As a leader, I often feel pressure or the burden of expectations to provide a truly exceptional culture and workplace. I need to have the right vision, the right strategy to deliver on that vision, and the right processes to execute the strategy—all the while looking after the people I lead as teams and individuals. I need to have everything lined up, hit every business goal, and have perfect engagement scores. Reality, however, is never that simple. Things go wrong, and sometimes the problems feel insurmountable.
When things don’t work as I want them to, I’ve been tempted—more than once—to just throw it all out and start from scratch. Let’s shake up the teams. Let’s revamp all the processes. Let’s reorg to pursue a brand new strategy. It’s easy to believe that broad, sweeping changes are the solution to bridge large gaps.
But we also know that too much change, too sudden or too frequent, have negative effects on the organisation as a whole. Change is disruptive. Teams take time to go through the storming → forming → norming → performing lifecycle. Process changes cause confusion. Change fatigue sets in. And at the end of the day, despite our best efforts, we might fix some of the issues we’re having, but we’re going to create new, different ones. A “big rewrite”—where you throw away all the code and start from scratch—is rarely advisable when dealing with software systems. Massive overarching changes are also rarely the answer when it comes addressing gaps in your organisation. Think of it as a last resort; when all else fails.
This is why Blackmill’s mantra of “incrementally better” resonates so strongly with me. It isn’t just about code. We strive to improve our software through small, incremental patches to fix bugs or deliver on business goals. We can—and should—take the same approach to our organisation.
By making smaller and frequent organisational improvements, each change carries less risk. The feedback loops get shorter, as we find what works, and what doesn't, more quickly. It also establishes a culture of continuous improvement. If the people you lead can feel steady momentum in the right direction, they'll be more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. That, in turn, reduces pressure on you to be perfect.
Last month, Elle took to the stage with many speakers at RailsConf 2023 in Atlanta USA to talk about "Strategies for saying no". She had a really invigorating question session afterwards and later Joël Quenneville told Brittany Martin on the Ruby on Rails Podcast that it was his favourite talk of the conference.
This month Elle and Lachlan kickstarted the sessions for Folklore.VC's Engineering chapter. We ran a session on transitioning from being an IC to becoming an engineering manager. We enjoyed all the questions we received and even made it to the social mixer in Brisbane.
Our popular Leading Engineering Teams workshop is starting next Monday and we have two tickets left! If you've been wanting to get involved but missed out on previous workshops, or couldn't make it to previous dates, here's your chance. Grow your leadership styles, learn effective one on ones, practice difficult conversations and confrontations, and learn how to balance speed, quality and technical debt. Learn more at https://blackmill.co/workshops/leading-engineering-teams
Our first Community of Practice cohort started last month and it was awesome! It was extra special because we teamed up with the folks at Tech Leading Ladies to build the cohort. From asking for help, building confidence, to the challenges of being a part of a start up, conversations were relevant and applicable to every day problems for engineering leaders. Thank you to everyone who participated. We thoroughly enjoyed learning with you 🖤 We are specifically looking for CTOs in small startups for our July cohort. If that is you, someone you know, and you would like to learn more, visit https://blackmill.co/do/community-of-practice
We're trialling a new offering that gives you access to the experience and advice of all three of us on a monthly retainer. Bring Blackmill deeper into your organisation, applying our experience and expertise not just for the individual leader but to help shape strategy at the organisational level. As an experiment, we are offering five of these until end of June. Email us on email@example.com for more details
What are we reading?
How to frame questions to get honest answers from people you manage — If you can't get your team to tell you they’re struggling, you're asking the wrong way.
Event Loops for Managers — when transitioning from an IC to a manager
Why nothing you ever do might make the slightest difference — or how the Theory of Constraints can help. Not a read but still a good watch!
I do 4 things. I'm the co-founder and co-CEO of Tractor Ventures. I'm the chairman of Qsic.ai. I'm on the Investment Committee of the Alice Anderson Fund and I'm a Venture Partner at Side Stage Ventures. I like the variety :) But seriously, I enjoy helping founders understand how to use capital to make valuable businesses.
It took me almost all of my 45 years to figure out that I'm not the one to rely on to do the same things over and over. Repetitive tasks are not my friend. I've now structured Tractor so that the work I do is not that.
Helping founders understand how the type of capital they use to grow their companies can impact their lives. That, and hanging with my kids and friends.
I was talking to a founder who runs a really impactful business, they deliver medicine via remote-controlled drones globally but they were frustrated because they couldn't deliver on all the customers who wanted their service. We were able to dive in deep and provide some capital that unlocked their sales funnel. I love taking the time to understand things.
Structuring a business deal that's heavily weighted against me hoping the counterparty will change in the future. Nope. Never again.
Routines and communications. Morning routine with exercise is key. Comms with co-founders is the other part. Talk about all the things.
Your life partner often has the biggest influence in your success. Choose wisely. Although we've recently separated, Aprill is a massive part of the reason behind my success.
Church-based norms. So many societal constraints don't have a good answer to "why?" and end up being "cause some church based org thought it was a good idea hundreds of years ago"
Thank you for showing an interest in our newsletter and we hope that you enjoyed the read. Feel free to contact us if you have any feedback, a burning question, or just a recipe that you would like to share.
Until next time, keep learning!
Everyone at Blackmill