What 18 Year Olds Taught Me About Management

[Ed. note: I wrote this for a Hobsons internal thing for the “People Leader” group, when asked to write on the topic of motivation and employee engagement. I think it sort of rambles around those topics, so I decided to post it here as well.]

It was just after the fourth year in a row that I worked myself to the point of pneumonia that I realized I needed to change. In my case, that change was to figure out a way to trust my teams to do what needed to be done, instead of sitting around visibly freaking out about process and progress, and deadlines and deliverables, to the point where I said “the heck with this, I’m just going to do it myself.” It took an embarrassingly long time (years and years) for me to learn that I was not, in fact, five people. Sometimes I can be the dumbest smart person I know.

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New Year’s Goal: Staying at my job!

I got an email the other day about why New Year’s Resolutions fail, and that instead of proclaiming resolutions one should set goals instead. Sounds good to me! I mean, who am I if not someone who listens closely to blog posts by product managers for my wearable devices?1

So, no New Year’s resolution to restart going to the gym (although I’m going to try to work it into my schedule since there’s one in the building at work).

No New Year’s resolution to eat better (we do eat pretty well, since it’s mostly Blue Apron 2).

No New Year’s resolution to go to sleep and wake up at a consistent time (the aforementioned UP3 helps tremendously with that).

No New Year’s resolution to blog more (because really, the chances of that are slim although I’d like to try to blog at least once a month).

No New Year’s resolution to drink less coffee (are you serious? Why would I do that to myself and those around me?)

The only goal I’m going to commit to is: staying at my job. I have a bit of a problem with staying in one place for more than a year. There are lots of reasons for that—some are real, some are rationalizations, whatever. But I like my job (see, I even wrote about it last month). With very few exceptions, I like all of the people in the company (and it’s not a small company). I have a really good manager. I think (and I think my team thinks) I’m a really good manager. We are mission-driven, and it’s a good one (and my friend Audrey Watters hasn’t railed on my particular ed-tech company, so we’re doing something right). I get paid a fair wage, as do all of my (diverse) team members.

My one year anniversary at Hobsons is May 4, 2016. Check back then and hold me accountable for the goal! I’d like to go to the annual family vacation in July and when people ask (as they always do) “Do you have the same job?” say “YES I DO.”

  1. I’ve had a Jawbone UP3 activity/heart rate/sleep tracker since May 2015 and I love it.
  2. Let me know if you’d like a free week!
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A bit of work-related thankfulness

[Ed. note: I wrote this for a Hobsons internal employee blog feature thinger on a season of thankfulness, but liked it enough that I figured I’d post it here, too. I’ve edited it only ever so slightly (mostly to add explanatory notes for an external audience).]

One of the things I’ve been most grateful for during my brief time at Hobsons 1 is having a team that is naturally oriented toward ongoing learning and self-improvement—it sure makes my job as a manager a lot easier than it could be! But seriously, the intrinsic curiosity of the people on my team aligns perfectly with some of our Advising & Admissions divisional goals 2, and without even trying. Impact! Innovation! Agility & Scalability! Intrinsic curiosity is pretty handy, actually.

I’m sure some of you might say “Really, Julie? You’re grateful that people on your team want to learn new things? That’s it?” Well, yes. Yes it is. I’m a simple person.

You see, for the last several years more often than not my job has been specifically to try and fix broken teams and processes; I arrive, assess the situation, figure out a way to fix what is broken, and hope that there’s enough time to execute on the actual product plan before the company/product/my sanity tanks. Often what I ended up starting with were teams of burnt out or bored people slogging through their paces, and who had little joy left in their work let alone any intrinsic curiosity or motivation. It was all gone. That’s a recipe for disaster and makes for some sleepless nights, high blood pressure, and just general failure all around (myself included). These situations were neither fun nor good for the team, the customers, and the end users.

But Hobsons is a different situation (for which I am also quite grateful). I’m grateful that the veteran Hobsons employees I inherited when I joined the team (and they accepted me as their manager) plus the new folks I’ve hired in recent months all come to work every day with a little sparkle in their eyes that says “What will I learn today, and how can I apply it tomorrow?” 3

The people on my teams seem to really “get” the three elements of motivation that Daniel Pink talks about in his book, Drive—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and I’m additionally grateful that we all work for a company that sees the value in harnessing these elements and allows me (as a manager) to use them to our mutual benefit. For example, while in Engineering we work with multiple partner groups (Product Management, Support, Consulting, and so on), we have autonomy in terms of how we implement technical solutions; within our smaller teams each developer has the ability and freedom to be creative with their thinking and implementation of these solutions.

Similarly, every developer on my team wants to get better at their craft and eventually achieve mastery in it. I’m confident that everyone on my team knows exactly what I’m doing when I set the bar a little higher for them every day, providing support but also the space to explore on their own and find their own footing on a path to continual improvement and growth. I’m grateful for this unspoken game we get to play every day, and how it coincides with Pink’s highest level of motivation: purpose, or “connecting to a cause larger than yourself.”

For as much as the people on my team want to wake up each day and learn and grow and push themselves and their teammates to achieve mastery in their own craft, they want to do it for the kids who have yet to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Go to college? Be a farmer? Both? Neither? My team helps build a tool that helps kids figure that out, and that faceless tool in the computer machine might be the only thing in their lives telling them that they can be an Aerospace Engineer or go to Zane State College (and everything in between).

So yes, that’s it: I’m grateful that my team wants to learn new things.

  1. I joined in May 2015 as Senior Manager of Software Engineering
  2. I work in the Advising side of the house; my teams build the core of the Naviance K-12 advising product.
  3. Seriously. It’s a little freaky sometimes.
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