Thrilled to see my previous post, The Other Woman in Tech, hit a nerve with so many. I want to follow up with another post because even though I’m all for “think pieces”, I've always been more drawn to “action pieces”.
Note: I may use the title “other women in tech”, but I recognize there are many men in these positions, too. We can stand to use gender diversity in all roles.
Here are my top tips for getting the most out of your community, customer support and other non-tech teams.
Example: In Etsy’s all-hands meetings, engineers (not always the CTO or team leads, but individuals working on very specific challenges) were expected to presented Code as Craft talks to the entire company. Presenting complex ideas to an wider audience than you may be used to, challenges the presenter to distill their work into a simple and digestible presentation. Not only did these talks help the non-tech teams understand how special our engineering team was, but these talks often shared universal learnings that fueled my own work. Continuous deployment (pushing over 50 of code changes a day at the time) inspired me to push myself and my team to be just as prolific.
Our non-tech teams were encouraged to share the magic behind what we were doing, too. (Again, it’s important that all team members are give the chance to present company wide, not just team managers.) After writing my last post, an engineer I worked with wrote me a touching email, explaining that soon after he joined the team, a talk I gave at an all-hands meeting made him feel confident in his decision to take this new role—he knew he wanted to work at a place that inspired the kind of passion I had shown.
These structured presentations allowed us to clearly craft messages in a universal language, providing the perfect way to inspire, educate and understand each other.
2. Avoid treating your non-tech teams like the clean up crew.
Often the non-tech teams have a lot of cleanup work, and these roles can start to feel like less like community builders, and more like community janitors. Even tiny changes or quick blips can create big waves within the community. This is “part of the job” but often this work is not accounted for in our schedules, and often this work doesn’t show up in our job descriptions or account for much in performance reviews. (But it should, oh how it should.)
Transparency between teams is important. Internal communications should be as thought through as external ones. Changes need to be communicated. I repeat, changes need to be communicated. And you can probably deduce that a team that ships so many times a day, could not only forget to think about a communication plan for some of those changes, but may not foresee an issue that a community or support team member can spot miles away.
Let me also mention this, your customer-facing teams should always be prepared to clean up messes. We clean up the messes our internal and external community makes. When I hire and train new members this is something I’m sure to never sugar coat. We’re the supporting structure that allows product and engineering to innovate, to make mistakes that can lead to ever bigger, better solutions.
One thing a product or engineering team lead can do, is to keep tabs on these causes for clean up. Report to you customer service team, acknowledge the extra work that was created and the extra steps you’ll take in the future to avoid a similar mess.
3. Help Us Exceed Expectations
I’m an optimizer. My father was an engineer, and I think I can understand and empathize with the way an engineer’s brain works. I absolutely hate band-aids, or one off requests that require a ton of work (when you could not bother them, and figure out a work around). I try to keep my requests for help to a minimum, however, sometimes we really need help from another team in order to make something work. If your customer service team does not have the support of the entire company, you may find them with tied hands. Make sure your team and product has enough flexibility that you’re not hindering the happiness of your community members, and the teams that support them. If you see someone go outside of their job role to support your support team, applaud them!
4. Respect Gender Intelligence
Non-tech roles are filled by 70–90% women (I made this stat up. I bet you can’t prove me wrong, though.) Just read this book, Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line. TLDR version.
Gender intelligence allows us to not only acknowledge our differences in a positive light but appreciate them as well. We’ve made the wrong assumption about why women are leaving the workplace. Our surveys with women found that they’re leaving because they don’t feel valued — they feel excluded. — Barbara Annis and John Gray
5. Give us Freedom
In a previous position, I was given a clear runway to be as innovative as the product and engineering teams were. Often we want our community and customer support teams to justify their existence, account for what we do all day, and show how we’re reducing response times, solving problems faster and more efficiently. Important work, for sure. But there’s so much to also innovate on! Hire great people you trust and believe in, wind them up with big goals and let them go.
One night, at 11:30pm, I received a group text message from the BarkBox founders. They told me they were impressed with my work that day. I never was inspired to work harder for a company than in that moment.
5a. Let us fail, too.
Our fails can be much more public, but it’s important to allow us to learn from them and not hide them or feel so shameful that it stunts our future performance. There is value in failing honestly, and I learned that from John Allspaw, who introduced me to blameless post mortems, and you’ll hear more about him later.
6. Celebrate consistent awesomeness, not just big wins.
Tech founders can have a blind spot when it comes to community management. We often aren’t coming up with brand new solutions that call for company-wide emails containing celebratory gifs. Big wins get all the love.
Be a cheerleader for all teams — show random acts of kindness.
Set up an anonymous Twitter account reminding team members they are doing a great job. Order ribbons that say, “You are killing it.” and pass them out when you see a coworker being consistently awesome.
Ok. It’s time to name names. I once stood at an elevator, having a particularly rough day, and John Allspaw, Etsy’s SVP of Technical Operations came walking towards me.
“I just wanted to say,” he started, and of course my heart fell into my stomach with the immediate thought, “Oh dear, is this going to be bad?”.
“I read your newsletter today and it was really great.”, he finished.
My heart shot right back up to where it should be. I’m tearing up right now thinking about this, it still touches me.
Have any other tips? I’d love to hear them. I feel I could write more on this and at least three more posts around hiring, reviewing, and motivating non-tech teams (many times with their help!). Want to hear more from me? Let me know!