Growing Leadership With Iterative Company Principles
VP Product at Samsara
At Samsara, we've gone through major step changes almost every year. This rapid growth has forced me to learn how to quickly build up the team, specifically how to motivate and drive the team members. My job is less about tactical or individual management as much as training more effective second-level managers. If the end goal is to have them eventually grow upwards in culture and go on to train the managers below them, we need to create consistent company principles and problem-solving frameworks to measure them by.
"If the end goal is to have them eventually grow upwards in culture and go on to train the managers below them, we need to create consistent company principles and problem-solving frameworks to measure them by."
However, getting managers ready to focus on their development requires specific mindsets and environments. We wanted to break down product units into smaller sets of product areas that single leaders could drive but still have a small enough scope to be independent and have ownership. Even still, people are constantly reorganizing and adding to teams, and as these teams grow large, they become inefficient in a number of ways including coordination and consistency.
By being hands-off and allowing these teams to function more independently, my long-term goal is to get leadership to scale. It is the only way that the company itself will scale. Creating a culture of leadership scaling is especially important as the product becomes more flexible and diverse. I expect some of the people I manage to become VPs over time, and if I cannot do that, my failure would be continuing to bottleneck them.
"Creating a culture of leadership scaling is especially important as the product becomes more flexible and diverse."
Starting to identify good team principles at Samsara started with a lot of self-discovery and thinking through situations I found myself in. Some of the problems I asked myself included "how do I incorporate data into decision-making and decision velocity?" and "how can I make sure that I'm keeping the customer front and center?" A lot of these questions and solutions are inspired by people that have worked in a similar space before, case studies published by organizations like Amazon and Microsoft, and other online materials. I have found it is important to document and share with the team when I identify one of these problems so they can know how I might make a decision in a similar situation.
Enforcing these principles to the people that report to me is a working challenge for me. An effective way I've found of testing how much they've been retained is to step back from meetings when I have an answer in mind and to see how my team reaches an answer. I can then see if they exceed or match the 'right' answer that I had in mind on their own. If I feel that they are off base, I focus on giving quantitative and timely feedback. This makes iteration a really important part of these principles. Continual listening and reading are also important to continue gaining new perspectives outside of my own experiences.
"An effective way I've found of testing how much they've been retained is to step back from meetings when I have an answer in mind and to see how my team reaches an answer."
As an example of this in practice, I was recently going through an exercise with teams where we were documenting their roadmaps and figuring out if anything needed to be added or removed. Several product roadmaps that roll up to me were doing very well, but one team, in particular, missed the mark. They had high-level thoughts and documented individual projects, but they weren't as productive as they should've been. We found that they were being more hands-off than they should've been in terms of defining the roadmap and expecting their teams to learn on their own. With a lot of new people, we needed to learn through that. A lot of the feedback I try and work with is less about resources asks as much as process changes, personal behavior, can and new areas of team focus. By focusing on things like who is excelling or struggling - the 'fuzzier' aspects, for lack of a better term - it helps us figure out where we can jump in and make corrective feedback.
Although I have only recently gone through this exercise of documenting the feedback, the intention is to be even more exacting about these values and pieces of feedback in the future. I think if we don't explicitly train on set principles, it's not rational to expect that people will get there on their own. They may be making decisions a certain way, but for managing scale and company consistency, they need to be trained with our specific ways of approaching problems.
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VP Product at Samsara
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