I think, especially in high growth, too many companies still underestimate the impact of culture. Cultures always are often looked at the sort of softy thing that you don't really have to care about if you're a real leader. But culture is usually the biggest factor in the question whether teams are effective or not.
In this episode
Maintaining a high-performance culture during a period of hypergrowth is hard.
Performance management is neglected, hiring standards decrease…
In episode #129, Lena Reinhard shares her tactical approach to building the habit of strategic thinking and maintaining a high standard.
Lena has over 13 years of experience supporting engineering leaders and building high-performing, globally distributed engineering organizations in hypergrowth. She was the former VP of Engineering at CircleCI and Travis CI.
Lena shares her playbook for growth, what being a strategic leader means, and the STABB framework.
Tune in to hear all about Lena’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.
“You didn’t know what made you good”
Managing through hypergrowth
Maintaining a company standard
Strategy for leaders
Lena’s book recommendations
- Learn more about Lena’s consultant services
- Follow Lena on Twitter
- Read 7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change
- Read Multipliers
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 00:24
Lena, welcome to the show.
Lena Reinhard 04:39
Thank you so much for having me.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 04:41
Yeah, it’s really nice to connect with you. I know we have a lot to talk about today. You’ve been an engineering leader at a number of different companies your VP of Engineering at Circle CI Travis CI, and you’ve been a startup founder you’ve been a CEO you have a cross functional background In finance, and media and arts, and today, you offer coaching, you do a lot of coaching for leaders in engineering. And before we dive in, there’s a lot for us to talk about today. One of the things we like to do on the show is start by asking you about early mistakes. So do you remember when you first started to manage and lead a team? What were some of those very early mistakes that you made?
Lena Reinhard 05:23
Oh, boy, do I remember, indeed, I always joke that the reason I enjoy doing the coaching and consulting work I do now is because I get to at least help people not make the same mistakes I did. And a lot of those were definitely in these early days. Um, so it was actually during a pandemic, but the Ebola outbreak, not the COVID pandemic. And I got into this role very accidentally, I co founded this startup, and we were bootstrapped. And we’re doing consulting work to pay our rent. And the first job that I had there was scaling or building and scaling a team from three to Around 60 people over the course of four months. So immediately started with hyper growth. Yes, and one of the steepest growth curves I think I’ve ever done. And I also I got horribly burned out during that. I’m just gonna say that right now. And one of the reasons was because I didn’t know what I was doing. I already had a lot of experience in different jobs and had quite a long standing career. But it was just a very new role, and also a very stressful time, because our teams were not just working locally, I built the team largely in Berlin. But we also had partner teams in Nigeria, as well as a lot of our teammates deployed on site in the countries that were affected by the Ebola outbreak, like Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. And that also meant there was just psychologically a lot of stress on the team, because we were building software that was actively used to support the contact tracing teams, but also the call centers, and I just had too much running through me, I didn’t have any real tools, like I had not done a lot of management really beforehand. And so it meant I relied a lot on myself on my personality on, for example, my inclination to structure to support the teams. But because of that, it also meant that it just took a toll on me. And that was definitely one big mistakes. Like I think if I’d had more frameworks, more better ways that I could connect to for actually how to lead and didn’t just have to do this out of basically pure instinct and some experience, it would have been a lot better. I think the other big part was feedback that I only got a year after I left that teams I stayed on for almost a year, and then had to leave because there was just Yeah, exhausted burnt out. And I met a year later, I met a former colleague who I’d worked together with on this team, and we were at a bar and relatively late at nights, he approached me and said, Hey, listen, you didn’t know what made you good. And that’s the biggest mistake that you made. And at first, I was really irritated because it kind of sounded like a compliment. But also I knew it wasn’t. And I spoke with them about it. And it turned out that I had hired my own replacement in this role. And I had hired the wrong person, because I didn’t know what I was actually bringing to the team, and how to make that roll scalable, and how to set that roll up in a way that most is much more sustainable than when it was just me running. And, and so that person wasn’t very successful. And that’s to no fault of their own. But because they were put into an environment that just wasn’t right for them. And so that was a big realization I had and honestly something that I see a lot of leaders struggle with, right? We don’t know what’s actually making us good, what’s making us effective, and especially how to scale those skills. Because if you’re in a fast growing environment, you need to constantly adapt like the next level and operate with a higher context and delegate and all that and what sounds so easy, and the generic version is actually really hard. And that’s again, one of the biggest mistakes I made at the time.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 08:49
Wow, showmanship unpack there. Let’s start with the what were the words he used? It was that you didn’t know what made you good. Exactly. Okay, so what was it that upon reflection made you good?
Lena Reinhard 09:03
So I think the biggest part was probably that I created a lot of space for the team. They were working very autonomously. I mean, at some point, we had like, stand up meetings with 30 people, which is just freaking ridiculous. That’s also a mistake, but one that’s a bit easier to fix. And I gave the team a lot of autonomy, I hired a lot of really good people who were able to just basically get problems to solve and run with those. So I was able to be really hands off, which is honestly also one of the few reasons I was actually able to manage that kind of growth. And I think another part was that I kept the team together. Because we were so distributed. We were working on these high pressure projects. And there was so much at stake. But at the same time, we all had a really good report we did weekly, like learning sessions where people would do little demos of what they’d built. And so celebrate together and really operate as a team and I still sometimes I mean, for me, it’s one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with, and I still sometimes meet old teammates from that. Then who tell me the same. So there was a lot of team spirit and a lot of shared vision and direction, because it was very clear that we were working on something really important.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 10:09
This is really interesting. And so knowing these things, I guess, when you’re looking to find a replacement, you have to make sure that those are the boxes that are checked. And maybe sometimes I guess the default is to look for things that they might be better than you at and maybe overemphasize that and say, Oh, well, I’m not good at these things. I don’t know how to do this. So we should bring someone who can, but then forgetting to look at the other side.
Lena Reinhard 10:37
Yeah, I honestly think I fell into the trap of similarity bias. And I fell into similarity to bias in the wrong areas, like I hired someone who was very structured, very organized, who had a very good background in project management. And all of those are traits that I also have. But they actually didn’t matter to this team. What mattered to them was having someone who was very human who understood the stress they were under who was able to help them connect. And so that similarity bias, it’s very easy to fall into for everyone in hiring. But that’s what it boils down to is then like understanding what are the things that the teams actually need instead of the things that you think the team needs, and oftentimes, those two will be fundamentally different. I also think I should have hired someone who, I don’t actually know if that was the case with that person, but someone who was able to delegate very effectively, because they already had this ginormous team, and we’re going to have to probably create sub teams or something like that. Because we had a really wild structure that just never take that was born out of necessity, and not out of someone sitting down and thinking about how to structure a team. Say, I think in the end, it’s like really understanding what is needed for this job, what does the team actually needs working with them, which is also something that I neglected at the time, I kind of hired my replacement in isolation, and then making a very clear set of expectations that are needed for the role. And because I didn’t do that, ultimately, it just wasn’t the right person.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 12:04
Got it? I would imagine, again, going from three to six see that you had to bring in more managers into the mix. Did you hire from or promote from within? Or did you bring external managers in? How did you think about that?
Lena Reinhard 12:19
So I didn’t bring any other managers. That’s the next mistake. Because the team was growing so fast, within just a couple of months. And because we were under such a time crunch, essentially, everyone I hired were either engineers, product managers, or designers to work on the specific set of problems that were there to solve. And so I didn’t create another leadership layer below me, which could have made this much more manageable for myself, but also for everyone around me. Should there is you and 30 people. Yeah. And it’s like 40 5060, at some point, yeah. Cool. I was I was I was young, I had no idea.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 12:54
Ya know, for sure. It’s your this is now something that you’ve obviously seen multiple times at multiple different companies. And you’re now the go to person, for a lot of leaders looking to figure out how to do this in a fast growing environment, and how to manage the change and how to manage hyper growth. So maybe let’s walk through a playbook of how people should think about it, when they have to go through this type of growth.
Lena Reinhard 13:22
I always start from the team up. So define what is a team? What’s the team made up of? Maybe five or six engineers, maybe you have a designer or half a design position, the product manager, an engineering manager, what’s the core because ultimately, the delivery is not going to come out of stellar engineers that you hire, but out of their ability to actually function and deliver as a team. That’s really important. And so understanding what a team is, and also how to make it run effectively, I think is crucial. So you define what a team is. The next question is, then how do you scale that up? I’m a big fan of essentially, I mean, usually, when you go into hyper growth, you already have one or two teams, at least. So there is a foundation. And I’m a big fan of basically over hiring and splitting. So you bring new people in, you will have them start and existing teams for knowledge transition, but also for onboarding to the culture, understanding how work is getting done familiarizing themselves with the system, and then being able to, at some point, break out into a new team, maybe together with one or two people who’ve been here for a longer time. And that’s a really act that sort of over hire into one team. And split is a really easy approach for basically hiring for multiple teams, and often even multiple teams at a time.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 14:37
Yeah, just to emphasize some of the things that you said. And it seems really interesting and clever to me, because I think that the approach might be Hey, we need to build this new team. Let’s go and sap that new team and they’re all new and nobody’s ever done this before. And I can see how that can be a bad recipe. But what’s also interesting is just this idea of you starting at that atomic level and saying well What is a team? What does an engineering or product team look like? And what elements should they need and defining that I think it may sound basic, but it’s really important. And as I think about it, I don’t know that I’ve come across, maybe at very large companies, you know, this is defined, but as you’re going from that, in that transition stage, it is super important.
Lena Reinhard 15:22
And I’ve defined this with many companies since like, I’ve been working. So because I do a lot of consulting work. I’ve been working with a lot of organizations on like reorg, restructuring, figuring out why they’re not getting the results they’re looking for. And I always start there. And it’s really interesting, because that’s usually also where the breakdown is that people think they have an idea of what a team is, or how it functions. But then when you get down to the nitty gritty of what are the roles? What are expectations towards these roles? How are people working together? What are the interfaces between teams? What are the interactions, sort of in a team topology, since that’s usually where you have the majority of issues, because those things are either not clear, or people have to just figure them out, or there are a lot of dependencies, for example. So I do think, ultimately, functioning teams make a functioning organization. And I think, especially in high growth, too many companies still underestimate the impact of culture. And cultures always are often looked at the sort of softy thing that like you don’t really have to care about if you’re a real leader. But I actually think culture is usually the biggest factor in the question whether teams are effective or not. And the big reason behind the sort of over hire and split approach is that you seed culture, like you help new people on your teams understand practices, processes, the way of thinking about delivery, or you pair programming a lot. How is knowledge and learning transferred between people. And that kind of culture is usually one of the biggest risks in high growth, because if that stuff falls apart, then it usually falls apart quick, and it’s really hard to fix. And so that’s why having these functioning atomic or micro level units in your organization, these teams is so crucial. And I really think you can’t emphasize that enough.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 17:05
Yeah. So over hiring, split define the atomic teams, what else should one think about?
Lena Reinhard 17:12
It think, think about a good management and leadership structure overall, because one of the biggest challenges in high growth is that people will have to grow with the company. And oftentimes, they’re not very aware of it. Because the context is going to change. If you’re a small startup, you’re 20 People company, you’re going to high growth, you’re going to move from a lot of a group of generalists who know everything have high visibility into a group of increasing specialization. At the same time, if you’re already a bigger company, the same dynamic happens just at a slightly different level, you need a good leadership structure to handle the ambiguity and the context switch that come with that kind of change. I’m a big proponent of having dual leadership teams. So having engineering managers who are responsible basically for the delivery of the team for the team accomplishing their goals, including all things, delivery, management, and ultimately achieving results. And having in parallel to them technical leadership in the form of like a staff engineer, for example, a tech lead, however you want to call it who’s responsible for technical strategy setting and for helping the team segment be mentored on the technical side. And having dual leadership teams like that helps really well with context splitting, because even the team has a lot of context already. And that context needs to be managed. And it also helps making clear what roles and responsibilities look like, which is another thing that typically falls apart in high growth. So having clear leadership structure and having people who can grow with the company, I think another part is figuring out what kind of expertise you can essentially grow internally versus what you need to basically buy externally or bring in from the outside. I often see that a company’s, for example, promote a lot of people into management roles at some point, which I think is great and genuinely big proponent of that, the only breakdown that can happen is that you suddenly have a lot of inexperienced managers who are grappling with the high growth of the company who are trying to sort of adjust their roles to the new levels that they’re working with, while also learning a new role. And then worst case, you also have inexperienced directors and first time founders at the top of the organization. And then there’s no one who actually quote unquote, really knows what they’re doing. I’m sure they all do to some degree. But at some point, you need to bring in some expertise with some people who’ve done this before, or can at least train and mentor the people you have there. Because it’s not the scalable setups like scaling expertise and knowledge is another big factor.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 19:35
This is really interesting on the dual structure because I know in some teams, for example, they might have a product leader, a design leader, an engineering leader, and have this sort of a pod setup. But this is really interesting that even on the engineering side, like really thinking about it in terms of well, who is like the most senior technical leader in that team. It’s not a bunch of, say newer folks who are going to come in and make a lot of engineering decisions and that this doesn’t necessarily have to be on the shoulders of the engineering manager. And this goes back to the how do you define the atomic unit of the team. So making sure to have that senior person in the south engineer, etc, working with the other people in in every team.
Lena Reinhard 20:19
Exactly. And one more point I’d add on things definitely to do in high growth is manage expectations, set clear expectations and give feedback. Because I often see that companies, they don’t have time when they’re, when you’re growing like you’re hiring, you’re in interviews all day, there’s a lot of stuff going on. I understand it, I’ve been through it. But then oftentimes, basically, anything under the umbrella of Performance Management is neglected. So people aren’t getting clear expectations, goals aren’t set, there’s no feedback. And that always backfires to the point where at worst case, you end up with an organization. And I’ve seen them unfortunately, quite a lot, you end up with an organization that’s bloated, where the hiring standards have gone down over time, because you happen to help the standards up within your organization with the people you already have there. And where ultimately, you end up with low performing teams, or at least with low performing, folks, because you haven’t been giving feedback because you haven’t continued investing in the people you already have. So being diligent about managing performance, including in times where it’s hard is a really important part. Because on the flip side, then you end up with basically founders or executives who are dissatisfied with what they’re getting from their organization and people at the team level who don’t understand what’s going on, because they haven’t gotten the feedback about it. And then you have this disconnect and breakdown that only increases as you grow further,
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 21:40
and it becomes even harder to solve later on. Exactly. Okay, they’re just a quick note, before we move on to the next part, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably already doing one on one meetings. But here’s the thing, we all know that one on one meetings are the most powerful, but at the same time, the most misunderstood concept in practice and management. That’s why we’ve spent over a year compiling the best information, the best expert advice into this beautifully designed 90 Plus page ebook. Now, don’t worry, it’s not single spaced font, you know, lots of tax, there’s a lot of pictures, it’s nice, easily consumable information, we spent so much time building it. And the great news is that it’s completely free. So head on over to Fellow.app slash blog to download the Definitive Guide on one on ones. It’s there for you. We hope you enjoy it. And let us know what you think. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview. So this is very topical, right, so we talked about the hypergrowth change, we’ll go back to and talk a little bit more about change. But this is very topical. Now. I feel like everybody’s talking about team productivity. What happens if you have a bloated organization? I think a lot of people are thinking about these sorts of topics. But it’s very interesting that you know, on the concept of having, say, a team where you’re not getting the most out of it. It’s interesting that you related that back to feedback and maintaining a high standard. What are some common mistakes that happen here? How does one a define a standard, but then keep all people to that standard? Because I think it’s a very interesting concept. And maybe I’m wrong about this. But it feels like it’s harder, potentially with engineering teams, because, you know, complexity of the problem varies. It depends what people are working on. And it’s not as easy as, say something like a sales team where there might be an overall number and you know, you hit the number or you don’t, it’s a little bit more binary there. So maybe let’s talk about standard setting and how you think about that.
Lena Reinhard 23:55
I mean, I think the the sales comparison is interesting, because sales targets are usually set at the individual level. And I do believe that the best way to set goals for engineering teams is at the team level, because ultimately, you need a good team to perform and to reach these goals and not a bunch of heroic individuals. That’s just where sales and engineering teams function entirely differently. And both are appropriate for the purpose. So I just wouldn’t want to use the same approaches. I do still think that expectation setting with individuals and having goals is really important. But ultimately, the measurement of like, are we achieving, for example, the product targets or the the platform investments that we were looking to do, should be at the team level? I mean, in the end, I think the standard setting, a lot of it comes down to hiring. First of all, a lot of companies neglect setting clear standards for their hiring, having good hiring practices, a standardized and structured process, very clear evaluation criteria. That’s where you bring people into the door and especially early stage companies often just don’t invest a lot of time into it because they don’t have it They don’t make the time. And that usually backfires, because then you see a gradual decline in the standards of the organization. So hiring is a big one. I think the other part, like I mentioned earlier, the management structure, like having people whose responsibility it is to, first of all be accountable for the results of the team. But then also his responsibility is to make sure that the team has the tools they need to achieve those goals. And those are two kinds of simple but also hard things. And a lot of that honestly comes down to good management practices, like as an executive team, starting with setting clear goals for your organization, having a strategy in place cascading these goals down to the teams and having teams set goals for themselves on a quarterly basis, it doesn’t care, it doesn’t matter if you use OKRs, or smart goals or whatever, just do it, and do it on a cadence. And similarly, having individual goals set with everyone on your teams, to make sure that they are able to grow in certain areas where they have development opportunities, and then giving people feedback on a regular basis. I do think I’m a big proponent of cadence is because organizations run on a cadence, there’s a fiscal year, there’s goal setting that happens in between that, and the more you adopt to that cadence, the easier it also is to basically, like follow that rhythm, like annual performance reviews, you don’t just start those when they’re actually due in July. But as a manager, you should already have given 12 months of feedback leading up to that review meeting. And so thinking from like, what’s the cadence of my company? And how do I fit my work into that, personally, honestly, I ran on or in, I still run on reminders. Like my calendar is just full with like, Okay, this thing needs to happen next month, now, it’s, it’s a reminder, or I have templates for one on ones. And in the one on one template for every week, it says, Give feedback. And so when I prepare the meeting, I’d think about the feedback, I’m giving this person, so it’s not big rocket science, but it’s about being prepared and having the cadence that you’re working on with your employees. And I do think that’s the biggest factor honestly, in being able to hold up a standard in your organization. Because if your managers give your employees feedback, and you as the leader or executive, give those managers feedback, ideally, you’re all having conversations about how you’re performing how you’re doing against your goals, on a regular basis. And on a regular basis should mean at least a couple times a month. And that’s going to not just lead to better standards. But it’s also going to help with accountability, which very easily falls apart when you’re growing really fast. And it also means that you have a high degree of visibility, because everyone knows what they’re doing. They’re talking about what they’re doing with each other. And therefore you have a very clear framework for how performance works. Sure, you know, they having a career matrix or something like that can be really helpful. But again, like the career matrix, or growth framework is a tool. And this tool only works. And it’s only useful if it’s actually utilized on a regular basis if people are having these conversations or giving feedback or talking about expectations. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter to be honest.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 28:01
Yeah. And it’s interesting. One of the things when I think about productivity now that it’s so top of mind, and people are talking about it a lot, there are these new tools that are popping up. And they focus on things like number of pull request, or a number of comments and just looking at activity at that level on a very individual level. And what I found from what you said that was very refreshing to me, is that that’s not how you have to look at it. I mean, maybe you agree or disagree, but it’s about the team goals. And it’s not even about like at the individual level, how can this team work together to get to those actual outcomes?
Lena Reinhard 28:41
Yeah, exactly. I do think there’s still a big hero culture ingrained in our industry and in how we look at developers and how they’re doing their work like hero culture, meaning this whole idea that of the heroic engineer who sort of walks off by themselves and delivers this sort of magical code. It’s also ingrained in a lot of stories that are told about successful tech people. And I just honestly, I don’t buy it. Because the best engineers I’ve worked with are incredible team players. And they’ve not just built like great stuff by themselves, but they’ve helped teams Excel. And that’s the kind of stuff that I think we need, because the other the heroic setup is just also not scalable. And it’s usually a really crappy way of working to be honest. So I do think ultimately, what matters is the team. What matters is having healthy, functioning sustainably set up teams that support each other that grow together. I mean, that’s also the environment that you need to grow more junior people and to help your senior people have like space for mentoring and coaching and others, and for passing on the things they notice. I think also, even just from a human perspective, it’s the much better environment. And I do think that’s what we should also look at when we look at productivity. And I do think the whole discourse about what makes engineering teams productive is really tricky because they There’s a lot of opinions, and there isn’t actually a lot of quantitative data. There is the whole Google research on high performing teams, which I do think is sensible, like the traits that are described there, or the approaches around some psychological safety and having a clear understanding of impact. And all then the other research shows a lot of those factors as well. But otherwise, in terms of like the practices, the tooling, etc. Ultimately, the best teams and the most productive teams are the ones that can figure out a lot of these things by themselves. So sure, like we talked about high growth, like at some point, you probably need to standardize your JIRA, because otherwise, your metrics are going to be a mess. But within that, maybe the teams can figure out by themselves, if they’re running a retro every two weeks, what kind of Sprint setup they’re doing, etc. There’s a lot of flexibility where the teams can ultimately figure out what works best for them. And I also think giving the teams as much autonomy as you can, like every organization has their constraints, that’s absolutely realistic. But giving them as much autonomy as possible to work, the best way for them is what makes teams productive. And then the question of how you measure that is a tricky one. Don’t use lines of code. I do think pull requests per engineer are an interesting metric, not at the engineer level, but just at the organizational level. Because for example, like I’ve used this metric in the past to see how our hiring efforts were impacting us. Because of course, we’d expect like, if engineers are running a lot of interviews, that number is going to go down, and being able to see that can be really helpful. But any metric needs another metric that holds it in balance. So you can’t just look at, for example, poor requests per engineer on average, but you should also look at our quality, is our quality going up or down? How are we doing in terms of effectively time cycle time? How are our investments looking, I’m a big fan of the Agile distribution flow chart where you look at features and tected maintenance escalations, just very simple stuff. But those can not just tell you are my team’s doing output? Because that’s one metric, but also, are we actually doing the right things. Because ultimately, if a team is productive, but they’re just doing whatever, then sure, you may have a productive team, but they’re not helping you achieve your goals. So just looking at swift developer productivity through the lens of output, I think is incredibly dangerous. Because worst case, it sets you up for basically, the completely wrong incentives and for having teams do things that are ultimately not what you want, which is have them contribute to the success of your business.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 32:33
Yeah, I think that puts it really, really well. And I love the idea that having a measure but also a counter measure at all times, and no one, you know, any one measure can be gamed and is not really useful on its own. So I did want to spend some time chatting with you on another topic that I know that you’re passionate about, which is strategy for leaders. And so I mean, as you mentioned, there’s a lot of books on strategy. But a lot of it is very high level. And you know, one of the questions that we often get is How can I be more strategic? And I think like at the root of that is, well, what does that even mean? So maybe let’s start there.
Lena Reinhard 33:12
Oh, boy, yeah, the number of people I hear from who get performance feedback that’s like, be more strategic, and where they’re like, Well, what the heck does that even mean is very high. And honestly, I was one of them. So I also got feedback that I needed to be more strategic, and I’d read all the books, but still, I had no idea what to do on a Monday morning at 9am. Honestly, I do love the Wikipedia definition of strategy, because it’s very simple. And it’s very straightforward. And it’s essentially having goals and priorities, some actions to achieve those available resources, like your people, your budget, your capacity skills, capabilities to execute those actions. That’s really it. So goals, actions, resources, and execution. That’s
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 33:59
Lena Reinhard 34:00
I mean, just to connect to the example that we had earlier with, like, what is the team? Like, I’ve worked with a couple of clients now where we actually define the strategy. And the strategy was just what is the team? A team consists of like six engineers, a product manager and engineering manager, half a designer, and a platform team differs in these in those ways. That’s exceptionally boring. I mean, you said it even earlier. But that is a strategy. And in the case of many teams that I’ve worked with organizations I’ve worked with, that exceptionally boring strategy actually had a lot of ramifications because it changed the way they had to hire the expectations they had towards people and all that. So like, strategy doesn’t have to be sort of shining and big or like have all these big words in order to be impactful. And that’s honestly one of the things that I want to tell people because I used to be intimidated by it strategy, because it seemed like it was always like old white men like writing about strategy. And ideally, they all had a military background. And it just in some way, it felt like strategy wasn’t for me, and that’s why I’m so passionate. And about this now, because it’s actually not that complicated and like strategy is for everyone, like everyone, even a junior engineer can ask strategic questions, or can do work to like, understand their team strategy and what it means for their work. And so I do think gatekeeping, that topic almost, or keeping it in this ambiguous space is not doing anyone favors, like, we need more people on this who actually lead strategically no matter if they have a manager title or don’t.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 35:27
So one of the things that you said earlier was that you have a lot of reminders for yourself, and you kind of function through the calendar, because there’s a bunch of cadences that occur, would you put strategy in that cadence mix? And if so, very tactically, what do people do?
Lena Reinhard 35:44
So that’s actually exactly what I did, because I realized, so I always say that the way you spend your time is the kind of leader you are. And a lot of people and a lot of us are just bogged down in tactical work and have no way of getting out of that. But that also means we’re tactical leaders, no matter if we want it or not. And so where I started, when I had gotten the sort of all you need to be more strategic feedback was I started with my calendar. So I looked at what are things that I can do every day, every week, and then on a quarterly basis, because that’s the cadence that we set goals on as a team to actually lead more strategically. And I gave a talk about this just a couple of weeks ago. And I turned all of this into a strategic framework that actually acts on a cadence as well. And during this talk, I have people get out their phones, first of all, check you know, who wants to be more strategic leader, and then have them get out their phones and say, Okay, you’re gonna put this in your calendar now. And a lot of people actually did it, which made me very happy. And so I’m just gonna start with the daily because I honestly think the daily stuff is where we build habits. And habit building takes a really long time, I think, three months, at least four to set, and then another almost eight months until you actually stick with a habit.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 36:51
Show everyone pull out your phones, exactly pull out. Hopefully you’re listening to this. So you have your phone, like if you’re driving, pull to the side of the road, open your calendar, what are they do.
Lena Reinhard 37:03
So the framework is called STABB with two b’s. And it stands for space, think act boundaries and broadcast. And basically, you do something around each of those components or parts of the acronym every day. And every day, we start with just again, creating space, because leaders usually don’t have space don’t make space for strategy. So every day, you’re going to put into 15 minute block every workday only we don’t work on weekends, 15 minute block in the morning, before you start your your workday, that was really important. And you put in the 15 minute hold for strategy time. And in this time, you’re going to reflect on a couple questions. For example, what’s the most important thing for us as an organization? What are we not doing to accomplish? And how can I help my team connect with strategy? And how am I investing in capabilities that we need to meet our goals? That’s it, you just write those things down in a document in notebook, whatever it is. And you’re going to gain two things from actually doing this daily. The first part is, you’ll have a write up of strategic thoughts that you can refer back to him, which is going to be really helpful later on, as you sort of scale this. And the second result is also that you’re going to build a habit of thinking about strategically important questions, because the questions that I just outlined, they go exactly to the strategy definition that we talked about earlier, like, what’s important, what do we need? What do we have in terms of resources in the sense of capabilities? And then also, how can I take my team along because obviously, as leaders, that’s really important, and that’s it for every day, an added thing you can do is just ask strategic questions. So for example, what assumptions are you making? How will this move us towards our strategy, whatever we’re discussing, what’s the long term impact? So just questions that pull you out of the present out of the everything is really important at all times mode towards what are we actually trying to do? What’s important, and what’s the strategy. And then you talk about those things with your boss, you keep them up to date on the things that you’re discussing that you’re deciding with your team. And also, if you need to prioritize your work every day, basically ask the same question I mentioned earlier, like, what are we not doing? Because strategy always includes either an implicit or an explicit commitment to what you’re not going to do? And a lot of organizations forget about that in their pursuit to sort of try to do everything at once. But yeah, that’s it for the daily steps. I call it the bagel of strategy because it’s kind of vague. But it’s, I say that you need to like stop the bagel of strategy every day. That’s how you remember it. But that’s it. You start with these very basic things every day, and become more strategic later.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 39:38
Well, I love that it’s very tactical, it’s not a huge investment. And so every day you’re reflecting on these things. You don’t necessarily have to write something down but just reflecting on those questions. You know, sometimes things will come to you and other times they won’t and I guess part of this is that say, you know, day one, you’re gonna have some good ideas because you haven’t done this before, but say, you know, day 13. You also don’t feel guilty if on a given day, you didn’t come up with some super clever insight that’s going to change everything.
Lena Reinhard 40:09
Yeah, exactly. And the other component is I have a weekly thing that I actually also started doing a while back, which is basically making space for an external review. So the next thing you can put in your calendar is 30 minutes. Every Friday, for example, Friday used to be my headstone, work day, whatever that day is for you 30 minutes to review, basically, the big picture. So what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the industry, what’s going on in our company, what our customers seeing, and what’s going on in my team. So basically, from the very big outside preview to the more inside closer to your team. And to your point, like if you run out of ideas, having that weekly check in with like, what’s going on around me is going to be really helpful with that, because it forces you to not just look at sort of things that you’re coming with coming up with on your own, but also get these external inputs, which are really, really important for strategy.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 41:02
And I guess you could really follow this and say, there might be questions that I asked myself once a quarter and maybe some annually, I guess, like the annual ones, or maybe the things that most people think about a New Year’s Day or a New Year’s Eve. But yeah, this is really
Lena Reinhard 41:17
an OKR setting or setting time. Yeah.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 41:21
And this is the problem, right? You can’t just leave things to once a year. And so I love this cadence, you can boil it down the step framework. And that’s how you do it. Selena, this is really awesome. I did want to ask you, so you obviously do a bunch of coaching. It sounds like you have a bunch of seminars, how do people get in touch with you consume more of your content, and just basically stay in touch?
Lena Reinhard 41:45
Yeah, I love that. So I have a website, it’s Lena reinhardt.com. And on the article section, you can find a ton of resources, I have a lot of templates you can download for this step framework that I just mentioned. And you can also find it under Bitly slash strategy dash time. There’s a whole strategy cheat sheet that honestly I also use, I have this printed out on my desk. And whenever I need to ask a strategic question, I just check there for a second. I’ve heard from a lot of people who do that now it’s very effective. So that’s a great way. And if you want to get in touch about coaching or working together in sort of a consulting capacity, or advisory or so I have a contact form. And I love hearing from people about the things they’re dealing with, because it’s like stuff’s complex, and it’s hard. And it’s always harder than in the books. And I love helping people bridge that gap.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 42:32
Yeah, yeah. Love it, it wouldn’t. Obviously, we’ll include the links in the show notes so people can check those out. So Linda, this has been really awesome. We’ve talked about hyper growth. We’ve talked about change through that we’ve defined strategy, and we boiled it down so people can do it. We’ve talked about team productivity. So many, so many different topics, so much good stuff in this interview. The final question we like to ask everybody who comes on the show is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft. Are there any final tips, tricks, or parting words of wisdom that you would leave them with?
Lena Reinhard 43:05
There are two books that I always recommend. My personal favorite is Esther derby is seven rules for positive productive change. If you’re looking to handle change, or drive change with your team, this is an exceptionally good resources, a resource with great and practical tips. The other book that I really love is Liz Wiseman’s multipliers, which is about how to basically grow leaders around you. And I believe in leadership at all levels. And this book is a great resource for fostering that and for growing other people around you and also delegating more effectively than you’ve probably been doing. And the last thing I will say is like one of the biggest things I always hear in the workshops I run, but also with the coaching that I do is just that leadership is very lonely. I’ve definitely felt that and a lot of people are feeling it too. If you’re struggling with that. Or if you’re facing challenges in your work that you don’t know how to deal with personal reach out, like find community connect with other people like their community slacks, there are also sick coaches and mentors and other people around, find people that you can connect with because you don’t have to deal with this stuff alone. And you are not alone. Because everyone is dealing with very similar things like the similarities between all of our challenges are sometimes almost eerie. But you’re not alone. And other people have dealt with this stuff before. And you can learn from those people. And just it’s easy to forget that on a Monday morning at 9am. But remember that because there is community out there.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 44:35
That’s great advice and great place to end it Lena, thanks so much for doing this.
Lena Reinhard 44:39
Thanks for having me. It’s been a wild ride and I loved it. Thank you.