Hop the right people on the bus (and at the right seat)
What took you here is not going to take you there
If someone had told me that I would remain as the PM of the first team when I joined Nexthink, I would have believed that the probabilities were very low.
Indeed, that is what ended up happening. After 3 years and 3 months circa, I had 3 different bosses (one of them twice) and interacted with al least 5 different teams directly (Telemetry, Ecosystem, Import/Export integrations, Connectors Platform, and PeopleOps).
This is not a post to showcase that teams don’t remain stable. I thinkprovides enough evidence in her book Dynamic Reteaming. The idea is to know that in an environment of hyper-growth, you must expect a lot of disruption in the things you do (scope and impact), the scale you operate, and the things that are expected from you.
The positive thing about an environment such that one is that people who love new challenges and expand their comfort zone boundaries will flourish. There will be opportunities to either expand in what you do or land into a new position. The other side of the same coin is that, people who dislike new paths and are stuck into the same way of doing things, will have a hard time.
I’ve seen both dynamics play during my tenure, and what ends up happening, even if it could sound harsh of disheartening is…
What get you here is not get you there
I love the idea that Patty McCord illustrates on her book Powerful; Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, and is also reflected in the famous Netflix culture deck; a company is more a team than a family.
In a company early stages the feeling could be the opposite, you might have spent more time with your peers than with your family. You sweat blood an tears, sifting through any hassle along the way, with the aim of getting to a place where you can reach PMF, and then growing the company, and so on. Hence, you may have the impression that your peers are like you family.
Nonetheless, a family is about unconditional love, despite, say, your siblings’ bad behavior. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing that you may not be on the team forever.
The last sentence is the key point here. As human-beings we tend to create bonds, get to know other people and extend the boundaries of work to create a friendship. There is nothing wrong with it, and I still get together with some Nexthink folks. But there is a bigger organism which is the “the company”, with its own interests and goals.
Once, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs was told, “It must be so hard for you to say goodbye to these great players who you’ve played so many games with and had such a great experience.” And he just looked incredulous, [and said,] “It actually doesn’t feel that bad at all. We both came in knowing that we’re only going to be together for a certain period of time to win the games where the team is right.”
When people experience great joy at work, it’s when they’ve done something amazing that they’re proud of. You want to create a situation where you go home and tell your spouse or your pet, “It was a great day at work today!” That’s what motivates everybody. You have to care about what you’re doing and really love the people that you’re working with, and get great stuff done. That’s what’s satisfying.
Understand what you need
Once you understand that there are going to be people that will stay longer than others for different reasons, you need to start thinking in what are the right players you need to win.
One of the ideas I love from Shreash Doshi, is the concept of the “3 types of product leaders”. Although his tweet aims to illustrate which type of product leader you want to work for, we can reuse it to understand which percentage of each role is needed depending on the stage the company is at.
This is my guess of how the distribution was when I was part of Nexthink:
Make explicit the traits and skills you need
By only stating the above is not going to be enough. Sometimes you must craft a list of particular skills and traits that new people should embodied and the old ones must got used to it.
In an environment where we were growing as hell, the product was being rebuilt, we must keep customers, acquire new ones, and managing two completely different tech stacks, I believe the following were a list of things that could differentiate people working at Nexthink:
Experience in a hyper-growth context: we onboarded new hires senior management team that brought a lot of experience navigating this situations.
Managing cross-team initiatives: a new role (program management) was created (by one of the new SVPs) to coordinate initiatives that were priority one and were touching multiple teams.
Systemic view: if you are creating a single and consistent experience, getting an idea of how the second and third order effect will affect existing customers is critical. Also to implement economies of scale and reuse as much as possible of what has been created already.
Help the direct reports to grow: when you are growing so much you must bring people who can mentor and coach your individual contributors into leaders. This is quite important when you plan into succession of who you want your future leaders to be and help them to grow professionally.
Excellent communication skills: this is not only about the skills of communication, which of course are important. This is more about what you communicate, to whom, when, and how often. I recall once having the same conversation 8 times to reinforce the idea on the strategy we were following for a specific product.
Talent magnet: growing internal employees is great, but it is even better if those people become your ambassadors to bring the best talent out there.
What ends up happening?
As you may imagine, not all people who were around when I had joined, were part of the company by the time I left. In some scenarios were the people themselves leaving Nexthink, and in other situations Nexthink let some of them go.
Regardless of the motivation behind leaving, I think we must demystify the fact that letting someone go is something bad, it depends on how you do it and how coherent you are with the things you say and how you execute them. It’s going to sound weird, but the ability to let people go, that you don’t think are the best ones for the future of the company, is a competitive advantage in my opinion. I’m not judging the decision itself, it’s the fact that sometimes you need certain players that are best equipped for certain conditions than others.
When I was approach my third year at Nexthink I clearly told to my boss that I needed a change (team and scope). Because of the company timings, I knew this was not going to happen soon. I was offered other alternatives that didn’t suit my expectations nor my motivations. Therefore I decided to leave. I was the one saying, you know what, my skills are better needed somewhere else. The problem sometimes is that we tend to wait, expecting that something is going to change in our benefit, it doesn’t happen, you get demotivated, your productivity decreases, and you end up with an PIP (personal improvement plan).
So what… (new chunk)
This is the section that was not part of the original post, but I would like to comment that either you are in control of your destiny, if not someone else will.
I’ve seen recently an article from Mark Fisher, where he comments on frameworks that helped him to understand the different stages he is best suited for:
Today I want to share a set of frameworks that explain different growth phases of companies or products. I think these are useful to help understand the goals and priorities of companies or product managers at different stages. However, for me the more useful aspect of these frameworks is helping me to understand what stage I am best suited for.
Being aware of what stage the company is at and what really motivates you to give your best, is a great self-awareness exercise to know whether you want to hop on the wagon and be part of that team of players.
On the next nugget, I’m going to be sharing the importance of assuming you are wrong.