Our first episode is with Molly Graham, a seasoned exec and builder who excels at helping startups to go not from 0 to 1, but from 1 to 2. We’ve interviewed her four times on First Round Review — which might be a record — because the advice she has to share and the experiences she can draw from are unbelievably helpful to founders and startup leaders. She helped build and scale Facebook, Quip, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in their early days, and is now the COO of Lambda School. In this episode we dive deep into management. From the traps that are easy to fall into, to why you should be spending more time with your highest—not your lowest—performers, to the managers she’s learned the most from, Molly shares tons of insightful advice and practical tactics for stepping up your management game.
Molly Graham: [00:00:00] Context is one of the hardest things to remember, to pass on as a leader. And it's one of the most important for teams to do their best work. So helping people understand the larger context in which they exist with business, why we're focused on the things we're focused on as a leader, like you're in these conversations regularly, you're making the decisions and you sort of forget where your team is.
So bringing people with you is actually a skill
Brett Berson: [00:00:32] welcome to in depth, a new show that surfaces tactical advice, bounders and startup leaders need to grow their teams, their companies, and themselves. I'm Brett Berson, a partner at first round, and we're a venture capital firm that helps startups like notion, roadblocks, Uber, and square tackle company building firsts through over 400 interviews on the review.
We've shared standout company, building advice. The kind that comes from those willing to skip the talking points and go deeper into not just what to do, but how to do it with our new podcast in depth, you can listen into these deeper conversations every single week, learn more and subscribe today. At first round.com.
Our very first episode, we thought there was, was no one better to bring on than my friend, Molly Graham. If you're a long time, first round review reader, you'll probably recognize Molly's name from a number of interviews we'd done with her most notably, her classic startup advice in giveaway your Legos, a 2015 article that racked up hundreds of thousands of views and is still constantly shared to this day.
But if you're not familiar, she's a favorite of ours for a reason. And her bio makes it clear that she's something of a startup whisper. She started at Google and comms and followed a few of her colleagues over to Facebook in the early days. Where she helped kickstart the HR department working on early performance management compensation and employee engagement systems.
And then she joined her Facebook colleague, Bret Taylor's new startup Quip to figure out the business side of this SAS product, which sold to Salesforce in 2016, after helping spin up the Chan Zuckerberg initiative, Molly consulted for a number of startups, including Lambda school, which he recently joined full-time as the COO, as Molly puts it, she loves the messiness of scaling and figuring out what it takes a startup to go not from zero to one, but from one to two, on today's episode, we're digging really deep into what that looks like from a manager's perspective.
This is a topic Molly has strong opinions on. She seemed time and time again, across her career. How so many startup mistakes come down to general management issues from the traps that managers can fall into to why you should be spending more time with your highest not lowest performers. To the manager she's learned the most from Molly shares, tons of insightful advice and practical tactics for stepping up your management game.
I really hope you enjoyed the episode. And now my conversation with Molly.
So Molly, thanks so much for joining us. One of our first guests. This is quite an honor.
Molly Graham: [00:03:14] Thanks Brett. Thanks for having
Brett: [00:03:16] me. We kind of dive in and I thought the first place we would spend time talking about is one of your favorite topics, which is general management and maybe a way to sort of ground the conversation is to have you define, like, what is the job of a manager and maybe how do you know if you're doing a poor, good or epic job in that?
Molly Graham: [00:03:35] This is something that I got very opinionated about when I was at Facebook working in people because. One of the big mistakes. I think people make both in constructing people's systems, but also in sort of wanting to be a manager is conflating management and leadership. I strongly believe you can be a leader without being a manager.
I actually think management is one of the hardest jobs in the world. And I think only people that have certain characteristics and certain loves should be managers. I basically think management, true management is the act of making the people around you better. And it only works. If when I ask you, what do you love doing?
One of the answers that you give is I love investing in people and I love making them better, making them into the best versions of themselves. Management is not telling people what to do. It is not setting a vision and aligning the work around it. I think of those well, particularly the second one as leadership management is the act of investing in people, figuring out who they are, what they're good at, what motivates them, and then aligning that to the work that a company has to do their role, their growth areas.
And. I think the easiest way to tell if you're doing a great job as a manager, is, are the people around you growing? Are they growing in scope? Are you seeing them change in terms of the things that they were not good at six months ago? And suddenly they're better at, are you pushing your highest performers and watching them explode and end up running the company in some form or another, are you helping your lower performers figure out what's not working?
The job of manager in my opinion, is to bring out the best in people. And it is not something that lots of people get joy out of. So the first question is always, do you love doing that? Is that something that really brings you joy? And if the answer is no, then I would strongly encourage you to not be a manager.
But if the answer is yes, it's one of the most powerful and leveraged jobs inside of organizations.
Brett: [00:05:40] So does that mean that every well-functioning team is led by a manager or leaders who are not managers can actually still lead high-functioning teams?
Molly Graham: [00:05:52] So I think you find leadership and management in some people, like you can find the combination of the two of them.
And particularly in bigger organizations, you actually often find really extraordinary managers that are not leading a team. Meaning when I say so I'll define leadership. I would say leadership to me is someone that's able to not just set a vision and say, Hey, here's where we need to go. But to bring people with them, to inspire them, to make it clear.
Why? So it's not just defining the what, but also helping people understand why that, what, so why does it matter if we hit back all et cetera? Like what is the context in which we exist and are trying to achieve things? You find extraordinary leaders that genuinely gets zero pleasure from managing people from spending time with people from doing one-on-ones.
And a lot of times what. I do, if you have the head count. And also just in general, as you're looking at leadership teams and things like that is let's say you're working with a CEO. That's an extraordinary leader, but does not get joy from management or is just not particularly experienced at it. You can often pair them with someone.
That's a really great manager with someone that's great at saying, okay, well, here's the work we have to do? How do we organize the people that we have around that work? Those pairs are often where you find really extraordinary high performing teams. Sometimes you'll find management and leadership in the same person.
But I think it's good to recognize that they often don't come together and if they don't come together, you actually need to compliment the leader with some really extraordinary managers. Otherwise you tend to get dysfunctional teams. You can find self-organizing teams that have great managers within them that may not be directly managing the team, but have ended up helping organize the team in one way or another from the side through indirect management.
So I would say contrary to what I think. Folks that spend a lot of time thinking about managing. I would say, I would say there's a bunch of different versions of high-performing teams and there's no specific recipe. Like you have to have X and Y and Z, and then you got a high-performing team to me. It's about, okay.
Who is the leader of the team that is sort of the permanent fixture? I think a lot about startups. So I think a lot about founder CEOs and then what do they need in their compliments? So in their leadership team, on their team, in order to round out how to get their team to like a high-performing level,
Brett: [00:08:19] drilling down more into the topic of management, I'm curious, what are the traps that you see come up most often for managers?
Molly Graham: [00:08:28] There's a couple, the first is probably believing that you're supposed to have the answer. I strongly believe, particularly in growing scaling companies. One of the most important things to understand as a manager is, as it is not your job to have the answer, it is your job to bring a group of people together, to help them figure out what needs to happen next, but you're not supposed to be the smartest person in the room.
And if you operate that way, it actually can be hugely problematic and usually limits your career in one way or another, because you're not making the most out of a team of people. Like I said, my management philosophy, how I think about management is bringing out the best in the people around you, which means often your job is to facilitate a conversation, to set up structures, roles, or design, et cetera.
That brings out the best in the people that you're hiring. Not for you to be right all the time. So that's one huge pitfall. I think particularly when you're a new manager, it can be really, really intimidating when someone comes to you and says, Why are we doing this? Or what about this? And you don't know the answer.
It takes time and confidence to be able to say, you know, I don't know the answer to that, but that's a great question. What do you think let's figure it out. Like who would you ask? Because you sort of think you're supposed to know. So letting go of that sense of like, I'm supposed to have the answers to questions that people ask and being able to find strength in the figure, it out mode is really important.
I think, you know, it's interesting. This is a more nuanced one, but I was talking to someone about it the other day. So it's top of mind, which is, I actually think as managers, we often forget that we should be spending most of our time with the highest performers on our team. It's really easy to think. Oh gosh, that person is so strong.
They're just. They take care of themselves or they manage themselves and I'll go focus on the rest of my team. But one of the things I always say to managers is you should actually literally look at your calendar, look at your time and how you distributed every week. And you should be spending the majority of it, your time with the people that are moving the needle folks that are your highest performers.
Those folks actually have the potential to really change the company. And when high performers, if you give them feedback, usually you just see explosive change. That's one of the most rewarding things in the world. Is coaching and managing high performers. But often as a manager, what you find is when you actually look at how you spend your time is that you're spending time with people that are struggling and you're trying to help them not struggle, which is both like a totally worthwhile effort for a while, but you have to be really self-aware and conscious of the fact that sometimes people are taking up too much time.
Sometimes you're spending huge amounts of your time, making someone else successful in a way that isn't going to be sustainable and is causing you to not be able to spend time with your higher leverage folks, but actually indicates like. You probably should think about having a conversation with that person about whether this is the right fit for them.
So it's actually a good exercise in sometimes identifying low performers that aren't going to make it because you have to spend so much of your time with them that it's just not sustainable for you or for the company. But if you literally just take that rule of I, the majority of my time, coaching energy, et cetera, should actually go into people that are high-performing that like can actually become these rocket ships and end up running parts of the company someday.
It can really change how you think about your team and also about your time. So
Brett: [00:11:55] how do you know in terms of low performers, if it's a lost cause or if they can actually grow and change, and I guess sort of the adjacent question is when you think about your role over many years as a manager, how often do you find somebody who's a low performer and there's something that changes and they're no longer a low performer,
Molly Graham: [00:12:14] oh, many in many different ways.
Just to say it often a low performer is not someone that is inherently low performing. It is someone that is in the wrong job in the wrong organization, has the wrong set of circumstances around them. I think as a good manager, first step is identifying that something's not working. Second step is having the conversation with the person and saying, Hey, something's not working.
Here's what I'm seeing. And I want to talk about why that is. You're not meeting deadlines. You're constantly turning in work. That's at 80% of what I would expect, blah, blah, blah. And just have the, like what's going on for you conversation a lot of times. And it obviously depends on every circumstance, but I think particularly in cases where, you know, the person has been successful in the past or, you know, they're a really talented person in one way or another, just having that open dialogue of like what's going on.
Sometimes people just need to be able to say I'm really confused, or I hate this role, this isn't right for me, or I'm feeling. Like this organization isn't right. For me. Or usually when you take the direct path and have those conversations with people, you find that on the other side is particularly for self-aware people they're struggling and they're confused and they don't know why things aren't working, but they also feel like something's not right.
And then the question is, okay, what's not working a lot of times, frankly. It's because no one's told them the way that they're coming off, the way that their deliverables are landing, what's actually expected of them. I find one of the reasons I can manage teams where I don't have a lot of expertise, like for example, marketing or whatever, is I focus entirely on clear roles and clear expectations.
Do people's roles make sense? Do they know how they fit? How they align to the business? And then. The second is, do they know what's expected of them? Do they know what success looks like? And I will just say 80% of the time I go into a team that's struggling. The answer to both of those questions is no.
So do you know what the roles on the team should look like? Does each person know what's expected of them is like exercise one. Usually you find some role that's been poorly defined. You go to define it, and then you find that the person that's in the role for one reason or another is not actually a fit for what the business needs and that conversation.
It can be a relief to the person on the other side. Cause they're like, I don't know why I'm struggling, but I'm struggling. And then you explain, okay, here's, what's expected of you. And here's what you're delivering and here's the gap. And they're like, oh, now I get it. And either they say, okay, I have the energy to fill this gap.
I know I can do it. Here's what that looks like. Or they say, you know what, this really isn't for me. So to me, the most important set of exercises are, what is this person's job? What is expected of them? Do they know that? And then do they want to, they have the desire, the energy, et cetera, to fix it, but saying, Hey, this person is low performing and they're struggling.
And not going through that exercise, I think often does a disservice to them and to you because a lot of times people are struggling, not just because they're like. Bad at stuff, but because they don't know what's expected of them. And I have many times over seen every version of this story. So version one would be you clarify roles and expectations.
People know what's expected of them and you see a dramatic change in their performance, just because they suddenly know what they're aiming for in the role that they're in. Second version is. You clarify roles and expectations and you help the person understand the gap. And they say, gosh, this really isn't for me.
This isn't what I want to do. This isn't what I'm good at. And either they find another role inside the company or they find another company. And the third is the harder one where you say, Hey, here are the roles and expectations. Here's the gap. And they don't see the gap. Those ones are tough. And they're really pretty rare.
I have to say like most people, when you help them clarify what the gap is, they see it too. And they understand it. But most of the time, what I see is folks that. Aren't a fit in one role or in one organization, you see them go to another organization or another role and just totally blossom and flower.
So I'm a fan of giving people multiple chances, but also sometimes I'm a fan of setting people free. So saying like, Hey, we've been really trying to make this work inside this company. I don't think you're happy. I don't think we're happy. Like, can we just, everybody call it and let us help you and support you in finding a path out of the company and also just like a new life and a new work life.
And there's often great ways to part amicably, particularly when you've been having like really direct and clear conversations with them.
Brett: [00:16:41] When you think about roles and expectations, can you give an example of a really good job, something in your orbit now, or sort of a previous experience that kind of makes that point?
Molly Graham: [00:16:52] Oh, sure. I'll give one. That's probably close to the heart of a lot of people in startups because. One of the hardest things when you're inside of a business, that's sort of in figure it out. Mode is when you have a role, that's like, I need you to figure out what our sales motion should be. So like a lot of my time at Quip, we were trying to understand what we were selling and who we needed to be selling it to.
And what a lot of people would say is like, what was our primary sales motion? And in startups, when you're in that phase, it's really challenging to find the people that are truly exceptional at figured out mode versus the people that need structure and clarity. And in particularly in sales, like clear incentives and a clear plan.
One of the most interesting exercises I did really early at Quip was I went around and met with like, A ton of the sales leaders or early sales folks at some of the SAS companies like Optimizely and LaSeon and places like that. And I literally asked each of them who closed all of your first customers in Alaska in case they don't even have salespeople.
So question I just asked is actually the appropriate question, which is like, how did you get your first customers? And then how did you get your first 10? How did you get your 10 to 50? How did you get 50 to a hundred in terms of number of customers and almost invariably. The first 10 often are closed by the CEO or someone like that.
The next 40 are closed by someone that does not have like the pedigreed sales background from Salesforce or X or Y or Z. Like I remember talking to one company and I can't remember who it is now where their first sales person of what is now like a multi hundreds of millions of dollars business was a mattress sales person that was just like friends with the founder.
And they were like, Hey, can you come help us figure this out? And he just like closed a ton of deals and helped them figure out. What their primary emotion was. And then they hired someone on that was more about like, okay, how do we take this and scale it. I often say, when I'm talking to like my team or other teams, whoever does that first set of deals, it's just like a completely different exercise.
Then the next set that is a valuable conversation. When you're talking about role clarity, I've definitely hired tons of people, including. Early on at Quip where I was Joel, trying to understand both what our sales motion was and frankly, how to effectively manage a sales team. We hired people that needed more structure than I was able to give them.
And ultimately some of those led to, Hey, I'm not going to be able to provide you with clarity. I actually need people that bring their own clarity and structure. And because I just don't have a lot of the answers right now. And you seem like someone that actually needs that clarity instructor and like, wants to know like wants a playbook and I'm not going to be able to give it to you because that's just not where we are as a business.
And I don't want you to spend two years inside of an organization where you're just like constantly not feeling successful because you don't have this playbook and it's not how you. Thrive. And it's not the kind of work you love doing. And those folks were often like, yeah, I, this is not fun for me. And it's not what I signed up for.
And we found ways for them to still feel successful. And they've gone on to do lots of really wonderful and successful things at other organizations. But for me, it was like one of the biggest things with management is you have to be really realistic about what you can control and what you can offer and what you can't.
And I say that to a lot of managers inside of scaling organizations, because so much stuff is out of your control. Like you can't control the fact that it's chaotic, you can't control that. There's a lot of ambiguity. You can't control that there's change all the time. So you actually need to be like blunt and direct with people, both when you're hiring them.
And also when you're talking to them about performance, about the fact that like. Sometimes it is a sink or swim environment. And sometimes like they need things structure, et cetera, that you can't give them because no matter how hard you try, there's just a lot of stuff that's out of your control. And so it's a sort of a funny example when you're asking about role clarity and expectations.
But to me, it was one of the most interesting examples when I was sort of beginning that sales journey at Quip around like, whoa, there's so much I can not control here. And it really takes a very particular kind of person to be successful when there is so much that's undefined in a business
Brett: [00:21:08] in that case.
Can you describe what the role and expectations were, or should have been as sort of an example of what good kind of expectations and role clarity?
Molly Graham: [00:21:20] Yeah, for sure. I think in that case, I did it well with like one or two people and not as well with others, but it was, we need people that are going to come figure it out.
And the interesting thing for us. Sales is a very particular example because are used to working off a sales plan where a part of their compensation is based on their performance, how many deals they closed, et cetera. And so one of the first things we had to figure out was are we in a place where we can even have a sales plan, like a compensation plan that we're folks get rewarded based on the deals that they close.
And we use this sales plan that Jason Lumpkin posted that is all about alignment between the company and the incentives of the company and the incentives of the salesperson, where basically you only make money as a salesperson once you pay for yourself. Or if you're like costs the company a hundred thousand dollars, you divide that by four.
So you have to make $25,000 a quarter before you even get paid back, which is not a typical sales plan, but it was super helpful. Jason posted it on his blog and I saw it and was like, this is exactly the phase we're in because. We need salespeople that are company aligned. So a lot of it, what we saw was folks would come into the organization and we had some people come in and were able to like crush that sales plan, like able to pay for themselves and then more and et cetera.
But it was not an environment where they felt like they could be successful when you would see them struggle. And they were frustrated because they weren't getting paid as much as they thought they would be or should be. And a lot of that had to do with what they were used to doing all day, every day, et cetera.
But for me, it was like really clarifying both for myself and then ultimately for the members of the team that we need people that are going to come in here and are going to make a playbook. They're not going to get handed a playbook and execute on that playbook. They're going to come in and actually be able to go, just like call the 10 people they know best and be like, Hey, why would you want to buy this or learn and help us shape and understand what.
Those sales should look like and what our core selling motion was. So the expectations were basically like, Hey, that you're going to be focused on making, equip successful first. And then you get the upside after you've sort of like done that B that like a lot of this job is around figuring out what it takes to sell this product and all the different motions entailed on that and not handing you something that's repeatable yet.
But I don't know if that answers your expectations question,
Brett: [00:23:45] one other sort of question in terms of this area of sort of managing performance or managing low performers. Before we flip back over to talking about high performers, do you have a benchmark in your head when you think about the managers that report to you in their teams?
Like what percentage of people should be managed out of the organization?
Molly Graham: [00:24:05] Oh, it vastly depends on the size of the organization. And I would say when you are looking at attrition, which is the people leaving the company, it is really important to look at the difference between what people in HR call regrettable, attrition and non regrettable attrition.
So regrettable is like, I really wish this person had stayed and non regrettable is, were okay. That they left. The best kind of attrition somewhat, obviously on the kind you're asking about is non regrettable attrition. So folks where it just wasn't a fit, not that they're bad people or anything just that it wasn't a fit, particularly for smaller companies.
I wouldn't put a percentage on it because that can actually be dangerous. Like you can say, we should be managing out 5% of people. Why are we not doing that? And it can just sometimes be a real drain and a sack on the organization to actively go on sort of a witch hunt. But what I actually look at a lot of times is how many people have you hired in the last year?
A lot of times you'll see companies that are doubling, they've gone from 50 to a hundred. And then you ask how many people have left the organization and it's like zero. And you're like, okay, well based if you just literally look at that math, you are assuming you are perfect at hiring. You are assuming that you literally have a 100% success rate at hiring, which I've just like never seen before.
So typically when you are actually adding a lot of people to the organization, You need to be actively asking and managing a process and people teams can help with this or experienced managers can where you're asking. Okay. Do these people fit? And in larger organizations, a lot of times you look for actually like five or 10% non regrettable attrition, but that has to come with numbers, right?
That doesn't work in a 20 person organization. Because you were talking about like individual humans there. Whereas if you get into the hundreds percentages, make a little more sense, but the truth is every organization is different. The most important thing I look at is if you're hiring a ton, you should probably be managing a number of people out just because like, chances are your hiring process is not that good.
I've never seen one. Even at the best, most scaled organizations, I've never seen a hiring process be a hundred percent successful. So I don't have a perfect set of numbers, but I will say one of the best things to get good at when you are a growing organization is recognizing who's not working out and having a process to help them find their way out of the organization.
If you are not good at that early, you will not get good at it over time. And it can really weigh down organizations to have a lot of folks that aren't meeting expectations in our performance.
Brett: [00:26:48] Are you able to paint a broad brush and say like in general, people do not. Ask enough people to leave or you can't make a broad generalization.
Molly Graham: [00:26:57] Yeah. In general, people do not ask enough people to leave or it takes too long.
Brett: [00:27:02] I tend to think in sort of any facet of running a business, it's hard to be at perfect equilibrium. And so like in general, you kind of lean on one direction or another. And I think in this case, it may be useful to say, okay, on average people lean in this direction, so you need to be more intentional or watch this sort of thing more closely.
Molly Graham: [00:27:19] Yeah, in general, I would say companies end up in one of two places. They end up as an organization that is high-performing and efficient and generally good at getting rid of folks that just aren't a fit for the organization. Or they end up as an organization. That's a little bit fat and bloated. It can still be high-performing, but tends to have lower margins because they just have a lot of barnacles on the ship and you have to decide early if it matters to you, which one you are.
And if you want this sort of efficient, faster ship, you actually have to get good at having hard conversations and managing people out of the organization. And most people are too chicken to do that. Most founders and CEOs, most management teams, let people stay around a little bit too long when it's clearly not working for them or for the organization,
Brett: [00:28:02] because people are just conflict averse or there's some other reason.
Molly Graham: [00:28:07] Yeah, no, I mean, I would say just in general, humans do not. Tend to like having hard conversations. Like you think about it, interpersonally, most people do not enjoy fighting. Most people do not enjoy having tough conversations where you say, Hey, this isn't working. And I think it really, particularly for newer managers, which you've got a lot of insight of smaller organizations, like it's really scary because you spend a lot of time assuming that it's your fault and you think the person's going to be angry at you.
And once you do it, a couple of times, you realize. People want to know where they stand. One of the things I always say is direct is actually kind. So you think it sounds horrible to say to someone, Hey, something's not working a lot of times. They're like, oh, thank God you said that. Like, I also feel that way.
You're making a space for me to actually say this. And if you say, Hey, something's not working. Like, here's what I'm seeing this just like isn't feeling. Good to me or to the people around you. And we need to figure out how to fix it. That person at least has a forum to say, yeah, I feel really attacked. Or I feel really out of sorts here.
I just don't feel like I fit here. I'm not happy or whatever, but a lot of times we're too scared to even have those conversations. So we sort of say, well, you were, I don't you're okay. I really like you as a person, but I just feel like sometimes you don't. Exactly. And the person can't follow the direct thing that you're trying to say, which is like this isn't working, you are not performing.
And you end up with a lot of surprise from people where the manager can't summon the courage to actually have the direct conversation. And then eventually they just get so frustrated that they want to fire the person, but that person never had a chance to actually know what was going on. So I think one of the biggest skills to work on as a manager and as a leader is to be direct with people.
The best thing you can do is to say, Hey, Let's have a real foundational conversation about how things are going. It's like, Hey, you're doing amazing at these five things. And these three things aren't working makes it much easier. Three months later to say, Hey, there's a bunch more stuff that's not working.
So let's talk about what's going on. If you start that habit early, it gets a lot easier to have direct conversations with people. But if you wait until something's really not working, then you end up surprising people and having like much worse conversations that are much more stressful. But in general, yeah, I would say humans, don't like having hard conversations and we build them up in our heads.
And then we end up trying to kind of like couch directness and a lot of useless language that makes it hard for everybody to understand what's going on. So what I like to do is always write down the number one message that that person needs to hear and understand. Make sure that I say it a couple of times in the conversation.
And then also, usually I'll have the person, like if it's one of these conversations that's really around, like, how are things going? And let's make sure everyone's on the same page. And like, something's not working. I'll actually have that person the following week. Repeat back to me, like, what did you hear last week?
And like, what is your articulation of what's going on? And if you can hear back the same messages that you were trying to send, then, you know, you got on the same page as the person. And then you can start to say, okay, like what are we going to do? And you work on it together and you build a plan together.
Brett: [00:31:21] So moving sort of from low performers. One of the areas that I'm curious about is people that are doing a solid job, a fine job, but not an exceptional job. Do you think about that group of people or is either you're sort of, there's clear role definition, you are meeting those expectations or you are not, and it's more of a binary.
And if you do think there's like a gradation, I guess I'm curious about a frameworks or how you manage that group of folks. Because I think a lot of times some of the lowest performers, a lot of times it tends to be a bit more clear, but there's kind of this group of folks that are probably doing a solid job, but not what you would define as an exceptional job.
And do you manage them differently or do you not even, is that not even part of the way that you think about folks on the team? I
Molly Graham: [00:32:09] actually think about humans individually when I'm managing them. And it's a huge spectrum, so it's not exactly three categories. Like what you're saying. I think of it as like.
To me, what you're looking for as a manager is the sort of maximal optimized version of each person. So you have folks where they're already their peers, the people around them, whatever, think that they're doing really well. And so the question is how can they do even better? Like how can you make their growth explode?
You have folks that are turning out really solid work. And maybe there's some bumps, like maybe there's some pure relationships that aren't working, et cetera, et cetera. Or they're just not like slaying it for one reason or another. And then you have folks, as you said, that are maybe more on the bumpy side, that middle bucket, which is a pretty broad spectrum.
The question is often like how bumpy is it? And which way is it trending? You usually don't get like super solid, consistent performance over years and years. That looks exactly the same. You usually have, this person has the following couple bumps, but like, if we can just tweak a couple of things, they'll be more trending up towards that higher performer bucket.
Or sometimes you have folks that, I mean, you often actually see folks that were like really high-performing and then something happened and they start to trend down for one reason or another. So I look at the trend of the performance, particularly in changing organizations, growing organization, scaling organizations.
And I asked myself for me, it's how well do I know this person? What are their strengths? What are they good at? What do they love doing? What do they want to do? So like, what do they think they're good at? What do they want to do and be in the world? And then it's about trying to match is their role clear, are their expectations clear?
And what is the alignment between that role and those expectations and that person and their strengths. And a lot of times, as a manager, to me, what I see is like most people in their lives have not gotten really good feedback. They haven't gotten pushed, nobody's held up a mirror and say, Hey, here's the impact you have on people.
I often tend to manage people that are like a little bit further along in their career these days. But in general, one of the most interesting things to do is to take someone that's been around for a while, seen a lot and hold up a mirror and say, Hey, like, this is the impact you're having. And here's, what's getting in the way of you being as effective as you want to be.
Or you reaching that goal that you have of XYZ title or role. This is how you're coming off to the people around you. This is what's impacting the quality of your work. And folks are often like, whoa, I've heard that feedback before, or it was phrased completely differently or I've no one's ever said that to me before Dan rose, who was the head of partnerships at Facebook for a long time, it was the Amazon.
Before that posted a story on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, that's relatively famous for anybody that's worked with Dan about some of the feedback that Sheryl Sandberg gave him really early on in his career in her time at Facebook. So it was not early in his career. He had already been operating for a long time.
That was just like very blunt and direct and totally changed his life. And so I think there's a couple of things. One, this is all Molly's management philosophy, but like I believe people can grow and change at any point in their career. I believe most people have not been given the chance to do that because they haven't gotten honest and direct feedback and no one's held up a mirror to them about how they impact others and how their work, the things that stand in the way of their work being as impactful as it should.
And I believe that like, Most people can be exceptional in a certain set of circumstances. So like, I actually believe that in the right circumstances, a lot of people can be way better than they are today. And the question is whether those circumstances can exist where you are and whether they can exist in the role that that person is in, in that company.
Or is it just like not a fit for one reason or
Brett: [00:35:54] another. So going back to the comment you made a little while ago about most managers don't spend time with their highest performers. What should that time look like? So let's say you sit down. I realized that I'm not spending enough time. And to your point, I think it's easy because high performers, you know, whatever they're doing is going to go well, don't need to spend a lot of time thinking about it.
Let me go sort of focus on low performers. But if you did an excellent job and you kind of realigned your calendar, what should that time look like? What should you be doing as a manager?
Molly Graham: [00:36:23] Yeah. So with high performers, I tend to do a lot of debriefing and reflecting. So obviously there's work to talk about et cetera.
But one tactical management thing that I do is every month or two or at the end of a project, like some milestone that makes sense for whatever that person's role is. I'll do like a look back, look forward. So ask the person to. Look back on a project that they just finished. And by the way, people don't do this enough with teams let alone individual humans, but actually say, okay, for the high performer, what I'm asking is usually okay.
What did you like about that? What did you hate about it? What's the most important thing you learned? And do you want to do more of things like that or less like basically is that the kind of thing that really brings you energy and for folks that are familiar with it, a lot of these questions are in a sort of a strengths-based philosophy of management.
The idea being that if you can figure out the alignment between what people love doing and what they're good at, you can find the best version of them. So a lot of what I'm doing is taking specific projects where I've put them on something, or they've ended up on a project that's kind of a stretch for them.
And then using the end of that project to say, okay, what did we learn? What felt good? Like what didn't feel good? What do we want to do differently next time? And should you be doing more of that type of work? So that's like the look back section and then the look forward is like, okay, given everything we just talked about.
What's the next challenge. Like what's the next big step or stride for this person in terms of what type of work, what would be like a next, like stretch goal for them? And you can look at the work that you have that the company has that are just like, or think about the potential types of work that might show up.
So if a project that looks like this, whatever the outline is shows up, let's make sure that you're on it or that you're leading it, or that you have the space to do that. Taking the time to really help that person learn, reflect on their learning, reflect on what, what didn't work, so that they actually like, know what to change next time.
And then constantly giving your high performers stretch goals and stretch projects and big challenges where they might fail. There's no better way for them to rapidly show you what they're capable of. And there's no better way for you to get the most out of them. As a company. I have been super lucky in the sense that a lot of people have made bets on me.
But I think that when I look at my time at Facebook, even at Quip, for sure at CZI, with mark and Priscilla, like all of those were huge stretches for me. And I was lucky that people were willing to take bets on me, but they came my way because somebody saw me do something well previously and sort of were able to translate that into how you might be good at this other thing.
And I think as managers, one of the best things that you can do is actually take your high performers and make bets on them, stretch them and see what they're capable of. Because sometimes people are capable of like 10 X, what you have them working on today. You just have to help them get there.
Brett: [00:39:28] Related to what you were just talking about in terms of managers or folks that you've worked closely with.
When you think back to the different people you've reported to, what are the things that they've done for you or the ways that they managed that is now part of your management philosophy? Are there any stories or specific examples that come to mind?
Molly Graham: [00:39:48] I've been really lucky to have a lot of folks that have been great managers for me in one way or another.
And you get to a point where it's not as much that people are giving you feedback as it is that they're giving you chances and opportunities. But some of my earlier managers. Elliot Stragan Lori Goler and Dan rose was an early manager as well, that were, those folks were true managers in lots of ways where Laurie like gave me just huge amounts of opportunity.
And also, I was just thinking about this the other day wrote some of the best performance reviews, most thorough that I've ever had in my whole life. And she really took the time to invest in me. She gave me a lot of visibility. She made sure I understood the context of everything that was going on, which I will be eternally grateful for because I really got to have a front row seat to watching Facebook grow up as a company from a people perspective and just in management perspective.
But she did a great job making sure that I always knew the broader version of what was going on, which is something that I. People that work for me grow tired of me saying like context is one of the hardest things to remember, to pass on as a leader. And it's one of the most important for teams to do their best work.
So helping people understand the larger context in which they exist, the business, why we're focused on the things we're focused on as a leader, like you're in these conversations regularly, you're making the decisions and you sort of forget where your team is. So bringing people with you is actually a skill starting each team meeting with, okay, let's remember why we're here.
What we're doing, the context. I always say, if you're doing it right, you're going to feel like a broken record. And Laurie, like, I think did it kind of effortlessly, but she was really, really good at making sure I always understood the context in which I existed. And then I would say Dan's probably the person that taught me, like direct as kind, who is a great coach for me.
He also just like taught a lot by example. He would tell his own stories from his own times. But he was just great at really managing me. I didn't feel like part of a formula. I felt like he was constantly pushing, figuring out what I was doing. Well, what I needed to do to be more effective. And just like having that conversation with me all times, I think when you're doing well inside of an organization, it's invaluable to have someone say, Hey, you really messed that up.
Or like, Hey, you need to like step up over here. Because like I said, a lot of times people just leave. Folks that are doing pretty well alone, but Dan really invested time and energy and making me better, which I learned a lot from, there's probably infinite examples from folks like even mark Zuckerberg, who has, I would say management is a learned skill for mark.
I've learned enormous amounts. From him and what he's learned, I think from running Facebook, when I was at CZI, he would say things. One of the things he believes is that people don't escalate enough, which is something that sounds really counterintuitive because as a manager, you also find it sort of annoying when people are escalating things all the time, but he always says that organizations are slowed down by the fact that people try to spend too much time solving things between two peers and that if they should get to a sense faster of like, oh, you know what, we can't solve this.
Or we can't make this decision or we're at loggerheads and actually just escalate faster that makes the whole company move faster. So they're like lots of little tidbits like that, but I really took from times working with mark. But yeah, I think you end up eventually being an amalgamation of everyone that you've worked for, but I've learned something from every single person that I've been managed by or helped build their organization.
Brett: [00:43:30] One of the things you said was Laurie back when you were reporting to her, gave you the highest quality, most in-depth performance reviews. And I was curious, do you remember like the content or what was so thorough or if someone was reading through it, like why it stands out in your memory that it was so well done and helpful to you?
Molly Graham: [00:43:50] That's a good question. So the things I remember are one that she, I mean, I think they were like three to four pages, so she kind of like went over above and beyond on actually it's just like really writing stuff down. She also broke out literally like the parts of performance and the way Facebook's performance system works.
There's a series of ratings. And typically as a manager, you just give one overall rating for the person's performance for the half. And she. Broke down my performance in a series of sections and then rated each section and then explained the rating and then sort of use that to aggregate up the total rating.
And I felt like, I think a lot of times we talk about performance management cycles, like the actual processes, as I think as HR people, we want them to not be too important. We want you to be having these conversations all year long. And I think Lori showed me that. I mean, first of all, I always knew where I stood with her, but she used the summary moment with this review as like a really powerful time to both really like reflect on the last half and how things had gone, but also to like push me to say, Hey, you've done well in the following areas.
And here's what I want to see next. I was talking about the look back, look forward exercises that I often do monthly or every, a couple months with folks. You know, I think I learned some of that from her, which is that you can't, even if someone's doing pretty well, you should take moments when you have the opportunity to really ask for more from them and to see what they're capable of.
And I feel like she did a really good job of that for me in a really supportive way. And
Brett: [00:45:40] so what does that look like in a review asking more
Molly Graham: [00:45:42] of you? I mean, I think it's as simple as like, here's what I want to see next. You've done great at this. And then to take that to the next level would look like the following.
So it's not just leaving it at like you've done well over the past six months. And now what I want to see is X, Y, Z, or like to take it to another level, I would have had to see X, Y, Z, or whatever, and realizing that like, sometimes we do that with lower performers where we're like, Hey, here's really what I need to see in order to feel like you're meeting expectations.
But with folks that are doing just fine, it's still a good idea to say, Hey, here's what I need to see in order for you to take it to the next level.
Brett: [00:46:19] And given we're on the most delightful topic in people management, which is formal performance review processes. I'm curious if you have any frameworks or approaches to what makes the process actually good or useful, or maybe bad and unhelpful.
I'm excited to get your perspective because you've obviously seen it in very different cultures and at very different scales. And so is that distilled down in a way of thinking about these things or it tends to be more bespoke?
Molly Graham: [00:46:44] I probably am overly systematic about it at this point, because I've seen it done so many different sizes in places, as you said that I actually think I haven't seen a different process, make a huge difference to the outcome.
So for me, there's two sides to it. One is when you're building the process, what to focus on and what to optimize for. And then the second is as a manager, how to think about it on the process side. I mean, To me, the question is how do you build the most lightweight but meaningful thing possible? I don't shy away.
I spent a lot of time at Facebook actually trying to make feedback continuous and to take it out of the performance cycle. And I found that at the end of the day, You can teach people management. You can try to make sure that they're having continual check-ins with folks and you shouldn't shy away from the power of once a year, or excuse me, twice a year.
I tend to believe in a six month cycle, really making sure that managers are having a sit-down on a how're things going. It would be ideal if nothing in that review was a surprise, but it also just matters that you do it twice a year. I also, there was a guy at Facebook. Actually Adam Moseri who's now the head of Instagram.
When I was in HR, he said to me, he was giving me feedback on some presentation, I'd done about a performance cycle. And he said, I don't think you're doing a good enough job explaining to people why we do these things and the way Facebook does it, performance and compensation are tied together. So he was like, I think the most powerful thing is that these cycles are here to make sure that people are fairly rewarded for their contributions to the company.
And if you tie your performance management and your compensation together, so if you do pay for performance or whatever, it is really important for people to feel like the process is fair. So the components of the process that really matter to me are one, having ways to tie performance and compensation together to calibration, which is the process of manager sitting down and making sure that they have relatively similar standards for what it means to meet expectations at a given level.
And then. Three, just making sure that managers take seriously the check-in to say like, you know what? You may be great at this, but it's still valuable to us every six months, really sit down and tell someone how they're doing, even if theoretically, they basically already know. So that process wise, there's probably more there, but those are some of the things that I really almost regardless of size.
I usually wouldn't put it in place. Something that formal in place till about a hundred employees or more. But once you put it in place, I find that the same process actually works. I think we did a review article about it. I can't remember, but the same process basically works almost regardless of scale.
Brett: [00:49:19] And do you believe in tying performance and comp together in one bundle.
Molly Graham: [00:49:23] Yes, definitely. I think the, maybe it was the second article we did together. Brett. I talked a lot about how strongly I feel like compensation needs to be fair. And if it's fair, it can be transparent. And I actually believe. Really strongly and having as formulaic a system as possible.
And one of the best ways to make a formulaic system is to basically use a series of ratings to rate the performance of everyone at the same level, and then use that rating as a way to inform the compensation system. And I find performance-based pay to be one of the best tools for retention, because one of the things you're doing every six months is saying who are the most valuable people in this company.
And then being able to say, how do we make sure? And I do promotions every six months and then pay adjustments like a full comp evaluation once a year. But I have performance informed both. I mean, this is very much Facebook's philosophies and Cheryl and Lori's. And so I'm sort of a disciple of that, but I believe that like high performers should be able to really be rewarded for that high performance in terms of compensation.
So yes. Is the answer to your question.
Brett: [00:50:36] Got it. So I'll link to that in the show notes. So people can just click through one other followup question. I'm curious if I were to click through on a performance review that you've designed, like, what are the tenants or pieces that you think should be in there and any rationale for why you sort of landed on that specific format, number of ratings, you know, the mechanism of rating, sort of those types of things.
Molly Graham: [00:50:58] We just finished a performance review cycle at Lambda. So I am fresh out the other side of this. Yeah. So the manager side of this. So I'll talk about the system and then the manager side, in terms of how to use performance cycles. System-wise, I'm a fan of as few questions as possible in the review. And I basically use it as a look back and look forward.
So sometimes companies design these like elaborate multi question surveys. And I feel like as a manager, what I actually want and I'll speak personally here is just like, what did this person accomplish? How did they do sort of what were the best things that they did? What are their strengths? And then what are the areas that they need to focus on for improvement?
So I often designed something that really just has those three questions, accomplishments, and like standout strengths and then areas for improvement. And in terms of number of ratings, this is a highly debated topic. I think we had. Oh, we had seven ratings at Facebook and literally every six months had a conversation about whether there should be five.
And it's funny because we have five ratings at Lambda, and then we just spent a bunch, much time or a little bit of time this time talking about whether there should be three. So you could get into like a lot on the philosophy of grading. But at the end of the day, what matters to me is that the distribution curve.
So like where you expect the majority of employees to end up, you need a middle, you need a top and you need a bottom and you need enough room for managers to be able to give, for example, lower ratings than just like meets expectations. Without feeling like they're sending our horrific message to the person, because one of the easiest things to do as a manager is just to say, everybody's doing great and walk away, but you want to actually have enough of a rating system that somebody can say, Hey, you're doing well, but you've got some areas that you really need to work on.
So that's part of why I like five, because you can have meets expectations. You can have usually meets expectations. You can have not meeting expectations and then you can have exceeds expectations. And then you can have like greatly exceeds expectations or whatever. So it kind of gives you a little more range, but at the end of the day, it just matters that you have a system and that it's applied consistently of
Brett: [00:53:05] these three free text fields.
And then it's the overall rating and that's sort of the total contents of the review.
Molly Graham: [00:53:12] Yeah. And then usually you have, are you nominating this person for promotion or not? And then basically what you do in calibration is look at level by level the ratings of each person and look at all the, are all the meets expectations.
Do they look like the same kind of person do they look like the same kind of performance, all the exceeds all the greatly exceeds you look at the, usually meets together just to make sure that like people are applying the same kind of standards, because usually just the way humans are, you have easier graders and harder graders than like your manager should not be able to determine whether you get all the things or get harshly graded.
It should be some sort of consistent system that the organization builds together. What does it mean to be a level five, a level three, et cetera.
Brett: [00:53:55] And do you want to see an overall, you aggregate the 200 people that have been reviewed. Do you want to see a distribution that looks healthy or there is no, you don't want to Belker there is no way to sort of, I grok the idea of making sure at each level, the grades are the same.
So you have easy and you get rid of the risk of having easy and hard graders. But overall, if people are rating properly, is there a distribution you're aiming for?
Molly Graham: [00:54:18] I design with a distribution curve. That is a guideline, not a forced curve. So like Microsoft is very famous for having a forced curve where they literally, I think for a while, fire the bottom 10% of people, I don't think that creates healthy performance conversations.
I think it creates a bunch of fear. So for me, when I design these processes for organizations, I design, it is usually a bell curve. There can be a lot of conversations about what the curve should look like and where the majority of the company should be. It's the same conversation as great inflation. So basically at Harvard, I think the average grade is a B, which means that they actually move the bell curve up and they assume that most people are going to get BS.
Therefore, the whole bottom is whatever. It just means very different things. So when you're looking at your ratings, however many there are, you basically say, okay, I think 60% of people are going to be a three. 25% will be a four and we'll save this like top rating for 5% or less of people. And then same with the bottom.
I have a standard curve. I like to use the middle. I like to use three. And I like for meeting expectations in a high-performing organization, that's growing and changing quickly to be really meaningful and something you should be proud of. But one of the things you do see over time is that when you fill a company with hype, Achievers.
Everybody wants to be at least a B plus, if not an a, and so you start to see great inflation come in as companies get bigger, but anyway, that's a longer conversation, but yeah, I do a distribution curve. That's a guideline. The truth is distribution curves only work with organizations of a certain size.
So usually if the team is less than like 30, it's not good to ask them to meet a distribution curve. It's good to look at where they landed, ask if it feels like it reflects the performance of the team and then acknowledge if it doesn't meet the distribution curve. But once you get into the like 30 plus or the hundreds, like you look at the whole organization, you should be able to look at the distribution curve of the ratings and say a couple of things.
One, do we feel like. This reflects the actual performance of the staff at this company. Are we having an exceptional six months or are we actually just sort of like meeting expectations, which is great, but not like knocking it out of the park. And two is just like, you can look organization by organization again, acknowledging that smaller organizations are going to have walkie curves.
You can compare organizations and basically say, oh, interesting. Like engineering's graded themselves really hard. Does that reflect how we think about the performance of that organization? Or are they just kind of like tougher graders than like the sales org or whatever?
Brett: [00:56:53] The comment you made about Microsoft is something I've long thought about.
And I think for those that don't know, at some point they were famous for having a forced ranking system where you basically, in every review cadence, at least my understanding is the manager basically forced ranks their team from top to bottom and they exit the bottom X percent. And there's a lot of reasons why that's problematic.
One of them is the one that you were talking about. It's fear-based it also, I think probably creates more competitive dynamics between people because it feels like a little bit more zero sum. If it didn't have the like cultural collateral damage, do you actually think that's a good system? If you didn't have those two downsides or if it's fundamentally flawed in other ways,
Molly Graham: [00:57:31] I don't and I'll give you a different answer sample, which I experienced.
So it's easier for me to talk about which is Google system when I was there. And I actually don't know if they still have the same system or not. I imagine it's different now was ratings on a two point decimal system between one and four. So literally it's basically a stack rank because you can be a 3.65 Bret, and I'm a 3.64, and it basically ends up stacking teams more or less.
And I have to say, like, having thought a lot about that system and also just these systems in general, I just don't believe that humans can. Objectively measure performance at that level of accuracy. Like at the end of the day, a bunch of bias and subjectivity is involved in these things. So I've become a believer in broader buckets and acknowledged that like those buckets have ranges in them.
So you're going to have sort of folks that are trending in different directions inside of a generic, like three rating, like a meets expectations rating. But I prefer those broad buckets with a range to the version where theoretically I'm trusting a manager to be able to really stack rank their team.
And I like the Google and other explanation just because like, it feels so arbitrary to say that, like I could decide the difference between the 3.64 and a 3.65. And. That that would in any way be consistent across the company. But you know, they're obviously incredibly smart about systems and numbers and things like that.
I just think that when you're building a human based system, I think you have to be pretty careful about how specific and objective you believe the humans inside the system can actually be
Brett: [00:59:20] switching gears a bit. You mentioned a few examples of this, but I'm curious to learn more about the rituals that you have as a manager and leader.
And so if you think about the work that you're doing on a weekly or monthly or quarterly basis, are there specific rituals or things that you do that you found have out-sized impact on your role as a manager?
Molly Graham: [00:59:42] It's interesting. I am not the best manager from like a social perspective. Like lots of folks are great at creating like bonding and team tightness experiences.
I often just like try to find someone that works with me that is great at that kind of thing. For me, the much more important rituals that I do that I think are meaningful, are things like what I mentioned in terms of every quarter, I try to make sure that I've had a conversation with the folks that work for me about how they're doing.
And obviously, like I don't do a heavyweight performance review every quarter. I just don't believe doing that much writing. And that much time is a good use of time when you're trying to run a business. But I do try to have a conversation with folks where I give them kind of key messages about what's been working, looking back and what they needed to focus on moving forward.
And I sometimes do that more frequently than every quarter, but I try to make sure I'm doing it at least every quarter, things like that. I have found to be really important rituals for me to make sure that I am on the same level with everybody that's working with me in terms of just like, how are things going and what are they working on?
And then I use, one-on-ones like relatively informally. I use them just as like, it's the person's time more than my time. And they bring their list of like, Hey, here's what I need help with. I obviously tend to also manage more senior people these days. So they're used to that as well, but I will make sure that we are having.
One of the things I do do, which I was saying to someone has turned out to be meaningful in the land of remote work. And also the chaos of 2020 is just like, I always start or at least end with how are you? Like, how are things actually going? Like what's going on in your life? Like, how was your weekend?
Because I think it's really easy to just be all tactics, but it's really important to keep track of how people are doing. And also if you're managing people, for example, that you've never met in person, how else are you going to get to know them then during that time? So I do try to make sure there's time in every one-on-one to just like check in.
And then I guess the last set of rituals that I. I'm not systematic about it, but certainly keep an eye on is just like leadership meetings. So bringing the team together, like the folks that report to you, or the folks that are on your leadership team together regularly, whether it's weekly or biweekly and having that time be about information sharing and making sure people are on the same page.
And if it's a small team, if it's like five or less people, it can be a problem solving meeting. So like, Hey, we have this problem. How should we tackle it? Kind of brainstorming gets harder when that's like 10 people. And then similarly, like one step beyond that is like an offsite. Every, usually every quarter or every six months, that's like much bigger topics around how are we doing?
Where are we going? Whatever is needed at the time, in terms
Brett: [01:02:28] of the weekly or bi-weekly leadership team meeting. Can you talk a little bit about structure of that and then just the overall architecture or structure of the way that you run off sites?
Molly Graham: [01:02:37] Sure. I am not. You will find a particularly systematic about format for sure, for offsites, because basically to me, the most important question is what is the leadership team for and what you find as you grow organizations that they change and morph a lot over time.
So for example, at Lambda, we have a leadership team of, I think it's about 10 people and that's a big group. So the discussion is going to be more about number one, that group of people working really productively together. Number two, sharing information so that everybody knows what's going on. And number three, Occasionally it's about making decisions with that group.
But to be honest, usually I would save like decisions that that group needs to make or discussions that that group needs to make. They're going to take longer. So they, I would save them for more of like an offsite type experience. And a lot of times you break that group down into smaller groups to have discussions or decisions.
The way I run leadership team meetings has like a couple of components to it. The first is I almost always start with some kind of check-in and I ask people around the table kind of asking people to share. What's going on for them. I try to ask people to keep it about the most important things going on.
So I do a one up one down, which is something I can't remember who gave me that, but it's basically just like, what's the best thing that happened last week. And what's the worst thing that happened last week. And I try to ask folks to keep it to like things that other people need to know about, but obviously like bringing the personal as well.
If that's relevant for that given week, I use it as an information sharing tool, but it also just like is a great way for people to get to know each other. And then a lot of when I think about constructing the agendas, it's really, what do people need to know about that's going on? What are the biggest topics or projects or areas.
So information sharing and context sharing to make sure the whole leadership team is on the same page. I am not perfect at that, but that's my framing for those meetings. And so usually there's like a couple 15 minute topics or something like that that are just like, Hey, here's where everything is. And then I'll do a lot of like rapid fire, like FYI, like, Hey, here are the five things that came out of the board meeting or that are going on that people need to know about, but don't need like a whole 15 minute presentation or whatever, just to make sure that like folks have the information they need.
And aren't surprised by things. And if their team finds out about something that they know first. So I use leadership team meetings that are, that size much more for information sharing than anything else. And then, like I said, if it becomes clear that there's like bigger topics that need to be dived into, like, that may be a sign that it's time for an off-site and then offsites genuinely constructed based on what is the purpose of the offsite?
Is it about bonding? Is it about crafting strategy or is it about setting goals or whatever? So I don't have like a formula for that.
Brett: [01:05:26] If you think about the best offsite you've ever been to across the different companies, in whatever format, is there one that comes to mind? And if so, was there something about it that made it so great?
Molly Graham: [01:05:38] The problem is off-sites a word that has 27 meetings. So it can mean going off bonding as a team, and it can mean going off and doing substantive work as a team, we at Quip used to do, uh, go inner tubing together, which was really fun. We did it every summer, which, you know, rat is near and dear to my heart.
Uh, and that was always just like really fun and created a lot of silly memories and brought the team closer together. And I really do believe like experiences like that are super important. It's obviously really hard to do this in years like this, but there are some folks out there. The chief people officer at Lambda is really good at constructing remote experiences that are silly and fun that bring people closer together.
So there's that type of offsite. And then there's this sort of substantive offsite and. I actually one of the first things we did when I joined Lambda, mark frying, facilitated an offsite, just literally around what is our ten-year and two year strategy, by the way, as the team at Lambda would say, I hate the word strategy, but I couldn't find a different word for it, which is basically just like, what are we doing?
And how are we going to get there? But he did an amazing job of a day and a half off site.
Brett: [01:06:43] What was the structure of that? Cause I think that's a question that comes up all the time. It's sort of long range planning and strategy. And are we excited about our strategy? What is our strategy? Sort of those types of things.
Molly Graham: [01:06:54] Yeah. Mark did an awesome job. We did two or three get to know you exercises sprinkled throughout the day. And that was just like nice to open with and close with and things like that. This was all remote, obviously. And let's see, we brought a ten-year strategy that had been drafted by Austin and Kayla Pix.
Who's the head of learning at Lambda and a little bit by me and actually had people just read it and kind of give feedback on it asynchronously. So we actually, the ten-year strategy was more almost top-down. It was given from the founder and CEO. And we spent time talking about if there were any major disagreements or flags or areas where people had questions based on that Tanner strategy.
And then we really focused on the two year and what mark did. If I remember correctly, it was basically break it down into what are the, oh, he did a survey ahead of time and then asked people basically to answer a series of questions. And then he pulled out the areas where there was clearly the biggest differences between folks and then made us talk through all of them on day one.
Brett: [01:08:00] Do you remember what an example of one or two of the questions in the survey
Molly Graham: [01:08:03] were. They were things like what is more important over the next two years, for example, like growth or quality. And then another one I think was that's great. That's very, yeah. Yeah. He did it. He did a really nice job of that and he, I think another one was.
Who's our actual customer. Cause for Lambda, we didn't actually have a lot of disagreement on this, but technically we have at least three different kinds of customers, students, and then hiring partners, the people that hire students, and then the folks that subsidized student education. So folks that buy the ISA and so like, But having clarity on who you're designing for was actually something I wanted to make sure that we fleshed out in that offsite.
And so he asked that question and I think there was basically zero disagreement at that. Like our customer was students and everything else followed from that, but it was like important to have clarified. So yeah, he did that. And then the next day, what we did, which was actually great, was a mad libs exercise where he wrote out basically a two year strategy based on everything we had talked about the day before and then divided the group up into like three teams and the teams had to fill in blanks in the strategy.
And it was great because it basically left me with three complete documents that were all sort of like roughly a two year strategy. And so then what I did was like take all three of those and then like put them together into a final document.
Brett: [01:09:22] Can you explain that a little bit more? I'm not following exactly what you mean by Madlib
Molly Graham: [01:09:25] style.
Oh, so he basically would say so like there would be like sections of the document would be like the ideal student for Lambda is, and then it would be like blank. And each team had to fill in words that completed the sentence over the next two years, the three most important things between growth, quality, that's a, you know, whatever are X.
And like each team had to basically fill in. It was more freeform than Madlibs. It wasn't just like single words. It was like complete the sentence. In some cases, it was like, choose between completing this sentence in the following two ways and things like that. But he did just like a very nice job with it.
So that folks were forced both in their small groups to talk through what the substance of the sentence should be. But then also it just gave me like a pretty big range of language, which was awesome.
Brett: [01:10:20] So to wrap up, I thought we could talk about a few Molly isms that you could kind of explain. So one is kind of the, the idea of managing the what and not the how
Molly Graham: [01:10:31] sure.
I like that. That's I think of that as general management advice, but I'm totally into the idea that it's Molly as, um, do you want me to explain it? Yeah. Go for it. Okay. Yeah. So I talk about it a lot with managers, because particularly with newer managers, but also with micromanagers, you often see people trying to direct their team in terms of exactly how they achieve something.
So you often see managers trying to basically get people to do things the way they would have done it. And you'll see managers get really bogged down in. The literal process that someone is going through in order to achieve a goal. When the end of the day, the only thing that matters is did the person achieve the goal and some of the best management relationships that you end up having are the ones where like the person's going to get there a totally different way than you would, but they're still going to get there in the end.
And in some cases they're going to do better than what you would have done. So a lot of times with managers, when I'm talking to them about performance issues or just, yeah. Thinking about their own management, And what they spend time on. I really push people to focus on what is this person responsible for, not how are they doing it, making sure that their expectations are set at the what level, not the how level.
So it's, Hey, you own this goal and it's clear that your performance is tied to this number, whatever that is. And then you can give feedback on the, how particularly if the, how is like destructive or problematic, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the
Brett: [01:12:09] what. And do you think that framework applies regardless of the seniority of the individual you're managing, or if somebody is more junior, you should be more involved with the how, and if they're more senior, you should be less involved with the, how.
Molly Graham: [01:12:21] So I think basically you can coach on the house, particularly when folks are more junior, but goals and expectations have to be set around the what, so you can say, Hey, your job is to close and tickets a day or a month or whatever, and to do it this fast. And this is sort of a tactical example, but your job as a junior engineer is to ship.
Reasonable quality code to someone that someone only asks takes so much time code reviewing, et cetera. And you can say, Hey, you did that. It took you way longer than I would have expected it to. Or you drained the time of another three people doing it, which is problematic for us because we just like too expensive.
You can give feedback on the how, but you can't set goals and expectations on like, here's exactly how I expect you to accomplish this task. Or what you're doing is building an army of robots, which like generally speaking high performing teams are not made up of robots. They're made up of folks that are able to like independently meet a goal.
And that's also how you define seniority, which is like, how independently can this person actually achieve a bigger and bigger sized goal? Generally, I think your expectations have to be about the, what, what was that person able to accomplish? And you can have expectations about the how, in terms of like them not being destructive to people around them, then not draining too many resources, but not like that.
They do exactly this format of thing on this. It's just like a huge amount of wasted energy to try to create robots out of humans.
Brett: [01:13:50] Next up the idea of in emergency medicine never create a second patient.
Molly Graham: [01:13:56] Yeah. So I mentioned, I think that I, my first job out of college was leading wilderness trips all over the world for a school called NOLs.
And one of the things you have to do when you're going to be an instructor is take this 11 day course called the wilderness first responder course, which is basically everything you'd need to know to take care of every kind of illness, including everything from like heart attacks, to broken legs, to like crazy things when you're more than an hour away from a hospital.
And in a lot of cases where I was, you were a day away from a hospital. So you had to be able to sort of sustain someone. Or help them get out or know when to call a helicopter. So one of the first rules, like they basically teach you a series of systems for when you come upon an accident or a scene, which is what you call it in wilderness medicine, where you're trying to evaluate what happened.
And the first rule is that you assess the scene. So let's say you're hiking along a trail. You see a person lying down in the middle of the trail. You have no idea what happened. It's not somebody you were with. The first thing you do is assess the scene. And what you're looking for is literally like, is there something that is dangerous to me?
Because if there is. I should not actually engage. It sounds crazy because you're literally saying that person may be dying, but I'm not going to go help them because the grizzly bear is still right there or whatever. But the point is you can't help anyone. If you also become a patient. And one of the very basic things you can do is leave, turn around and go call for help.
So better than you dying too, you can actually go get help for this person. And I've used that as a metaphor for management in the sense that. It is almost impossible to help anyone as a manager to lead a team, to make other people better, if your drained, and if you're a mess. And if you're burnt out. And often I think as managers, we think we come second and we have to make sure the team is okay.
And so we postpone our vacation or we work longer hours because we have to be there for the team. And you end up draining your own energy, not realizing that at the end of the day, like you're doing a disservice to your team by basically like making yourself into a patient and making it so that you can't be your best self for them.
So my number one thing with managers is like, take care of yourself first. It sounds selfish or can feel selfish if you're a giving person. But trust me when I say that, unless you are your best self, there's no way you can make other people into their best selves.