds really counterintuitive, but the quality of the decisions doesn’t matter if they are irreversible. So it actually doesn’t matter whether you make the right choice or not. What matters is did you decide anything? Because you’ll you’ll know within an hour if you are wrong, and then you can just do the other thing, as opposed to spending three days having some kind of major discussion. how big should a decision be to have a racy? Well, that is going to depend on your team. I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all. But if you’re racing decisions that are easily reversible, I would say that’s overkill, or if they are limited in their impact, like how long could it go? And what’s the worst possible outcome? And if that outcome is not that bad, you’re wasting time racing. Like I think people worry a lot about making the right decisions. And analysis paralysis is just an extremely expensive mistake.
Aydin Mirzaee 37:06
Yeah. So I think like if you think about it, so for any sort of team, they’re obviously making decisions. Often it’s not that. So in a general week, there might be several decisions that even say, during a staff meeting or something are discussed, and you just pick something and you move on. These are probably more things that, hey, we have this problem. We need to researcher do, like look at some considerations, do some investigations, anything that I guess involves more than just a Yeah, here’s the answer to that.
Katie Wilde 37:37
Yeah, exactly. And the other one might be if you don’t have clarity on how the decision affects the strategy. So you might, you might have a launch date. And you’ve been told we need to launch this product, here is the target. It’s very important. And we’re going to launch this product, even over a good customer experience, even over having bugs in production, even over, and you’ve got these even overstatements that clarify decision making a lot because it’s like, well, do I do the foster thing that is going to be the worst customer Express? Yes, obviously, the strategy is very clear. So as a leader, rather than me making that decision, I would want to clarify the even overstatement. So like it’s more important for you to launch this quickly than to get the perfect customer experience. I make the principle clear. And then the team optimizes for the correct thing. As opposed to me saying, No, do it faster. And people are like, okay, because you said so. Why, you know, so that helps quite a lot. You know, often that’s it’s not a question of what’s right or wrong. It’s a question of which trade-off is going to serve the organization’s goals?
Aydin Mirzaee 38:48
Yeah. And that makes sense. Obviously, you have visibility to all sorts of things that the team may not so that you’re building the context, you’re sharing that with them and informing them, and then they can make the call. My question is, on getting that information across. So if teams are making decisions very quickly, and you know, everybody is remote, how do you make sure that people are informed of all the things that are happening or the right people are informed? That that I find has been a challenge, especially now that you know, everybody’s operating remotely? How do you deal with that? Yeah,
Katie Wilde 39:26
Well, we try to have a good habit of documenting our decision so that it’s clear within a team what’s happening. We do this by when decisions are being made, we use a tool called threads. It’s sort of like an email meets the scores, noticeboard type of app. So you could just go to the mobile teams space and see there, they’re making decisions as a record off the decisions. A lot of teams use GitHub for this right there. They’re actually having discussions on GitHub, whether that’s on a PR or They using, you know, GitHub projects or something else to do that. You can see there’s like, you know, requesting changes. So a lot of people will actually use GitHub to make decisions and they will like request changes to the decision and then approve the decision. And and actually shipping decisions that might be a repo that’s just got the decisions. We don’t do that. But that’s actually something that I learned from Dana Lawson, who’s GitHub as VP engineering. But basically, you do want to document those decisions, they should live somewhere where other people can find them. And slack is not a great place to make those decisions. Because that that’s often people are moving quickly. And slack is where things are naturally happening, or whatever your group chat is. But that’s a that’s a very difficult situation, because it’s ephemeral. And a lot of companies are moving towards like Shopify has thought of doing this, they automatically delete slack messages older than 90 days, like it doesn’t exist. As a way to encourage the organization to not have slack as the knowledge repository. If you need a decision to be communicated, go and do that that’s an important part of the job, and buffer. Typically, the person who makes the decision is also responsible for sharing. So they will need to inform the correct people, and informing people of the decision is part of the job of making that decision.
Aydin Mirzaee 41:26
And do you also have like a team newsletter or you know, another format, maybe it’s through a town hall or something where important things like that are also communicated as a safeguard, just in case you don’t go to the tool? Yes,
Katie Wilde 41:38
I mean, you always repeating yourself. So we have a weekly kind of summary thread of, you know, here, here are all the major happenings and updates. You know, we use notion as well, we try to document things there, you know, we’ll have managers mentioned things and standoffs or team meetings, however, the team has structured it. So yes, you do need to repeat yourself, it’s not going to be this auto-solving situation. And that kind of just is one of the trade-offs of remote work. It’s a little bit harder to keep everyone on the same page, you do need to work a bit harder.
Aydin Mirzaee 42:11
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, Katie, we are coming close to time. And I did want to ask you two more quick questions. One of the things that we love asking about his we’re a little bit obsessed with meetings in general. And I wanted to ask from a lot of your meetings are obviously asynchronous meetings, you do some synchronous ones? What is your favorite meeting? Out of all the ones that you attend? What is the most effective one?
Katie Wilde 42:40
You mean, the most effective meeting format?
Aydin Mirzaee 42:42
The most effective meeting that you have, whether it’s like a project meeting, a staff meeting, like which one is is your favorite that you look forward to?
Katie Wilde 42:51
Oh, my favorite meeting is probably, this is difficult, because everyone who gives me that time, I appreciate you. And if my team is listening to this, like, if I didn’t pick your one to one, I love you. So my favorite meeting has got to be the staff meeting, I have weekly with all of my engineering managers, just because it’s a very high trust space, where we really get into like, what isn’t working for anybody? And how can we sort of like collectively problem solve and, you know, support each other? And how can I support the team. So that’s something that it’s it’s different every week, but it’s always an extremely engaged meeting. And I think something that makes like meeting effective is, we do something called real life manager, where engineering managers will bring a kind of case study, I’m struggling to give Bob a made up name, you know, Bob feedback on this project, because it’s mostly really great. But it’s super poorly executed, you know, great code, but just like it’s being done in a way that nobody knows what’s going on, there’s no visibility. And they’ll actually bring that problem to the group and as a group, or kind of workshop that and it helps the entire group get more experiences faster, because you don’t have to all individually encounter the same situation.
Aydin Mirzaee 44:13
Yeah, that’s awesome. And so is there a standing agenda for this meeting? Or is it really anybody can contribute and depending on what issues people want to bring to surface, it changes week to week,
Katie Wilde 44:24
It is an anyone can contribute. However, I am responsible for making sure that we have that meeting every week and that it is very valuable to all the managers every week. So it’s not one of those. Cool, there’s nothing on the agenda should we cancel like just talk housekeeping. So if there’s nothing on the agenda, no one has any problems. I will need to do a little bit of research and be ready with Do you know about the biceps framework of humans core needs and how that affects managing people at work? Okay, you don’t know that. We needed to learn that you know, Or here is something from a talk that I watched that I thought was really interesting. It’s architecture principles, all these clear to your team, how can we make it better? So it’s a anyone as anything my team’s agenda takes priority. However, if they don’t have an agenda, it’s on me to provide training and make that a useful hour for them.
Aydin Mirzaee 45:19
Yeah, that’s awesome. And a very good way to do it. Indeed, Katie has so many so many really cool takeaways, we spent a lot of time talking about decision making praise and feedback. I think after this, nobody out there has an excuse to not give more positive feedback. So I have to end by and this is something that we ask all of our guests for all the managers and leaders out there everybody looking to get better at their craft of managing and leading teams? What parting advice, resources or just words of wisdom would you have to leave them with
Katie Wilde 45:54
I really enjoy Lara Hogan’s newsletter. Her most recent one is tough love for managers. It’s very firm. And it’s great. We all need to hear that. So for resources, that’s great. The most important advice I would give is to build yourself a peer support network of people outside of your company, it is definitely going to save your Saturday. And especially in these pandemic times, there’s so much strain on managers trying to keep it together for themselves for their teams, and can be hard to vent to people actually at work. So join a community like rounds leadership, Slack, Twitter, or whatever. And set up calls and talk to peers of yours that are not at the same company and build yourself that that support network and
Aydin Mirzaee 46:38
And a great way to end it. Thank you so much, Katie.
Katie Wilde 46:41
Thank you, Aydin This is great!