The Engineering Leadership Podcast · Episode 5

Leadership Principles for Remote (and All) Teams

with Jason Warner, Chief Technology Officer @ Github

Apr 09, 2020
Jason Warner shares management principles fundamental to how he leads remote engineering teams. He shares how to scale leadership by applying the right tools and frameworks for effective communication. Jason also tells us the structures and strategies he applies to build & maintain trust throughout an organization.
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SPEAKER

Jason Warner - Chief Technology Officer @ GitHub

Jason oversees the Office of the CTO, whose mission is to explore the unknown and non-existent aspects of technology and software in order to build a map of GitHub’s future. GitHub has 704 engineers, 85% of whom operate remotely. He was previously Senior VP of Technology at GitHub, where he played an integral role in scaling the Engineering, Product, and Security Teams, and built GitHub’s product roadmap.

“Every leader in an organization should make THE SET of decisions that ONLY they can make... and then delegate all the other ones. And the only way that you can do that is if everyone is empowered to make the right decisions with the right context, and you have invested ahead of time and trained the neural net of the organization to make those appropriate decisions well.”

- Jason Warner

He’s been the leader of fully distributed companies for the last 10 years. Prior to GitHub, Jason was VP of Engineering at Heroku. He oversaw Product Engineering for Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Phone at Canonical.

Jason is also a member of the Advisory Board of INNOVATE Ohio - reporting to the Lt. Governor advising policy decisions that impact growth in technology and aim to make Ohio the most innovative state in the country in the next 5 years.


Resources

Show Notes

  • Why challenges with trust, communication, and engagement are NOT unique to remote teams. (2:34)
  • The differences between building trust in remote and co-located teams. (4:22)
  • Why micromanaging is the easiest way to cause breakdowns, destroy productivity and negatively affect morale. (6:07)
  • Jason’s biggest fear as a leader and the fundamentals he uses to scale leadership. (9:36)
  • Structures for effective communication at different scales. (12:39)
  • Early signs of mistrust and how to easily measure the health of an organization(14:58)
  • How you can use “organizational canaries” to get unfiltered feedback (19:46)
  • How to maintain trust & avoid destroying relationships. (24:13)
  • Effective executive communication using the “V-shaped” pathway. (27:18)
  • Examples of how to measure gaps in your communication feedback loops. (31:46)
  • How to turn concepts of healthy communication into mechanisms in your team. (34:40)
  • Signs of bad communication and you can overcome them. (37:10)
  • How to train your organization to make better decisions when you’re not in the room (41:17)
  • Why you should prioritize tools for asynchronous communication and institutional memory (43:45)
  • How you can increase the fidelity of your communication. (46:56)
  • Frameworks to think about team engagement. (51:53)
  • Why Jason believes the role of in-person communication will diminish over time. (57:58)
  • Two actions you can take IMMEDIATELY to improve hiring for your remote team. (1:03:03)
  • Back pain as a metaphor for addressing the root issues in your organization. (1:07:21)
  • Jason’s greatest joy as an engineering leader. (1:12:35)

Transcript

Jerry Li: The first question I have is a lot of engineering leaders when they start to manage remote teams, they often observe new challenges in terms of communication, trust-building, and engagement. But do you think those challenges are unique to remote-teams?

Jason Warner: No, I don't think that they're necessarily unique to remote teams, but I think they ARE highlighted or exacerbated in remote teams.

I have a thing when I talk about remote versus co-located companies or any of any topics that revolve around this. It’s that the habits that you need to actually really good as a remote company are THE SAME habits, techniques and practices that you should be engaging in as a regular co-located company. And they will make you a great company, but the fact is, you just can't get away with not doing them as a distributed or remote company. So they're just highlighted.

And in fact, I think that's why a lot of people have not actually gone to do that. They're not really set up to be remote or distributed. And now, of course, we find ourselves in the environment where everyone is remote only company all of a sudden.

And some people are able to respond and react to it. And it really shows who had been investing in their companies early and who hadn't.

Patrick Gallagher: Absolutely. I think one of the things that Jerry and I were thinking a lot about is, “what have been the barriers that have prevented companies from adopting remote work in the past?”

And one of the things that we were thinking about... was something that you shared with our community several years ago... Which is that failure, oftentimes with companies and with the culture, happens when people stop trusting each other

That's where you start to see a lot of the breakdowns in (remote) adoption and in a lot of these operations, and this being the number one reason why companies are hesitant to become remote.

Can you share a little bit about your mental framework for how you build trust and how it's different doing it both with co-located teams or with remote teams?

Jason Warner: Sure. So the main way that I talk about building trust is, as a leader, it's imperative that you do a certain set of things to build trust. One is, you should be overly communicative on a regular basis and in multi-mode forums. You should be communicating to folks not just in a dictatorial broadcast sort of way.

You've got to say, “here's what we're doing, or here's why we're doing it. Here's how I look to making that decision or gathering the feedback to make that decision”

As you basically try to expose out as much of that as possible. And in an early, overly invested sort of way. If you do that early, you don't need to do that as much over time. And if you DON’T do that early... you need to overcorrect to do that more.

So you know, over-communicate, really authentically, empathetically communicate with people in a bi-directional sort of way. Don't just use a broadcast forum, don't talk to smaller groups and hear feedback. And also act on that feedback. That's how you build trust.

Now, in a remote sort of way, the mechanisms are different. You're going to be doing large zoom calls or large video calls. You're going to be taking more phone calls than you would in other scenarios. And your calendar is really your only friend in a remote company.

You need to organize yourself so you know where you're supposed to be in which calls. And weirdly, it's easier to do remote. You don't have to jump from office to office and things of that nature.

And I think what I've seen most when it breaks down in remote, is that the worst of any one person's personality can manifest. And what I mean by that is, if you are a leader in an organization and you tend to micromanage in a remote world, you'll become the WORST version of a micromanager that you can possibly be.

And if you're someone who's prone to anxiety, or if you're prone to gossip or if you're prone to drama, any one of those types of things in a remote world, all of those things are going to, you know, be turned to 11.

So if you think about that alone, from a human psychology perspective, you as a leader should be watching for these things, but also trying to tamp those things down. The fast way to do all those things is to make sure you're over-communicating. So that, of course you know, the back channels don't need to exist if they could possibly not exist or someone's anxiety can be lessened.

And I know this is a long answer to a rather simple question, I think, but it's involved. But the one thing I will say is the easiest way to destroy productivity, morale, all those sorts of things in a remote way… is to be a micromanager. That is the one way that things will go South.

Jerry Li: People tend to have the urge to check-in... “How are we doing today? What's the progress?”

And some may even do it a few times a day. So how do you see people overcome the tendency to do that?

Jason Warner: So in a super blunt and rather, uh, stark sort of way, I think anyone who is a micromanager actually does not know how to do their job fully.

This is a very, very strong statement I'm going to make on it. But it's true. If you are a micromanager, you don't actually know how to get your job done without jumping all the way down to the level. And if you think about this as an executive… cause this is where all of us in the industry talk about micromanagement destroying morale on teams... is because they don't know how to scale.

If you don't know how to scale yourself, your decision-making processes, whatever. You tend to micromanage because you think the only way I can get this done is "If I go do this myself."

Well, in fact, you're actually bad at your job if you've ever said, “the only way I'd need to know how to do this is because I need to go do it myself.”

You are actually bad as a leader in your organization.

How do you build scalable structures, scalable human organizations, and actually build them? So walking backwards from that statement. That is what you should be doing. You should be building the processes, the communication channels, and the feedback loops inside your organization that allow you to scale, get your information when you need it. And if you know how to do that and you're able to invest in it, it does not happen instantaneously.

If you wake up on a Monday and said, "wow, I'm going to have a scalable organization today."

You're talking about weeks and months before you've got that stuff tamped down. That is something you should have been investing in way before you needed it. So that's the type of stuff you need to invest in.

And I can go into detail about what I think that looks like or what I've had success with in doing that.

Jerry Li: That means the tendency to micromanage is not specific to remote working at all. This has been a problem that has been there for a while.

Jason Warner: So I absolutely think of it that way. It's, it's the same thing as... you don't become grossly overweight as a human overnight. BUT you can see as you gain weight, as you grow. You can't see the fact that you have a brittle organization in the same sort of manner of fashion because you as leaders, we...

This is my biggest fear...

My biggest fear is that I've got blind spots as a leader. Because I know that as I progress in my career as I have more responsibility or as my teams grow, people are going to filter information to me.

And so my whole job is to make sure that the entire organization is actually achieving velocity, success, and outcomes, knowing that I likely don't have the full picture anymore, and I've still got to build that organization out.

That's... It's incredibly hard! My scope of teams is roughly at the largest, probably a couple thousand. Imagine you're Satya or Amy Hood or any of those people at Microsoft right now, and what you've gotta be thinking about and what kind of organizational structure you've gotta be building to actually achieve that sort of success?

So, yeah, it's a pre-investment before you need it. And then if you're not able to do that (you can't do it overnight). You can't, you know... If you got out of shape over the course of 20 years, you're not going to get in shape, in a matter of weeks.

And I don't think it's useful for me to sit here and say, “Hey, you know, you're out of luck now... You didn't do what you're supposed to be doing for the past year, so now you're just in trouble...”

No, I do think that. There are certain things that people can do still quickly, and it starts with the basics. And that it's literally going back to the basics.

And as a leader, and this would go universally across the board, no matter what scale you are…. Now, the tactics to employ might be different depending on if you're a 5,000 person organization or 1000 or 50... but the principles would apply.

One is, you should start by over-communicating to your people.

“What is the company about? What are we going to be doing? What are we trying to achieve? On which time horizon for whom? And you know what we think success looks like there.”

Classic management one-on-one type of stuff.

Then you've got to actually understand how that works its way to whatever level of the organization needs to hear it.

So, you know, job number one, if you think about success, if you flip it around, is ME as a senior leader in the organization needs to make sure that AN engineer, when they come to work every day knows WHY and WHAT they're working on. So literally if you boil it down, I need to make sure that every engineer in the organization knows what they're working on for why for whom. That's how it would translate down to people.

So if you are taking your over communicative approach, figure out how everybody in your organization can absorb that for their context. And if you have 15 layers. Between you and an engineer, you've got some work to do. It's going to take you a long time to fix that ship.

But if you've got two layers, you could do it really quickly. You basically have to call a town hall. You have to do a couple of different maybe heavy-handed sessions and then build out some of the things there. You know, that's the whole Lou Gerstner thing with IBM, making elephants dance is very difficult.

But if you have a very small organization, you could turn the ship pretty quickly. For what it's worth. I have some advice for people depending on their scale. If it's useful for this context to say, "here's what I would think you might want to do, depending on the size..."

Jerry Li: Yeah, that'd be super helpful because it all comes down to what the actions are that people can take and what new perspective they can incorporate, and internalize so that they can really improve the way they do things.

Jason Warner: So I think if you're small enough, you try to never work through layers. Even though layers are important for the execution of things. Broad blast it to as many people as possible in your organization.

So, I imagine you're a hundred people... get everyone on a zoom call. Literally everybody. Get them all on a zoom call. Talk about everything and make it an open session. Just communicate as much as possible that way.

And if you think about maybe the size of your context being the limit to being able to have a valuable back and forth, it's a good approach. But imagine you're a 5,000 person organization. You need to write that down. You need to do a video. You need to do a town hall, an all-hands where you can get some anonymous Q and A or, or a regular Q and A as well back and forth.

Then the next thing you need to do is you need to jump two levels down and have that exact same conversation with as many people in an open forum across the organization as possible.

So think about it this way. If you're the CEO, do the right things: You broadcast it out, do an all-company event. Do some Q and A. Write it down.

Then jump down a level. Uh, not to your directs. They've already heard this, and if they've not been doing their job, either... Skip them, involve them in the conversation, but go direct to their directs and have the exact same conversation, but in a higher fidelity for their context way.

Then do it again. Go two levels down from them and do it with that group of people. And the reason why you're doing that is speed. They need to hear the same message. They need to hear the same thing with no distillation. And they might ask a contextual question to you in that form that you are not capable of answering.

So if I'm the CEO of a 5,000 person organization and they're asking me about disc purchases because of data center expansion, you can route it back into your first principles, but your head of infrastructure probably takes that question and figures out what to do with it. But the point being is you're trying to, you're trying to jump down a couple of levels each time to make sure that people hear from the same person.

Jerry Li: Yeah, that's very important. And speaking of that, what are the signs, especially early signs, of mistrust? So that people can realize there's an issue and can act on it?

Jason Warner: The easiest way to know that there's mistrust happening is largely that you're hearing things FROM others ABOUT others. If that makes any sense?

There's a... I love this one Eleanor Roosevelt quote... I've used it in all of my presentations... I think, Jerry, you've seen this in all of my stuff a couple of times, but it's ..

"Great minds talk about ideas, small minds, average minds talk about events and small minds talk about people."

If you think about that in the context of work... If your organization is talking about the ideas of your organization, I think you've got a healthy... as healthy an organization you've ever possibly hoped for.

If you're talking about events on a daily basis (which is basically responding to market a competitor, or something like another customer feature) you've got a pretty average organization. I think that's where most organizations in the industry will end up. And probably aspirationally should be just because they're not capable of being anything other than that.

And then the toxic ones are always talking about people. And they become hyper-political. So as a leader, if what you're hearing about on a regular basis is people... You've got work to do, in my opinion.

And if you're talking about events like the response to COVID-19 or our competitor or whatever... You're an average organization. Then your job should be to think about how you take it to ideas and things of that nature.

Jerry Li: And what should people typically do if they do hear their team is just talking about people all the time?

Jason Warner: So the first thing is, acknowledge that this is an organizational debt and try to redirect that over time. This is a very, very difficult thing to do, by the way, because ingrained habits are one of the hardest things to undo.

So imagine your organization has been this way. You're a new leader, or you're taking over, or you've been ignoring it for some time, and this is the default mode. And it has been for two or three years. You can't stop it right away. You're not going to be able to do it. So you have to re-direct it.

And that is, you know, meeting one-on-one or, or organizational jujitsu, and you've got to be able to say, "pivot from talking about a person to talking about an event or a project or something else, or an outcome."That's the easiest way to, to, to redirect these things. But you're still not going to train that organization to not behave that way overnight.

You're going to have to do that a lot, a lot. So overinvest in it. And if it's something new that's popping up, because, it's remote or whatever...

You do have an out in this one, which is "sure. I'm going to pull that giant red chord on the bus" and say, "Hey, I've, I've been witnessing something that we would never have done in previous events. And this... I don't like. It disturbed me. I think no one here would like it. And we got to stop. I don't know why it's coming up, but I don't want it to be. You all can tell me why you think it's coming up, but this is not who we are. This is not what we're about. So let's not do that. And if there's a reason why it's happening, let me know the reason and I will work on it. But we are not going to be this type of organization.”

You just hit it hard right away.

If you have been in that place for some period of time, you don't have the luxury of pulling that because everyone's going to feel disingenuous. They’re going to feel that there's no way that you're actually going to take this seriously because you hadn't been taking it seriously for a long time.

You can't be "new disciplinary parent" if you've always been "fun-loving game parent" all of a sudden. People are... it's just not the way that works.

Jerry Li: I guess it requires a lot of repetition, on a daily basis through all layers of management to reinforce that. And show examples to people.

Jason Warner: And never, never, never reward that behavior. Even if you had been doing it for a long time, you've got to stop that. That's the one thing you've got to stop. You can't continue to reward it. And I will say that THAT is one of the harder things to do for people. Now we're talking a little bit more about organizational and company building leadership.

But a lot of people are fearful. They'll say they want to reward somebody, not because of the behavior, but for other things. And if they don't… then they're worried that person will leave. And the company is in a hole at that point. But if you continue to reward that that type of behavior, you're just going to have to entrench it further.

Jerry Li: Yeah. And it's very important to know that there's a way to observe and measure the healthiness of an organization by what they talk about. Thanks for sharing that.

Jason Warner: Well, two other things, for what it's worth, I like to think about. While doing... this is, again… invest early, but if you had not… there's some things you could do.

Do skip levels, do group level conversations, do open forum conversations where people come, come to you. Also find out the canaries in your organization and the canaries... The "organizational canaries" as I call them... Are people that are great examples of who your organization should be on its best days.

And these are at all levels of your organization. You should have an engineer, you should have a manager. You should have a director of VP, a salesperson, a marketer... You know, you get the idea. And they should be in every organization.

Your canaries will tell you a lot about the organization. If you have a regular communication channel with them, you'll actually understand the health of your organization pretty well. And the one thing I would say about canaries is you've got to find people that are the examples of your organization on the best day.

But also people who... And you've got to do work to make sure that they are able to do this... They give you everything raw and straight. If they filter stuff… you're in trouble again.

Jerry Li: How do you go about curating and building that out? Like who do you find to be your canary? And how do you typically maintain that relationship so that you have the ability to absorb information from elsewhere without being filtered?

Jason Warner: So I think it all starts with you as a leader. If people feel that you are two or three different people. You know, one person in public, one person in private, one person with your execs or whatever. That'll over time, erode that trust. So don't. Be an authentic person and approach people in a human to human sort of way.

And you could be open and honest with them by saying, “Okay, I love that feedback. Although I'm having a hard time internalizing or struggling with how we can deploy it. But I'll take it back and I'll reflect on it. Also, it's going to take you some time because you could be wrong.”

And the canary person could ultimately, maybe, not be the example over time. And you've got to be willing to understand that too. So you need to build up these relationships. You should be building these relationships with everyone in your organization or as many people as possible, from the beginning.And that just involves watching, listening, absorbing, reflecting, seeing how people communicate, hearing how people talk about others.

You know, , if you're a new leader… and that's the easiest way to talk about this… If you're a new leader to an organization, you've come in and you want to go about doing this in all of your “listening tour activities”... which I encourage every leader to do in their organization is go on a listening tour...

You'll hear the names of several people pop up. For example, people absolutely love working with this person or that person is astoundingly amazing at their jobs or all that... You start to notice those things. Those are themes that emerge for people, and then there's themes for fixes and themes for other things. That is a great way to do that.

If you're an established leader and you had not been doing this already, you should be going on a listening tour again, in an all distributed all remote way now, because that is, again, what I mentioned before about how you're going to communicate that out... You'll start to hear that same sort of information pop up to you as people feel more comfortable to give you that information.

Patrick Gallagher: Before we move on, Jerry, I had a quick followup question because one of the things that you shared, Jason, that really resonated was about one of your biggest fears being blind spots in leadership and the fear of people not sharing with you the real stuff that's going on. And you also talked a lot about how the canaries can be a big pathway to do that...

What have you done to set up the relationship with the canaries to just be really straight with you about feedback? Is there something that you do repetitively? Or is this something you set out as an expectation on the front end?

Jason Warner: I mean, the, for the most part, anyone can be a canary. I don't think of them as a bespoke group of people. I think of it as people whose feedback I genuinely trust and value because over time they've proven that they have the perspective that you want. Or, they're in tune with the culture of the organization.

I genuinely think of this as just straight up human connection for the most part. Which is, "Hey, I love the feedback. I'm going to take action on it, and I'm going to take it back and I'm going to do a certain thing with it..."

And then they see that you've done something with it and then they've got more trust in you over time. Or if you're NOT going (to do anything with their feedback), TELL THEM that.

Because it's, again… So I've had people who I absolutely trust their judgment on a lot of things and I disagree with something that was going to be done for the organization and I told them that in one of our conversations I said, “Hey, I actually agree with you on this topic, although it's not going to be something that I'm going to go do because I don't think it's worth it for the organization to go through this. I think it's just something that we might want to live with for a little while at our stage and at some point in the future when we're bigger or different or something, I don't know, whatever it be, we'll go do something with it, but it's not right for us right now.”

And that we disagreed on the topic, but we were clear that we disagreed on it and it was pretty straightforward.

Patrick Gallagher: I appreciate that. Like the clarity and the authenticity being the access point for how you build and fulfill trust for clear feedback like that.

Jason Warner: Well one of the worst things I think you could do as a leader is to also then massage that... So if we do that, and then later I'm wrong, and I don't acknowledge that I was wrong in whatever that was... You just basically destroyed that relationship very easily for no value, you know?

And, I think it's something that you have to not do.

And I have been wrong. Obviously all leaders are wrong points in their career and. I have gone to someone and said, “Hey, I think I messed that up. Obviously like that was not the right call. I'm sorry, I'm going to fix it now. I'm going to go back and go do something that needs to be done.”

And those are humbling. And a lot of people, as leaders, sometimes you get wrapped up in your own marketing or ego. That's not a technique that you want to do because so much is wrapped up in the persona that they won't do that. Well, there's a, there's a view of you that's maybe outside of your organization to the world, and then there's a view of you that's inside and more people should be concerned with what is going on inside their organization than outside.

But that's inverse to where most people spend their time.

Patrick Gallagher: Great. Thank you. That was awesome.

Jerry Li: Switching to communication... that has been another area of challenges in working with remote teams. Jason, during our previous conversation, I know you have a very strong opinion about which communication mechanism works better for remote teams. Do you mind sharing your perspective on that?

Jason Warner: Sure. So I think that, for the most part, it can be distilled down into a couple of different things. This is a podcast and you're not going to see this, but I'm going to use my hands while I'm describing this because it's easiest.

But I think of it this way... I think of the communication pathways inside your organization that need to exist and the appropriate actions or responses that happen in each one of those levels that also need to exist.

And if you're two people in a garage, or you’re 5,000 people, it actually looks the same to a large degree. It's just, there's not as many steps involved with 2 people vs. 5,000 people.

But think of it this way... If you're a CEO of an organization and you want to go and do stuff. You want to go and change the direction of the company or broadcast out a strategy shift or something.... Maybe covid-19 is a good example of this… “Assumptions that were made in the yearly planning no longer hold. Therefore we're going to have to rebalance our plans, our burn…”

All that sort of stuff. You're the CEO. You're in the top over here on the left hand side of a V-shaped communication pathway. Your job up here is to over communicate the mission and vision, the why, the context and what that's going to mean in the strategy. And your job then is to communicate it down and get the organization to keep communicating down the context appropriately until you hit the bottom Vertex of that V.

And that means that that engineer, that marketer, that sales person, knows EXACTLY what they're supposed to do on a daily basis, with that information, how it informs their world and their decision making process. Because part of this here is proper communication and delegation of decisions.

So if you think about another thing that is core to leadership... is every leader in an organization should make the set of decisions that ONLY they can make. And then delegate all the other ones. And the only way that you can do that is if everyone is empowered to make the right decisions with the right context, and you have invested ahead of time and train the neural net of the organization to make those appropriate decisions well.

So only the CEO can decide who is on the exec team. Only the CEO can decide what the burn rate is going to be and the set of decisions that look like that. So that CEO makes those decisions. And then delegates down the set of decisions that go to the next level, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, all the way down to the engineer in the organization.

Now, again, 5,000 people versus two people, not as many steps. Right? In many cases, there's dual hats involved with the two people. 5,000 people. You've got to communicate that.

Well from the bottom of the, the V all the way back up is again from the individual engineer marketer or a salesperson all the way back to the CEO, and this is the feedback loop mechanism. How are the statuses being updated? How are projects progressing? Are we on track? What's our budget look like? Are we doing the right things? All the way back up to the CEO knowing that I have a healthy on target organization or things are askew and off or this project's not going well.

Those are the various communication pathways that need to exist back up to the CEO. So that CEO understands what they're saying, what they're doing from a shift in strategy or vision. To know “is it happening or not happening/”

And again, your goal, if you think about this as a V... is to actually close the V to almost like a, a straight up and down vertical line that's theoretically, or I'm sorry... It's practically impossible. You can't do that. So you need to get to the narrowest V possible. That's what your goal should be as a very well run organization.

Well, most organizations actually look more like a horizontal line. Because the CEO actually never gets feedback on certain things or contexts. And what they're using is using proxy measures to fake it. So if you are a poorly run public organization, you're using stock price, to say... "is our strategy shift working?"

Well, that's a terrible metric and proxy for if you're a healthy organization with good communication pathways because there's too many variables involved.

So you've got to find out what that looks like and how to build that. And this is LITERALLY organization building, company building 101 type of stuff. But most people don't think about it as a system or a framework or anything like that, and they just basically wing it. And they're winging it because they're doing it with culture, or they're doing it with other proxies for certain good company building where they just simply don't know.

And if you think about it this way, a lot of good habits will emerge out.

Jerry Li: Do you mind giving an example of what you can measure as the gap between the two parts of the V?

Jason Warner: So I think a good way to think about this might be... maybe you're going through an acquisition. You're going to buy a company, you're hoping to change the outcome of your business by strategically acquiring a company to change the market notion of who you are and what you're going to do.

Well, what you probably want as output there is... What are you, as a CEO, again, at the top, top... What are the analysts saying about your strategy now? What are your customers saying about their strategic investment with you over a four year time horizon based upon your new roadmap?

What does your new roadmap look like with this new company inside your portfolio, and then does it play to the overarching strategy? That's a very long lead output. Most people aren't going to be in there buying companies to change their strategic assets…

But let's say it's a revenue shift: “We need to change our burn to have an 18 months, 24 months inside our portfolio... sorry, inside our company capitalization. And we have to actually guarantee that. So that means that we're going to slow down on hiring and we're going to tighten up some of our discretionary spending and travel (which none of us are doing now) or cloud spend.”

Well, that's a good metric. You got to measure those things and have the feedback loops on them. And if you saw that the cloud spend is going up. And something's not happening. You've got to... And that's the first time you heard about is when your CFO told you in the monthly reviews... Well, you probably got some work to do… but you can think about that.

Project status is always a good one, which is... and it's a classic way… “All projects are green until one week before they're due, and then they're red.”

That's just the nature of our business. I've never seen a project go something different and you know, it just seems to be that way. So what you’ll really probably have to figure out is when is the customer going to see this for the first time?

When are we on track to a customer touching this? Are we on track to a sales person being able to articulate this to the field? When are we going to show a roadmap, future roadmap after GA or after public beta or whatever you're going to do to customers?

These are very different ways to think about tracking progress because they're actual things that should be happening down that right side of the V at various points in a healthy project status.

And if they're not there by the time they get to you, that means you've got a broken feedback loop.

Jerry Li: How do you create smooth communication downwards, upwards, and lateral? I think the answer you had earlier talked about the downward upward, but in terms of lateral communication, especially for more senior engineering leaders, where they have to spend a lot of time working with their, you know, product counterpart, marketing counterpart, sales counterpart... What kind of suggestions do you have in terms of ensuring that the lateral communication also happens in a healthy way?

Jason Warner: So I think the way I like to look at these is... I'll use my engineering lens, but it actually applies to broader company stuff as well... But it's usually easier to grok from an engineering perspective and just apply it to the company.

But, I love the concept of Apple's "directly responsible individual" - a singular person who owns the thing through and is responsible for making sure that it gets communicated.

In classic project management parlance, there's the RACI model, which is the R-A-C-I or ]a variance on it. Which is "who is responsible, who is accountable, who's consulted, and who's informed" - about how decision making happens, how communication happens, and who does that.

And then there's Agile with a capital A and agile with a small, a. And, the concepts of agile are incredibly important. The concept of RACI and the concept of “directly responsible” are incredibly important.

So I like to employ all of those concepts and build out the mechanisms. And how I like to build those out is to use engineering managers, engineering leads , product managers or whoever, and just say... Hey, your job is to do these sets of things and carve out what those look like. But by getting very specific.

Project managers and program managers are actually where a lot of this breaks down inside of larger organizations. Smaller organizations should be using tech leads, senior engineers, managers to do a lot of this stuff until it becomes too overwhelming. And then you bring in the project and program managers to do a lot of this.

But that's a different conversation too. That's one of those things that helps you get scale. Doing it too early leads you to be slow. Doing it too late means you've got chaos. You got to find the right point in time to do that. But what I really like people to do is say, “Okay, in our organization, engineering leads do this. Product leads do this, and engineering managers do this.”

And they just carve out essentially the set of things that look like small agile and the RACI model and say, “my job is to go do these things…”

And you know… “mine is to go communicate to people. Mine is to make sure that the decision is ratified and written down somewhere and it's communicated and documented it and everyone understands that. Mine is to make sure that the execs are on board or to make sure blah, blah, blah.”

But it's very, very important to understand that there is a discrete set of things that need to happen. And having people assigned to making sure those discreet things happen is what makes or breaks that.

Jerry Li: What are the subtle signs for bad communications you often see?

Jason Warner: I mean, one of the most subtle things is people being surprised. We always say in our industry, "you never want to surprise your boss."

Well, you never want to actually surprise anybody! People shouldn't be surprised!

Imagine that you have the most well-run engineering organization. Everyone's on the same page, but for some reason legal is surprised that something's happening. Well that means that somewhere the linkage between the projects getting done, engineering working and legal that's broken.

And you've got to fix that somewhere. So surprise is a really, really good marker of this.

Jerry Li: Yeah, I totally agree. And it's unlike personal, romantic things... Like surprise is not a good thing in work settings. So pay attention to that and catch that all the time, and if there is surprise and as you said, there’s something that needs to be fixed.

Jason Warner: Yup. And you're never going to quantify surprise. I don't think there's ever going to be a startup out there saying, “we're trying to quantify surprise for you...” in an NPS sort of way.

That's something you should be watching for.

And a lot of times I've seen it work in a couple of different ways...

One is: just a complete organizational linkage break between entire organizations, which is engineering is not talking to legal or sales or product is completely not talking to somebody or, or finance is not.

I've also seen it where you actually have a node inside one of those organizations, which is not communicating. So it was like, "Hey, we've communicated to everyone, everyone legal all the way from the top down knows, except there's one node inside there that is not communicating to their folks."

Well, you got to go fix that then. And that might mean, "Hey, what's going on?" Or it might mean the person's not understanding the role and responsibility, or it might mean they're the wrong person.

You never know, but it's another surprise element. There is “somebody was unaware of something happening” and they're surprised.

The other thing I think about is not being transparent with people... so this goes to surprise... but people not knowing that decisions were made, decisions shifted, or things of that nature.

And quite typically where I see this the most is with CEOs. CEOs will change their mind or change an approach and assume that by saying it to somebody, one person, that THAT is a shift... This is a TERRIBLE mechanism.

You have to understand that you need to say something 4x-5x and you need to broadcast it. You don't say something in Slack and then know the things. The company is basically shifting on a dime. It's inconceivable.

That is usually where I see that breakdown the most.

Weirdly, people who run projects know that you can not do that, but people who run companies seem to not understand that.

Patrick Gallagher: Hmm.

Jason Warner: Then the last thing, I'm not sure if you all have ever read a book called the subtle art of sabotage?

Patrick Gallagher: No.

Jason Warner: It's quite fascinating. I believe it's like a 1944 field guide for world war II behind enemy lines. How you can slow down the enemy in subtle ways. I believe it was a CIA manual that was declassified and talked about.It's kind of fascinating.

But one of the ones I love most inside there, is the “reopening of decisions made.”

Which is... I'm sure we've all seen this inside organizations... Which is we've made a decision, we're going to go do this. The right people that communicate it to the right pathways have been done. Everyone's on the same page…

And then someone literally pops up from somewhere and says, “you know, I think we should revisit this decision. I just want to have the discussion again. I want to do that. It's not based on data. It's not based upon new learnings. It's more of the want to have that discussion again, time to revisit it. There's no new things. It's just...“

That to me is another one of those signs, which is, it's broken. It means that that person is not on the same page or that organization's not on the same page no matter what happened. Another one to watch for.

And I actually think it's okay to revisit decisions. That's not what I'm saying at all. You should be doing it intentionally. It should be based on data or new learnings or something like that, but just the view, the subtle, "I just want to reopen the decision" is another way to think about that.

Jerry Li: Yeah,

Patrick Gallagher: That's a really interesting cue to pay attention to. And so through this whole phone call, there's been this image coming in my head of this... almost giant chessboard...

And I really wish we could have people sort of see how you've been physically representing the organization and how you've been helping guide the decisions. Cause it feels like we're, we're witnessing a visual game of chess and company building and how you facilitate these different leadership maneuvers. It's been really cool.

And with this latest example of the subtle art of sabotage, it's like almost sealed the idea that this is just a visual chess game. It's awesome!

Jason Warner: Well, so it's weird the way my mind works. I'm a very visual person and that you are seeing it here while we're talking, and I think it's important though...

The way I think about these things and the others is, if you think about these as a... a ProtoBus! You're basically sending packages of information around the organization and you want them to be opened up and read and you want the API to be pretty standard and all of that sort of stuff.

What I mentioned before... I got this from somebody at GitHub a long time ago and I love it... Which is one of the things I'm actually trying to do is…

If you think about an organization it has a very large neural net. I'm actually trying to train each one of these nodes to make decisions that I would typically make. Or better than I would, hopefully, while I'm not in the room. And if you can do that… you've got independent nodes. If you can't do that, then you actually have to worry about the full hierarchical dissemination of information.

But if you can actually make these things independent, you can... It looks a lot more like a neural net than it does anything else. And so it goes from a flat checkers game to a chess game to a three dimensional chess, but you can actually have multiple games going on at the same time.

Patrick Gallagher: Wow.

Jerry Li: Yeah. And that's the way to scale.

Jason Warner: Yes.

Jerry Li: For the impact as a leader.

Jason Warner: Yes. It's interesting... Now in my career, what I actually do the most of... I get a lot of calls from VC friends these days. And they say, "I, I know you're not taking this job as CTO at this company. I know you're not, but can you please go in and interview with them to show them how you think and how you do the work as a CTO? Because what we're trying to show them is what they should be looking for in a candidate."

And interestingly, the VC's are doing that with me. What they're doing is trying to train the neural net of those companies, their portfolio companies, on what to look for for company building because they've not gone through that before. So as an industry, they're trying to do it.

But I think that just one of the most fascinating things is that as companies are going to be scaling, not that many people have seen it. And they're thinking that the techniques that worked over here are going to work at 5,000 people. They just don't... You know, things break all the time.

Jerry Li: Yep. The closing question for communication, since we are talking about managing remote teams... In terms of tools for communication, there's video there's, Slack, there's Google doc... What's your recommendation? What's your take on choosing the right tool for the right scenario?

Jason Warner: So I think that... Think about this from a boulders, rocks, pebbles, sand type of thing. There are things that you absolutely need to have in a distributed company and things that are just very nice to have at the bottom.

If you could only choose one tool. Choose the one that becomes your institutional memory. And that HAS TO BE an async communication tool.

GitHub is one of those. And it is a quintessential institutional memory tool. You write something down an issue, you lock it, you ratify the decision. You can even show comments. You know, not real time, but async communication that happens on it. I think that's the only one that is absolutely 100% necessary to do.If you don't have that, you're in trouble.

I would say if there's a 1B, it's video just like this, and everything else after that is a nice to have. Now, the reason why I say you go all the way from async to video is because they're at different ends of the spectrum.

And async can be consumed five years from now. You can go back to someone whopasses you a URL, you can go read about the history about why that was made. Decisions can be ratified there from a video call. You can write down all the output from the video call and post it, and then it lives forever. But on the other side, whenever you're having a discussion and it's going awry in one of those places, you jump to video because this is the highest fidelity communication channel we have to see subtle things.

And if you've been watching me... I've been doing this for over 10 years... but if you look at me, I'm super expressive with my hands, my face, my mannerisms. I'm overly exaggerating to try to show you and convey emotional context, which you cannot get from written communication.

And I'm doing that because I know that this is something that needs to get done. And this is the only way you can do that in a remote way. You can't even do it over the phone because you can't see the way someone's head is bent or the way that they're pacing, or if they're distracted. You just don't know those things.

So video is super important. Everything after that is a “super nice to have.”

And so... everyone will always ask me this. I'll just get in front of it... Where does Slack fit into this?

Well, I think Slack is one of the most nonessential when it comes to remote communication, but it is a very nice to have. But if you can only choose two, it is async communication and video.

Slack or the... And I won't pick on Slack. This is not a pick on Slack. This is pick on chat...

Chat should NEVER be your institutional memory. It should never be where all of the information in your company is held. Think of chat as a five minute communication with somebody in a very cheap sort of way and then it rolls off the back scroll and you never see that again, that is the way you should treat chat.

Chat can never be ratified, right? You know, things that are ratified there and they live there and you have to go back, scroll that. Somebody should treat chat as a way to, “I need to take whatever we talked about here and post it to my async spot and say, we've had this discussion. We've made this decision. Here's what we've done.”

Jerry Li: I want to go back a little bit on the video calls. And you mentioned that being expressive, through your hands, your facial expressions are very important.

I remember that in an earlier talk you did with us maybe two years ago, you mentioned the type of practice... You're very intentional about that... Practicing in front of a mirror to observe yourself.

Can you share some tips? And is that something people just naturally have it, or they actually need to put extra effort to practice?

Jason Warner: I'm assuming there's some set of people that naturally have that. I do not naturally have that, and if there are a set of people that do, I envy them because we are all going to become more distributed and remote in the future. So this is something that I've had to do over time and invest in.

But what I said a couple of years ago, it's true. I watch myself on video as much as I'm watching others. But I'm making sure that I'm representing my emotional state. So it's a quick glance. Am I actually doing that sort of representation here. And then I'm watching how everyone else is responding and emoting and on video too.

So the things that I've noticed about me is... if I'm processing and if somebody hit me with something out of left field, some new information and I was taken completely by surprise... and I let my, my guard down on a video call like this (Jason frowns) and I start to process... my head goes down and goes to the left and I let my face drop.

And next thing I know... and it's happened to me on multiple occasions... Somebody's texting me behind the scenes who trusts me, like one of those canaries and said, "What? Just you, you look pissed. Why are you so mad right now? What's going on?"

I'm like, "No, no, I'm actually processing. I'm trying to rebalance that chessboard real time right now."

And I was like, Oh, shoot. I need to get back into the moment here and make sure that people understand because everyone is watching me as a senior leader in the organization...

And sometimes you want to express displeasure, let's just say, and you've got to know what that looks like too, and you've got to also get people to that spot.

So I've had to intentionally invest in it, and I assume others do too.

I should add one thing here. Whenever you're on a video call, I've seen some incredibly bad habits and one of the worst, I think, is that you've got a video call up and you're supposed to be in the moment with these folks…Remember all video calls are incredibly expensive.I mean overall, meetings are incredibly expensive...

But what I've seen people do is they try to multichannel. And they're responding to the Slack conversations or they're doing something else, and the chatty Slack conversations to a video call. Context switching that way is one of the easiest ways to be bad at both of those channels at the same time.

From an expressiveness perspective, everyone knows that you're responding to chat messages because they can see your eyes move or they can see the way that your facial expressions change, or your fingers are moving on the keyboard and it's incredibly distracting. And a lot of people don't appreciate that. Most people don't.

So I would say that if you were going to make any one behavioral change, do that. Close Slack while you're doing a video call.

Jerry Li: Yeah. That's an easy one to follow.

Patrick Gallagher: That's a really, really powerful tip. And… what's so funny is... when Jerry was talking about things like “not necessarily being expressive with emotional expression...”

There have been moments and times where I've sort of misinterpreted his facial reaction as like displeasure. And then we've had a chance to communicate that afterwards. But, it's been really cool to see that could be where the breakdown of communication is. Entirely in the emotions that you are expressing on the video call and how that's conveying the fidelity of information for the teams.

Jason Warner: Well, a good example of this is... I've got all Apple products at this point in my career…And one of the things that I have is… if my phone calls, the computer rings, you know, that, you know that whole thing and you can pick it up.

And I got a call from someone I don't normally get a call from in one meeting, and I was immediately trying to process, "Why am I getting a call from this person right now out of the blue?"

And I noticed that immediately the tone and tenor of that conversation with the folks changed. I said, "Oh, I'm sorry. Sorry! I got momentarily distracted because I got a call from somebody that... I do need to take. Let me pause this for one minute"

And I went back. I took the call and I came back and I said, "okay, false alarm. Sorry about that. I just needed to, let's get back into it. I was okay.”

And then you, you reset the context to what you need it to be. So I came back in and I said, “okay, you were all telling me about this. I remember myself getting pretty excited about it when I got distracted. So walk me back through like backup 30 seconds, walk me back into this, let's go.”

Patrick Gallagher: I think that's really powerful. It goes back to what you were talking about in the trust section about restoring integrity within the relationships. If there's something that's distracting you or interrupting you, acknowledge it, name it and then let them know that you have been paying attention. I think that's a really powerful way to continue to rebuild trust.

We wanted to transition a little bit, Jason, to talk about engagement.

And there was a quote that from one of your talks with our community where you talk about how “the worst place or worst time to introduce yourself to your neighbor is when your house is on fire.”

And this sort of, I feel like captures a lot of the dilemma that many leaders and organizations are currently facing in terms of transitioning to full time remote and distributed companies. I think there's a pretty common fear for people in remote work that if you're no longer co-located, your team will be more likely to be disengaged.

And so I was wondering if you could comment on what creates engagement in teams and how people should sort of think about this issue that they'll be facing?

Jason Warner: So I think that, team engagement and output might not necessarily be the same thing, for what it's worth as well.

So team engagement could also mean that they're sharing memes with each other and building rapport, but that means that the work is not getting done.

And what I've said too, is that a good culture and a good output. Or, you know... A leader, it needs to cultivate both of those. Because if you're all ping pong tables and drinks in the fridge, but you'd never achieve anything of meaningful success, that is failure. But if you achieve meaningful success, by burning people out... That is also failure. You know, and you've got to cultivate the two of those things.

I think the way that you build that in and can engage with it and keep people kind of motivated and coached and engaged is to have really simple things.

One is to have some standing check-ins. Lightweight stand ups or whatever a couple of times a week. Make sure people are on the same page. That's great.

Two, make sure everyone understands the goal. Remember, don't get bogged down into the tactics nearly as much or the day to day. Make sure that everyone is redirecting to the actual goal of why you're going to achieve something and continue to do that because it will get lost. It always does. It always gets lost over time.

Three, find a way that you are not getting into everyone's business every single day or every hour or whatever, but you've got the right mechanism. That's why I like stand ups every couple of days because it gives you a forum to have those conversations.

And then also timebox everything. Everything should be timeboxed into one week sprints two week sprints, quarters, whatever. Figure out what those time boxes are. And then if you're... I'll go into engineering land. I've seen two practices inside engineering teams that I try to break when I see them right away.

One is, "that's not possible".

I like to say this… "there's a thousand ways in which something will fail. Our job is to find the one way in which it could succeed, and then my job is to make sure that we're doing those things."

As an example, if we're building a product and we said “it's never going to work, it would take too much. We would need five more people, two more years of runway and we would need this to go right in the market…”

I was like "Well, okay. I still think it's good. Let's go figure out a way for me to get you five more people, figure out two more years of runway and to go build it. Those are just... you've just laid out how we could have success! Let's go action that plan and make sure that we want to go do that!”

The other is, when you timebox something, the natural reaction is for every engineering organization to say… “Can't do this in that timeframe... Whatever this bit is, is too big to fit inside that box. We won't actually know…”

And in my experience building software, there's NEVER been a single time that I've ever found in my career that you can't have meaningful chunks broken down into small discrete units of time, which are one or two weeks. No matter how complex the project, you can always find some measurable unit that is one to two weeks.

And what that really tells me is that we don't fully understand the problem yet!

A good example of this is... I am incredibly indebted to the original GitHub actions team at GitHub. In particular, there were two senior leaders in the organization that really stepped up. One was our head of infrastructure. One of those would have our product designer. They're remarkable people.

And what they did is, when we put out the grand vision for what “GitHub Actions” was supposed to be in five years and then broke it down to what we wanted to see it get done, to show the world that GitHub was going to be something different… There was a lot of internal angst around that. “Too big, too audacious.”

And remember this is pre acquisition. So we were a much smaller unit. We were run a little bit differently. It was a different time for us. And both of these two people said, “we will show you a working prototype. It won't work for all use cases, but an end to end demo prototype, with all throw away code in TWO WEEKS…”.

And they literally got the team together. They got them virtually and physically connected. They did a two week sprint and they showed a working end to end demo. And that literally became one of the most important things that GitHub has ever done. And GitHub Actions will grow and it will be a multi year massive platform project.

But they showed the world and more importantly, the investors and Microsoft and Google and other partners what it could look like in a two week sprint. That's the type of thinking I think it takes to get stuff like that, then.

Jerry Li: Yup. And that's a very good example I have experienced on a smaller scale. But being able to do something quickly, prototype and show the world... That just saves a ton of time from going back and forth, having discussion and deciding whether something is worthwhile to invest.

Jason Warner: Yup.

Jerry Li: This is super direct.

Jason Warner: Show it in code!

Jerry Li: Yup. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to maybe dive into that in a separate episode.

Jason Warner: Yeah. That, that would be a fascinating one! That's one of my favorite topics to talk about because that project was so gnarly from beginning to end. And so massively important to GitHub and honestly, the world and what we're doing. And those two were remarkable, remarkable leaders to get that done.

Jerry Li: Going back to engagement… now we are forced to work fully remotely. What does the role of in person interaction play in terms of creating engagement?

Jason Warner: So I think if you think about percentage of context conveyed... As an example, like, if you're in person and you and I are communicating...

We have a very imperfect mechanism for conveying context to one another. It's all verbal and then the physical cues and things like that. But you are never 100% going to have my context.

If I write it down and give it to you or talk to you or work through whiteboards for hours, you're still not going to have 100% of my context. So let's assume that it's just 99% because it's not a hundred but let's assume it's 99, it's as close as you possibly can get. Okay, well, I would say that video can play a role in that up to probably the point of 90%.

I think that might be the Delta and there's 90% Delta between what video can do and in person can do. It's just a little bit imperfect. You're getting a flat. We're a 2D version of me, not a 3D version. There's only so long that we can go into this whiteboarding is a little bit more awkward until the tools get better. Even zoom has some whiteboard, but lets say it's not quite the same. The Delta difference is not that large.

Maybe let's just call it 90% for the purposes of this. Well, in that case... I think that if you think about the question you just asked… the role could it be diminishing over time.

I think that most organizations will... like the great ones will be remote first because those are the habits that it takes to be a great organization anyway. And they know they have better access to talent.

The poor ones will go back to business as usual and assume that you need to input that extra 9% to be great when in fact it was the first 90% that made you great. And that is video or in person as well. And, think of “in person”, as an optimization that needs to be made.

Let me give you a different way to frame this, which is, if you are new... I'm big into sports and I'm big into fitness. And that was something I really got into a couple of years ago... And most of the fitness industry is what I would call optimizations. And they're trying to distinguish themselves from others.

But the basics of weightlifting are the basics of weightlifting. And if you have, if you have a limited amount of time to invest, the rules are super simple and straightforward, and it will get you 85 to 90% of the way to your goal. And if your goal is lifelong fitness and health and whatever, you need nothing more than that.

Now, if your goal is to become the world's number one all time bodybuilder or powerlifter or Olympic athlete, then you have to move into optimization range in extreme measures. But if you're not doing the first 90% you're never going to be an Olympian anyway. So you focus on those first 90%. Then once you're there, get your optimizations.

Patrick Gallagher: This might also be another aside that we can cut out, but have either of you seen the, the sci fi movie Arrival.

Jason Warner: I think I have...

Patrick Gallagher: It's a... it's with like Amy Adams and like the weird spaceships that kind of look like contact lenses?

Jason Warner: Yep!

Patrick Gallagher: So I was just thinking a lot about that when you were sharing about the context differences or the fidelity of communication differences between video and phone calls.

And Jerry and I this morning, actually were talking about Chinese characters and how the different meaning that gets communicated in these different structures.

Um...so not necessarily a point to this aside… but what I discovered this morning was “crisis” and “opportunity” are sort of represented with the same Chinese characters. And the aliens in Arrival in a similar way, would represent entire paragraphs just in a single visual construct.

And so that just makes me think about how communication is so complex and the fidelity of it is so important, in that if you can use the higher fidelity forms, you're able to better make it happen. So we'll probably cut that out but...

Jason Warner: Yeah, I think it's important to recognize. I think though… what the logical extreme of that is... “require everyone to be in the same room, because that is the highest fidelity.”

And I think what people lacked in context, there is the Delta difference between those two.

And so I think of it this way is if I can get 90% with video and I get the best people and I can get all the other goodness that comes with a remote… I will take that! And then the other stuff that, that last 9% or whatever it is, is an optimization.

And then I will find the appropriate time to do that. But you largely only need it in certain contexts. You don't need it everywhere. So maybe you need it in… as an example... pandemic responses. But we're finding out now too, you don't even need it there because everyone HAD to go remote.

So when do you actually need that last 9% to become great? Who knows, you know? We've never tried it the other way. Maybe that's... maybe I'm actually wrong. Maybe my percentages are that in-person is actually 95%, in videos its 94% and I'm using the wrong percentage differences and so it was almost irrelevant.

Patrick Gallagher: So zooming out… in the context of everything that we've talked about so far between trust, communication and engagement. And thinking about where people are sort of at in their dealing as a company with covid-19 and becoming remote...

What does the process of for hiring people in a fully remote process look like?

Jason Warner: So I think it's again, weirdly not different to what I might classify as what an in-person hiring process would look like. And that's probably influenced by the fact that I've been doing this for 10 years, and I think that remote hiring process applies to a hiring process and it can be remote only.

So. I think you should ask the question of “what are you trying to achieve with any sort of onsite process?”

And most of the people when I've asked them this question is they want to get to know the person. They want to see how they gel with the team, they want to know their face to face communication, because that's the way you can feel some sort of comfort with a person.

Well… that says more about the organization to me than the candidate. That's all about the organization, because the organization's not able to achieve those things in a remote way.

So how do you do that? Well, you've got to have a set of questions. We've got to have engagement mechanisms that look at this, and then you've got to intentionally try to do that. So again, you know, it's about the organization doing it.

I think that remote only hiring, again, it looks no different except it... Let me add one caveat... And this is something I would advise them to change, particularly in a remote only.

Most people want to design a hiring “flow panel output.” Which involves the candidate talking to a person. Candidate talking to a person. Candidate talking to a person. Those people talking to each other.

If we already talked about the fact that communication loses fidelity inside that. The one easy, really quick necessary change I would recommend to people is DO TWO PEOPLE in an interview with a candidate.

And the reason why is because they don't then have to do any sort of Rosetta stone translation to "Well, I heard this from the person and I heard this from the person."

They at least heard the exact same thing and then they could talk about that conversation with each other. If they don't do that, then you've lost all of that fidelity of communication. So I recommend that everyone immediately go to at least two people in those conversations.

And I don't think you add more conversations to this. I don't think you then then add two to each one of those. I think you collapsed them and do two less interviews because I think that's another thing... There's too many, there's just too many.

And the reason why is because people are bad at hiring. People are bad at the ability to understand talent and who is a good candidate and all of those sorts of things. So that's the one change I would make.

The other change I would make is people then want to know about programming skill. Well, you're never going to find that out in person anyway...

Those whiteboard sessions that Google and Facebook and others have been doing for years and the week code stuff, those are horrible ways to know if people are actually developers. We ALL know this, the industry knows this, but that is the way that we've gone for whatever incredibly terrible reason.

So have them ACTUALLY DO a real project. A simple one, a couple of hours thing. Have a couple of different mechanisms that you can do. Whether that real project is reviewing a pull request or that real project is consuming information from an API or that a real project is pseudo fixing, an open source bug because you're an open source company and how you might do that.

Have them do something that looks like that, but then don't critique their way of doing it. Have them explain why they went down that path. Then you were actually interviewing a candidate to see if they're, they're a good fit. Anything else is just theater. Wow.

Patrick Gallagher: So you're telling me you could shrink the process and increase the fidelity of assessing a candidate just by simply bringing in a second person into the interview? I feel like that saves so much time!

Jason Warner: It's straight forward. And I have a very strong opinion on why interview processes last so long. It's because people are afraid of making a hiring mistake. So if they're afraid of making a hiring mistake… what they're actually doing is trying to aggregate and diffuse that hiring decision to a group of people. They're basically hiring by committee. And hiring by committee or any committee type of approach actually waters down the process. We all know this, and it's like human nature in the world.

You don't get the best decision. You get the most viable decision.

So if you're after the best decision, develop a process that looks for the best, fastest decision. If you're looking for the most political air cover, well that's the exact process you would develop.

Patrick Gallagher: That's great. Thank you.

Jerry Li: And going back to all the pain points and challenges we talked about so far, I know you have a great analogy that incorporates all these elements into a very easy to relate to example.

Do you want to share that?

Jason Warner: Sure, sure. So... This is an example of something very personal to me because over the last couple of years I've developed a set of pains in my body. But I've had to become an expert or at least a pseudo expert... A tech exec expert on a couple of these things.

But, I've had some back issues over the last couple of years. In particular when I joined GitHub and was trying to get GitHub sold, and working lots of hours...

My back started to act up. And I have been into fitness for a long time and no one would ever accuse me of being weak...or any of those things. And I was very confounded by my back issue.

And what I had learned over the last couple of years is a couple of things, which is...The human body is obviously a very complex system, and the interactions are very, very strange, and they can be very, very personal to an individual. But there's some macro things.

One is, as an example... I have incredibly flat feet. And one of my feet is, is actually not as flat as the other. One of them is overly flat. And that had been causing a lot of issues in my body, ankle, knee, and hip pain and misalignment. And I have to work on that. I have to strengthen my feet. I have to actually get my hips to be a little bit more mobile. I have to work on that.

And the other was... my glutes were not firing correctly because I had been sitting for so many hours in a day, either on a video call like this or in meetings or in airplanes... and airplanes are literally the worst thing.

Well, my glutes... what happened is my hamstrings and my lower back, the glutes sit in between them... and my glutes stopped working appropriately. So my hamstrings and my lower back started doing more work. And with all of those things compounded, I was having major lower back pain issues.

But my back was never the issue.

It was a bunch of other things. And once I figured out what those were, I focused and directed on fixing those things. And then spread out from there to make sure that the chain. So once I got my glutes working, I worked on my lower back and my hamstrings too, to make sure that they were one unit.

And then I made sure that my feet, I started strengthening my feet. And then my left foot in particular, because it was the one that was more flat. And you know, and I'm not done, this is going to be a lifelong thing for me, I think at this point. Well, going back to our analogy earlier, which is if you find that you are having a problem with legal.

And (going back to our example) if you're in engineering, you're not having a problem with legal, you likely have a communication problem. Go find the root causes of all these.

Where... Which one of these things is the flat foot that you need to work on, or you know, the glute not firing?

And I find this... Again, going back to one of the earlier points we made... I find this to be particularly nefarious when people are talking or organizations are talking about people. They almost always say, “we've got a person problem… This person, this person, this person.”

And there's very likely something else that's going on and I am not discounting that. Sometimes people are in the wrong roles. But there's also likely a communication problem or an expectation problem, or a Radical Candor conversation with that person problem. There's a bunch of things that likely played before it's a person problem.

And so you need to go as a senior leader to go do that, to go have that. And a lot of people will be listening to this and say, "that's great, except that my boss, or, that's great, except for that person, or that's great, except for that."

Well... that's literally what I'm talking about! You're now thinking that your organization's fine and it's all on somebody else. Well, what do you do to make that better? Do you go have that conversation? Do you go and try to improve that linkage? Do you go and try to build up some credibility or capital with that person to be able to have a very hard conversation with that?

And even if you can't. YOU Just create the best organization that you can and know that you are going to be taking some of that burden on for your organization, but your organization itself will be much better running and smooth. And then you try to work sideways and then up...

Jerry Li: That’s a beautiful analogy. And also for remote working I think all the pain people feel... it also goes down to the minimum fundamental steps that people can fix. And then the pain goes away.

Jason Warner: Well, the one thing that we said earlier is... in a remote setting... I will say one thing very specifically about remote... If you ever think that you're having a miscommunication with somebody, jump to video right away!

And if... You know, you mentioned earlier… “The worst time to introduce yourself to your neighbor is when your house on fire…”

I very much believe this. This goes for the other organizations really, really strongly for senior leaders.... If you're not having regular one-on-ones with your head of legal or your head of infrastructure, your head of sales and you're not... Don't have relationships over there, start it. Go build relationships.

I don't care if it's work related conversations, but just know that you need to have some sort of relationship that is not a weekly exec level one on one "sync". You need to have some sort of personal connection.

Patrick Gallagher: That's great. Jason, our time is winding down a little bit, but we wanted to sneak in one final question to close out this episode by learning from you...

What's brought you the greatest joy as an engineering leader?

Jason Warner: I think that the thing you always get the most joy, or at least I do, but when you're a leader inside an organization is... Is, there's a couple of set of things...

One is you see something that shouldn't have existed in the first place, NOW EXISTS because you were able to go do something. That is incredibly gratifying.

And I'll go back to GitHub Actions.... GitHub Actions is changing the notion of how we do software delivery and a lot of those things. And... it shouldn't have existed in the context of what was GitHub pre-acquisition.... And it does! And I, I'm incredibly grateful for the people that worked on that and kind of bought into it and really pushed it forward.

But even more than that… I personally get a lot of gratification out of people who you see succeed that you directly mentored. That for me personally, is the most gratifying thing.

And I've had people reach out to me during "covid" now because of habits that they had developed over the last couple of years with me and said, “I cannot tell you how thankful I am that we had this conversation or this thing.”

And I remember one of the folks I'm still very good friends with…. Reached out to me just recently and said, “I was so angry with you when we were having this conversation 'cause I thought you were being unfair to me or not thinking about this or whatever and said, I cannot tell you how grateful I am.”

Jerry Li: Wow.

Patrick Gallagher: That's amazing. And I think a really powerful illustration of just some of the... although we're in sort of a challenging time universally and globally… some of the silver linings that can happen and some of the impact that we've made on other people.

Jason Warner: Indeed.

Jerry Li: And this is why it's so beautiful being an engineering leader and being a leader in general… to have the ability to impact people and have those conversations and to have those coaching moments. And be a part of that growth.

Jason Warner: That's right.

Jerry Li: Well, thanks so much Jason, I really enjoyed the conversation. I think we had a lot of really valuable insights covered and I really appreciate all the context and examples and perspectives you shared!

Jason Warner: Well, thank you both. I've really enjoyed my time.

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