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Christina Wodtke trains companies to move from insight to execution as principal of her firm, Wodtke Consulting. She has led redesigns and initial product offerings for such companies as LinkedIn, Myspace, Zynga, Yahoo!, Hot Studio, and eGreetings. Christina has founded two consulting startups, a product startup, and Boxes and Arrows, an online magazine of design; and she co-founded the Information Architecture Institute.
She’s the author of 101 Theses on Design, Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web, and her new book about OKRs, Radical Focus. Christina currently teaches the next generation of entrepreneurs at California College of the Arts and Stanford Continuing Education. She speaks everywhere from conferences to universities to boardrooms, and opines across the internet, but most often on eleganthack.com.
The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer.
The Fearless Organization, by Amy C. Edmondson.
The Team That Managed Itself, by Christina Wodtke. [New Release!]
We’ve been working together in teams forever, right? After all, humans are social creatures. So it only makes sense that we would come together, organize around common objectives, and apply our energies and intellect to solve problems and deliver outcomes that move our world forward. If that is so, why do so many organizations simultaneously implement dubious structures and practices that conflict with their pursuit of high-performing teams?
In this episode, Sean and Paul catch up with Christina Wodtke – professor, speaker, and author of Radical Focus – to discuss techniques that help organizations create and sustain high-performing teams. Christina has admittedly made a career out of stating the unstated, exposing the proverbial elephant in the room. Whether it’s questioning the value of meetings and status reports or how companies conduct their hiring practices and performance reviews, Christina unabashedly critiques the ways in which those same organizations treat their most important asset – and in the same breath offers remedies that address them.
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Sean [00:00:00] Welcome, product people, to the Product Momentum podcast! We’re super excited today to have Christina Wodtke with us. Paul, you want to introduce her?
Paul [00:00:08] Sure. Christina is a friend of ITX. She’s been an author, a teacher, she’s got four books with another one coming out at the end of the month, and she’s been a thought leader in the space for the rise and maturity of a lot of the things that we consider the Internet as it is today. We’re really excited to talk to Christina. And just to jump right in, I wanted to start off with kind of a what’s new question for you, Christina. I think if I were to summarize or recommend your writing to someone who hasn’t heard you before, it’s that, in the product management space right now, you’re the one who’s stating the unstated. And if you want to introduce yourself and your thoughts, I’m curious what’s on your mind right now for what’s unstated that needs to be more stated at this moment in time?
Christina [00:00:55] It’s funny that you talk about unstated and stated because I think that, you know, I came from a design background when I first started out and the biggest struggle you have with design is when the design is perfect and you show it to somebody, they go, “Well, of course. How else would it be?” There’s always sort of a duh moment. No matter how long it took you to finally get to that moment, people are like, “oh, yeah, duh.” And I feel like there’s so many things that we deal with in product that they should be obvious and yet nobody’s doing it. For example, meetings, right. Everybody talks about how bad meetings are, and, “we don’t want to go to meetings and how much money are we losing on meetings?” And yet we just keep meeting anyhow, right. So why is nobody really asking, “how many meetings do we actually need to have? How do we avoid meetings? How do we make sure the meetings that we have are actually valuable?”.
Christina [00:01:50] And I feel like there’s so many little things like that. I haven’t written about meetings, but I have written about status reports and how stupid and annoying they are and a way to make them actually valuable. I’ve written about, of course, goal setting and goal keeping. You’d think that how we live up to our goals would be obvious. But of course, everybody talks about a smart goal, but nobody talks about, “how do we make sure we actually achieve it?” So yeah, I guess I’ve made a career out of pointing out the elephant in the room and going, “have you seen that because that’s kind of alarming.”
Paul [00:02:20] Yeah, you certainly have. So the conceptual models that you’ve brought to the table, I’ve actually started to look through some of the things that are coming up having had a sneak peek of the upcoming book, and actually, in terms of hiring and going through the interview process and looking for teams and how teams are put together; you talk about meetings and status reports. They all revolve around this concept of a team that works together at whatever level, work crew and so on and so forth. What do you think is the thing that makes a team attract and retain those people through the interview process, through the hiring process, maybe the firing process that could be better explored in how we’re dealing with product and product teams today?
Christina [00:03:00] That is a very large box of topics. So let’s take a moment. We’ve been working in teams forever, right? Like human beings are essentially very social creatures. So what’s happening right now that people are talking a lot about about teams? And a lot of that’s being driven by this desire to look for something that doesn’t have a stable name yet. It’s sometimes called empowered teams, sometimes it’s called autonomous teams, but it’s this idea within companies that maybe if we get a really great group of people together and we give them very clear goals to aim for, that we can walk away from micromanaging. And there’s a lot of tension in businesses between people’s natural desire to be in control. So you become a manager and suddenly you’re responsible for all these people and making sure that they actually do work and it can be a little terrifying. And a lot of folks, especially those who have been promoted from individual contributor statuses, are used to being very hands on, and that’s the worst kind of management you get. I mean, nobody likes to work for a micromanager, nobody likes to be told exactly what to do.
Christina [00:04:07] So what we need now is to start training managers to move towards setting vision, setting goal and supporting their people, but not actually telling them how to do things. So in order to do that, obviously the first big step is a different kind of goal setting. Instead of saying, “I want you to build a CMS and it needs to do this and this and this,” you need to learn how to set OKRs, which is, the objective is maybe to empower everybody to get their knowledge out on the website where it can help our clients. And then how would we know that people were actually empowered? Maybe there’d be a certain number of article views or maybe clients would call their service rep less often. You know, you start working through that, and then you hand it over to your team and even if you’re thinking CMS, you know, you just tell your team, “okay, we want to empower people to support customers and these are the goals,” they may come up with something much more brilliant than you, something better, something smarter, something more innovative and that is a really critical thing towards moving towards these empowered and autonomous teams. It’s a really big shift of thinking. We have to shift from output thinking, which is hard because we’re solution based people. I’m sure all your listeners are the kind of folks who hear a problem and immediately go, “Oh, I can build an app for that.” And instead of building an app for that, you have to say, “This is the change I’d like to see in the world. Go for it.” So we move from output to outcomes. What’s changed in the world if we’re successful?
Christina [00:05:41] So that’s one critical part of a successful team is a better kind of goal. The second part is we need to change how we think about hiring and we need to change how we think about how we interact. With hiring, my gosh, you know, you think about how terrible we are at hiring, right? What do we do? We do a quick search on the Internet and we go, “oh, that job looks pretty close.” So you download it, you edit it and you throw it over to H.R. and then some random people come in and you’re like, “uh, maybe not that, maybe that.” And then you hire them and then these people sort of struggle through their jobs, navigating the world, until you get to the annual performance review where all you can remember is last three months and you go, “oh they’re pretty good, I guess a raise,” or “oh man they kind of annoy me, maybe I don’t want to give them a raise.” This is a terrible way to manage your most important assets.
Christina [00:06:34] Instead, I suggest a roll canvas where you brainstorm the most critical aspects of the people that you want to hire. What’s the goal? What impact are they going to have on the business? What are their responsibilities? You know, that sort of day to day keep you on the lights part. What knowledge and skills do you have? And then you can build the questions you want to ask to get at that. “So tell me about a time when you had to deal with shifting deadlines.” Now this is the moment where you normally would throw away that job description. You want to hold onto it and then before you have a one on one, you look and you think, “are there any areas on this roll canvas that I want to work with people on? Maybe I want to coach them on getting new skills, maybe I want to remind them of the goal they should be meeting.” And you have your one on one and then at the end of a quarter, you have a quarterly conversation. Whether or not you can actually give promotions and stuff quarterly or annually it almost doesn’t matter as long as you make sure you have a conversation every quarter about where they’re strong, where they need more work and, what do they want? How do they want to grow? And that’s kind of a lot of good to give a pause before going into norms because I know that was very long.
Sean [00:07:45] No, it’s good. That’s we have you here for to get your ideas, get those ideas out of your head and into the market or they can be used, get some value out of them.
Christina [00:07:54] Well then I would love to just hit real quick, the third part, which is norms.
Sean [00:07:58] Bring it on.
Christina [00:08:00] A future question for you, which is everybody has a different culture, right? Like when I worked at Zynga, it was very sort of aggressive, aggressive, in your face, “I’m going to crush you,” “my numbers are going to be the best.” And when I was at Yahoo!, it was very very sort of like, “we’re a big team and we’re all together.” And the problem is, if you come from one kind of culture, whether it be a corporate culture or a country culture and you’re working with people from a different culture, you have different ideas about the right way to interact with each other. So it’s really important to create rules of engagement for a team: “This is how we’re going to be when we’re together,” and then the biggest idea, I would say of all is, all three of these things have a cadence. You set them at the beginning of the quarter. You check in every week to make sure it’s doing okay whether it be the okay our commitment or the one-on-one conversation or a retrospective around your norms, and then at the end of the quarter, you stop everything and you do a formal look and ask, “could we be even better?” And that rhythm of check-ins and learning is what supercharges teams and makes them amazingly effective.
Sean [00:09:03] Love it. It makes me think a little bit back to when you were in Rochester and we might have had a cocktail together… That might have been a cocktail in your glass, I’m not sure… But we were talking about empathy and the importance of empathy. Do you remember that conversation?
Christina [00:09:18] Depends on what was in that glass.
Sean [00:09:22] Both in terms of the employees, the people that build the products, and in terms of the people that were building the products for and how important this concept of empathy is. I think it dovetails really well with hiring and with norms and with teams and all the things that you’re talking about. You’ve given us a lot of raw material here so there’s lots of directions we could go. But I would like to hear your thoughts, because you had some interesting thoughts about empathy when we were chatting.
Christina [00:09:48] I mean, there’s two big things that I end up talking a lot with teams about empathy, one of which is that, you know, a lot of teams will work really hard to have empathy for their end user, but teams are not always very good about having empathy for their teammates, and that’s really, really dangerous and I think it comes out of our primal tribal nature. If you look at chimpanzees, when a group will get to a certain size, they’ll break into two groups and then they’ll go to war with each other. And when I heard that on a podcast, I thought, oh, my gosh, that sounds exactly like what happened between product management and design. I was working at a company which I will not name, where instead of worrying about their competition, they were at war with each other. And at that point, the design team was all sitting together and we broke up the design team and had them embedded with their product partners and I remember one designer in particular who just hated, hated her product manager. She was like, “oh, that person comes over all the time and they keep bugging me and keep interrupting me to see if I’m done and of course I can never get it done because they keep interrupting me” and she was so scared to sit next to this product manager when we moved the chairs around. And what happened is, sitting next to this product manager, she comes back a few weeks later and says, “oh my gosh, that poor product manager, their life is so hard; people are always yelling at them, do they have the numbers and what’s going on and what’s happening with the partnership?” And so she switched from enemy with this product manager to partnering with the product manager to try to, you know, manage the stresses of the deadlines. And sadly, sometimes it really takes, you know, walking a mile in somebody’s shoes or at least sitting in the cubicle next to them to really understand the pain that they’re going through. I really love the saying “be kind to everybody you meet, for they, too, are fighting a great battle.” And that’s really the secret of empathy is if you look at every single coworker and you ask yourself, what battle are they fighting? You could even ask them, you could say, “hey, what’s going on today? Any challenges, any way I could help?” That’s when we start building, the kind of empathy that allows us to have a truly high performing team.
Paul [00:12:04] Hm. I want to tee off something that you mentioned a little while ago regarding the cultural clashes and how that works within individuals, but also within the way that different groups work with other groups. I think you’re referencing Edward T. Hall’s anthropology models of high and low context societies. I’ve heard you referencing the model before and I’ve seen people try to poke around the edges of it and I’ve started to think about it in ways that I’m wondering if you’ve gone down as well. I guess to ask the question bluntly, would you go as far as to say that there’s more psychological safety in high contact societies where there’s nuance and subtlety and less safety and more context or are there just different kinds of safety in each type of group or culture?
Christina [00:12:54] Yeah, I mean, what helps is to take apart all of those terms. So when we talk about high context and low context, high context cultures tend to be highly homogenous and so if you make a statement, you don’t have to be very blunt about it. So I always remember a story from Aaron Meyer’s wonderful book, The Culture Code, and in that Aaron Meyer says that there was an American who needed to have a work group happen on a Sunday and they really, really needed to have this meeting to be ready for a Monday client presentation. And so she turned to a Japanese gentleman and she said, “so, can you make it Sunday? and he says, “it’s my daughter’s birthday,” and she’s like, “that’s wonderful, congratulations to your daughter, can you make it Sunday?” And he’s like, “it’s my daughter’s birthday.” And that’s one of those situations where if you’re in a high context culture, if somebody says, “it’s my daughter’s birthday,” everybody will understand, of course, you’re going to be gone all day for that, you don’t have to say, “I cannot make it because it’s my daughter’s birthday.” In a low context culture, we’re blunt. And I say we because I’m an American, which it tends to be fairly low context because we have a melting pot, especially here in California, that we can never rely on shared context to add meaning to our sentences. We really have to just say exactly what we mean. Now, when you think of psychological safety, psychological safety means that you’re in a place where you don’t feel like you’re in danger when you share ideas or you question strategy or if you even point out difficulty with competency. And so it’s always been a question of how do we develop psychological safety. And to be honest, in a very high context culture, a lot is being unsaid.
Christina [00:14:39] So I actually think it’s the opposite: when you’re in a low context culture where if somebody says you’re slowing this project down, you know that they are unhappy with you. That’s very easy. I suspect if you really do have a truly homogenous team and you are high context, you can say things very subtly and somebody may pick it up, but I actually have come to believe that being very, very wizzywig, to make a nerdy joke, if you say exactly what you mean and you always say exactly what you mean, over time people will feel more comfortable with you because they’ll know that you’re not quietly plotting against them or something. You know where you stand with low context people. And I’ve spent time in Holland and in Israel, and believe me, you know within 30 seconds what folks in both those cultures think of you. And for me, that’s very relaxing, you know, to be able to actually argue and fight and disagree and say, “hey, that’s not the best way to do it.” For me that gives me a certain safety because I can say, “no, you’re wrong and let me tell you.” The problem is the clash. You just don’t know where you stand and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do and you don’t know what the rules are and that’s the really hard part.
Paul [00:15:55] That’s a great point. It’s not the one or the other. It’s the delta between the two. Coming from a mostly German family, I resonate strongly with the, you know exactly where you stand because someone’s going to tell you.
Christina [00:16:07] Oh, yeah.
Paul [00:16:08] I have sort of a state of product management today. question and I wanted to shift gears just a little bit into who we are as product managers. You know, in teams, we’re trying to make the world a better place for the users that we’re building for and I’ve started to see sort of a shift in thinking; it might be that the chimpanzee tribe is starting to separate into two. I’ve seen design thinkers and developers start to analyze as product management people sort of from the outside in and it seems there’s an old school and a new school product management. I wouldn’t say that this is a formal statement, but I would say I’ve seen it in more than one place to make me curious enough at this point. Would you say that the product manager that you would have heard refer to five or 10 years ago is different than the role that you see today, where product owners and maybe project managers are inheriting the title product manager and is it worth even talking about? As we start to see the industry shift maybe this just happens and we deal with it and move on? Or maybe it’s worth talking about where we’ve come in the past 10 years as an industry and product managers.
Christina [00:17:13] It’s really fascinating. It’s really interesting. So when you’re talking about product managers, you’re of course talking about technology product managers, digital product managers, because the term product managers, of course, would refer to somebody who, you know, managed Dove Soap, right. And so the term has been around for a long time but then when the web was born, things were kind of squishy. And the people who sort of orchestrated all the various disciplines… sometimes we had project managers, and on the West Coast we saw a lot of people called information architects who ended up stepping up to orchestrate the vision of the product while the project manager sort of just kept the trains running on time. For a while we had the title producer, which meant somebody who would, you know, make sure everything was happening and all the different groups were working together. But eventually we started to see the rise of the role of the product manager and early on, I think you’re right that they didn’t really quite know what they were doing. Were they just managing schedules? Were they being the CEO of the product? There were a lot of different ways it was manifesting and then it sort of stabilized. And we see project managers becoming fairly rare in technical companies and we see the product manager being sort of, like you said, a combination of product owner or project manager, peacemaker, dishwasher, if needed. You know, there’s sort of the person in the middle who seems to do everything from strategy to staying up at 3:00 a.m. trying to get an error page to work, if necessary. And they’re quirky people. And for a while, these product managers were much more interested in their space than their job. In other words, you know, designers would go off to design conferences and engineers would go off to their engineering conferences and the product manager would go to a future of local or a conference around medicine or whatnot. You know, they were always less navel gazing, if I can say it, about their process, and a lot more interested in their product and their product space and the market space.
Christina [00:19:27] And then finally, we’re seeing this rise of interest in the process and interest in what makes a product manager a good product manager and how can I become a better product manager? And I think mind the product was a big, big part of that. They were early adopters with their local meet ups because product managers are almost always lonely. You know, if you’re a product manager, you’ve got, you know, three or five or eight engineers and you’ve got a couple of designers and there’s just you and product managers kind of needed somebody to drink and weep with. And through those conversations, they started saying, well, what’s the right way to prioritize features and what’s the best way to, you know, handle your roadmap and should we move to OKRs and all these questions. So I think right now we’re seeing a really exciting moment for product management and technology where they’re really shaping their role and very quickly learning how to be better. And when you see these conferences, we do see a lot of talks that might be a little bit UX design and might be a little bit engineering because the product manager is always going to sit in the middle and be interested in everything. But we also see native talks about the unique problems they solve. If you’re a young product manager right now joining the group, I think it’s one of the best times you could possibly be joining, because it used to be you got hired and thrown into the group and said, “well, go figure it out” and now you’re dropped in and they say figure it out and you can actually figure it out. There are books, there are talks, there are communities, so it’s been exciting to see product management mature.
Sean [00:21:07] I think the quote of the podcast is that product people are quirky people. I love that. I’m going to use that again.
Christina [00:21:14] They are.
Sean [00:21:15] According to Christina Wodtke, they’re quirky people. We’re a quirky bunch. So true.
Christina [00:21:20] Indeed.
Sean [00:21:22] You’re absolutely right, the industry has evolved to a point where we’ve got some cool tools now. We know a lot more about what we’re doing than we did 10 years ago, but I still feel like we have a long, long way to go.
Christina [00:21:34] It’s only the beginning, baby.
Sean [00:21:36] Exactly. All right. I want to pull on a subject that’s also close to my heart that you kicked off this podcast with: meetings. So I’m going to sit back and let you go. Run with it.
Christina [00:21:46] Gosh, there’s so much to say about it and I haven’t written about it, so… But, first of all, nobody should ever have a meeting if it could be an email, right. I think there are people who have meetings and there are people who have to do what is essentially creative work. And designers and engineers are doing a lot of essentially creative work and product managers do as well when they’re working on a strategy project. And the problem with creative work is it takes so long to get into flow. Absolutely. It’s just so hard, right, and so you might spend like a half hour, 45 minutes just getting your head around a complicated problem before you can add to it. And as someone who’s written a number of books, I will tell you, the longer the book gets, the more time it takes to get your head around “where was I and what was going on and how did the pieces hang together?” And if you have a meeting in the middle of that, you’re just screwed, right. You’re just going to lose that flow. So I personally think, you know, meeting free Wednesdays or no A.M. meetings, only afternoon meetings, anything that will get your creative people to get nice four hour blocks of time to themselves will make your company more productive. So when you think about the meetings you have left over, the ones you can’t avoid, you want to just make sure that, you know, schedule them at the very beginning of the day or at the very end of the day or piggyback them on lunch, because that’s going to be a break of flow, like think about where you’re placing them so you can minimize breaking flow. Or you can have a meeting Monday and have only meetings on that one day and the rest are none. I mean, there’s like a thousand different ways to figure out how to do that. But every meeting should have an agenda, it should have an outcome, you know, “we’re here because we’re going to decide X, Y, Z.”.
Christina [00:23:39] Don’t have status meetings. You can have a stand up. You can have status email. But everybody’s sitting around and saying what they just did is just, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. I think if you’re working in a company, you probably know how to read, it will be fine. And so then you just think of meetings as times when we have to work together to make something happen and then they’re not meetings, they’re work sessions, and that’s just a lot healthier.
Sean [00:24:02] I love it. A lot of references to, I’m going to state the name here, Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, right.
Christina [00:24:05] Yes.
Sean [00:24:08] I’m a big fan of his work on flow and how to tap into the maximum creativity of people, across industries, right?
Christina [00:24:14] Oh, absolutely. The great mystery in my life is, we have so much wonderful science about what makes us productive and we just ignore all of it in our everydays. For example, there’s tons of data, tons of data that shows that completely open floor plans are the worst for productivity. And yet we see new offices opening up with open floor plans, and everybody hates cubes, but a cube is still better than an open floor plan where your eye is constantly sensing movement and getting distracted, you can’t pay attention. And the best is offices and I don’t think anybody ever builds private offices anymore. People still do Myers Briggs and that’s been disproven. You know, you might as well just do horoscopes as well as do Myers Briggs. I don’t understand why humans just like flatly ignore science, but perhaps it’s a mystery for a political podcast instead.
Paul [00:25:09] Hm. That’s a lot to unpack. One other thing that I might have heard in the background of your thought, there’s an article I remember from Paul Graham about ten years ago about makers’ schedules versus managers’ schedules was kind of iconicly forward around the dev shops back when it first was written and it’s still true.
Christina [00:25:25] It’s true.
Paul [00:25:26] Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of truth to flow and getting into the zone and making sure that you’re not being counterproductive to the people you need to support the productivity of.
Christina [00:25:37] And let people work from home, you know, that’s again, like sometimes I think we design our offices to be a panopticon, you know. They’re designed so the manager can see all his people and see if they’re working or not instead of just saying, here’s the outcome I want, let’s see what happens and, you know, you check in every week and then at the end of the quarter, they did it or they didn’t do it and if they didn’t do it, you have a conversation and if they keep not doing it, you have a conversation that ends with them leaving the building. You know, we don’t have to watch over people every second.
Sean [00:26:08] I think that goes back to your philosophy of measuring outcomes over output.
Christina [00:26:12] Yeah.
Sean [00:26:13] And really understanding, well what does productivity mean? It means, you know, we’re solving problems for real people in the world through the products that we build, in this case, not, you know, hands on keyboard necessarily. Sometimes it takes for creative thought, it takes whiteboarding, it takes, you know, like you said, quiet time where you just need to be thinking about stuff to get these products built in the best possible way.
Christina [00:26:34] Absolutely. And product managers need that, too. They got to think about what the strategy is. They have to make sense of the competitor’s actions. Everybody needs time to think.
Sean [00:26:43] Yeah, we believe strongly in a remote first culture, too. You mentioned working from home; I think giving people the adult decision to figure out where they can do their best work is really important.
Christina [00:26:52] Agreed.
Paul [00:26:54] Yeah. I do want to circle back to one other thing that you taught me back in June when we had our conference here. It might have been a sort of nonchalant or a passing comment for you, but it’s actually changed the way that we do things around here and I wanted to share that back so that everybody could hear.
Christina [00:27:10] Oops.
Paul [00:27:10] You mentioned a concept of a conference code of conduct.
Christina [00:27:16] Oh, yes.
Paul [00:27:16] And this was news to me, I will admit, when I learned about it from you. But I have to say that it created possibly more follow up questions than any other single topic. I had people e-mail and text and follow up to ask if they could get the texts that I used and I just copied from, I think, conferenceconduct.com or something template-ly like that. But I did want to give you the chance to share a bit about how that psychological safety works when we’re getting together in larger group. It had a profound impact and I just wanted to give you floor time for a second just to share where that came from and what place it’s created in the communities that you’ve been a part of.
Christina [00:27:54] Oh, that’s, uh… I hope it was a positive impact.
Paul [00:27:58] Yes. All positive. Yes, definitely.
Christina [00:28:01] So it comes back to psychological safety again. One of the ongoing problems we have in tech is that it isn’t always a very easy place to be if you’re a woman or a person of color or different than what we see in all the magazines. You know, whenever we see a magazine cover of the top 50 entrepreneurs, it’s a young white guy in blue shirt his khaki pants and we all have to try to ask ourselves, are white guys the only people with great ideas? No, obviously. So then we have to ask ourselves why are other people being excluded? Why aren’t they showing up? And I get kind of overwhelmed sometimes because I feel like there’s so many things in the world I’d like to do to try to make it better.
Christina [00:28:57] And I ended up thinking, you know, I go to a lot of conferences and I speak at a lot of conferences and that’s a space I actually understand fairly well and I understand the politics and dynamics of it. And conferences have been really, really important to me as I worked on my career, you know, the people I met, the networks I got to be part of. And I know women who have gone to a conference and some guy has gotten, you know, frisky with her or some guy has shown, you know, fabulous babes on their slides or there have been booth babes. And these are all messages that “this conference is not for you.” So if we’ve got these really loud messages that say ‘no girls allowed in the clubhouse,’ we have these messages where we don’t see people of color ever. And it is actually really hard to be the only girl in the room or the only person of color in a room. It’s just, it’s almost like there’s a thousand voices saying “you don’t deserve to be here,” and I know that’s hard to imagine for some folks, but it really is like that. So what a code of conduct does in a lot of ways is it says, “everybody is welcome here and if anybody says otherwise, they’re going to be removed.” So in a lot of ways, the message is actually first for women and other folks who might not feel safe. It’s a message from the conference organizer that says, “we will stand up for you.” And that is a pretty good message.
Christina [00:30:36] People always complain, “well the code of conduct isn’t going to stop these bad actors” and I’m not sure the code of conduct is for them. I mean, it’d be nice if hearing the code of conduct made them say, “I guess I shouldn’t have five tequilas at the reception; that will end badly for me if I try to do anything after the booze.” And by the way, a lot of people try to get rid of this problem just by getting rid of booze, and I will tell you, predators will predate drunk or sober. You can get rid of the alcohol, but there are people who will do things despite it all.
Christina [00:31:04] So then there’s that. What I found with the conferences I’ve had to talk to is, what do you do when somebody does come to you with a complaint? How do you handle that? And I think that’s the really hairy problem for conferences. It’s very easy to put up a code of conduct, but how do you decide what you’re gonna do if something goes sideways? And in that case, you really do have to make a plan. It’s useful to have a lawyer; you can Google around, but there is a bunch of basic steps like training your volunteers on how to appropriately handle a complaint, making yourself available as an organizer with a phone number or an email address or both, making sure people know what you look like so they can come to you. And you know, a little training on how to handle issues is a really great idea. And it’s hard because some of these predators are really charming. They’re fun and they’re goofy and they joke and they have friends and yet they just keep on grabbing the wrong person, making the unfortunate joke, making a hostile environment.
Christina [00:32:11] So it’s funny because when I first started promoting codes of conduct, almost nobody had them and I feel like I’ve been part of a great sea change. I’m not going to take any credit because I certainly didn’t lead it. There’s some great folks like Ashe Dryden and who did incredible work on it, but I like to think that I got to be part of that shift by talking to folks like yourself and saying, “hey, what about this? You know, why don’t you think about giving it a try because I think it’ll make a safer place for everybody to be a little more comfortable.”
Sean [00:32:39] Well, kudos to you. This is a great example of Ghandi’s famous quote, being the change you want to see in the world. We have formally adopted a code of conduct; it’s a part of all of our conferences now and that’s directly as a result of you work, so good work.
Christina [00:32:53] Well I’m only part of many others who did it together. That’s the thing about a movement. It takes more than one person.
Sean [00:33:00] I love that YouTube video that shows the second person joins the movement that actually makes the big change, right.
Christina [00:33:06] Yeah. Or the third or the fourth or the fifty-third. We all got to do what we can.
Sean [00:33:10] We all do. You’re right. Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important to us as it should be to every business. I think it’s a powerful asset to have a diverse employee group.
Christina [00:33:21] Yep, and the only way to unlock the power of diversity, everybody talks about the advantages, is psychological safety.
Sean [00:33:27] Absolutely.
Christina [00:33:28] Diversity without psychological safety does not get you those benefits. I’m going to make a plug for another book, I’m afraid I’m a fierce reader, but The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson: wonderful book about bringing psychological safety to your organization, very readable, good to the last page.
Paul [00:33:46] Excellent. Definitely will check that out. I want to be mindful of your time and I wanted to start to wrap things up with one question focused on radical focus and I wanted to give you sort of a curveball question, if I could. When companies adopt cars from top to bottom, you kind of expect focus if it’s working, right. If you do OKRs, you expect big inspiring objectives. You expect motivation towards the goal. What’s the most unexpected thing? What’s the unintended consequence that you’ve seen that surprised you when companies or individuals embrace OKRs?
Christina [00:34:22] That’s tricky. I will say one of the things that has surprised me sort of endlessly is, I put out a methodology that helps you achieve your goals. But I always said, you know, every culture is different and you have to figure out how your culture is going to fit into this methodology and, you know, try it straight for a quarter, but then adjust as you need. And I wasn’t ready for a remote, to be quite honest. We talked a little bit about letting people work at home, but I’ve mostly worked on onsite teams with maybe a work at home day but that’s about it. And the companies have done so many cool things with remote. For example, every Monday you have to commit and every Friday you need brag, but there was one company that was across so many time zones, there was just no way to do that. And they created Slack channels for their commitments and they created a Slack channel for their boasting and I’ve heard from them that their employees are like, I can’t wait to like check out the boasting channel and see what people have done because it’s so cool to have this feeling of all these amazing things. And I’ve been really surprised and happy to see how well people have invented their own version of the OKRs to work. That’s one thing that works.
Christina [00:35:39] One thing that makes me a little bit sad is it’s so hard to be outcome-thinking and it drives me crazy when consultants will say, “oh, it’s OK to have a project in there,” because you might as well not even use OKRs if you’re just saying, “our OKR is to launch the CMS system,” you know, like don’t bother. One thing that really shocked me, and it’s about personal OKRs so it’s a little off base. So about two years ago, two women friends of mine and I decided we would send our priorities towards our OKRs to each other as sort of like an accountability group. And one woman, she is a total getting things done kind of person. She’s incredibly methodical. So her status email was like super fine grained. And she’s like, “I made it 70 percent towards this OKR and I made twenty-four percent progress against this” and I’m like, “I don’t even know where you’re getting that.” And then I’m doing it just straight the way radical focus suggests to do it, you know, I’m saying, “here’s my confidence and here’s my priorities.” And then our third friend, she’s like, “I don’t know, I’m going to work on getting clients, I’m thinking about changing to coaching, but I’m not sure what my OKR should be and ahhh.” And it was funny because every single Monday we’d have these e-mails and it would be, you know, very precise tracking, my sort of loose tracking and her sort of Kermit the Frog-like hand-waving. And two years later, she got out of her job, which she hated, she started a coaching business, and now she has enough clients to do it full time. And it really made me wonder, do we spend too much time fiddling over, you know, the very careful crafting of the oak bars? Or is it just enough to show up every Monday and say, hey, this is what I want from life and this is what I’m going to do this week? So no matter how you say it, no matter how you say it. And I think about that a lot.
Sean [00:37:37] All right. Well, we usually wrap up the podcast by asking for a book that you’d recommend, but you’ve already recommended a couple.
Christina [00:37:44] I’m a book nut. What can I tell you? Never stop learning, right. That’s when we start to die when we stop learning. That’s great.
Christina [00:37:52] I could recommend my book, though. The Team That Managed Itself, October 22nd.
Sean [00:37:56] Yeah, that’s coming out very soon.
Christina [00:37:59] Yeah, pretty excited.
Sean [00:38:00] Can I ask you, is there anything else you want to plug?
Christina [00:38:03] That’s about it. Like right now, I’m teaching two classes at Stanford, I’m running around like a crazy person and just trying to get the book across the finish line. And then I have to figure out what’s the next book. So it’s going to be a tricky one. I always like to start in on the next book while I still have the momentum from the last book.
Sean [00:38:24] That’s smart.
Christina [00:38:25] Yeah, so we’ll see.
Paul [00:38:27] Excellent. Well, Christina, I want to thank you so much for your time. I’ve learned a ton from your books and your talks and from getting to know you a bit while you’re in town. I really appreciate you taking the time today and chatting with us about these things and sharing the wisdom and the vision that you have for our community of product people for today and for the future. Thanks so much.
Christina [00:38:50] It’s always a pleasure to talk to smarties like you all.