Back

Office Hours: I was previously the Head of People at Lever. Now, I’m the founder & CEO of Workflow. I’m Jennifer Kim. AMA!Featuredhttps://www.workflowhq.com

[Edit: Thanks for having me! Subscribe to my free newsletter, and reach out if you're curious about the Workflow team and I do for startups :)]

Hi Elphas!

I’m Jennifer Kim, the founder and CEO of Workflow, where we’re fixing the way tech companies hire and scale. You may know me from Twitter or my newsletter, Safe For Work, where I share stories about the human side of working in startups.

Even though this is an AMA I’d really love to hear about *your* experience!

Startups can be incredible, career-defining opportunities, but the reality is that most of the time… startups are brutal workplaces. And often, this can be traced to a poor foundation in People.

Unfortunately, most startups aren’t strategic at all about People/HR practices, it’s common to simply copy-paste Big Tech Co playbooks. But this doesn’t make sense! Startups are a unique environment with a different talent, goals, pressures, so you gotta get creative. For example… many founders’ neuroses and worst qualities can be inadvertently replicated in a company culture and processes as it scales – *unless* there’s a strong People function to guide and counteract that.

I’m a former Head of People who got tired of seeing the same problems over and over again, and the loss of potential of great startups who don’t get to meet their full potential due to People problems. I founded Workflow to partner with the next generation of unicorns and help them learn from other companies' past mistakes.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been disappointed by an experience at a past startup, especially related to management, culture, diversity, etc. Share your story in the comments and let’s talk about it and see if we can figure out how it could’ve gone a better way 👇

Thanks so much for joining us @jen!Elphas – please ask @jen your questions before Friday, December 1st. @jen may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
@jen thank you for taking the time to offer your expertise! I'm currently running a 80+ fully remote, distributed, series B company and we're struggling to find ways to level up our remote ee experience. For example, like you said, big co playbooks often don't translate and I personally hate performance reviews but what is a great substitute that scales? Also, when we have our annual IRL retreat it's electrifying and 'fills our cup' as an org for a while but inevitably, we lose that magic throughout the year as we go back to our remote set ups. Is there anything you're seeing out there to help build real connections in a remote culture and what are your thoughts on remote perf. review alternatives? TYIA!
Hi @jenniferhenderson , thank you for your question! The short answer is we should talk more because I think there's so much we could get into, and sounds like you’re at the right stage for laying down some important People foundations. When it comes to People work, some of the systems/processes are fairly standard across companies, but quite a bit – and the interesting and high-potential opportunities – is going to be specific to your company. So it’s not just cookie-cutter, but actually reflecting the strengths/opportunities of your team and context. So my DMs are open for a follow up conversation – but first, I’ll actually answer the question for real :) First, I want to note that it's fantastic that your IRL retreats are so effective. I’m a nerd for retreat design and facilitation, so it’s music to my ears! Could you look at doing it twice a year? If not exactly the same, and it doesn’t even have to be in-person/same format. What I’d do next is to take a closer look at what exactly makes these retreats so electrifying and cup-filling. This would entail some research to figure out the relevant key data (quantitative and qualitative) as well as insights – for example, was it about the level of social connection? Or was it more about the opportunity for each person to build their connection to the mission? Professional development/team-building? Or maybe y’all just went to a luxury resort and that was enough 😂 Point is, what makes for a very special experience will vary by who the group is, so once you can identify the insights, you can then brainstorm ways to amplify that everywhere in remote environments.The next point to consider as a company navigating effective remote work is the level of People Team resourcing. We’re still in relatively new territory for so many companies being remote - it really used to be a niche thing - and there’s a lot still being figured out, collectively. For example, I’m of the belief that remote work is People & Culture work on hard mode. I say that as a remote work advocate! The reality is, remote environments require MORE investments in the social and communications infrastructure, and these don’t just grow on trees – they need smart teams tending to them, and that’s usually the job of the management and People teams in collaboration. The problem is, our industry has LONG under-invested in People/Ops teams, leading them to be thinly stretched – and remote work only increases that gap. That’s a long way of saying… I would invite you to consider your current People team and the plans for it in the future. How might be they set up for success, where they're not just boggled down in infinite administrative tasks and compliance, but actually able to think and build strategically about employee experience. Unfortunately this is still pretty rare outside for Workflow clients, for whom my team and I provide the additional People resourcing and the infrastructure/frameworks, which allows these companies to build a People, Talent, and Culture function that’s actually strategic, not just an afterthought.OK, this answer’s already long enough so I’ll have to save the info on performance reviews for later! Overall, I’d say it sounds like you’re at a perfect time to really prioritize People work - you’re at the size where the team can be fairly tight-knit and be the foundation for a strong culture. The opportunity then is to build on it, to set your team up for scale to hopefully much more!
Amazing, thank you! Just sent you a note on LI!
Thanks for making the time to answer our questions! Curious what organizations, particularly startups, can do to mitigate the negative impact of narcissistic leaders? Especially narcissistic founders. Current research points to a higher rate of narcissists in executive roles than the average population. I strongly suspect the numbers run higher in startups as grandiosity (“vision”), charisma and a high risk tolerance (especially with other people’s money) can have short-term benefits during hyper growth.
Hey Jen! Former roommate here from Waller St/Lever days - nice to see you on here! There are so many things I could ask about now that I'm in tech (though they could really apply to any point in my career):- I find that our performance review process and calibration meetings are often "success theater". No one wants to look like they're not achieving. Furthermore, I find we're not willing to be candid about real blockers to our work and how we can solve them together when it comes to talking with execs and xfn partners, though these conversations do happen 1:1 or at a team level without much resolution. What are your tips for building a real culture of feedback, reflection, iteration, and acknowledgement?- Our return to office strategy was first decided to be flexible depending on the exec, which means that some teams are "required" to come in 2 days a week (mostly EPD) while others are not (especially customer facing teams where the rationale is that the bulk of their work happens with external parties). I suspect this is changing soon for us, which I'll be interested to see. I personally prefer not to go to an office more than 2x week, which balances my focused working time with the office time where I'm largely either socializing, distractedly working in an open office plan, or frenetically running from room to room because I still have back-to-back virtual meetings. What are your thoughts on RTO, and who's doing it well?
love the descriptor "success theatre" - it's so true for tech sales/marketing team meetings
Hi Emily!! What a nice surprise. I remember our roomie Sarah mentioning at the kitchen table about how well you’d do once you could break into tech – and congrats, killing it! Plus now you get to be part of the commiserating about tech company culture and management practices, lolll.Okay, on performance. I could talk a million years about this topic. I’ve also long been talking about how performance reviews are… well, performative. They don’t do what they *say* they do. Ostensibly, it's a process for rewarding high performers, providing employees feedback, etc. But in reality, I think it ends up being designed + executed from a very defensive place. Tech companies hire hundreds, thousands of really ambitious people, all of whom want to be promoted every six months. So it's a system designed to make the minimal number of those possible, while keeping the rest of the workforce satisfied enough to not leave. But anyway, you don’t need me philosophizing all day :P So let’s acknowledge that performance isn’t done well at most companies. There are some who manage it well enough, but quality is hard to maintain in hypergrowth. So I do want to validate like how frustrating this is – when performance processes are really important and could be really impactful. But…… and maybe this is harsh, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge the limit of what individual employees can change, especially when it comes to org-wide HR practices.Don't get me wrong. I do absolutely think employees should be giving the executive teams management lots of feedback. Exactly what you just said here about how it's hard to be candid and that the process is blocking work! AND, it’s not owned by you, you don’t have control over it. Your job is to deliver the feedback, but if the executives/People team either don’t or can’t respond to it well, that’s not your responsibility. I think success in hypergrowth environment sometimes means having a realistic view on what is actually in your sphere of influence/control, and what you can let go. If you're a manager, you can do a lot to build a real culture of feedback, reflection iteration IN YOUR TEAM - then hopefully, that can get surfaced up. BUt sometimes the best you can do is surface that feedback. Maybe this is too harsh? But I’ve seen too many people get burnt out from overfunctioning around ineffective executive and People teams. Whether it’s because they don’t get it or they do but they simply don’t care, that doesn’t mean employees should pick up the slack and responsibility. It’s a delicate line to manage when you’re someone who does really care and are inclined to taking on a lot of responsibility at work. Your second question about RTO – very related! Definitely, there are a couple of things in your paragraph that makes me raise an eyebrow. Whenever a company has inconsistent “requirements” is a yellow flag to me – it could mean the HR and management teams were not courageous enough to actually draw a line in the sand and own their decisions, even if unpopular. Wishy-washyness in org policy making causes MORE confusion and disruption to productivity, especially given employees are very sensitive to perceptions of unequal standards. Just this week I wrote an article about RTO! (https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7135805900052684800/) I totally get why you and many others prefer WFH, given that we've all adjusted our lives around it in the last few years. So if a company decides to RTO, they have the responsibility – and really, an exciting opportunity – to then provide an *alternativeI * to WFH experience that is actually appealing. It means getting creative in designing an effective in-person collaborative environment that actually makes people *want* to go in… or at least, be less resistant/resentful about it!.Check out the post and maybe drop the link to the management/HR team as well ;) But I hope it goes well! It's a really tricky time. We're all still in a transition after the shock of 2020 and all the fallout. And it's gonna take us at least a few more years to sort but in the meantime, hope you can find what's best for you. So nice to hear from you, Emily!
All great points! It's funny how sometimes you need to hear the advice you've been giving others. And the reminder that you can only change what's in your sphere of influence is a breath of fresh, permissive air that I needed to hear. I will continue to voice my feedback, and know that once it's given I can let any angst go.And I saw the RTO article too! (I'm a subscriber to your newsletter). Good to know it's a subject on everyone's minds these days and it's an interesting take.Great to see how you've taken your skillsets to new heights as well. Maybe I'll see you amongst friends at the next Eurovision contest. Sending my best.
I work for a fast-paced political nonprofit that was funded in part by many Silicon Valley folks, and we have many tech board members. We experienced the growing pains and yucky culture you mentioned in the beginning, but were able to right the ship and now have a successful HR function and a healthy culture. I played a big part in the building of that first reputable HR/People team and am now the HR Manager. I am interested in pivoting into a different industry. I'd love to work at a startup and help it lay its People foundation. How can I attract interest in my experience with my job applications? Is this a bias towards nonprofit work? Most of the time, I find for-profit or start-ups scoffing at my nonprofit experience. Thanks for any insight!
Thanks for your question. It's awesome that you've seen success in this work already – what you’re describing is so so important and valuable to companies. And much needed everywhere! I understand this is a significant challenge. But it is possible! I worked at a political nonprofit myself before switching to tech startups. So a couple of things:One: don't take feedback from startups rejecting you toooooo personally. I’m sure it does not feel good to be on the receiving end of the “scoffing” from startups. This is especially silly as I can tell you, your work experience has a lot of relevance to the environment you’re trying to go. The problem is, many startup companies don't know what they're looking for, which is why they're not able to connect the dots of why you might be a good candidate. So don't be discouraged. rejections are truly not personal and very often more often about the company than you. https://twitter.com/jenistyping/status/1312972611253485568 Second. Sounds like you're already well aware the importance positioning yourself in a job search. So, something I recommend doing for anyone doing a career switch – is that you got to talk to more people. Networking gets a bad rap But it is truly the secret weapon to an effective job search and career development. (I know, I’m sorry lol). If you’re trying to get feedback about how to best make the jump to startups, applying directly can actually be very unhelpful – too often, you just get a “no” and nothing more. Whereas, if you actually tap your network and ask for people for help, you're actually more likely to get useful feedback. Think of any introductions you can ask for anybody in your network. Can you think of anyone who can take a look at your resume for you/do some interview prep? Because so much of it not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it (e.g. Are you framing your projects in a way that's transferrable/parallel to the new industry? Are you using the correct “language” that’s specific to that industry? Hard to know if you’re not in it already). Plus you mentioned that the political nonprofit was started by many Silicon Valley folks. Are you in a position to talk to them / get their advice? Hopefully, they know you as someone who's done a really good job there, so you could approach it like a mentorship conversation with something like, “I've learned so much here and really proud of the work I’ve done here. I find myself wanting to stretch even more and I'm wondering if going into the tech industry would allow me to grow in that direction. Do you have any advice for me?” And… see what happens. I would bet… let’s say $10 lol, that you might be pleasantly surprised. People love helping people, especially if they know you’ve already done good work. Don't feel like you need to solve it by yourself.Making an industry switch can be difficult, but way less so if you actually have people who have the language and tools that you need – and all you need to do is bring your talent. Okay, I hope that helps – good luck!
This is very motivating. Thanks for taking the time to respond! It means a lot.
For someone who has worked in startups for years and years (their entire career) do you think a shift to a large org would be a positive change? I'm wondering if it'll be too much of a culture shock after years (decade+) of being an early-stage employee on a small team. At the same time, I love the idea of having more support, more mentors, and more learning opportunities.If you do think it's worth pursuing, how would you recommend a startup junkie position herself to be attractive to a larger org? Especially if my current title history isn't as clean cut as employees who have been climbing a corporate ladder for the last 10 years?
Hi anon! Yes, this is a indeed a great question.Can I be honest what I'm hearing? Sounds like this is something you know what you want to do – you know you’re ready for more support, mentors, more learning opportunities, etc. but maybe the concerns about the culture shock is (very understandably) kicking in due to the fear of the unknown. I get it! Smart, ambitious people take their career seriously and it can be really intimidating to make jumps.So here’s the short answer to your Q, whether I think this would be a positive change for you. I don’t get to say that, you do :) And based on what I’m hearing, you’re ready for it and then you absolutely should explore that path.But my longer answer is an invitation to go deeper and reflect on *why* you’re ready for this change. I don't know you, so I can only make some guesses based on the hundreds of conversations with folks in similar positions, navigating a tech career. One reason could be… you’re tired. That’s a real thing. Especially if you’ve been in one early-stage startup after another. Maybe some of these were even poorly run. Don't get me wrong, I love early-stage startups. It's fun, fulfilling, and even career-defining. AND it can be totally exhausting when you don’t have support structure, stability, etc, So, being maybe tired and a little bit burnt out could be part of the unspoken dynamic here. Here’s another possibility – you know, there’s a ton of bravado associated with startups, we’re so hardcore! Hypergrowth! Mission driven! To the moon!!! All of that can be exciting and a hell of a ride. But here's the reality that we can't escape: Companies can grow exponentially, but humans cannot. There is nothing wrong with this fact. I think of it simply as a biological limit. Sure, *theoretically* I could go from couch potato to Ironman athlete, but it would take a lot of training and time. But startups are expected to grow *unreasonably* in a short amount of time. It’s an environment that’s designed to be a pressure cooker, and there’s nothing wrong with needing a change after a decade (!).Sometimes growth means not just infinitely climbing upwards, but can include periods of moving laterally, or even staying put just for a second. I really believe that. When I think of all the times I've been either burnt out or just needed to take a different approach to my career, I'm actually really glad I tried maintenance mode. Of course, when I was actually *in* it, I was constantly kicking myself for not working hard enough (I don’t recommend that part). But when I look back now, those periods where I took it a little bit different pace or even slowed down, ended up being the springboard to the next great thing that I ended up doing. Maybe switching to a bigger org environment could be that for you.So! That was a long answer. I’m making some assumptions about your situation but I hope th perspectives were helpful. As for the second part of your question… you know, for company the the concern is usually the other way around :P i.e. A Hiring Manager at a startup asking, “But will this Big Company Candidate be able to adjust to our environment?” and not the other way around. I get why this might be intimidating, but it may be less of an issue than you might think. So maybe it’s less about what skills you do/don’t possess, and more about positioning yourself and employing some good ol’ job search strategies. Here's an article that I wrote recently that might be helpful, plus I definitely recommend you get some help around the “unclear job history” piece because resume coaches exist for this exact reason! Feel free to DM me for some referrals.Overall, the opportunity here is to pause and reflect on the bigger questions about why you're ready to move on which will serve you and your career well. Get curious about your hesitancies, fears, and narratives, but to me, it sounds like you know what you want and that's the most important part. I wish you the best of luck!
Great question!
Trying to sneak in a numbers question: I believe that the culture directly maps to the quality of the product. I am a 0-1 Product Manager with several successful exists. I work directly with founder who often have no real "work" skills (i.e, they have only ever been founders so they have limited training in running a company or building teams or running complex projects). Every activity at this early stage requires a lot of input, insight, and collaboration--people need to be their best and bring their best or failure is the only outcome The wrong kind of failure. A low-input/high fear or stress culture hampers product development significantly. How I do I prove the relationship of culture to product? I've seen it over and over: healthy cultures produce inventive, valuable, desired products.
Hi, thanks for your question. The short answer: you should introduce your founders to me and I'm happy to have this conversation for you 😉 OK the longer answer: First of all, you didn't say this in your note, but I'm guessing this might be a pretty frustrating situation. I know the feeling all too well – knowing what I know, and trying to talk to people who don't know what I know, but think they know better than me 💀 And just constantly feeling not listened to, and how the best you can do is say “I told you so” when stuff breaks – often exactly the way you said it would – but you didn’t want those things to break in the first place!!! Aaaargh!!! So I'm assuming that this Q may be coming from a bit of a frustrating place, and I want you to know like I GET IT. In some ways, the founders are super lucky to have you there. They probably don't know it or feel it yet though :P Second, you know… I wish trying to get people to care about was a simple matter of say, showing them a study that definitively proves the correlation between high productivity and a healthy culture. Or proof that high-stress environment leads to organizational failure. But that's not what actually leads to change, is it? Otherwise we'd be living in a very different universe. So what can you do?I’ve seen successes in the opportunity that is unique to early-stage companies – and that’s to translate these insights of yours from the abstract to the personal. So it’s not just KNOWING what’s going on / having the correct diagnosis, but *connect the dots* to what's actually happening on the ground for your company and surfacing them to your leaders, in a non-pressured way. In essence, help the founders see what you see. For example, you say: “high fear or stress culture hampers product development significantly.” OK, *I* believe you, but let’s keep going: What do you mean by that? What *specifically* happens to WHO and in WHAT way? What is visible to you? What are you observing ON YOUR TEAM? Put it to the surface and invite the leaders an open conversation about it. Is it possible that the founder couldn’t see it before? Or maybe they didn’t know how to interpret it? From there, you're gonna get more information from their responses. Maybe they’ll be embarrassed but grateful to you for helping them see new information. Maybe they’ll go reflect more and come up with solutions. OR MAYBE, even with direct concrete evidence, they show resistance and seem committed to denying reality. At that point, you then get to consider questions like: “Do I want to be working in an environment like this, where founders are ignoring clear truths?” You know, startups are hard enough and I think everyone deserves at least one level of benefit of doubt. But what happens after a direct conversation With your level experience, you clearly know *something* in what you're doing, and if the company’s leadership is not prepared or wanting to listen to you, especially if you're bringing it up in a respectful, productive way – from truly a place of wanting to help because you care about the company – why would you want to stay?!I hate to say it… but sometimes, the most powerful thing you can do for a culture that you care about… is to leave. I hope that is not what ends up happening here, but I”m letting you know it’s an option. I’ve unfortunately seen too many founders ignore information UNTIL a high-value employee leaves, then it serves as a gentle slap in the face, like “Oh, we were so excited to hire this amazing, productive PM, but… they just left, damn.” That's usually when companies find me and bring my team in for consulting 😂 but I really wish I could go in MUCH sooner. But I digress. To be honest, I'm TIRED of the dynamic that you’re describing – founders who make the same predictable mistakes around People and Culture work. That is the core reason why I started Workflow to try to change it, on the broad broader industry level! But that’s not your job, your job is to be a great PM. In some ways my work is slow 😛 but I do it because I want people like you to not have to go through this exact same experience over and over again. The reality is, there aren’t enough functional startup environments yet, but we can create more. But it takes people like you to deliver feedback and work from the inside, and yes, sometimes leave. But it’s part of the broader effort and bigger picture. I hope it helps to hear that :)
Nice to meet you With over 30 years of experience in the tech industry and most recently as a successful GTM transformation executive I am looking to venture into advising startups using my experience in GTM area Could you share insights into how you get opportunities to advise startups What’s best way to get plugged in and get both advisor and board positions Thanks
Thank you so much for your time, energy and expertise! My question is similar to Jennifer Henderson, but how do you build CULTURE remotely?Our company has one office in NYC but half of the company is across the U.S. or International. The NYC office has it's own subculture but do not think it's our entire company. How do we foster and build culture remotely, locally and inclusively!
https://www.gather.town/I HIGHLY recommend this, the last company I was in used this and it was SUPER interactive and it simulated many natural interactions in physical environment.
This is so relevant for me! I'm on my third startup now where the founders have no clue about good People practices and what's worse, they don't care! The ironic thing is that I was hired as the People & Talent Manager. That means I recruited and hired the team, and I run payroll. The leadership has invested zero and I truly mean ZERO into any kind of people program whatsoever. I'm on my way out of this place because there's no way I can be successful in this environment.
Good for you for having your eyes open! I think too many folks end up feeling really bogged down in an environment like what you’re describing. But I truly believe that sometimes… the most powerful thing you can do is to vote with your feet. And in addition to that, here’s another thing to consider. Quick disclaimer: You may be/have already gone down this path, it’s just not mentioned in your comment! (Plus, even if this is not at all relevant to you, it might be to others reading this post so here I gooooo~) I’m curious, do you think there’s an opportunity for you to try to bring this feedback to the leadership on your way out? Or maybe they already know and they don’t care and/or can’t provide satisfactory responses on what progress might look like? Or maybe they truly just have no clue? It’s such a shame that so many startups are run by leaders who are STILL ineffective/sometimes straight-up in denial about the importance of People work. I’m working to change that with my company Workflow (workflowhq.com) – give me some time 😉 But I mention this because there's a difference between leaders who don’t know what to do vs. those who are actively avoiding the work/philosophically, just don’t believe what you and I believe. (They’re wrong, but I’m not in the business of trying to convince people who are committed to being wrong.)So, if you haven’t yet I would try to find out what you’re really working with – by asking questions and giving feedback. That might lead to some really interesting conversations and maybe you’d be surprise with more openness than you’d expected, or maybe you’ll confirm that they truly do not care. Great. You're on your way out anyway, what else did you have to lose? But now you know with certainty that leaving is the right decision for you and that you can be more successful elsewhere. But again, I don’t have the context - you do! Overall, good for you – leaving can be hard, but as long as you’re being introspective to figure out what’s right for you AND assertive to see what kind of responses you get from others – you can’t go wrong. Best of luck.
I appreciate you taking the time to comment, Jen! Like you, I'm not in the business of trying to convince people. I have made suggestions multiple times and I've unfortunately observed behavior that indicates there is no interest in doing the work. I love the mission of your company though, and know you will (and already are) making an impact!
Hi Jen! My question is about scaling culture as a company grows. This isn't my current situation but it was one I had to deal with in my past job and I'd love to know what would have been the best way to manage the situation. I worked for a small VC firm (we can call it company A) that merged with company B. Before the merge, company A had a "playful" bullying culture where there would be a lot of openly "making fun of" from direct reports to the C-Levels. It was innocent bullying and almost always from the bottom-up.Company B, had a horizontal "bullying" culture since they were all friends before creating a company.When the merge happened, the dynamic got really messy and I found myself in many situations where the leadership from company B would playfully bully direct reports (including myself as a direct report) in an attempt to bond. But it was wayyy too early in the working relationship to do that AND we had merged during the pandemic so it was all remote, meaning that those interactions were magnified as our only source to gauge a person's character. So it was easy to misinterpret these interactions and trust was broken. As a result, there wasn't much psychological safety. I brought it up to leadership and they tried to course correct but the damage had been done, making any interaction that followed feel like forced corporate talk. In the conversations we had, they did reflect on their mistakes and the distinction between "playful" bullying that is bottom-up vs top-down – the latter being the form that is most damaging. I guess there are two instances in which this could have been addressed – I'm curious to hear how you would have approached them!1. Pre-merge knowing the companies' cultures - how would you have prepared the two teams?2. Post-merge – how would you have course corrected after seeing the frictions between leadership and direct reports?
This is so timely. I'm the Founder, CEO, and Managing Partner of a law firm. Six months ago I acquired another small firm; including two attorneys and a paralegal. At first things were great. A bit of a transition period, but we all anticipated some bumps in the road. Recently however, some problems have been arising, and just this week I've noticed a pattern that's rather concerning.One of the new team members (we'll call her "Jo") has on several occasions "misinterpreted" or "misheard" something which has then caused a conflict between others. Two examples:#1) Jo reports directly to the Managing Attorney ("Dee") of one of our practice areas. Dee and I have known each other for six years, and it was her law firm that I acquired. Last week, I asked Jo to provide some training to my Assistant ("Izzie"), who has has some struggles speaking with Potential Clients. Izzie is young, she can be shy, and she feels nervous calling and talking to people. I explicitly told Jo that I want her to provide this training so that Izzie can more confidently conduct intake for *me* . The next day, Dee informed me she didn't appreciate that I asked Jo to train Izzie to do *her* intake. I would never make a decision like that without Dee's input, and I certainly wouldn't have that decision communicated through a junior team member. I gave Jo the benefit of the doubt that this was a miscommunication.#2) Izzie recently did her first phone intake. She excitedly texted me afterwards to say it went really well; the Potential Client was very friendly, and had already agreed to move forward with a paid consultation with me. In a call this afternoon with Dee, Dee told me that Jo had said that Izzie had told Jo that the intake "went bad"; that Izzie said the Potential Client was frustrated and impatient with Izzie's questions and that Izzie had to call her back several times to ask follow up questions. I found this very odd, and with Dee on the phone, called Jo for clarification. She reiterated to me what she had said to Dee, and added, "I don't want to get anyone in trouble." I called Izzie for clarification. I asked her again how it went; how the Potential Client's responses were ("was she frustrated? did she seem impatient"). Izzie repeated - the call went really well, the woman was very friendly; there were no follow up calls. How could "it went really well" turn into "it went bad"?I've given Jo the benefit of the doubt, but now I'm worried that this is intentional. I need to address this with Dee, but I don't think realizes this is a problem and may be a bit blind to the reality.I could really use help.
Hi @JRShraybman! Thanks for the Q, it’s a juicy one. In fact it feels like a legal drama… like Grey’s Anatomy, just with lawyers and a little smaller ;) Here is what I would do if I was your Head of People. First is to separate out 1) how to resolve this current situation and 2) look at opportunities for how to do even better in the future.Overall… ok sounds like a pretty tangled up situation! A lot of “they said they said they said” and that kind of telephone game is never fun at work. First, let me point out things what I’m hearing you’re doing well: 1) you’re being responsive and addressing it early - you mentioned noticing this pattern this week – Too often, sticky situations simply get buried, but they end up coming back even more chaotic and stressful in time. Always. So it’s great you’re facing it head on. Also, I commend you for being able to clear recount the situation – there’s the lawyer brain! Stick to the facts is important, so hopefully even typing this out, led to some clarity for you. So we could go a lot of different routes, but what I'm hearing in the essence of this situation is that there's a lot of miscommunication, and you can’t pinpoint exactly where the weirdness is coming from. Maybe it’s happening on multiple fronts. So, this is a great opportunity for you as the leader of this firm to step in to the position of your power – express care for your people, and lead a process that surfaces confusing dynamics, and get to the of things. Being a leader mans often having to lead difficult conversations, but in a way that’s still gracious and empathetic, not, say…. witch hunting, and lead a group of people to find a productive way forward. I know you already know this, but the confusing information/telephone is not helpful or productive! Again, I don't have all the information so I’m making some assumptions, but overall it sounds like you need to have some combination of conversations starting with 1:1:s. I would approach it remembering that mergers & acquisitions are tough, and a 100% perfectly smooth process NEVER happens. All the more reasons to step forward, and really talk to your people. Say why you’re glad each person is on the team, explain why you decided to acquire the firm, talk about the opportunity you see ahead and what roles you see each person playing in that journey. Let them know you care about them as a leader. Being reminded that might help people let their guard down, so you can go into the next part of the conversations, which include providing feedback and sharing your POV. YOu might say something like, “I am concerned and been feeling confused because I've been hearing mixed messages and I'm trying to understand what happened. So I'd like to take a step back and ask you some some questions. I invite you to be honest with me, because what I’m trying to do is help us all find a productive way forward.” Your job as a leader is to provide feedback and share what you see that get in the way of effective collaboration. The thing, not everyone may* agree* with your feedback exactly, but still. It is their job to at least *listen* to it. And their responses will tell you a lot. You don’t know exactly how it will go, but at the end of the day you can only control your behavior, not theirs. It’s something to remember as you approach these conversations – and don’t forget to make the request to people to, as much as possible deliver DIRECT feedback (e.g. Jo should be giving Izzie feedback first, not Dee or you). Lastly, is to think about how to prevent similar situations in the future. One factor – as an attorney, you already know the value of a consultative partner – and same thing with an HRBP (HR Business Partner)! A really good HRBP is a total game changer for a manager – it doesn’t even need to be a FT in-house, but someone who you can talk through management issues with, someon who understands the fundamentals of performance management and coaching. They’re so so so helpful in untangle a situation from your brain with a more distanced POV. I’ve played that role many times AND I still need support from others. Plus, a HRBP can be a helpful 3rd party to difficult conversations, since your position might be intimidating to people and have their walls go up. Last note is M&A, which is notoriously difficult to do well. It requires far more investment in supporting the people and culture transition than most leaders realize. But f people can go through the turbulence and come out of it committed to working out as a new team, the investment is worth it. It could have really helped in this situation! But since you can’t go back in time, hopefully there’s some valuable lessons here about what could be done better in the future should you decide to expand even more! All righty, good luck and I hope there will be a smooth enough resolution. If not, sound like you'll have a great script for a legal drama :P
thank you so much for this. it's been very helpful.