Guest

25

"It’s really important to take some time, whether it’s every six months, or every year, to just zoom out – and as a manager, look at the person’s career and where it’s going. I find as a manager, it’s one of the most important things to do for your reports, so I take it super seriously."

In this episode

In episode 25, Lenny Rachitsky shares a groundbreaking framework to improve your planning processes, inform your team structure, and prepare for performance reviews.

Lenny is an expert in product management and has a wealth of knowledge about company growth, people, and management in the technology world. Previously a product lead at Airbnb, he is currently known for writing a weekly newsletter read by thousands of product leaders. 

In today’s episode, we talk to Lenny about the importance of unblocking your team by providing them with knowledge and support… so they can do the best work possible. 

We also explore decision-making and why, as leaders, we need to reframe change as an opportunity.

Finally, Lenny walks us through his “W framework”, a step-by-step strategy that can help your team better understand logistics and responsibility.  


Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


03:07

Lenny’s first time managing a team

05:05

The difference between managing engineers and managing project managers

06:18

Inspiring and unblocking your team

09:19

What makes planning so hard?

10:28

Lenny’s W framework, explained

13:57

OKRs at a company and team level

14:28

Why your strategy must inform your team structure

18:11

How often should teams be reorganized, shifted and dissolved?

21:38

Ambition over safety, the power of aggressive goals

23:16

Accountability and improbable goals

25:51

Are performance reviews dead?

30:06

How Lenny identifies his team member’s superpowers

34:51

The importance of career conversations 

35:38

Learning as an avenue for self improvement


Resources


Episode Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee  2:46 

Lenny, welcome to the show. 

Lenny Rachitsky  2:48  

Thanks for having me. 

Aydin Mirzaee  2:48  

I suspect that this is going to be a super fun conversation. We’ve conversed on Twitter before we have some mutual friends. And I know you have a lot to say about management and leadership stuff. So what I wanted to do is actually maybe rewind a little bit and figure out, you know, the first time that you actually started managing or leading a team, when did you actually start really liking it? Was it from day one? Or when did that moment actually come? 

Lenny Rachitsky  3:15  

I like those two separate questions that have been combined almost. So it’s like, yeah, so when did I start being a manager? And then when did I like it? So I started, my first management role was at a company called webometrics, which is a startup I joined in San Diego right out of college, I was essentially their first or second engineering hire, and the other engineer left. And so I kind of became the de facto engineer of the company, as a company in San Diego, actually. And I ended up leading the team, we built out the team, I ended up managing about six to eight people. And honestly, I did not like it at all. And I ended up giving it up and moving into an r&d role at the company, because I was just like, I don’t enjoy this, I just want to like it, I was an engineer at that point. I just want to code. I just want to do real, the real work, not deal with drama all day. And so I gave it up and then went to r&d. And then and after that, I started a company which innately requires leading management. And so I came back to it with the company that we got acquired by Airbnb and I became an IC pm. And then I was an IC for five years. And then I got back into management. That was my journey. 

Aydin Mirzaee  4:28  

And at which point did you start liking it? 

Lenny Rachitsky  4:30  

I’ll say I enjoyed leading PMS a lot more than engineers. And so I think I enjoyed it when I ran the company. That was awesome. It was a great time because I think you have a lot a lot more decision making abilities. It’s your thing, and so it’s a lot more fun. So I’d say the first time I started my company. 

Aydin Mirzaee  4:52  

Cool. That’s awesome. And I’m just gonna dig into that a little bit just because you mentioned it. Why is managing engineers in managing PMs different or like, what’s one key difference? 

Lenny Rachitsky  5:05  

I think, I think one, maybe thing that’ll I’ve found is that as a manager, and as like, you know, founder, you have to think about the business. And it’s always coming from like, What’s the best thing to do for the business? And how do we impact how to drive growth. And in general, PMS are a lot more aligned with that perspective, than engineers. But, you know, I’ve also worked with incredible engineers, and I’ve loved working with and managing engineers, too. But I think that’s the one thing that you see is there’s a slight difference there. 

Aydin Mirzaee  5:33  

 Yeah. And that’s probably just, you know, your background is being a founder, I mean, a founder is kind of like a pm for the whole company. So when you were at Airbnb, obviously, you know, you said, You started as an IC PM and, and continued to grow. And then eventually you were leading an 80 person team, just curious, like, so what changed in your leadership style, as you were going from, you know, like managing a small team to managing quite a large team and and with big responsibility. 

Lenny Rachitsky  6:06  

So things that I think I took away and shifted and evolved in. One is just kind of realizing that a big part of the role is not to just like, make sure everything is done perfectly, but instead to hire amazing people, and essentially, unblock them, and let them do what they’re good at as much as possible. So that means things like, kind of on a high level, thinking ahead, and making sure that they have all the resources and decisions made and budget and questions answered, so they can work and think and execute. And then more tactically, just like, Is there a decision they’re waiting on? Is there a meeting they need to have, is there like, some code that needs to be reviewed. So a lot of the work I’ve found over time is just like, unblocking hiring amazing people and unblocking them. The other thing I’d say is, I guess I touched on is just like thinking ahead a lot more. It says, I see, you have to think like a week ahead or two weeks ahead, just like what am I working on right now. And as a manager, you have to start almost like the more senior yet, the longer term, you have the thing. So if you like, you know, if you’re an IC, it’s like maybe a couple weeks, your manager of a small team, maybe it’s like a couple months. And then if you’re a leader of a larger team, or a manager of managers, you have to think, you know, six months a year ahead, because you have to get the right people in place, if they get the right budget align, you have to get other tracks of work, moving at the same time, and kind of coming out at once. 

Aydin Mirzaee  7:34  

 Yeah, makes sense. I guess, you know, as part of that, it’s, it’s not just hiring great people. And then I’m blocking them, which is, which is a very, very important part, you’re also doing the planning and figuring out like what the long term outcome and vision is, but maybe you’re not telling them exactly how to do it. 

Lenny Rachitsky  7:53  

Yeah, planning is a big part of it, because it’s in a sense, unblocking their future and making sure that they’re going to be successful with, like, is the project that they’re working on going to ship. Because Oh shit, I didn’t plan this other project is going to block it, it’s going to be delayed six months. 

Aydin Mirzaee  8:06  

So when you first started, were you good at planning? Or is that something that you learned? Or were there processes that say, Airbnb that you just took on? Or did you have to invent your own? How did that all play out?

Lenny Rachitsky  8:19  

I was very bad at it. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing. I was not a good pm when I started. And I think I got better partly by just doing it. And then I’d say more so by having amazing mentors around me that were really good at it. So I had this one manager, Vlad, who’s still at Airbnb, and he taught me a ton about, about product management and just leadership, like, for example, how to plan and how to put together really crisp and clear strategies that I’ve kind of evolved and relied on over the years. 

Aydin Mirzaee  8:53  

And what why is planning so hard? And I feel like it’s a thing that most people don’t do? Well, because, you know, you constantly hear Oh, we miss the plan. We missed the deadline, we didn’t account for this, like, how much of it do you think is planning? Well? And how much of it? Do you think it’s, you know, executing the plan, like what makes planning so hard? 

Lenny Rachitsky  9:18  

I think I think the root of it is just humans are not great at long term planning, as we can tell by just looking at the world, and how much is not the way we want it to be. And then at a company planning together, many people planning with all these micro decisions, they have to make all these trade offs that have to be made that impact people’s careers, I think it’s just innately a very challenging thing. And also, it’s done so rarely, that it’s hard to really get good at it. It’s like once a quarter, once a year. And then even if you do get good at it. There’s new people coming in, new leaders with new ideas. And so you’re always trying to always change and, and, and trying to optimize and improve and so, there’s not like a big feedback loop. 

Aydin Mirzaee  10:01  

Yeah, no, that makes sense. And so, you developed a framework. And I don’t know if you had this before, or this was at Airbnb, or this is something that you kind of coined after the fact. But you call it the W framework. And you talk about context plans, integration, and buying. Yeah. So how did you mean, is that something that you guys invented at Airbnb? 

Lenny Rachitsky  10:28  

So a friend and I, who we did Strategy and Finance and things that have been great, and I just kind of were chatting about planning, maybe I don’t know, a year ago at this point. And we kind of just found that we saw that a certain type of planning worked really well. And then we just came up with a name for it called the W framework, because it shaped like a W. And where it comes from is, I guess, just like why we thought this was important to share is, we found that the biggest issue with planning usually is is essentially just like a lack of understanding of who’s responsible for what and when. And it becomes this kind of chaotic experience where like, Oh, I didn’t realize this person had to say, or I didn’t realize that was the final decision maker. What this tries to do is try to make it very clear who’s in charge of the plan, who’s responsible for what, what’s the timeline, who makes the final call. And so the framework is essentially shaped like a W. That’s why we call it that. And where it comes from is, there’s essentially two big groups in planning. There’s the leadership group, whether it’s like the founders of a startup or the executive team. So that’s like, imagine that in your mind’s eye up top, and then there’s the team that’s actually doing the work. So those are the two rough groups in planning. And the W is formed by just kind of going back and forth between the two groups. And so the four steps you’ve covered are but just to briefly explain what there. Step one is, is the leadership group giving context to the themes of here’s what we believe needs to happen on a high level strategically for us to win. And I found that that is really important and often missed. And often it’s kind of like optimizing reverse, or people think the team should just figure it all on their own. And we found that it’s really important for there to be a top down guidance of like, here’s what we know. And here’s what we believe is important. See what you think. And then help us figure out how to achieve this. That’s the first w kind of the first leg, and then it goes back up and the team delivers a plan, here’s what we think we can do. And here’s what we need to do. And then the next step is where the leadership group integrates it. So that comes back down to the teams that integrate all the plans into one big plan. And then there’s a final just kind of the final part of the W where the teams get feedback, tweak. You know, like, if they’re told, hey, you’re not getting these resources, they adjust their plan, adjust their impact. So that’s what it’s all about. 

Aydin Mirzaee  12:44  

I love it. I mean, and there was like hints of it in what you were talking about before, which is planning ahead. And then making sure that the teams are actually involved in the execution strategy. I love the fact that it’s iterative, because you also, you know, or just earlier mentioned that, you know, planning is hard, because there aren’t as many feedback loops, and it’s kind of like you built in this feedback loop. I mean, it’s a mini feedback loop. And you probably have to do a retrospective or something at the end of it. But I love that it bounces back and forth between the teams a few times, where it’s not like oh, you know, the leadership, they just, you know, they just come up with these things. And, you know, nobody talks to us. And the other one is, you know, obviously, like if the teams are just doing their own thing, it may actually like they may be building a road and really quick Lee building a road, but maybe they’re building a road road, and zigzags are the wrong direction. So I do really like that. The question I had was, you know, I mean, nowadays, and maybe it’s just in my filter bubble, but okrs are just everywhere. Everybody talks about okrs. How does this fit in with, with OKRs? 

Lenny Rachitsky  13:57  

I love okrs. And we tried to keep this more abstract, but okrs fit exactly right into this plan. And the way they fit in is that that’s essentially the plan you deliver. So the leadership group can deliver, here’s like, here’s our objective. And here’s how we think about your results. And then the plan at a company level, and then each team delivers their plan as an OKR. Here’s what we’re here, here’s our objective for each of our teams. Here’s how we’re going to measure success. So it’s, it’s plug and play. And there’s other ways to do this. I love OKRs,  so that’s generally how I approach it.

Aydin Mirzaee  14:28  

 Lenny, I do have a quote for you, and I’m very, very curious about it. So I’m just gonna read it to you. And then we’d love for you to elaborate you say “In parallel, consider the idea of reorganizing your teams to align with your strategy. This may sound painful now but in our experience, having your strategy inform your structure versus the other way around is the only way to be successful long term”.

Lenny Rachitsky 14:55

Yeah, that’s speaking to how a lot of times companies stick to it, a set of teams and organizational structure just because that’s what they have already. And they’re worried about moving people around or ending a team, because it’s gonna hurt people’s feelings, or it’s gonna be hard. But you have to do that kind of stuff. If you find, for example, that like, okay, we had a team that was optimizing conversion for onboarding. And then this quarter or this year, onboarding is not one of the objectives or key results, it’s not like a big deal. It’s not something we want to work on. You don’t wanna just keep that team around, as it is just because you have that team. That’s the time you decide, okay, we’re gonna pivot this team to some other objective, or we’re gonna split them up and put them on other teams, I think too often people are focusing on being nice and on hurting people’s feelings versus what do we actually need to do as a company to be successful? And let’s figure out what needs to happen. And the way actually Vlad actually taught me this lesson is you want to start with, okay, let’s take out the emotions and, and kind of Yeah, how people react first. And let’s, what’s the best thing we could do? If we were just starting again? And how would we approach that? And then you figure that out? And then you figure out how we bridge that gap to help people understand why these changes need to happen? Or make most of the changes, but you know, maybe not the most painful changes? 

So I guess you’re asking a little bit more about that, I think, who were the people who would tend to? Like, do you think it’s the leaders of the teams, that would be the most light? Like, I mean, would they have hurt feelings more than other folks, and like maybe in the context of the new teams being established, it doesn’t make sense for them to lead this newly formed team?

Lenny Rachitsky  16:35  

I think it’s everybody, I think it’s like, you know, an engineer on a team that’s excited about a project and then all of a sudden, it’s not a priority, and then they can’t work on it. I think it’s like the bonding of the team, sometimes you just have to break a team up and split them up across other teams. And so people don’t like moving, especially if you’re an IC, and you have a manager and I have to change teams to the manager, but that that’s the kind of stuff that needs to happen sometimes, but also the leaders of the team, you know, I think as the company grows, there’s more of a desire to build an empire and take ownership and have a larger domain. And sometimes teams have to be moved to a different part of the org, or dissolved. And so those leaders get upset. And so again, you just have to think about what’s the right thing to do for the good of the business, and then work backwards from that.

Aydin Mirzaee  18:05

From a practicality standpoint, like how often does this happen? 

Lenny Rachitsky  18:11  

Yeah, an interview one of my co workers has this joke that every if she hasn’t moved teams in six months, something’s coming, something’s about to change. And so, so I think it’s not a bad sign if reorg happen often, like even every six months when you’re small, because you don’t want to just stick to the way things are, you always want to be thinking, how do we go faster? How do we work smarter, so that our baby is out? Honestly, every six months for a long time? It’s been over a year, and they’ve been with me longer. So but I think at a smaller company, it’s much less of a reorg it’s more of a reprioritization of projects. And that’s that should happen, you know, maybe every quarter or every month, maybe. 

Aydin Mirzaee  18:51  

Yeah, and there’s probably some, you know, some consequences of that, that are very positive, too, I mean, probably keeps people fresh, keeps them working on new and more challenging problems. You know, maybe they did six months of work on this thing. And now they’re tired of it, maybe it’s an opportunity to choose what the next thing is. I mean, one of the things that good good leaders and managers probably do is they’re probably aware of projects that might be coming in the future. And if you really understand the team, then then maybe maybe you can have a role in making sure that they end up on something that they’re super interested in. 

Lenny Rachitsky  19:27  

Yeah, that’s such a good point. Not everyone would be sad if their team dissolved, or if their property if their project was in a party. So I think that’s absolutely true. Don’t assume everyone’s unhappy with change. And also change is a really good opportunity to level up in your career to take on new opportunities that arise or new teams that are formed. Something I always try to do is anticipate where things are going, what do I think is going to happen with with orgs and priorities, and then look for opportunities for our team and myself and our leaders to to embrace it and go ahead of that and almost plan ahead, just kind of like, Hey, we have a plan for this new thing that we kind of thought was coming. What do you guys think and then gives you this new opportunity to take more responsibility.

Aydin Mirzaee  20:11  

 I wanted to talk to you. I mean, again, just related to  planning, perhaps a controversial topic, maybe just goal setting and deciding, you know, what is aggressive? What’s not aggressive? And how you should play that? And I wanted to put a twist on this question, because I think, you know, as someone who has led a startup, maybe this is slightly different there versus at a larger company that maybe some of the goals trickle down from, from the top, what are your views on goal setting? And how do you know if what you’re doing is too aggressive, or it’s not too aggressive? 

Lenny Rachitsky  20:55  

What I’ve seen in Airbnb that was really powerful for me is, every year we had this, we had kind of our financial team figure out, here’s, here’s where we were gonna be if we do nothing, basically a forecast based on all historical data. And then, and then they gave us like, they kind of came up with, here’s our proposal for the goal for the next year. And then Brian, our CEO, always just, like, doubled it, or increased it substantially. And that’s what ended up being the goal, it turns out, we almost always hit that crazy goal for years and years and years. And I would say, that’s a big reason Airbnb got to where it is because of the ambition that the founders had. And this desire to always go bigger, and bolder. So, to me that showed the power of big ambitious goals, and not just settling for something that feels safe. But it doesn’t always work. That’s like, you know, one example. And I’m sure there’s many companies that also have ambitious goals, and don’t hit those goals. But it does show that there’s a lot of value there. The way I think about goals, just kind of broadly is I kind of think of them as a, it’s like a video game, you’re designing almost the video game, because I think of goals as there’s kind of three benefits to goal. One is just like measuring Are you on track to achieve a strategy they have to is focusing a team on one focus and one outcome instead of all these different goals that they have in their mind. And three is motivating them to achieve something they may not have achieved. And so that’s where the ambitious goal comes in is how do you push the team to do more than they would have normally. And so the metaphor like uses, like a video game, video games are designed to be just challenging enough for you’re like, Oh, this is fun. I’m doing well. And I’m overcoming all these challenges. But it’s not so hard that you’re just like, forget this, I’m going to turn us off and move on. So I think about what’s that middle ground where it’s challenging, but not impossible. The way Brian at Airbnb described it as you want it to be improbable, but not impossible. I like that improbable, but not impossible. And I think that’s where the Okay, our 70% pieces are really valuable. You know, here’s like, we think we can get to 100. But let’s, and I guess 70, we think we can get to 70. Let’s extend that just just see if we can, but we’re still good and happy if we hit 70. But you know, 100 is great too. And I’ve actually somehow magically pushed people to think bigger. 

Aydin Mirzaee  23:16  

And  from the accountability standpoint, how do you make it so that people don’t think that okay, well, 70 is good enough? And then just aim for good enough? And how do you hold people accountable if something is openly expressed as improbable? 

Lenny Rachitsky  23:32  

So one is you should get buy in from the team that like, okay, we’re gonna do this. And there’s a lot of ways you can approach them. But I think it’s really important that the team actually sees that, like, This takes us seriously, this isn’t just like, a crazy goal that no one’s gonna care about, like, this is actually your goal. And tell me what you need to feel comfortable to achieve anything like this. And what needs to be true to kind of sum getting buy in is really important. Because otherwise, it doesn’t even matter.

Aydin Mirzaee  23:59  

 If it’s a pie in the sky thing that you know, the team wasn’t even involved in choosing then. Yeah. And you I guess you even for an improbable goal, you have to have a rationale as to why it could be possible. But you know, obviously, things need to change. 

Lenny Rachitsky  24:14  

Yeah. So that’s a good point. You want to not just like, the gold can live in a vacuum, it needs to be clear to people why this matters. And usually what matters is, here’s what we need to do as a business to be successful this year, next year, next year. So the way Airbnb approached it is, there was kind of this, this was years ago at this point, but it was there’s the 2020 plan, or maybe it was the 2025 plan, here’s what we need to be in 2025. And in order to get there, here’s what we need this year, next year, next year, next year. And then it became clear, alright, I get it. So we’re all incentivized to achieve this because it matters to the business and, and like, you know, the options I have in this company are going to be worth a lot. If this goes really well and we’re gonna achieve this mission that we’ve all signed up for. So it’s really important to tie it to something that actually matters to people. And then there’s kind of a side thing that I tried to do as much as possible is connect what the person is working on to what their personal goals are. Sometimes the company does really well, but sometimes I just want to learn how to start a company in the future. And so help the person See, here’s how the work you’re doing is gonna help you learn how to start a company, or I want to be promoted. And then you show them, here’s how you’re gonna move up your career ladder if you work on these things that are really important to us. 

Aydin Mirzaee  25:26  

And that’s actually a perfect segway for another thing that I want to talk to you about. So you’re kind of here touching on this concept of like, personal goals, what you want to do areas that you want to develop in, you know, another thing that you have written about is just performance management, in general, traditionally, a boring topic for many a painful topic for a large portion of the world, I feel and something that I guess a lot of companies are formally ditching, but maybe they’re they’re continuing to do it. And they think that they’re ditching it, a lot of people have come out and said, the performance review is dead, you know, constant feedback is the way to go. But yet, they still have like an evaluation at the end of the year. I mean, what do you think like, is performance? Our performance reviews damage? Why do people say that? 

Lenny Rachitsky  26:16  

No, I definitely don’t think they’re dead. And I think that’s a big mistake. I think people say, because it takes a lot of work. I think that’s one of the pieces, it’s because it should take a lot of work. So I think it’s one like how do we reduce this workload? I think, too, there’s the theory of ongoing feedback, filling that gap. And I find that it’s really important to just take some time, whether it’s every six months, or every year, to just zoom out. And as a manager, look at the person’s career and where it’s going. And what went well over the past six months, what didn’t go well. And I don’t know how you do that without kind of this every six months every year performance review plan, because a lot of times the work isn’t like, you know, it’s like a thing that happens in a week or in a month. It’s a broad perspective on Okay, here’s the past six months, here’s all the things that succeed, you succeeded with, here’s all the projects that went well didn’t go well. Let’s collect feedback from your peers. And it becomes this holistic picture, that I don’t know how you do not as these as these kind of more official performance reasons. And I find as a manager, it’s one of the most important things to do for your reports. And so I take it super seriously. I recommend other folks to go. Yeah, so it’s interesting. 

Aydin Mirzaee  27:28  

You mentioned that it does take a lot of time. How much time would you say that people should spend per team member? 

Lenny Rachitsky  27:36  

I’d say so I think I spend like five hours at least per team member per cycle. I think you want to spend probably at least three hours. Like the way I think about it is this might be the most important meeting you have with your report every year, because it so profoundly impacts their career, which impacts their life. Because they need to understand what is going well, how do I get promoted? How do I get a raise? How do I be more successful in my job? And that’s what this experience is all about. And so if you’re not putting in meaningful time, I don’t know how your reports actually understand what they should be doing. And leveling up. 

Aydin Mirzaee  28:15  

How do you basically bridge the gap between feedback that you’re giving on an ongoing basis versus the zoom out process? And I 100% agree, like if you don’t have a point in time, where you specifically zoom out, you’re probably like just optimizing for local maxima versus like where someone could actually be. But how do you I guess, like, form that trend? Are you taking notes along the way, if you have a team of 10 people, you know, how do you keep track of all this stuff? 

Lenny Rachitsky  28:44  

Yeah, yeah. So I didn’t mean to insinuate that you don’t also give ongoing feedback? The answer is you do both. Because people also need feedback in the moment, as soon as possible, hey, this meeting didn’t go great, here’s things you could have done better. That stuff’s really important one on ones every week is really important. So it’s not either or both are really powerful. What I do is I keep, like, I just had a Google Doc of all my reports, and then I just kept bullet points of things that they didn’t great or didn’t do great. I just kind of dumped them in there through the year. And, and then when I came back to it when I was doing the performance reviews, and then I also included, like, compliments they got from other people that emailed me like, hey, this person’s doing really amazing. You should just know. So save those emails. So it’s just like you just keep track just like don’t overthink it, just like dump it somewhere for now. And then it becomes really useful when you’re trying to put together the whole story, all these little examples and, and actual data points that you can point to. 

Aydin Mirzaee  29:39  

Yeah, I like that. I think obviously, just leaving it to the last minute and trying to remember what happened. I mean, then then there’s the recency bias and all the bad things that come with that. 

Lenny Rachitsky  29:49  

Yeah, exactly. And then like their port is like, Oh, you didn’t remember all these things I do. That sucks. 

Aydin Mirzaee  29:54  

Yeah, yeah, no, totally. You don’t do this other thing which I think is clever and I find that a lot of people don’t do so you talk about identifying people’s superpowers along the way. And what’s interesting is you, you basically say, it’s great that you have a superpower. Like, what can we do collectively to get you to exhibit this more often? My question is, I know that this May I mean, when you pose it as like, what is your superpower? It almost sounds like an obvious thing. And that like, you could never get it wrong. I don’t know why. But when I think about this, I’m like, What if you get their superpower wrong? Like, how do you figure out what someone’s superpower is?

Lenny Rachitsky  30:35  

Yeah, I don’t know if anyone would ever feel like I have. I don’t agree with the superpower. And haven’t found that I think everyone’s like, Great. Thanks. And I’d love to hear that. And you may have many superpowers. So even if you don’t, you know, categorize them all, I think it’s fine. So I wouldn’t, I think it’s another example of Don’t overthink it, just think of what’s like, what’s the thing that stands out to me about this person that they’re super good at, and then just try to describe it. So few that I’ve seen her communication skills, or galvanizing a team around an objective, or vision, storytelling, or just like organization. So it’s pretty straightforward stuff. And, you know, you could almost make a list of what are all the skills of the function, and then which one would be the most amazing. And the reason I do this, and actually also learned this from Glenn, the manager I mentioned, is, it’s really, there’s a lot of research that just shows that not that people aren’t going to get amazing at all of their everything, there’s like things you’re naturally going to be much better at. And then there’s the things you’re not amazing at, you’re never gonna be amazing at them, most likely. And you’re going to be a lot more successful, just kind of continuing to put more effort into being amazing. And because that’s how you stand out. And there’s a lot more upside there. So that’s why you focus on that. 

Aydin Mirzaee  31:51  

You also say that this isn’t necessarily like the whole performance review process. It’s not an end in itself. But it’s actually a beginning. I don’t know if you would agree, is that the biggest mistake that people make in these performance reviews? 

Lenny Rachitsky  32:05  

Yeah, I think maybe the first is not doing them. Because we talked about I don’t know how else people understand what they should be focused on. And then two is, yeah, there’s like, okay, I put all this work into this performance review, I came up with all of these clear things that this report should be working on. You’ve aligned on it. And then most people cool, see in six months, and then you don’t come back to those things until six months later. And then you talk about like, hey, what we didn’t, why didn’t you work on these things, nothing really happened. And so what I found is that it’s really important to use that for an interview as a jumping off point to what I do is a monthly check in with the person where we what we first do is we come up with here’s kind of the action plan for the next six months. So we do performance reviews, every six months, here’s just like, five things you’re gonna work on. And here’s, and here’s how they’re going every month. And you basically just come together on the spreadsheet and just put it in a spreadsheet. Here’s five things we’re gonna work on for the next six months, you look at the spreadsheet together and talk about how things are going, what’s going well, not well, things are going great, maybe add new things to the list. If not, keep talking about them. So you basically transition that performance review into this, what I call an action plan of things you’re gonna actually do. And it’s not like, this is like an intense meeting every month. It’s just yeah, this is the thing we all know we want you to work on to move up in your career. Let’s just make sure you’re doing well, let’s be on the same page about that. 

Aydin Mirzaee  33:29  

Another thing that is in this process, and you kind of hinted at it, which is that you’re not doing this in a bubble either. So the action plan isn’t like, Hey, here’s your homework for the next six months go do it. There’s buy in at that level, which goes back to what we did in the W framework for planning. 

Lenny Rachitsky  33:46  

Yeah, the buy in is super important. So the way I approach it is, at the end of the performance review, I asked my report to put together their action plan. They sent everything they heard. And so what they do is they take a performance review, document and create a spreadsheet out of it, I give them a template, and then it becomes their thing, the thing that they’re trying to improve for themselves. And then you know, I give them feedback, and we tweak things sometimes. But it’s less about me and it’s more, here’s what I want to get better at because this is what and I trust that you understand what I need to get better at to move up in my career. So let’s work on these things. Yeah, and I think it doesn’t take that much time. You just don’t have to even prepare for those meetings as a manager. Really, you just asked report to tell me how you’re doing. And all these things add to the meeting. Just give a status. 

Aydin Mirzaee  34:30  

Yeah, that makes sense. And I mean, that’s another thing that I think is definitely recommended, which is obviously to have career type conversations and like this is a natural way to that kind of a conversation. You can obviously talk about more but at least it’s a point in time and it’s planned and you have something very tangible to talk about every time. 

Lenny Rachitsky  34:51  

Yeah, that’s a really good point. Like career conversations are one of the most important ways that employees become satisfied with the work and fulfill them, what they’re doing is they understand there’s a future and there’s a path to where they’re going. And this is exactly how you do it. And so the meetings I have with all my reports are weekly one on ones. And then what’s the monthly coaching session? And then every six month performance review, that’s it. Yeah, I love the playbook format of that. 

Aydin Mirzaee  35:16  

I did want to kind of end, you know, and end with a just question around how you basically approached learning what you have, you know, I’m impressed with the way that you kind of distill these ideas and practices into frameworks that then you teach to others. What is your approach? When you have a problem that or, or something that you feel that you’re not good at? How do you get better at it? 

Lenny Rachitsky  35:40  

Yeah, my secret is what the writing I’m doing is I use it as an excuse to learn about stuff. And, and the way I learn is to create something structured and a framework around it that I can use for other things I’m working on. So maybe, for example, I worked on this research project route, marketplace growth. And it ended up being entered and interviewing about 24 people at 17 different companies about how their company started in marketplaces. And it’s where I came from. I just want to learn, I don’t know the answer. People keep asking me how Airbnb grew, and I’m feeling and I never felt like I had the greatest, the right answer, or enough of an answer. So I’m like, I’m just gonna talk to everyone that’s done this and figure out what I could learn from it. So I start wide, and just collect all the information. As I’m doing it, I’m always looking for kind of buckets and a framework of how it kind of fits together, because there’s rarely going to be an infinite number of answers and approaches and strategies. And so eventually, they start to kind of match up, they’re like, Okay, this company focused on supply first, and this company focused on a market first. And so as I’m collecting interviews, I start to just put a Google Doc string together into little buckets, and categories. And then as I keep talking to people and thinking and looking at it, it starts to fit together into something that feels like a story or or playbook or an approach that feels right. And a lot of this is connected just like a strategy as a product manager that you put together. You want something that feels very crisp and tight and you know, three things of anything and two by twos and, and things like that. So always look for opportunities to simplify and make it feel like something people can use. 

Aydin Mirzaee 37:19

Yeah, I love it. Lenny, you have this newsletter, maybe you could just tell us a bit about it and how people can find you online to learn more. 

Lenny Rachitsky 37:26

Yeah, it is Lennysnewsletter.com, a very creative name that I’m  stuck with now.

And so it’s the way I I approach it is it’s an advice column for product people, growth people, people, managers, and just anyone that’s stressing out at the office, and it’s, every week, I send out an answer to someone’s question. people email me questions about things they’re dealing with at work, and then answer it every week. I’ve been doing it for about a year now. And so there’s a paid version, the free version, if you’re on the free version, you get an issue once a month. If you’re on the paid version, you get one once a week, and then your questions are burglarized. And we’ll see where this whole adventure goes with the newsletter. And then also tweet a lot as well. Any song on Twitter.  

Aydin Mirzaee  38:10  

Very cool, too. We’ll include links obviously to the newsletter, the work that you’ve written on performance management and planning. Lennie, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Lenny Rachitsky  38:23  

Thanks for having me. This is a lot of fun.

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