"If I can improve the quality of the decisions by 10%, given the amount that I make, that is amazing. And yet, we don't really think much about our decision-making processes."
In this episode
In episode 16, Shane Murphy-Reuter explores the important qualities and behaviours that make a successful leader and as a result, a successful team.
Shane is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Intercom and has just celebrated fifteen years in marketing.
Listen as we talk to Shane about moving to remote work during the COVID-19 crisis, how to balance work and play with your team, and the importance of consistency when leading and managing.
We also explore how Shane has adjusted processes and behaviours to ensure he is making quality decisions for himself, his team and of course, marketing for Intercom.
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Enjoying play and having fun as a team, and getting back to work.
The importance of consistency and vulnerability as a leader.
You’re not working from home, you’re at home during a crisis, trying to work.
Balancing your team’s capacity to work with your business goals and deliverables.
A new frequency of communication for remote work in COVID-19 times.
Ensuring your team knows they are still part of a team in a physical distanced work environment.
How do you deliver information with confidence in an uncertain time?
How Intercom’s eNPS score increased during COVID-19 times.
Identifying clear competencies you are looking for right away, when hiring.
The power of take-home-work in your interviewing and hiring process to assess ability over on the spot answers.
Processing our decisions is better than thinking on the spot.
Testing, revisiting and learning from the decisions we make.
Experimentation beyond marketing.
Leaning on mentors and coaches, as a leader.
- Harvard Business Review for advice on being the best leader you can be
- Follow Shane Murphy-Reuter on Twitter
Aydin Mirzaee 2:15
Shane, welcome to the show.
Shane Murphy-Reuter 2:16
Thanks very much for having me. Very excited to be here.
Aydin Mirzaee 2:20
Yeah, it’s super awesome to have you. Where are you located today?
Shane Murphy-Reuter 2:24
Right now, I am sitting in a somewhat dreary upper rock Ridge in Oakland. So yeah, moved out here, out of the crazy city about a year and a half ago.
Aydin Mirzaee 2:35
To kick off the conversation. I just wanted to, you know, one of the things that we saw when we were checking out and doing our background research on you and kind of your journey, one of the things was, we saw this great tweet and I’ll read part of it and then maybe you can explain to everyone what this was about you said, ‘Note to self’, this is on Twitter, ‘When doing a photoshoot with your team for new corporate headshots, don’t do silly outtakes and don’t ask them to use Photoshop to make you look better’. Do you want to explain what that was, what happened and what these photos are?
Shane Murphy-Reuter 3:11
Yeah, I needed some new corporate headshots for some things thatI’m doing and I try to have a pretty playful relationship with my team and be pretty vulnerable and stuff. And so, we’re in the photoshoot we’re joking around and I did a toe, heel click photo. And then I was kind of joking with them about making me look better on Photoshop. And so the team started to cut me out and started putting the heel click photo in various, ridiculous situations. I’ll be jumping over hurdles at the Olympics or me skydiving, or at a rodeo. I think at the end of one day, about 20 different people created some sort of thing so, I became a meme within my own team which was good fun.
Aydin Mirzaree 4:00
Yeah, that’s awesome. I think I mean, that touches on a bunch of other things. And you talked about the vulnerability concept. I feel like being able to do that to your boss, and you’re making a meme out of him and be able to do that and know that, you know, they’re not gonna get scolded for it, that that’s a pretty cool relationship.
Shane Murphy-Reuter 4:27
I think it’s really important to poke fun at yourself as well. Like, if you poke fun of yourself, then you sort of open up the door for other people to do it. I will say that probably earlier in my career, I struggled between, with the balance of being clear with people when I was being sort of informal and let’s have some fun. And then you know, shifting back to more kind of formal, okay, now it’s standard business. And it’s a real subtlety and really important, like, I like to think that now, my team, it’s really here’s my team, and it’s like, let’s joke around, do that sort of thing, but then they know when it’s like, okay now we’re in meetings to talk about business and being able to actually have a more sort of, you know, shift the tone or whatever. You know, one of the things that I’ve thought a lot about in leadership is obviously that vulnerability but also consistency. And making sure that as you flex between those different types of behaviors and the ways that you interact, that you do it in a very consistent way so that people know when it’s appropriate to joke. If we were in a meeting where we were talking, like, about a performance review or something, and they started joking around about, you know, things that might not be the right, the right tone, and working with your team to make sure that they understand when it is a joke time and when it is kind let’s get down to business time.
Aydine Mirzaee 5:44
Yeah. And is it really as simple as okay team, it’s business time.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 5:50
It’s, it’s, honestly, I’ve thought a lot about this. And some of these things are just like, you have an incredible tennis player and they and you’re asked to hit that forehand, sometimes it’s difficult to, like, explain the exact technique. Not that I’m saying that I’m a brilliant manager. But I think over time you start to, there are certain cues that it’s clear that it’s time to get down to work and, and it’s, I think it’s just so deep in your of your own tone of maybe the first couple of minutes of the meeting, you’re joking around, and then it’s okay. Or again, let’s, let’s do this. And then you get into it and kind of like, you know, it’s clear that there’s a flip to the the formal start of the meeting. It’s difficult to pinpoint on exactly the things that you can do. But I do think certain things like saying, Okay, now let’s now let’s get into it. And then also, even just shifting your own tone when you do that, I think your signal is that okay, now we need to work on being consistent in what I think is important, you know.
Aydine Mirzaee 6:54
Yeah, that makes sense. So, one thing that I wanted to, you know, touch on was the you know, the world has changed during the time of this recording and a very large population is now working from home for the first time. And really curious, you know, for you and your team, what changed posts going remote? So, like, what behaviors? Did you change meeting structures? Like was there a playbook to make it all happen?
Shane Murphy – Reuter 7:25
Yeah, you know, obviously we’re still relatively new in this and so this is changing every day. But I think that there are two main impacts that this has had. One is just simply the dynamic of not being together in a physical environment. And, you know, that actually, I don’t think is the biggest impact and because, you know, we’re relatively used to working across offices and, and having the ability to, you know, work with people not in the same room. Probably the bigger one for me is because people are at home. You know, I think I heard a great quote, it’s like, you’re not working from home, you’re at home during a crisis trying to work. And and, you know, we have a lot of like parents or caregivers or various reasons why people’s ability to work with have been impacted, and try to find the balance of ensuring that like to be a successful business out of this, you’ve got to keep delivering, I actually there’s almost no more important time than now to be dialed in and delivering yet also never more time or many of the people in your team team’s ability to deliver has been significantly impacted. One of the big things that we’ve been doing is trying to work with everybody in the team to identify like, realistically What is your capacity to work? And based upon that, going back to our agreed goals and projects and reprioritizing them, and where necessary, essentially telling our stakeholders, hey, we said that we’re going to be able to do this, we’re actually going to deprioritize that, push that into the second quarter, because these are the things we actually really need to work on. And I’m not, you know, I’d say that we have done an okay job without, you know, I’ve reflected on this yesterday that we have allowed that to happen a bit more organically in the team, we sort of told the managers in the team go do that with each individual person, I kind of left it up to them to do that. And I think now we actually need to be more formal and say, No, every manager needs to go and this is the conversation you’d have with each team member. You need to figure out what is their capacity to work, you’ve got to formally update the goals just to ensure that it happens, and that you’re not relying on it to kind of organically happen. And so yeah, I think that’s probably the biggest thing that we’ve struggled with, whereas the, the remote work, you know, I think there’s tons of, you know, best practice out there, right?, Like, how to connect in a virtual environment, how to create new artifacts and rituals and all those sorts of things. And we’re doing those things. But for me, it’s the more difficult one is this kind of people’s ability to work? And how do you balance keeping accountability and driving to deliver with being fair and recognizing that we are in an unprecedented crisis?
Aydin Mirzaee 10:19
I mean, that’s awesome. I mean, my big takeaway there is that obviously, you can’t be tone deaf. You have to understand what’s going on. But that’s a very, like, smart way to go about it. Yeah, you know, just to identify people’s capacity to work in this environment and then changing prioritizing goals, you know, based on that it’s doing those sorts of things that really builds a lot of trust. They kind of look at the company as like, Oh, this company actually cares about me. Or you know, my leader actually cares about our well being and holds us responsible but not in a tone deaf way. I think that’s right and like it big thing for me is
Shane Murphy – Reuter 11:00
There’s a big topic generally even in diversity inclusion around, you know, whose responsibility is it to fix the problem. And in the example I just gave there is we’ve kind of made it the like, let’s say, give parents as an example, it was that we kind of made it their problem as well. You tell us if you’ve got an impacted ability to deliver, and then we’ll figure it out. That’s where we kind of started, and that is a terrible way to do it. Because like, particularly Now, if you’re a parent, are you gonna put up your hand and say, I’m, I can’t work it with layoffs happening across industries, are you going to be the one that’s going to put up your hand and say, you know, I’m,you know, lower capacity to deliver. And, in reality, what you need to do is no, you as the managers need to be the one to own the problem. And you need to go and say, I understand that you might have this issue. Let’s work through it so that you’re not reliant on somebody who’s likely a lot more junior, to be the one to put up their hand and you know, that that theme plays heavily into broader themes around like ally ship in diversity and inclusion and how, you know, allies can really stand up and be the ones to sort of drive the change rather than asking the underrepresented minorities to be the ones to stand up and drive the change. And so there is a broader I think topic here and leadership that this is like a an example that’s coming through right now because of the situation that we’re in, but actually has broader implications through how we lead on an ongoing basis.
Aydin Mirzaee 12:31
Yeah, so it’s interesting. So one thing obviously I know about intercom you know, you guys are obviously like software company you know, more digital you know, so you know, it’s obviously not retail. So, obviously you’re you’re not you’re not in the same sort of crisis places everybody else but you know, people like for your employees, people around them, their family members they’re getting you know, might be impacted. They know someone friends, so, you know, it’s very, I mean, it is a moment of crisis. And so, you know, one of the things that I’ve been hearing from from a lot of leaders is, you know, just the different way that you communicate to has this kind of change the way that like maybe the frequency of communication or like, the type of things that you tell people, like, what’s changed from that standpoint?
Shane Murphy – Reuter 13:22
Yeah, I think I think two things have changed. One, certainly the frequency of communication and how we communicate has definitely changed. So we, for example, the marketing department we used to have a just a monthly all hands and, and we have now moved to weekly, the monthly all hands agenda stay the same and it’s kind of more of a formal one with a formal agenda. And now we have a weekly one, which is actually pretty free and open agenda, just like I do q&a at the start just to get it out anything and then the rest of the agenda can be just to like maybe fun stuff or just mainly the objective there is to ensure that the team feels
Shane Murphy – Reuter 14:00
Like, oh, we’re still a team, we’re here every week and we check in. And so certainly the frequency of that is happening. Even our company, all hands, we’ve been having more frequently because there’s a number of things to give updates on. So I think yes, the frequency of just check-ins happening. I know the teams within my team have instituted things like daily stand ups, just to connect, you know, and then go back to work, and then connect. And so I do think frequency across the org has increased. And I think not only the frequency but even though the artifacts of those meetings to communicate, connect communication becomes even more important, like where do you capture the actions? How do you know what the next steps are? I think the second piece which is more challenging is the type of communication like as a leader, what you want to do is communicate as best as possible. You want to give clear direction and clear communication. This is what’s going to happen so that people feel safe and know what is happening. The reality is we are thrust into a situation where nobody has any idea what’s going to happen, we could be back in the office in a month’s time and the economy could completely rebound. And we’re good. And there are other Economic Studies, which suggest we’re going to enter one of the worst kind of recessions or depressions of all time. And so I think every business I think, if you’re in like travel, you know, what’s, you know, what’s impacted, that is your business. It’s rough. for business like ours, actually, we’re kind of in the middle, we’re like, not zoom. We’re not, you know, kind of a travel company, we’re sort of in the middle. And we don’t really know yet what the impact is going to be on the business. And so we’ve been trying to be really upfront and honest with the company about the situation, here’s what we know, here’s not what we don’t know. Here are some scenarios of what could happen. What we would do in those scenarios. Here is the sort of spectrum of options that could be on our plate to do a couple of things. One, it’s like the good. We’re currently pointed at the good scenarios, say like, Don’t worry, we’re actually pointed here.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 16:00
You still also want to make sure that you’re sowing seed and making sure people understand that there actually is a scenario here where things could get worse. And we don’t want to, we don’t want to lie. And we want to be really honest and open about that. And so I think that’s the one that we’ve, like, obviously, I sit in the executive team and in common, it’s the one that we struggled about with most is like, how, how do you give the team confidence that and we have a plan, and we’re going somewhere, but at the same time, not like lying and saying, hey, it’s scenario one, and then you end up in scenario two. And where we landed was just to be as open and honest and authentic as we can be. And we’ve got a lot of feedback internally from those all hands that it’s been really appreciated. In fact, we run kind of like a eNPS survey every month and so we get monthly feedback on the comments on that and the comments have been really good on on our eNPS jumped off the back of it. And so I think that we’ve navigated well. But that’s the bigger challenge is like, how do you give confidence in a time where you really don’t know what’s gonna happen?
Aydin Mirzaee 17:09
Yeah, that’s super interesting. So I think like the takeaway, there is one thing to be optimistic, but it’s another thing to forecast things that, you know, might not be correct. And so I love that. I mean, it’s transparent. People can trust it, you’re saying it as it is. There’s, you know, they’re hearing it, just as you know, you’re hearing it. And yeah, I think that sort of thing builds trust. So, that’s interesting, you’re actually saying that your eNPS during this time went higher than what it was previously?
Unknown Speaker 17:38
It has. I think that’s mainly off the back of a couple of things. One, obviously, is that transparency that I talked about, I think also there’s just a general reflection, I would imagine across companies like intercom, which have not really been impacted that people are feeling like wow, I’m really lucky. Not everybody, everybody has their individual circumstances and maybe they’re not lucky for other reasons. But from a from a job point of view, we aren’t impacted in the way other industries are. And so there’s a certain amount of of just appreciation for the fact that we are in a, you know, relatively unaffected industry. Yes. I think some of that bump has come from some of the communications that we’ve done, but i think i think it probably would have happened organically anyway, just because people start to like put, put it in perspective of other industries.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 18:26
Yeah, no, that makes sense. So I want to shift gears for a second because, you know, one of the things that’s interesting about you and your background is obviously, you know, intercoms fast growing company, but you’ve also been a part of any companies in the past that have, you know, scaled up, I know that you now lead a team of over 75 marketers at intercom I’m sure that number is a lot higher. Now. You know, one of the things that you guys must have refined over the course of time is just like the hiring practice. I’m wondering like when you came into intercom, how did you kind of like view the hiring practice, how did you make changes for it? What do you recommend for people that are looking to add basically, you know more people or to scale and how does hiring, you know, change from when you’re hiring like one or two people here and there versus now we actually need a system and we need to do this more methodically.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 19:19
Yeah, no, it’s a great question. I will say that actually Intercom, so I’ve been at Intercom for just over a year, and I think actually Intercom had a pretty sophisticated hiring process. And relative to some of the companies that I’ve been at, and I’ve certainly in those other companies done a lot of work to make the hiring process more objective. And some of the things that I think Intercom does well and that I brought in in other places, are number one, I think it is really important to upfront identify like, what are the competencies that you’re looking for in somebody and then ensure that in the different interviews that you have that you have certain people with a very clear brief in that interview of what they’re testing for. And so that if you do that you make sure that you’re kind of, you’re seeing all the different angles of people. Probably the thing that I instituted earlier in my career that had the biggest impact on like success rate of hiring was ensuring that there was some sort of take home work. I’m somebody who knows it intimately well, because I’m actually, like, ever talk a lot. And so in an interview, like, I can actually probably excuse my language would be acid. I didn’t really swear there, but I can be asked pretty well, some people are really bad in interview settings. Like, you ask somebody a question in the moment, how would you handle this, you’re actually kind of testing their ability to think on the spot, not necessarily their ability. And so having some sort of take home assignment where you ask them to do a bit of a piece of work that would be very similar to a piece of work that they might do in the role and bring it in, is critically important. And the important thing of it, it’s not, I don’t then necessarily look at the quality of the work because various people put different sorts of time in. It’s more like understanding the thought process. And then you question the work. And now you’re not getting like just reactive on the spot thinking that you’re asking about something that they’ve had time to think about. And so it just facilitates a much more real world interaction. And so like, if I could give one piece of advice to any hiring manager is that you 100% should add in some sort of take home assignment, and, and have it be a core part of the interview process so that you can truly assess somebody’s ability, and that also helps remove unconscious bias and all those sort of things. Because you’re thinking about a piece of work.
Aydine Mirzaee 21:53
That’s awesome. I think, you know, there was a time where, you know, people used to do all these like brain teaser type questions and things like that to use and and obviously over time, it was proven that it has actually no effect. I love the take home stuff that is related to what you would be doing though. The thing that I took away most from what you said was, yes, the take home thing that’s related to your work, but it’s not necessarily like, oh, how do you know? Like, what is the quality level necessarily? It’s more like, what’s your thought process? And like, how did you think about it and use that to understand if they really deeply understand this, or, you know, they just read an article somewhere and like, put something together. I think that that’s super interesting. And it kind of solves for this other issue where, you know, one of the things that people have talked about for take home stuff is, well, you know, what, if you’re, you know, a parent and you don’t have time, and I think like that, that kind of solves for that. And I think that that’s really clever. I like that.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 22:52
Yeah, it’s important and it is a bit of a tangent, but like I’ve been thinking a lot about decision quality, generally. Like my job now I don’t really do any work. I just make, like I steer things and I sit in meetings and make decisions. Like if I can improve the quality of my decisions by 10%, given the amount of them that I make, that’s, that’s amazing. And yet, we don’t really think much about our process necessarily of making decisions. And one of the, related to what we just talked about, one of the things that I brought in recently was that I recognized that I was making way too many decisions on the spot, like I’d go into a meeting, somebody would present something to me, and they would say what we should do, and I’d be like, go do this, and which is obviously a terrible way to get good quality decisions. And so a simple thing that I’ve never asked even the team to do, is I have to be sent the presentation, whatever it is a piece of work at least 24 hours before. I then review it and read it. I form a perspective and then we go into the meeting. We have a proper discussion about it.That alone is similar to the take home testing, that alone has increased my decision quality significantly. And so they’re like, they’re like these little ways of thinking. The broader theme here is how do you ensure that you are not relying on people’s ability to act in the moment? And because that’s not necessarily what is important?
Aydin Mirzaee 24:25
Yeah, I love that. I can relate to that because I feel like a lot of people will say this about me is that Oh, you come back the next day and you have all these like new things, like I just need to digest and that night of sleep actually really helped me process information and yeah, often I will have new insights afterwards. But But I love the Yeah, that makes all the sense in the world to send material ahead of time and be prepared.I love this decision making quality thing and it’s something that I have a high degree of interest in myself. What else can you do? Like? Do you ever, for example, log decisions that you make yourself and visit them again in the future?
Shane Murphy – Reuter 25:10
I don’t necessarily have a formal, like a decision log or whatever. But we have a, you know, a pretty tied program management project management framework within Intercom where all of our decisions do get captured. And we tend to have a very sort of test and learn mentality. And so we will, like, make decisions. And then we’ll revisit how we’re going to measure those things and come back and say, you know, did that actually happen? What I’ve seen is that B2C companies, that’s typically, you know, more normal because of the volume of data that you can get from your decisions. And in B2B, I’ve not seen it as much and I think it’s amazing that an intercom that we do, try as much as possible, find ways to make a decision but like test it and to ensure that it was the right decision so that you’re not reliant on note, or their ability to make decisions and backings as part of that our decisions do get reviewed, which I think is helpful.
Aydin Mirzaee 26:11
Is it like I know for him, obviously, marketing involves a lot of experimentation. And, you know, for some of those things, it makes sense. But you guys do that even broader than that. So it’s not just an experiment. It’s more we think that this project to work on is the right project to work on. It’s even broader than that. And the rationale behind certain things are recorded and can be revisited.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 26:36
Most things you can put some sort of measure against even if it’s not a direct causal output. So for example, even from a leadership perspective and shout out to Culture Amp, they’re an amazing company – but they provide these engagement surveys, which we will run, we do it three times a year at Intercom, and off of those, we find what are the things that are making our team more engaged?, which is the ultimate score that you’re trying to improve. But we can then break it down and see what are the areas that are pulling the score down. So for example, about a year ago, at a company level, we had an issue where people discuss our score on like, people being bought into division had declined. We’re like, Whoa, how did that happen?We realize that we just haven’t been communicating the vision. And so at the executive level, we had a big problem of work around and re educating the business around the vision, and we actually took the whole company offsite for a day and did a whole workshop around it. And then we saw in the next engagement survey, that thing jumped up dramatically. And so even things like that are less revenue oriented decisions, you can usually put some sort of measure against them and hold ourselves accountable to it.
Aydin Mirzaee 27:54
Yeah, I love that. I mean, super methodical way of doing things and I feel like you know, obviously, lesson number one is make sure that you have that kind of an engagement measuring mechanism but B, when you see something is not performing as it should obviously, like take the action and that’s awesome. So Shane, this has been awesome. What I was gonna also ask you is, for people who are looking to just get better at you know their craft, what’s a resource or something that’s helped you, that you would recommend to other managers and leaders for them to check out in the future?
Shane Murphy – Reuter 28:29
Obviously listening to this, this amazing podcast, not this one, my interview, but like your podcast generally, I think is a huge thing that people should do. The best resource that I found is Harvard Business Review. As a manager. It’s not that expensive to subscribe to and the amount of research is amazingly actionable, and the best practice they have is incredible. So I’d go do that. Secondly, I would say that having some sort of mentor or coach. If you’re in a certain position, your company might give you a coach. So intercom, for example, all of our director level and above, people have coaches. If your company isn’t willing to pay for that, finding some sort of mentor that you can bounce things off and learn from, I think is really important. I think you know that those are probably the two biggest ones I would add. And then maybe the third one, in summary, is a resource like this is how to learn best practice. But I do think having some sort of thing like a culture survey for your company or team allows you to understand where the areas is that you need to work on, which is critically important. That way you can then identify where your gaps that you need to go work on and find the right resources. And so having some sort of feedback loop for your team where there’s three 360 feedback every six months that you get, I think is really important as well.
Aydin Mirzaee 29:52
Thank you. I mean, this is awesome. We talked about so much. We talked about transparency and trust and engagement surveys and hiring and taking home tests. This was super valuable. Shane, thank you so much for doing this.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 30:05
I love it. I really enjoyed it. I hope that there is some value in there for everyone listening. And if people do want to like, continue the conversation, I am on Twitter, so you can get me there.
Aydin Mirzaee 30:18
And what is your Twitter handle?
Shane Murphy – Reuter 30:20
It’s at Shane Murphy, but in the Murphy rather than pH, it’s an F, the pH was taken.
Aydin Mirzaee 30:25
Awesome. And obviously we’re going to link to that and put it in the show notes. Thanks again, Shane. And we will see you in the next episode.
Shane Murphy – Reuter 30:33
Thanks very much, talk to you later.