A new journey
Updated: Jan 28, 2019
In October, after 3.5 exciting years, I left my job at NerdWallet to chase a nagging hypothesis -- that management is broken. That’s a provocative statement and yet, having experienced a better alternative, it seems pretty clear that old command-and-control habits of the industrial revolution aren’t effective in the digital age. Just like the broader economy, our workplaces are undergoing a dramatic transition. It’s a transformation that I believe will make work more enjoyable and meaningful for everyone and I wanted to be part of it.
I’m certainly not the first person to believe this or point this out -- this conversation has been happening at least since the early days of Google when their “weird” management practices became sexy. And yet, for all the talk the change is coming slowly. While job satisfaction is increasing, only 51% of employees report being satisfied with their job. Each successive generation is more stressed than the last and 64% of adults report work as a source of significant stress. The largest IPO in history is likely to be a tech company known for the toxicity of its culture. Even at the vaunted Google with its free lunch, kombucha on tap, and new age workplace the median employee tenure is just 1.1 years. While we may talk about the “future of work”, for most people we’re still living in the past.
One reason for that is visibility. While it’s easy to talk about a better version of management, its benefits are often intangible. I’ve been lucky enough to experience great leadership first hand, and yet outside-in it’s often hard to tell the difference between great people leaders and mediocre ones who still hit their numbers in the short term.
It’s easy to believe in a more enlightened version of management -- one based more on enabling and empowering than “managing” -- but it’s hard to carry through in practice. When push comes to shove, do you hit the deadline or give the team room to develop? Do you take the sure path or give a new employee a chance to grow? Do you take the time to build team trust or do you hit your quarterly targets?
In the right context, you can take the harder of those two paths and invest in your team. Even though the benefits are hard to measure in the near-term (after all, how do you quantify the value of something abstract like trust?) you can take the hit and build for the long term. But all too often, when facing the choice between team and target, we choose target.
I’m excited to share my answer to that. I’ve spent the last three months working on Sympath to address the challenge of visibility. By making intangibles like trust and psychological safety more tangible, my goal is to give startup leaders better visibility into the harder to see dimensions of team health.
If as a leader you care about the softer side of management, there’s a gap in the market right now. Your options are employee surveys (which are a good start but hard to make actionable), exec coaches (who are expensive and focus on a different set of questions), or doing it yourself (which is time intensive and lieky get you a rose-colored picture of how your teams actually feel). There’s a fourth and better way where you get the benefits of an in-person, human touch with a model that’s more scalable than coaching or doing it yourself.
This is just the first step, but it’s one I’m excited to take. And if you’re reading this, then it’s one where I could use your help. If you’re leading a team of 20-100 people, I would love to talk about what would make Sympath useful to you. If you’ve got friends you think I should meet, I would love an introduction. If you find what I’m working on interesting and want to brainstorm, I’d love your perspective. And finally, if it’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other and you just want to catch up, let’s talk. I can now with a straight face say that getting coffee is in my job description.
This post also appears on Medium