In this episode of the Humans + Tech podcast we spoke to the mighty Lara Hogan about her latest book, Resilient Management. Lara, previously VP of Engineering at Kickstarter, Engineering Director at Etsy, more recently founded Wherewithall, where she coaches managers and leaders across the tech industry.
Scroll down to read the full transcript of our chat with Lara.
Lara’s quick fire answers
Lara is currently reading - The Art of Gathering.
Lara’s number 1 tip for keeping up with the industry is Twitter.
Lara is inspired by Paloma Medina.
We also cover
An intro to Lara’s new book, Resilient Management [01:02]
How Lara got into management [03:36]
How to get feedback from your team [06:04]
The advice Lara wishes she’d had when she started managing [07:16]
Manager READMEs and the manager one-liner [09:34]
Introducing yourself to your team [15:35]
Building your manager elevator pitch [19:26]
Introducing the BICEPS acronym to help us remember the six core needs that humans have at work [19:55]
Manager Voltrons [27:01]
Dealing with times of crisis [33:48]
The caterpillar cocoon metaphor [36:50]
Donuts. And sushi [39:32]
Find out more, and follow Lara
We were discussing her latest book, Resilient Management.
Aaron - Welcome to the humans plus tech podcast. I'm Aaron and this is Amy. Hi. And today we're talking to the mighty Lara Logan. Lara as previously VP of engineering Kickstarter ends being director at Etsy and more recently founded wherewithal where she coaches managers and leaders across the tech industry. Lara thank you so much for talking to us today.
Lara - Thank you. And honestly I've never been referred to as mighty before. I'm going to put that on business cards. Thank you.
Aaron - Hey, you're welcome. Very mighty.
Aaron - We first saw you speak back in 2017 when you presented at the LeadDev conference in London and I remember us looking each other after your presentation we were like that was so good. We went on to read all your books and your blog posts and so yeah to say we're a bit excited to talk to you today is an understatement!
Aaron - So to dive straight in congratulations on the release new book Resilient Management. For those who haven't had the chance to pick it up yet can you tell us what it's about.
Lara - Yes. So I wrote this based on all of the coaching conversations and workshops I've been giving for line managers of all kind. I found myself saying the same things to these poor new baby managers. Like just finding their way in the forest and I wanted to create this book for people like that. You know people who are either new to management or just want to like level up their skill at being managers and people who were just like feeling a little bit shaky but also really wanting to do a good job because as you all know like being a manager is both equal parts exciting and terrifying.
Lara - So Resilient Management is my hope is that it's going to help folks feel a little bit more grounded like have a little bit more solid footing while also acknowledging kind of all the challenges trials tribulations that we need to be resilient through.
Amy - Fantastic. And I have to say I was telling Aason that yesterday I was re-reading your book this week in preparation for this conversation and I missed my stop on the tube. I was like deep in there.
Lara - That's such good review. Thank you.
Amy - So your book has the M-word in the title. Is it only for managers?
Lara - It's funny. It's actually its cracking me up how often I get this question and I'm, I was, I shouldn't be surprised by that because of course you know people people who are not managers probably look at it and are like oh that's not for me. But that never really, never occurred to me while I was writing it was like No obviously it's for anybody who like has a manager, is a manager, or just wants to support other humans with the kinds of things that managers do. Which you know frankly lots of senior individual contributors also are required to leverage a lot of the same skills about growing other people around them, giving feedback, you know those kinds of things. So it is absolutely a book for anybody who has to like work with other humans and be resilient through like people stuff not just managers. But it's, I upon retrospect I probably should have called it something else.
Aaron - I mean what it's what I have told, after I read it, I told one of our senior architects to also read it. So it's not just the managers.
Lara - Yes I'm hopeful it's helpful to a very broad group of people.
Amy - Yeah I'm sure it is. I'm sure it is. So you started out your technology career as a developer. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into management?
Lara - Yes. So I am a self-taught front end developer. And so I kind of found my way you know through a bunch of different tech companies like lots of us do. And I started to get more and more frustrated with how things were gonna be run. You know each of these companies and I was like I can help. I can add clarity and I can add it. We need all this more process and what people really need is a Jira board you know and just that way and they're not the right reasons necessarily that's the right goal. Right your goal can't be just to effect change it also has to be to support the people around you. And I found myself as a baby manager working with like one or two other people both of whom are super different than me meaning they had different needs, different things that excited them, different things that annoyed them and my style of management was like what I want as a manager which is like process and stand ups and look at all of this cool confluence pages I'm building you know like I could nerd out about Google calendars all day and that's not I say that's not exactly what they needed.
Aaron - So I guess that well my follow up question is maybe what do you find most difficult about management it sounds like you're sort of leading to some of those things already.
Lara - Yeah I just was so surprised when everybody didn't like it because like you know it was one of those things, I want this from my manager why don't you want this from your manager and they were like. One guy actually started giving me the silent treatment which is like a perfect introduction to how differently humans can behave even in childish ways. And for sure I was messing up but like silent treatment. Come on. I remember going to my manager who was actually a great manager and I was like this person is doing this. Look I don't know what to do here. This is so mind blowing to me. And he was like Lara here's the deal. You're gonna have to adapt. You're going to have to figure out what works for these people and also for you. And that was eye opening again the fact that I was I don't know how old I was maybe mid 20s. I could not believe that everybody wasn't like me. Which I feel is a very early to mid 20s perception of the world. Maybe not. I don't know. So it was a good hard first step into management.
Aaron - How did you go about. I. I need to hear more about how you got this feedback. Like how do you go about getting this feedback from a team that things weren't going great and you need to learn.
Lara - Yeah it was honestly it was the silent treatment cause nobody was saying it. No one was like here's what I need instead. And no one was like here's what you can do better because honestly we don't get that. We're not surrounded often by people who are phenomenal feedback givers or feel like even taking the time because it's so much work to give good concrete specific actionable feedback which is why I spend so much time on it in the book and in my workshops because like we're humans are so bad at it. I mean myself included but we're all often really bad at it. So no one was giving me the feedback. I just started to realize something was wrong and I'm the kind of person that really really really wants to support people and help them. And so when it's clear to me that there was a huge gap between what I was aiming for and what was actually what I was actually doing that's kind of when I started to go talk to my manager what else should I be doing what else should I be trying turns out asking lots of questions and doing lots of listening is the answer to most human's problems. I believe.
Amy - Yes definitely yeah. That's a really really great one. So maybe that ties in but like what advice do you wish you'd been given? Like right when you started managing?
Lara - I think right when I started managing, well I wish that every manager, new manager gets this. I wish every manager receives just a succinct little list of what they are responsible for or what they are expected to do or what their goals are. Any of those things that if it's it's too high of a bar to expect all of those things right. Yeah because management means so many different things to different people. Like for me I'm a person like would play school at home you know like I love some process I love some worksheets you know you can see this in my workshops these days but not everybody needs the same thing as a manager not every company positions the role of a manager in the same way. So it would have really helped me and I think it does help lots of folks is having clear expectations about what this role is for and then some support and help people build the skills they need to do that job effectively which by the way no one gets. If you have had manager training consider yourself so lucky because most of us did not get that at first
Amy - Well it was funny actually. I remember when I started managing and I got manager training, well it was called manager training and I was like you know I was like fantastic this is great. They're going to tell me what I need to know. And I went along and it was all about me. And I remember like now that makes total sense but at the time I was so confused. I was like "I'm fine, I've got me. What about everyone else?" So yeah I mean I, years later I was able to connect that together.
Lara - Wow yeah. Man the state of manager training in the world right now is a little rough. We're just trying to help. I've also now at this stage been to a lot of like not just overarching manager training but also manager training modules and also the skill in like facilitation is so widely varied like I am right now taking a lot of courses on becoming a better instructional designer, better facilitator because I want to make sure that like my educational style will actually work for, again, people who aren't just like me. It's hard. It's really hard.
Aaron - On that, you talk about the expectations of manager being different in places it sounds like your, I mean you're kind of in the territory of manager READMEs which has been a fairly hot topic in our industry. Yeah. Discuss.
Lara - I even put, leave this, like touch on it a little bit in the book. So I used to be firmly in the pro manager README camp, the manager in me as a, as a, as a like a title for it I wasn't always super button you but like the idea of a manager writing down their general approach to this stuff. I have found this useful in my managers meaning like when my managers have told me here's my deal, here's what I think you should lean on me for here's where I'm like where I'm lacking and say look I can help you find other people to lean on for those skills. Here's what I'm expecting of you. Here's a reworked deal though. Those kinds of like the clarity like the brain dump of expectations. I have found really valuable especially when I have managers that are not like me you know I've had one manager that really well OK but let me take a step back what I want in a manager, and everybody's different, but I want in a manager is like someone to help me verbally process like I'm a I'm a person who thinks as I talk says I think race just like let me get this all out and work through it. I'm a person who wants stretch goals like I crave being thrown in the deep end being given challenges will actually stretch me. And I also want lots of autonomy that way I can go and like do my stuff and also bring it back and get feedback. The other last big thing is it give me some feedback some specific and actionable feedback on how I should be growing and I had this one manager that did none of those things except for the autonomy one he like left me high and dry which I was going through a particularly difficult time. I had a really really tough situation with a direct report and I needed I probably needed to fire them and I want my manager and try to lean on him for help. And he was not able to help whether that was because of time or skill or whatever you know unable. And it was helpful in that state for me to say to him hey what how do you perceive your role here. Like give me some to know what how we're supposed to work together and he was like oh lean on me for like strategy and execution like forward thinking stuff that's it that's what I'm here for it's what managers are here for and I was like Oh what about this other list of things that I need. He was like Oh do not come to talk to me about those things, that kind of clarity was so so so useful to me. So what I think about manager README is the original idea, It's like people, one of our core human needs is predictability, we want to know what's expected of us what how it's all going to work and manager READMEs can help with that core need however. And I'm like super duper agree with a lot of the hot takes on this. There's also a failure mode wrapped up in right like if a manager is just like here's all my faults, deal with it or like by writing these down, it gives me an excuse to never have to address the things that I'm bad at. Or what's even, what's even worse failure mode is when people think that they're great and they write down all the things they believe about themselves but those things aren't true. So obviously lots of elements which is which is why I think this whole idea has evolved over time. So the way that I frame it now is in terms of setting expectations with what people can expect of you, as a manager, in this role and if any like cross-functional peer leads what's expected of a cross-functional peer leads. And also what's expected of the individual team members. So it's much less about like Hello this is the Lara Logan README, you know it is much more like here's what managers or here's what an engineering manager, here's what a product manager, here's what a design leader should be doing on the team. Here's what you can expect of us. So I like I like that. But the last thing I'll say about it is I think it's really useful for individual leaders to kind of self identify their their approach like a one liner philosophy about their approach to managing our leadership. Which is going to evolve over time but sometimes just that like elevator pitch that one line nugget is just enough for you to know what things you're going to be most helpful with and communicate that to your team that's going to help your teammates know why you do the things that you do. For example my my philosophy is like I believe humans already have the answers inside themselves. It's my job to help them find them which is such a coaching philosophy which also helps all my teammates. Now if they want to call me for advice they got to say it. I think that it has lots of open questions but actually what I need right now is some mentorship or some advice for me. And that's it's cool it's just having that one liner helps give us a foundation to begin working from.
Amy - That's great. So I guess one thing before I jump into something else I'm just really curious. How do you deliver that one liner? Cos that feel's like it could be very awkward, like a you know by the way..!
Lara - Right, like, like I bequeath to you my one liner, right? So I find it's useful when friction pops up, meaning I don't think I think you know when you've hired someone new it can be helpful to share it then like or even doing the interview process like hey fyi here's how I think about my role as a manager as leader which can help people kind of like figure out is this a kind of manager that I do want to work with or is do I want something else from a manager. So definitely hiring like early stages, but then as friction comes up like say a person came to me and was like Hey Lara in every one of our one to ones I come to you with challenges I'm working on and you just ask me lots of questions it doesn't seem like you're helping me that's when me sharing. Oh. Got it. Here is my default. Like my default is asking questions. Thank you so much for flagging this to me. Let's figure out a better way for us to work together on this. So it ends up like really helping in those sticky conversations. I am not advocating for you sitting down and in every on to one at the top saying Please repeat back to me what you remember about my management philosophy.
Aaron - That's great.
Amy - Yeah.
Aaron - So um, I guess well very related to this but you know you talk about in the book about the importance of getting to know your team and them you and maybe not having your self-serving one liner written about you. But as a manager what we like what ways we found the more interesting ways you introduce yourself to teams over the years.
Lara - Yeah. So it's funny the biggest transition I made was when I left Etsy and went to Kickstarter which meant that no one there knew me, every time I changed teams at Etsy you know I came in as a manager which meant that every time I worked with additional teams the kind of already knew me. So when I went to Kickstarter I realized like it's probably going to be helpful for me to have like a normal like Hello, Here's my deal to everybody like here's what I'm thinking about and looking for. So in a in like an all hands like an engineering all hands setting was helpful for me to be like Hello here's my deal here's where I've come from. Here's my plan for the next 30 days because again people crave that predictability. People want to know like who is this person. What are they here to do. What are they gonna change and really nervous about any kind of like unpredictability can feel really gross to folks. So I framed my first 30 days as just sponge mode and actually when I coach managers I always recommend don't change anything don't even hint about what you want to change in your first 30 days. Your job for the first 30 days is just to be in sponge mode right. Just ask lots of questions gather lots of information, figure out how people are feeling and then still don't feel obligated to change things in the next 30 days start to just like test the waters like ask people about potential changes you're thinking about get their buy in. So like when I sit down in a one on one as I did a Kickstarter with everybody who was in engineering. So for the first three days I had lots and lots of individual one on ones. I would ask does what shouldn't be changed and like what do you really really want to be different like both sides of the same coin. That way I could get a sense from them like OK what is it that they're worried is about to change with this new edition me. And like what did they think it's like time for. Like what might this be like a juicy cool opportunity for us to spice things up with the you know obviously like there's change already happening I've joined. How else what else can we like roll into this. So it feels like less change over time.
Aaron - Is there a risk, you know I love the idea of sponge mode and like being really clear about that, but is there a risk that you don't communicate it, that people are like what is this person doing? They've made no changes in 30 days maybe 90 days.
Lara - So I think it's also really important to be super like I'm an over communicator meaning like I try to respect the fact people don't want to hear from me all of the time but especially in those like big introduction. All hands meetings the things that you think are obvious about your approach and about what you're there to do are not obvious to everyone. Everybody's carrying their own baggage everybody's carrying their own desires , everybody's carrying their own like fears. It's so important to just say, I've started to use this phrase it's just like, say the thing that's happening. Just describe the basic to say the thing that's happening that's both true and a team dynamics conversation and a feedback conversation, in your introductions, just with your mouth words. Just say the thing that's happening right now and people can, our poor little amygdalas, our fight or flight responses, can chill out knowing that we have a new certainty we have new predictability and clarity about what's happening.
Amy - Yeah that's fantastic. I really like that, like, it's really interesting isn't it getting that level of sharing right. You know I think well I guess from my experience it feels like I'm oversharing but I'm definitely not. I feel like I'm going to tell you to stuff again and again and again and still people come and they're like Why didn't I know about this thing and it's so hard.
Aaron - I think it comes back to that about because that so everything. It's the motive of the manager even it's where it's like you know what I like when you I think when you oversharing something you feel like you feel like the stuff that you're talking about is important or more important. So you gonna keep repeating it and I don't know how you get that balance right and actually this is the company's information not your's specifically.
Lara - Right. Well and I think that that's a great point Amy like people don't remember things the first time. So like that the seventh time you say something like they might remember it but that's also why one of the skills that I think managers should build is the elevator pitch like what is the one liner thing you want to say whether that's your approach at philosophy and management or whether that's what the team is here to do right now or whether that's this desk move that is happening here's why. Like no matter what the thing is developing your one liner that you can repeat that beat that same drum over and over and over again actually helps people hopefully remember this stuff a lot quicker.
Amy - Yeah that's great. And I love you mentioning that desk move because desk moves are like, you talk about this in the book, but they are the most hardest thing in the world and it's so surprising ins't it? You're like we're just gonna do a quick quick move and chaos.
Lara - So many emotions.
Amy - Yeah, I mean I have interviewed people in the past and we were like well you know why are you looking for a new job. And the answer was literally they had been moved to a desk they didn't like. We were like Wow OK. Like that's the level, you know, that a desk impacts. You talk about in your book and in the BICEPS model, do you want to talk us through the model. You probably do it way better than us.
Lara - Oh I love talking about the stuff because like desk moves is my perfect example. So the BICEPS model is an acronym BICEPS to help us remember the six core needs that humans have at work. So I mean when we don't have one or more of these core needs met our amygdala which I kind of hinted at before, our fight or flight response, it can wake up and if the threat feels significant enough it can go into overdrive which means our our lizard brain. Right. Like our the our emotional not rational part of our brain can go into overdrive. It's not helpful or productive for that to be the case. And desk moves is my favorite example of when this can come up because desk moves can trigger any of the six core needs feeling threatened. And so like that person can do an interview and was like it's because the desk moves it could have been so many different reasons. So the B stands for belonging. Like we don't feel like we belong to the group anymore we feel othered we're left behind. That sense of the core need for belonging to a group will feel threatened. The I stands for improvement or progress towards a goal. You know we want to feel a sense of progress in the things that matter to us whether that's us learning or our career developing or it could be for our team or for our company. Just we want to feel that movement towards a goal. The C stands for choice. Like we all want to have some level of autonomy over our work life. The E stands for equality and fairness. If we want to believe that everybody has equal access to what they need to succeed to do their work equal access to resources, to information. The P stands for predictability which is you know what we've been talking about this whole time like we want to have a sense of what's happening in the future. This is a funny one though. It's actually similar to choice and that too much predictability will actually feel terrible like demote de-energizing and like we can get bored from too much predictability and also too little. Same for the choice too much autonomy and we get stressed out and too little autonomy and we get stressed out. So those are two funny ones but then the last one is Significant which is effectively status like where do I sit in this you know informal or formal hierarchy. So desk moves that person, that poor person who came to you in the interview who is like I'm leaving because of these desk moves, who knows which of their core needs, maybe multiple of their core needs were like really feeling threatened by this.
Amy - Yeah that's really fantastic. And I mean I know when I read through this that like I was you know I've been managing people for a long time and I was like, even now reading of it. I was like Ooh yeah. For me it explains so much about the way I reacted to it. That was my main thing was I. Oh yeah. No that one's really important, oh no that one's even more important.
Lara - That comes back to our thing at the beginning right. Like what's true for you. Like what's going on for you and your heart or your brain. It's gonna be super different in the people that you manage and so like you. Let's say you're going through a desk move with your whole team and your sense of significance is threatened, you didn't get to choose where your team gets to sit. Everybody else in the team might also be having emotions but for different BICEPS reasons like it's it's wild. And by the way we are really bad at guessing which core need is going on which person because we'll project our own. So this is yet again another reason to get curious. Ask lots of questions like help this person introspect and explore like what's going on for them to come to their own conclusion conclusions about what they need.
Aaron - It's interesting. I guess back to these BICEPS, have you, have you seen in your time, obviously we're all different and we switch between these different types at points in time. Have you seen a general pattern as an experience manager like do people tend to more of these than others?
Lara - No because it's is such a core from experience like this is our limbic system right. This is just like the way that we've been hardwired you know is this one of those universal truths. The way that they are expressed is different. Like there's five forms of resistance that that humans usually like portray to when they're being middle hijacked so like they'll avoid stuff they'll look for an escape route they'll fight they'll bond with each other you know they'll play devil's advocate, there's a bunch of different ways that this might manifest but again it's just such a core human experience.
Amy - Actually before we move on from there, I'm really curious as to what are your techniques or great questions for helping work out where people are with their BICEPS?
Lara - Yeah totally. So the first thing I'll do is reflect back what I'm hearing them say and as I reflect back on them I literally say OK just to make sure I'm hearing this right. It sounds like what's going on is blah and I'll say like you know I'll repeat back again in my own words whatever they've just said and the act of doing that often makes people be like Yeah yeah that's exactly it. And that's what I'm looking for I'm looking for the like the feeling seen and heard. And just like I'm not just moving forward to solution mode I'm just like sitting in a moment and just saying like cool is this right. Is this what you're experiencing. So I make sure I have it right. People feel so reassured that someone's actually listening and cares enough to spend this time talking about. That's like step one, step two often is actually showing them the BICEPS model. This won't work for everybody like it feels it just feels too cheesy or weird for you. Don't do it. But like for many engineers they'd like a framework. I like a framework. I'm an engineer so showing them like OK. Here's the six core needs that humans have at work. Let's walk through them. As we walk through them I want you to think about like which one of these might be going on for you maybe multiple. And as I read them to you I'm sure you were thinking that one comes up for me all the time. Like for me it's right for some of us that's belonging or it could be any of them because they'll read that list and be like yeah, no it's this one. And maybe it's also this one. I had a coaching call the other day where they, they named five out of the six. It wasn't a desk move or something else but it was like I was like Yeah right. This is an awful situation that you're in. It's threatening so many things for you and just that act of like thinking through it. Sometimes what that does is it can help bring someone's prefrontal cortex back online so our prefrontal cortex is the thing that's doing like the rational logical thought. Like anytime we're involved in deep complex problem solving our prefrontal cortex is doing is doing that work it's online. So the act of sitting through and reading this list together and trying to almost we're not problem solving yet but we're like doing some critical thinking about which one of these core needs is happening. Sometimes that can bring that prefrontal cortex back online and bring us back to a more like logical rational place because when our amygdala is hijacked our prefrontal cortex is offline. We are no longer making rational and logical decisions. So yeah for me it's a nice little way to help people just chill out for a minute so we can figure out what next steps we need to take.
Amy - Amazing. Yeah. So moving into senior roles like I think probably everybody, as you progress it starts to feel quite lonely. You realize that you no longer have a great team around you so you introduce in the book the idea of the manager Voltron. Could you talk us through like what that is and how that can help?
Lara - Yes. I mean I like to usually ask other people to define Voltron just to see the answers, do any of you feel like defining Voltron?
Aaron - Oh I mean I can give it a go, I mean I've done it so. So I've got one that I actually printed out a copy from your book and then you have it on your website don't you?
Lara - Yes
Aaron - I printed that out and I got it and actually did it with my engineering management group at Songkick. So we had the five of us sit around and complete it together which is really fun. and uh.
Amy - Sorry, did you all feel like that you had to write each other? What was the peer pressure there?
Aaron - Well it was very much like these can be secret ones but the aim was to steal some time to actually complete them. It could be you that didn't share them with the group. But yeah everyone just wrote each other's names, no no they didn't. But essentially what it is I guess to answer your question its this matrix of kind of I guess skills and responsibilities that other people may have that you respect and you want to get better and you can fill in the names of people that can help your coach or mentor to level up in those skills. I hope that gives the gist of it.
Lara - Like there was no way that he was thinking about the other stuff I might need, so yeah building out that matrix of people that you can lean on you know manager crew doesn't need to be managers. Just people you can lean on as different pieces parts of an ideal manager as you learn and grow beautiful beautiful. I love that you did that with your Songkick crew. That's awesome.
Aaron - So I guess. Actually I had two things that I took away from that. Maybe I mean you're the perfect person to pick the brains up but the person was how many gaps there was like across all of us which I guess that's the whole point of this right is that if you've been set up correctly and it's all full then probably you're doing great anyway. So all with us there was some pretty big gaps. If you look at what subjects were. Their skills were they were definitely things that we needed support among big things just great things go through the process but the other follow up question was like Now what?
Lara - Yeah which is so weird right. It's like I have these gaps or sometimes you look for it in a name and way they have it the little bingo card you can circle. On like a print out version I have you can actually circle whether you already have this from a person, whether you have this person in your corner but you've never actually leaned on them for this skill before so you probably need to like ask them or if it's completely blank you need to find someone to fill that gap. So it's so weird to try to like introduce more people to your Voltron. First of all don't you don't need to tell them what you're doing. You don't need to say like here's what a manager Voltron is I'd like to add you to mine.
All - Laughter.
Lara - My favorite way of doing this. A friend of mine who used to be the CTO of Meetup, Yvette Pasqua. She added me to her Voltron without me even knowing about it. So the way that she did this was we had bumped into each other at some event you know. So we had met each other just briefly like we hadn't ever had a real conversation before. And at the time I was the director of Product Infrastructure at Etsy and she'd emailed me and said hey you know it's me again. I know that you are leading a bunch of infrastructure teams I'm thinking about reorganizing my infrastructure department. Do you have any like opinions about this or like you know war stories you want to share and kind of like talk to you about that over coffee and the beautiful part about this email was like she guessed correctly that boy did I ever have strong opinions on reorgs for infrastructure teams right. And she correctly accurately spiney sense like OK if Lara is the director of infrastructure probably she has some war stories about this process so she'll want, she'll be eager and this is it was true Yvette really was reorganizing her infrastructure teams so we got together for coffee and we ended up hanging out for like three or four hours and so it wasn't just us talking about that infrastructure team it was also just like sharing a bunch of other stories at the time I was dealing with something really stressful at work and so was amazing to get to lean on her for that too. And we guess we hung out for so long and it was the beginning of a Voltron edition. Like she correctly identified something I would be excited. We all love talking about ourselves. So Sheila correctly identified a thing that I was going to be eager to talk about with my experience and then I was able to lean on her too. And that's like the most easy beautiful way to add someone to your Voltron crew.
Amy - Wow that's fantastic. Yeah I mean I know I definitely when I did mine that were quite a lot of gaps and I was a bit like oh, oh, panic but there were also ones were I was like Oh no actually I have somebody but I'm not leaning on them as much as I can. And it was really great to realize actually you know I have someone I can ask about this stuff I just need to do it. I just need to ask.
Lara - Yeah it's so it's so rare for us to get that like little check in with ourselves like oh hey oh yeah I probably should just call that person like why haven't I just asked them. My favorite thing to do with my with members of my Voltron crew is to walk through my performance reviews with them. Like I'll pick three or four and then just be like hey here's my performance review. Can we sit down and chat through it together. I would love to hear your ideas and your thoughts and your feedback based on what was shared in here because everybody's going to bring different perspectives and you know maybe come up with even better ideas than you had.
Amy - That's really amazing. Yeah I think that's so powerful isn't it? like performance reviews are always treated as such a private thing. Actually I love that. I love the thought that getting someone else's perspective can just open up the other side.
Aaron - I was going to say exposed. I guess that's the be vulnerable piece. I guess
Lara - Yeah, exactly. And like your Voltron crew wants to help you if they're actually members of your Voltron crew. They're there to support you. Right. And like help you figure it out. Also by the way you know being a lady in tech means like I've gotten some performance reviews that had some pretty biased feedback and it was so helpful to talk that through with members of my Voltron crew where they could be like you know what I see why they wrote that thing you can discard it. You don't have to take that piece of feedback. And that was really really powerful for me.
Amy - Yeah that is fantastic. The bias that goes in a review is like, it's really, like even writing them. You know that you're like oh this is just one perspective. That's really powerful.
Lara - Totally
Amy - So you dedicate a section of this book to managing times of crisis.
Lara - Yeah.
Amy - Could you tell us about a time where it all went wrong. And maybe more importantly how you handled it?
Lara - Oh gosh so many crises. I mean look the reason I originally wrote this whole thing was because of external crises right like I'm in America. Y'all are in England. It is October of 2019. It feels a little bit like the world is coming to an end you know, like there is an external crisis that we do need to manage through but also of course like the hardest times of my management career. You know a lot of them were because of internal crises whether that was because of executive turnover or or layoffs or just something horrific happening. So for me probably the starkest experience that I had managing through times of crisis with an internal internal crisis was when at Etsy you know we had an executive team turnover and on the same day layoffs were announced and I found myself pretty ill equipped I'd never experienced something like that before. And because of a series of events I found myself up on stage at the end of the day talking to the engineers who had not been laid off and again being ill prepared ill equipped not really knowing what I was doing I just kind of went with intuition about how to answer questions from the crowd how to wrap it up and move forward. And I was joined by two or three other engineer leaders but like my my boyfriend at the time now husband was in the room staring at me like some of my closest dearest friends were staring like it was a hard just an awful awful awful day. And the way that I approached that was trying to both acknowledge how I as an individual was thinking about this event and also acknowledging the company party line. That way it wasn't just me regurgitating like top down messaging but also saying like here's how not not like here's how I'm feeling right now because I don't think it's fair for four people in positions of power to be trying to get people to care about how they're feeling like you're in a position of power. You need to get your emotional support elsewhere but just acknowledge like this is a super hard day and there's lots of questions that we don't have answered and like acknowledging that there's still more that we need to find out that there's no acknowledging where there was no transparency or no information yet and then saying like you know here's what I am personally I'm going to be doing to either follow up on this or here's the answers that I am eager for us to follow up on and get in the future. Here's when you can next hear from me is another thing I try to employ. So like here's what we know here's we don't know here's what you're next to hear from me about that stuff and in what medium can help again with that core BICEPS need of predictability that people are craving more information and they don't know when they're gonna get it they don't necessarily need it. You haven't earned their trust yet right. So it's really important to say when and where they can hear from you next. Even if you say I don't know today.
Aaron - Nice, that's pretty interesting. I think you know when you talk about working through a crisis and then back to the beginning of this chat when you were talking about mistakes you made as a new manager there's a line, actually it's kind of a spoiler to tell me if we can't talk about it but at the end of your book of you have this metaphor for growth which is probably like one of my favorite things I've ever read. And it really stays inside me. Can you talk about the caterpillar cocoon metaphor?
Lara - Yeah. You know no one's ever said that to me like no one talks to me about the conclusion. So thank you for bringing it up. I love the conculsion. This came to me from a coaching session I had. So I've had ever been working with my coach for a million years now all through my time at Etsy and since since I've left Etsy also. And she, I was going through like a really, this is gonna sound after talking about something as horrific as layoffs, it's going to sound a lot less serious but like I was going through a personally horrific time when I was trying to figure out what it was to be a director of engineering. I was a senior manager. I didn't really know the difference. I didn't know how to exercise those muscles I didn't know what it looked like with responsibility, like it's so unclear that there's difference between levels and I was going though this exercise of like trying to show up more as a director. And so we at the time we were talking about like you it feels growth is so gross. We talk about growth as is that just like beautiful thing we all want to aim for and like it's just exciting whatever and actually growth is painful and it's messy and we use this metaphor in coaching, my coach and I about this. I didn't know this but I listened to it I think it was a Radiolab about caterpillars and I had thought that when caterpillars go into their cocoon they like sprout wings and then bust out of their cocoon like what's up world of a butterfly now it's like happy and glorious actually what happens. You may know this, I didn't know this is that when they go in the cocoons they like dissolve into like a primordial goop state like it's gross and probably I don't know I assume it's painful you know like they reform as a butterfly and then they bust out and I love this as a metaphor for growth because totally growth is goopy and the growth is painful and like we all like we're all aspirational about it but actually it sucks when you're going through it. And so I included it as a conclusion to be like if this feels painful and hard right now probably that means you're growing and sometimes you know obviously like that kind of growth is not sustainable or worth it. But I call it out because like it's often an indicator that you're actually doing the right thing.
Amy - So donuts, Lara talk to us about eating right.
Lara - Yeah.
Amy - Did you like you celebrate your achievements with donuts, anyone who doesn't know this, I'm going to assume you're still doing this. But most important. How many donuts did you eat when Resilient Management was released?
Lara - So don't tell anyone. Slash This is a podcast.
Amy - We won't share, don't worry.
Lara - I totally got over donuts. Like for me donuts became like I got so many donuts. Oh and then. And that very very generous kind people started giving me donut related paraphernalia donuts pens and cards and whatever and like that's so so so sweet but also I was like oh I can't eat any more donuts so now it's sushi. So for me I ate so much sushi as I was finishing up and shipping Resilient Management. I had some of the best sushi of my life. Throughout that process.
Aaron - Is this just a way to ruin things that you really like?
Lara - Yes, exactly, I maintain that anybody can be any way to treat yourself like the way that I've now phrased it in the book and in places it's like when you are thinking about this for yourself. Like what's the way that you treat yourself like my when my friends it's a hot tub and a margarita, like he'll go find a hot tub and bring a margarita and like that's such a nice way of thinking about treating yourself so it doesn't have to be food related. It can be literally anything. So for me these days it is still food related and it's sushi and I love it.
Amy - Amazing. It's great. So you've written about web performance, public speaking and people management. So what's next for you?
Lara - I am itching to write another book but I don't have any topics yet. So if you have ideas I love the process of writing a book. I'm a weirdo that absolutely adores it. So if yeah, If anybody listening to this or if you two have any ideas on why I should write next please pass it along because I can't wait to figure it out.
Aaron - Great we'll get thinking.
Amy - Yeah we'll send you a load of ideas. Okay awesome. So super quick questions to just wrap things up. What are you reading right now?
Lara - Oh I'm reading The Art of Gathering. It's all about how to like gather people together in ways that are actually smart and useful not just like let's get together because we have to have a meeting right now.
Amy - Amazing. And what's your number one tip for keeping up with the industry
Lara - I am so sad to say this but it's Twitter. I hate it. And also it's so useful.
Amy - Yeah I totally agree. I sort of love it. You can find the stuff you need. You've just got to ignore everything else. And who inspires you?
Lara - The person who I dedicated Resilient Management to. Her name is Paulo Medina. She's the one who originated the BICEPS model. She is just brilliant. She is a better trainer than I'll ever be. She is absolutely credible she's, I look up to her immensely.
Amy - Amazing and where can people find out more about you?
Lara - Yeah I mean on Twitter (@lara_hogan) again I'm so sorry. Also I have a Instagram for wherewithall (https://www.instagram.com/_wherewithall_/) it has underscores in the beginning and the end of the word wherewithall and wherewithall spelled a little bit differently. So if you want to go on my Twitter you can probably find the link to the wherewithal Instagram. That's my current format these days for like putting out stuff that I hope it's gonna be useful to managers.
Amy - Amazing. And we'll put all these links in the show notes and show them out so people can find all the good stuff.
Amy - Thank you so much Lara. This has been amazing. I've, we've made loads of notes. We were like we were all prepped and now we're gonna go away like do like loads more homework.
Aaron - Great. I've got more work to do brilliant.
All - Laughter
Lara - Thank you.
Aaron - A massive thank you to Lara for talking with us. If anyone hasn’t read Lara’s book, Resilient Management, then go and check it out. I’m Aaron, this is Amy, and you’ve been listening to the Humans Plus Tech podcast.
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