The OG Team Lead Whisperer Peter Drucker on Responsibility, Automattic Style

Originally posted on an internal Automattic leadership blog, part of our asynchronous communication system called P2.

This is my loose interpretation of Peter Drucker’s words in his famous book The Effective Executive — where I replace “executive” with “team lead” and edit he/him pronouns to be more inclusive. Adding a few Automattic specific references such as “P2s.”

Effective leaders focus on outward contributions.

The question “What should I contribute?” gives freedom because it gives responsibility.

The great majority of team leads tend to focus in and down. They are occupied with efforts rather than with results. They worry over what Automattic, Matt, and other senior leaders “owe” them and should do for them. And they are conscious above all of the authority they “should have.”

As a result, they render themselves ineffectual. The effective team lead focuses on contribution. She looks up from her work and outward toward goals. She asks: “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of Automattic?” Her stress is on responsibility.

The focus on contribution is the key to effectiveness for a team lead:

  • In their own work — its content, its level, its standards, and its impacts. Setting a good example in what’s produced personally.
  • In their relations with others — superiors, peers, subordinates.
  • In their use of the tools of the team lead — such as meetings, P2 posts, and performance reviews.
  • In setting clear expectations that everyone is aware of — nudge those who aren’t aware, and manage out those who can’t get it.

The focus on contribution turns the team lead’s attention away from her own specialty, her own narrow skills, her own department, and toward the performance of the whole. It turns her attention to the outside, the only place where there are results.


Takeaway: The most effective team leads maintain a constant focus on the contributions everyone at Automattic can make: user experience, customer happiness, building the company, and healthy revenue growth.

If you haven’t read Peter Drucker’s work— he’s known as the “godfather of modern management” — and “the one to read” even if you are a skeptic. He defined the standards for both the intellectual and real output for knowledge workers in the modern workplace.

Notable leaders in our industry that we still read today built on his work, from Andy Grove to Ben Horowitz to Camille Fournier — and, naturally — many team leads at Automattic. Drucker (Austrian-American, 1909–2005) was a true polymath known for his depth and teaching across many subjects: art, history, literature, music, and religion.

Joining Tumblr

Thrilled to announce I’ve joined Tumblr as head of product and technology. This new role means I get to work alongside industry veterans on a brand and a platform that I’ve admired for years — all while engaging with and creating new experiences for an amazing and diverse community of fans, creators, and brands.

With Automattic and Tumblr joining forces in September 2019, we’re keeping momentum going as we build products and experiences together. Tumblr is alive and kickin’! Especially recommend checking out the mobile apps (available in App Store and Google Play Store) as strong evidence of a thriving product development culture that deeply understands its user base.

What most excites me is the fit of my skills and experience with this new challenge. New learnings. Combines years of experience as a hands-on product developer with cross-functional operations at the executive level. My full range! Success means nurturing and developing an outstanding technical organization, purpose-driven to support a thriving online community and grow a healthy, sustainable business.

For product news and updates follow the Tumblr blog to keep up with the latest and greatest. Y también hablamos español, síganos en Tumblr: El blog del equipo.


For a brief taste of Tumblr:

Explore the archives on this isn’t happiness — an art scrapbook that’s curiously addicting…

Find the warm fuzzies on cozy.tumblr.com, as an alternative to news-obsessed social media…

Hear stories of discovering a community around shared interests at explore what you love;

And, enjoy Garfield Minus Garfield. (I love this one).

Follow me on Tumblr, too.

Two blogs going so far, with a few more in the works: nanobar.tumblr.com (main) and blackedoutrims.tumblr.com (side obsession número uno).

So many fun features to discover including this never-ending TV show and — for pros — lesser-known features like the dogear, fast reblog (use a long press on mobile), and fancy archive pages.

Free Tutorial: Optimize Your Business Website

For any business owner, freelancer, entrepreneur, or anyone interesting in building an online business or side gig. This free webinar from WordPress.com web design pros (YouTube) will teach you tips on site design, SEO, monetization, and mobile optimization.

Kathryn Presner

Two weeks ago, my colleague Marjorie asked if I’d be interested in helping run a webinar for small businesses, with tips on getting the most out of their website. She knew I’d done a lot of public speaking and thought I might be interested. Even though we wouldn’t have a lot of time to prepare, it took me all of three seconds to accept.

Fast forward to yesterday, when my colleague Steve Dixon and I presented a one-hour online workshop called Optimize Your Business Website: Secrets from Web Design Pros. Topics included essential pages for business sites, layout templates, the WordPress block editor, and what it takes to optimize a site so it’s both easy to find in search engines – and easy for visitors to use. We also looked at how to make sure your site is both accessible and mobile-friendly, along with a few different ways to…

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Automattic Engineering Culture on Key Values

Automattic is hiring engineers across mobile and web, frontend and backend. Recently we partnered with Key Values to highlight our top values, from open communication and open source all the way to flexible work location and a focus on teams.

Listing of Automattic engineering values on the Key Values website.

Top values include:

  • Open communication: As a distributed company, communication is our oxygen.
  • Open source contributor: We believe open source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.
  • Committed to personal growth: The first line of our creed: “I’ll never stop learning.”
  • Flexible work arrangements: Set up remotely in a way that works for you — and take the time off you need.
  • High employee retention: Automattic employees tend to stay at Automattic: Our retention rate for Code Wranglers and JS Engineers is 86% over the last 5 years.
  • Heavily team oriented: Teams are how we organize our work, communication, meetups, and impact.
  • Engages with community: We are more motivated by impact than money.
  • Engineering-driven: First and foremost, we are an engineering company. Engineers are the ambassadors of our company and community.
A view of Automattic employees.

Check out the full list of Automattic engineering values here: https://www.keyvalues.com/automattic. And, if anything matches your interests and passion, please apply!

Distributed.blog: The future of work is here

WordPress was my first introduction to the idea of distributed work — we didn’t need to live in the same place or work in the same office to build something that changes the world. So when I started building Automattic in 2005, we took the exact same approach. All you needed was good WiFi and a dream. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Automattic remains a fully distributed company, with 900 employees working from 68 countries and no central office. Now that we’ve been working this way for over a decade, I wanted to create a podcast to tell the story of distributed work — not just sharing everything we’ve learned at Automattic, but speaking with other companies, executives, and creators who are pioneering the future of work. We’re going to learn about the practical application of distributed work in our daily lives, but also answer the bigger questions about why it’s important.

Matt Mullenweg

Forward-looking new series about distributed work from the founder of WordPress and Automattic (my employer).

Quick Fix Days and Hack Weeks

At Automattic we’ve redefined our hack weeks to focus on product changes for customer kindness: fixing flows, removing dead ends, and paying down technical debt.

In The big secret of small improvements Tal Bereznitskey explains how to improve “quick fix days,” where software teams take time to make small improvements. Those small changes can together mean a big win for customers and the business.

At Automattic we’ve experimented with both 1-day bug scrubs in one team all the way up to a full “hack week” — so Tal’s principles strike a chord with me.

Framing the problem is halfway to solving it — I love how he suggests rewording the subject line of a software change to fix a bug as something actionable, not just a description of the problem.

6. Well defined. Only work on tasks that are defined properly. Prefer “Make content scrollable” over “Bug: can’t see content when scrolling”.

Create positive feedback loops — I remember during my days answering WordPress.com Themes bug reports and how rewarding it was to hear directly from the people I helped with a bug fix.

7. Thanks you. There’s nothing like hearing a customer say “Thank you!”. When a quick-fix was suggested by a customer, let the developer email him and tell him the good news.

This is the work: customer kindness — Our latest iteration at Automattic speaks to this customer focus as the goal of the maintenance work — it isn’t just polish or cleanup, this is the product work. We even have a fun acronym for it now! H.A.C.K. — Helping Acts of Customer Kindness.

Aaron Douglas: Being Mindful During Video Calls

Tips from my coworker and prodigious mobile app maker Aaron Douglas on being mindful during video calls. Great tips, not just for remote workers, either. “I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.”

The Dangling Pointer

Working remote means I’m on a lot of video calls. I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.

Look at the camera often

When you’re in person you look at people’s eyes to show them you’re listening. Doing that on a video call requires a bit of counter-intuitive body language by looking at the camera. You won’t be looking at the person but they’ll see you looking directly at them. It’s a subtle difference but I’ve found it highly effective.

Also try to place the video call window up the screen towards the camera. Also decrease the size of the window so the person’s eyes are naturally closer to the top of the window (closer to the camera). When you’re not looking at the camera while the person is speaking it’ll still look…

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Kerry Liu on Team Leadership: Three Important Things

Insight on team leadership and management from my colleague and technical team lead extraordinaire Kerry Liu.

Remember these three things: don’t fall into the safety of your old job, listen, and provide useful feedback.

These are the three most important insights I gained from working as an Engineering Team Lead at Automattic. 

Read the full article: Three Important Things.

Inclusive Design, Day 15/15: Links, Resources, Voices, and Stories

This is day 15 of 15 in a short series on inclusive design. If you missed any of the earlier posts, see day 1 here or view the full list below.


Resources, notes, and links to recap the 15-day series on inclusive design, where I shared what I’m learning about inclusive design with you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following along and have learned something new. I welcome your comments and back-links to share your stories and resources, so I can learn what inclusive design means to you.


 

Voices


Product Stories & Companies


Automattic & WordPress Projects

  1. Design.blog — 50 thought leaders contributing essays on design, inclusion, +/- tech in Community, Creativity, Culture, Health, Leadership, and Product.
  2. Design and Exclusion — A free conference produced by Automattic, Mash-Up Americans, and the MIT Center for Civic Media at the Media Lab.
  3. Inclusive Illustrations — The illustration vocabulary created by Alice Lee and adopted by WordPress.com to express the broad range of customers that we serve.
  4. Inclusive Design Checklist — An online and printed resource launched at the 2017 AIGA National Design Conference.
  5. We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason — Matt Mullenweg on the essential freedoms of WordPress

Books


Blog Series: 15 Days of Inclusive Design

  1. Day 1: Introduction, Discovery, and Voices
  2. Day 2: Building Empathy
  3. Day 3: Mismatched Conditions
  4. Day 4: When Defaults Don’t Fit
  5. Day 5: To See Yourself in Imagery
  6. Day 6: Recognizing Exclusion
  7. Day 7: Roku and the 10-Foot Rule
  8. Day 8: Expand Your Market By Solving One Case First
  9. Day 9: Review of Principles
  10. Day 10: Making Your App Accessible Benefits Everyone
  11. Day 11: OXO Figured It Out
  12. Day 12: Improved Publishing Confidence on WordPress.com
  13. Day 13: Mind the Mobile, Design for Low Bandwidth
  14. Day 14: Diverse Teams Make Better Decisions
  15. (You are here.)

This content will live on in the form of a continually updated page: sensible.blog/inclusive.


About this Inclusive Design series Today (February 16, 2018) I’m giving a talk on inclusive design at WordCamp Phoenix 2018. Leading up to the conference I’ve been publishing notes on voices, stories, products, and other resources: everything I’m learning about this emerging practice. Read more about the series.

Inclusive Design, Day 14/15: Diverse Teams Make Better Decisions

This is day 14 of 15 in a short series on inclusive design. If you missed any of the earlier posts, see day 1 here or view the full list.


Inclusive and diverse teams make better, stronger teams — and these teams make better decisions. Because our work and thought patterns are influenced by our background and biases, working with a diverse group means not only fresh, new ideas, but we also counterbalance the tendency to design for people just like ourselves. A higher standard.

And that is why representation matters, not just to those who are represented, but to all of us. Because it expands our sense of what’s possible, and what we have reason to expect. —Cate Huston

Bring diversity into teams
Screenshot of the Automattic Inclusive Design Checklist, under Teams.

For maximum learning and a broader perspective, not limiting yourself to your immediate team or company; seeking out a wide variety of inputs from mentors, coaches, and other advisors.

If your team is limited and you don’t have the ability to expand, actively seek out people with other perspectives to consult or act as project advisors, and give special consideration to their feedback.


I learned from Sara VanSlyke and Trace Byrd at Atlassian that it also matters how a diverse team is represented, in their article “Illustrating Balanced and Inclusive Teams.”

As a company that wants to unleash the potential in every team, depicting people is especially important. How we represent the people who make up teams should be just as important. We’ve always known that the best teams are balanced; made of a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and perspectives, but our illustrations haven’t always reflected that.

An Atlassian team article
Screenshot from the Atlassian team’s article about illustrating their diversity.

The authors found that even though their team aspired to be more inclusive, how they represented themselves visually wasn’t keeping pace with the true diversity of the team.

Promoting diversity and inclusion within our brand is a persistent and multi-faceted effort. And it’s a challenge to depict diversity without it feeling merely perfunctory or symbolic until the reality of our industry truly represents the customers we serve and the world at large. More needs to be done outside of the brand to promote an inclusive workplace, but we’ve found that the results of constant vigilance and open conversation are worth the time and energy.

To truly represent our customers is something Automattic is improving — we still have a long way to go. If you missed the story about updating the WordPress.com brand illustrations to be more diverse, see Inclusive Design, Day 5/15: To See Yourself in Imagery — with illustrator Alice Lee and my designer colleague Joan Rho.

See also this YouTube series introducing Automattic employees from all walks of life. A diverse group! I’m proud to work with them every day.


For a thorough treatment of this topic, I highly recommend reading and bookmarking “On Improving Diversity in Hiring” from my Automattic colleague Cate Huston. In this in-depth article, she shares her hiring expertise to build diverse teams, everything from onboarding and recruiting to specific tips and tricks during interviews.

Screenshot from Cate Huston's post about improving diversity in hiring.
Screenshot from Cate Huston’s article about improving diversity in hiring.

This rule of thumb about stopping the behavior before someone is hired hit home with me as this is something I need to improve on personally. An off-color joke here, a comment there; I’m learning to speak up more when I notice these things.

A good rule for inclusion pre-work to diversity is to stop doing things you would have to change if the demographics of your team better reflected the demographics of the world. —Cate Huston

One practical tip shared by Cate that I’ve put to good use is Textio, a service to help make job descriptions more inclusive. I used it in 2016 to update the Excellence Wrangler job posting, replacing phrases like triage ruthlessly with triage efficiently.

Textio website screenshot
Screenshot of the Textio homepage.

Cate’s influence in the last year or so has helped me improve my hiring to be more inclusive, both in mindset and in practice. She’s inspired me to read more broadly, and think more openly.


In closing, a word from Scott Page via his Aeon article titled “Why hiring the ‘best’ people produces the least creative results:”

When building a forest, you do not select the best trees as they tend to make similar classifications. You want diversity.

(Scott has a new book out on this topic: The Diversity Bonus, How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy. I haven’t read it yet.)

For day 15 of 15 of inclusive design, the last day, I’ll share a recap of all the inclusive design learnings I’ve shared in this series so far.


About this Inclusive Design series Tomorrow I’ll give a talk on inclusive design at WordCamp Phoenix 2018. Leading up to the conference I’ve been publishing notes on voices, stories, products, and other resources: everything I’m learning about this emerging practice. This is day 14 of 15. Read more about the series.