People Management

Here's how to manage, build and grow your team in a human and effective way.

We'll give you concrete and unconventional tips from the most innovative companies and backed by the science of what motivates people.

Bad Managers Talk, Good Managers Write

The exemplary manager is often shown as the outgoing guy that gives his team pep talks and high fives. In truth, though, that stereotype couldn’t be farther from the truth.

To three highly effective, seasoned, and successful executives, being a good talker isn’t just overvalued, it can actually be detrimental. Rather, there’s a subtle, often-overlooked ability that’s one of the most vital skills you can have as a manager — the ability to write.

why good managers write

“Written communication to engineering is superior [to verbal communication] because it is more consistent across an entire product team, it is more lasting, it raises accountability.” 

Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz

When managers write, you create work product — white papers, product requirement documents, FAQs, presentations — that lasts and is accessible to everyone in the organization. From marketing to sales to QA to engineering, everyone has a document off which they can work and consult.

The upshot is that the manager also takes public responsibility for what happens when the rest of the team executes on the point of view taken by the documents. That ratchets up accountability through the organization.

To Horowitz, the distinction between written and verbal communication is stark and, in fact, it’s what separates the wheat from the chaff. Good managers want to be held accountable and aren’t looking for ways to weasel out of responsibility. And so, good managers write, while “[b]ad product managers voice their opinion verbally and lament … the ‘powers that be’.”

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The Most Charismatic Leaders Are People You’ve Never Heard of

evil queen from snow white

When you’re in charge, you get used enjoying feeling like the linchpin. Take co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, Rich Sheridan, who used to think: “I liked being the person everyone came to…. There was glory to it. I felt like the smartest guy in the room.”

Back when he was a VP at a company called Interface Systems, he brought his eight-year-old daughter with him to work one day. Her candid observation about his job ended up completely transforming how he thought about management. When she told her dad that he must be very important — because “[a]ll day long… people came in here and asked you to make a decision for them. And you made a decision, and they went on their way” — that threw Sheridan for a loop.

He realized how this style of managing people created a system of bottlenecks and he began to conceive of the right way to manage as a decentralized, bottom-up approach of decision-making. Menlo Innovations now runs as a bossless organization, because being the smartest guy in the room was a liability.

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This One Word from Managers Helps Teams Work 48% Better

social context together

In many ways, work is getting increasingly solitary.

We’re rejecting meetings with colleagues as inefficient time-wasters where nothing gets done. Technology is mediating communication, replacing face-to-face interaction. Remote work means that we’re often physically alone even when we’re working on a team.

The upshot is that even when we’re working together with colleagues on a team, it can feel like we’re working alone. Yet social contexts can be powerful motivators at work. Without them, we can get disengaged and feel like our work doesn’t matter.

It turns out that, even in the absence of working physically together with a team, it’s possible to evoke the power of social context with one single word. Stanford psychologists discovered that saying this one word inspired individuals to work an incredible 48% harder by using social context to fuel intrinsic motivation.

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Managers, Expressing Gratitude Will Make You Feel Happier

gratitude managementTypical management advice suggests expressing gratitude in order to uplift your team.

Yet one of the most powerful effects of gratitude is that it makes the person giving gratitude — not the person receiving it — happier. In a Gallup poll, 95% of people said that expressing gratitude made them feel happy and 50% of them said that expressing gratitude made them feel extremely happy.

For managers, that unexpected fact turns the importance of gratitude on its head. When you express your gratitude, that will make your own manager happiness go up — which can set the tone for all of your managerial activities.

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How to Deal With a Bad Boss for the Sake of Your Happiness

bad boss from office space

Bad boss relationships run rampant, wreaking stress, demoralization, and dysfunction.

When psychologist Daniel Kahneman measured happiness levels through the course of the day, he found that among all daily events and interactions, the one thing that made people the most unhappy was spending time with their boss. It doesn’t just end there. According to psychologist Robert Hogan, 75% of people say the worst, most stressful part of their job, is “their immediate boss.”

This post isn’t for all you bosses out there. This is for all you sufferers of bad bosses everywhere. You aren’t doomed to unhappiness and feeling frustrated, anxious, and put down, as long as you’re ready to step up to the plate.

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Why You Need a Business Coach But Won’t Admit It

business coaching friday night lights

You’re a founder who’s juggling a million priorities and tasks — from product to people to vision. There’s so much going on and so much to do that you feel simultaneously adrift and stuck, not sure what to do or where to turn next — even as you continue to work incredibly hard to get your startup on higher ground.

It’s time for you to get a business coach.

“Having a coach who can develop insights for you, to help you think through things is so, so helpful,” says Brian Wang, co-founder and CEO of Fitocracy — which began as a gamified fitness tracking app with an important social support element and now includes a platform offering coaching services. “It’s the next big element of health and fitness — and I would say productivity — to have coaching,” predicts Brian, “a human experience that moves beyond a self-serve tool.”

Even with Fitocracy’s move toward training services, Brian was initially skeptical about the value of a CEO coach for himself. But he soon found his business coach invaluable to the process of self-improvement as an entrepreneur and leader.

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Why You Shouldn’t Let Engineers Negotiate Their Salary

illustration of handshakeIt’s been the system of getting a new job since time immemorial. You go through the application rigamarole. You’re interviewed multiple times, and every time, you pass muster. Finally, they’re ready to make you a job offer. They send it your way, and you take a look — it’s another lowball number. What do you do?

Startup founders often think of the lowball offer as a harmless invitation to negotiate, but to Steve Newcomb, founder of Famo.us and Powerset, it’s one of the dumbest things that you can do in recruiting engineers. And the worst thing that can happen is that the engineer accepts your lowball offer.

That’s why in his companies, Newcomb uses an unconventional but powerful tactic. Incoming engineers actually aren’t allowed to negotiate their salary — they get whatever is determined by the company’s salary formula.

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What a Friends Episode Can Teach You About Team Communication


friends team communication

“Did you get my email?” is one of the most annoying questions of offices spaces across the land.

Artist Tom Sachs pinpoints what happens at work that gives rise to these vexing time-wasters:

‘[S]ent does not mean received’ is a profound thing. Half of your job in this studio is doing your work, the other half of your job is communicating that it’s been done. Because if you do it, and I don’t hear about it, how do I know what’s going on?

Despite the great advantage of asynchronous, turn-based communication like email, allowing people to both engage in conversations at their own pace and focus on their work — there are real drawbacks. Not feeling like your message was received or that you’re being left hanging leads to anxiety, stress, and blocks on making progress.

The challenge with team communication is that what’s efficient for the individual isn’t necessarily efficient nor effective for the group as a whole. So how do you extend information-sharing and banish unnecessary work about work for larger-scale productivity?

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How Tony Hsieh Inspired Long-Term Motivation to Grow Zappos Culture

In 2005, Zappos was on track to beat its yearly sales goal of $300 million.

But that was just the beginning. Before Zappos became the household name it is today, CEO Tony Hsieh held a long-term vision for the company that went beyond the gross merchandise numbers. His ambitious goal to hit $1 billion in sales by 2010 was part of a larger plan.

In a remarkable email update Hsieh wrote in 2005 to Zappos investors, employees, and partners, he explained:

Rather than maximizing short-term profits, we’re taking a long-term view and focusing on building the business for the long haul. We’ve grown quickly over the past 5 years, but we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

But it’s not the numbers that are the most exciting… It’s the opportunity to build a company culture and consumer brand that is centered around the service, not the shoes or the handbags.

One of the most captivating things about this email is to actually see the seeds of Zappos’s distinctive culture germinating — especially knowing that the vision that Hsieh lays out in this decade-old email has come to pass, and then some.

So how did Hsieh actually translate his vision for Zappos into reality and resist the siren song of those short-term profits? How did he corral his employees to stick with him for the long haul? The elements are all there in that email.

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A Googler’s Critique of Google Performance Reviews

google performance reviews

This post was written anonymously by a current Google and former Microsoft employee.  It details the author’s perspective on her first-hand experience with Google’s performance review system.

“Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.”

–Franklin D. Roosevelt

Institutions are built on the trust and credibility of their members. This maxim holds true for employees and their employers just the same as it does for citizens and their government. Whereas the electoral process in modern democracies allows you and me to rate our government’s performance, performance rating systems make employees the subject of evaluation. In both cases, however, faith in the integrity of the process is the only thing that ensures order.

Managing a performance rating system that motivates, rewards, and retains talented employees across an organization tens of thousands large is a grueling, never-ending challenge. How does an organization balance values core to its DNA and its continued success — merit, openness, innovation, and loyalty — all while maintaining perceptions of fairness?

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