Things I’ve learnt and mistakes I’ve made
As we say goodbye to what has been quite possibly the most demanding year of our lives, well at least my life, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learnt as well as some mistakes I’ve made along the way when starting in my new role. I joined Gousto back in May 2020, during the middle of the first lockdown, and whilst the onboarding process was seamless, the experience was anything but. Don’t get me wrong, it was never going to be easy as I was building a new team and function from scratch, there weren’t any handovers, the data function I’m now in didn’t exist and I was doing all of this and more, remotely with two boys under the age of 5 floating around. Having been at Gousto for nearly nine months now, these are the 7 pieces of advice I’d give to anyone joining a company remotely as they are things that I’d do better or do more of if I was doing it all over again. The points discussed can, of course, be applied to non-remote environments as well, I just think they count for double when working from home.
1. Over-communicate but keep it concise
Frustration caused by a lack of communication when you’re not together in a physical environment is amplified when you’re remote. This sounds obvious, but we take for granted the many micro-interactions that occur throughout the day when we’re in an office. We don’t have the luxury of elevators, coffee stations and break out areas for those quick chats where we casually update people on things that are important. You don’t need to share every single detail of your week but a concise high-level update on two or three of the most important things can help keep people up to date, feel at ease, manage their expectations or just be comfortable knowing that you’re working on the top priorities and raise concerns early on if not.
2. Build a relationship with the people you work with
The first few weeks of my new role were filled with introduction meetings with key people and stakeholders that I would be interacting with regularly. I didn’t realise it but these sessions were very robotic and outcome focussed. Those of you that know me, will know that this is very much out of character. I love nothing more than meeting new people and getting to know them, so imagine my surprise when our Engineering Director called it out at the end of our first session. He proposed an exchange of a fun fact before we ended the meeting. It was a simple gesture that reminded me to keep things human. I now use that at the end of intro sessions with anyone I haven’t met before to build even the slightest personal connection.
3. Focus on what matters
I’m still coming to terms with this one because I like to think I can do everything, but a book I read recently has finally helped me realise the importance of focussing on a few big things I can try and deliver well, instead of ten things I deliver poorly or worse, fail to deliver. This is a classic product mindset which the analyst in me is constantly wrestling with. My first manager at Gousto constantly tried to hammer this into me, especially in my early months. Deciding on what you don’t do is equally as important as deciding what you do choose to do. A few big wins can have a lasting impact.
4. Seek feedback early
Time to work on a project without distractions was something most of us craved before COVID. That seems to be less of a problem now but be careful not to swing the pendulum so far the other way that you get lost in your work and forget to seek feedback. One of my biggest takeaways this year has been to get input early on. I’m one of those people who in the past has tried to get 99% of the work done by myself without anyone’s input only then to find that I’d gone off track at the 60% mark.
There’s no point in crossing the wrong finish line.
5. Analyse and map your stakeholders
Stakeholder management is an important part of any role. By performing an analysis of your stakeholders you’ll be able to quickly identify the key people who need to be won over to help you succeed in your role.
To begin, identify who your stakeholders are. Think outside of the box on this. Who is going to be impacted by your work? Who might need to contribute?
Next, prioritise them on power and interest. Score each person on their ability to block, advance or reprioritise your work (power) and how much they care about what you do (interest). Once you’ve scored everyone, map them onto a power-interest matrix
Once you’ve mapped everyone, approach communications in the following way:
- High power — High interest: these stakeholders are likely to be decision-makers and have the biggest impact on project success. Keep them close, manage their expectations.
- High power — Low Interest: these stakeholders need to be kept in the loop with what is happening. They may not be interested in the outcome but they yield power. These type of stakeholders should be dealt with cautiously because they could use their power in a negative way if they become unsatisfied.
- Low power — High interest: keep these people adequately informed, and talk to them to ensure that no major issues are arising. These people can often be very helpful with the detail of your project.
- Low power — low interest: monitor these people but do not spend time and energy with excessive communication.
This is taken from other sources. I’m not a fan of the way it’s worded, but at the same time, I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, therefore, I’ve kept it the same in the hope that people will see past the horrible language and appreciate the underlying message.
6. Manage people’s expectations better
I’m ashamed to admit that this point is one of my Achilles’ heels. It’s one I’m constantly struggling with and I think it comes partially as a result of my shortcomings on point number 3. If you can nail this it will really help with stakeholder management, building relationships and gaining people’s trust. Low trust comes from promising something and not delivering against it. We all miss deadlines from time to time, it happens, the critical thing to remember is not to wait until the last minute before letting your stakeholders know.
7. Give a shit
Give a shit about your work, your team and your colleagues. Get involved with the fluffier stuff, take the lead on projects, take initiative, voice your opinions, lean in, be present and basically just… give a shit. People notice when you do and it encourages them to give a shit too. I like to think this is actually one of my strengths and one of the main reasons why I made it through those difficult first few months as, despite my mistakes on the other areas, I give a shit.
I don’t claim to have nailed all of the above, like many people, my life is a work in progress. And although I’m sure there are countless other areas to think about in your new role, I feel these are the ones that are most overlooked but also ones that can help you make the biggest impact.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite movie scenes. Happy New Year all.
Note: The data team are going to be publishing a lot more content this year so do give our tech page a follow to stay up to date on all of our posts: https://medium.com/gousto-engineering-techbrunch