Lara was in town to host Demystifying Management at Webstock 2019 — a full-day workshop helping participants navigate the uncertain waters of management. We jumped at the opportunity to have Lara come to Springload, and grill her with our burning questions about management in the tech industry. Here are some of the highlights.

One of the sticking points of our recent merger was around physical space — it was difficult to fit everyone in and there was a lot of desk shifting. Not everyone can be happy, so how can this be managed? 

Desk moves have actually caused the most strife in my management career — which is surprising. The issue touches on every single one of the six core needs humans have at work. These were defined by Paloma Medina’s BICEPS model as:

  1. Belonging
  2. Improvement/process
  3. Choice
  4. Equality/fairness
  5. Predictability
  6. Status

When any of these needs are threatened, we go into fight or flight mode. You’d think it’s one of those rational or logical moments, but in fact we are neither rational nor logical when we need to find out where our desks are located. 

If you see someone else getting upset, and it feels like it shouldn’t be a big deal — probably at least one of these core needs is threatened. So it’s helpful to understand these six core needs, and that one or more could be going on for us. 

Lara has written about the BICEPS model and why desk moves can draw up strong emotions

At Springload there’s been a lot of discussion around maintaining the culture. But as we know, when businesses grow they can become more siloed and ‘corporate’. What’s your experience with this, and how would you navigate it?

I think trying to keep things the same as a company grows is always going to end in failure. 

One thing we talked a bit about in yesterday’s workshop is the four stages of team dynamics that every team goes through whenever there’s a change: forming, storming, norming, and performing

For teams to reach performing, you cannot skip any of the preceding steps. And any time someone or something changes — mission, manager, or company size — it resets to the forming stage again. There’s no way to avoid it. This is something you have to get used to, as trying to stay in the performing stage will eventually become fragile. 

I find it’s helpful when leaders acknowledge ‘this is the stage we’re in, and this is what we need to do to move through to the next stages’, because it helps maintain a sense of predictability (the ‘P’ in BICEPS).

Is it okay to have values that potentially conflict with each other? For example, if one is pragmatism and the other is quality — depending on your definitions — these could clash. 

A cool thing that I’ve seen work really well is to use examples of when we choose one value over another. For example, having an ‘even over’ statement: ‘pragmatism, even over quality’. 

I would also take a look at how people are recognised and rewarded. Not just monetarily or with a job-title, but who’s getting a shout out in a company meeting. Stuff like this tends to signal both what the cultural currency is, and which of those values are valued higher than others. 

If the only people getting shout-outs are people who have been extremely pragmatic at the expense of quality – that tells you something about how the values are being lived. You’re recognising and rewarding one value over the other. 

How do you invigorate meetings that are a bit stale or boring?

First of all, I love meetings. Which is a bit of a strange thing to say.

I set a six-month reminder to check in on meetings, and ask, ‘okay, does anything about this need to change?’. I don’t think meetings should be set to recur indefinitely, it should be more of a three-to-six month period, and at the end see what’s working and what’s not. 

A classic pitfall I see for stale meetings is that there’s no distinction between the facilitator and the leader. The leader cares about the content and is invested in what we’re talking about. That has to be different to the facilitator, who makes sure:

  • we’re addressing the goal of the meetings
  • everyone has a chance to speak, and
  • everyone has what they need to do to take action afterwards. 

So the pro-tip here is make a distinction between who’s leading the meeting, and who’s facilitating.

How do you get the most out of 1:1 meetings? 

The person in your 1:1 is probably looking for growth — which can come in three different forms:

  • Mentoring — teaching them how to do something.
  • Coaching — helping them connect their own dots with a series of coaching questions.
  • Sponsoring — getting someone visible developmental assignments to get them to the next level, such as being delegated a juicy stretch project. 

1:1 meetings should include some balance of those three things, as well as feedback. Everyone’s different in terms of what they need, and how much of it they need. And some know exactly what they need and can articulate this, others will have no idea what they need – which is totally cool. 

I believe it’s up to the leaders to ask a lot of questions, and get curious about them to see how they can best provide support in a leadership context. 

If you’re in a situation where you’ve been mentoring somebody and you realise you should’ve been coaching them the whole time — because that is in some form a failure — how would you address that?

There’s a tool I use called ‘what we learned, and what we’ll do’: 

  • ‘What we learned’ is addressing that something messed up 
  • ‘What we’ll do’ is taking the learnings and coming up with the solution.

I love this because you’re like, ‘Okay, I acknowledge this thing went sideways. Now what we’ll do instead is this other thing’. This is more of a reactive approach than a proactive one, but it’s a tool I’d recommend you use all the time. 

Bron: I feel like acknowledging failure is a really powerful thing, especially as a leader. Because everybody’s human, and we should be able to say ‘I made a mistake, I screwed that up, and I’m really sorry’. I would love to find ways of letting it be more acceptable for the whole organisation to fail. That's how you learn!

So what can I do as a leader to encourage failure? 

Totally, and that comes back to the whole psychological safety thing, right? It’s so important within our communities and companies to foster psychological safety. And this is something I’ve only just begun to read about how organisations can do so. 

There are many tools that leaders can employ in order to create a much more psychologically safe environment for their teammates to fail and discuss it. 

Lara Hogan is an author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry. Visit her website to find out more about her work and publications. 

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