How transparent should you be as a leader?

Two things I’ve found helpful to consider when trying to decide what to share with my team – and what to keep to myself.

How transparent should you be as a leader?

This is a question many leaders struggle with — including myself. Do you share financials with the company? Or how about salary? How open should you be about why someone was fired?

From open-book management to making compensation public within the company, the concept of transparency in the workplace is more popular than ever.

Understandably (and rightfully) so. As a concept, transparency makes sense: If you want your team to behave the way that you would behave, they need access to the same information that you have. And, the more transparent you are, the more you’re likely to build trust within your team.

But what about the unintended consequences? Can transparency backfire? Do you inadvertently cause panic in a company when you reveal what the monthly burn rate is? Do you encourage resentment from more junior employees when you reveal how much senior employees in the company are making?

As a leader, how do you decide what to share with the rest of the team and what not to?

A few months ago, I spoke with the insightful Des Traynor, Co-founder of Intercom, on this topic. For Des, deciding how transparent he should be was one of the hardest lessons to learn as a leader. And as a CEO myself, I couldn’t agree more.

In our conversation, Des shared with me two things to consider when deciding how transparent you should be in your company:

Transparency requires context.

“The key thing people forget in transparency is it’s not about opening up the Google Drive and making sure that everyone can read everything,” says Des. “It’s about transparency of context as well.” Many of the CEOs who are a part of our leadership community in Know Your Team, The Watercooler, echo this sentiment as well. One CEO remarked how he had shared revenue numbers once, and “things had gone sideways with individuals who just don’t understand or appreciate all that goes into starting and operating a business.”

In other words, the negative reaction came from the lack of context about the revenue numbers. What that CEO wished he would’ve done was share more context. If you share revenue numbers without context of monthly spend, people start wondering, “Where’s all that money going?” So for example, at my company, we share revenue numbers, within the context of also our profit margin and expenses — so it’s understood how revenue supports our business as a whole, and not just “here’s the pile of money we’re making.”

Transparency is a spectrum.

Transparency isn’t all or nothing — things don’t have to be either completely open or completely a secret. Des emphasizes this, saying, “I think it’s worth having a critical threshold to decide what’s actually good for everyone to know, what’s not a secret but needs context, and what actually genuinely might be a secret because you don’t want everyone panicking about something.” Transparency is a spectrum, and if you indiscriminately just make everything 100 percent public, you could be wasting people’s time, confusing them, or causing them strife. Everyone has a capacity of information, and overloading folks with every detail of what’s happening in marketing, support, design, engineering — it can be too much. As a leader it’s important to ask yourself: In what cases is transparency appropriate and helpful, and in what other cases is it distracting or a burden? Are you being transparent, just for the sake of being transparent, or are you truly trying to help people make better decisions, and feel a greater sense of trust?

At the end of the day, transparency is truly a positive force. When it does backfire or causes fallout, it’s often because a leader hasn’t often taken the time to consider these two things: Transparency requires context, and transparency is a spectrum.

As you think through what you should be transparent about in your company, keep in mind these two things. Hopefully, they’re things you won’t have to learn the hard way.

P.S.: This was originally published on the Know Your Team Blog. If you enjoyed this piece, please feel free to share + give it 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😊(And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

This article was originally published for

From an internal Basecamp announcement re: pings/IMs

Direct/instant messaging is something many people are doing more and more often at work. And while it’s a handy way to quickly get ahold of someone, it’s a forceful interruption often coupled with an expectation of a quick response. That makes it costly communication. And that’s why the etiquette around it is important.

Recently we noticed some internal behavior around pings (Basecamp 3’s name for direct/instant messages) that we didn’t like. David and I discussed it and we decided to post an internal announcement to everyone at Basecamp detailing the problem as we saw it. We also suggested ways to improve the efficacy of a ping, and reduce the burden of empty notifications for everyone.

I figured this might help other people outside our walls, so here’s the announcement in full (and here’s a link to the announcement in Basecamp itself if you want to share or reference it elsewhere):

📢 “Ping” / “You there?” / “Yo” / “Hey”

Direct one-to-one (or small group) messaging is an important part of working together. It’s very useful in a variety of situations.

But there’s a dark side. I’ve been seeing it crop up more and more, including in my own behavior, so I wanted to call it out and make sure we’re all aware of it (and stop doing it).

Do you ever start a ping with someone by first trying to get their attention? You say “ping” or “there?” Or “hey!” Or “Yo” (or whatever). You begin with a whistle, and then you only send the rest of your thoughts once someone has whistled back. I do this all the time. It’s time to stop.

Sending a ping with no information would be like sending an email with a subject “Hey” but with no body. Then only when someone emailed you back saying “What’s up?” would you follow up with a separate email containing your complete thought. That would be silly, but it’s exactly what we’re doing with pings.

What’s worse, compared to emails, pings are very interruptive. Being pulled away from your work to check out something with no information in it is bad for everyone involved.

So, let’s think of pings more like emails. You wouldn’t send an email asking if someone’s around to respond. You’d send the email — a complete thought — and someone would eventually get it, read it, and respond in kind. So when we send pings, don’t lead off with an empty “you there?” question. Instead, share the complete thought so when someone sees it they can respond with an answer, vs a “Yeah, why?”

So instead of…
Me: Ping. You: What’s up? Me: Got time to catch up today at 3:30pm? You: Sure. Me: How’s team room 2? You: Perfect, see you then.

You’d send…
Me: Got time to catch up today at 3:30pm to review the latest breadcrumb design? You: Yup, how’s team room 2? Me: Perfect, see you then.

In the first example, I started with a whistle — just an empty “Ping”. You had no idea why I was writing, so you had to respond with another empty whistle back.

In the second example, I my initiation included my complete ask. When you see it, you respond with a complete thought back.

The differences are subtle, but meaningful — especially when multiplied by the hundreds of initial pings we each likely receive every year. If you’re going to reach out and talk to someone directly, give them information to act on, don’t just whistle at them and wait for them to ask what you’re whistling about.

This should help introduce a bit more calm into direct messaging. It should cut back on the number of individual notifications, and also help everyone get to the point quicker so they don’t get pulled away from their work without a clear reason.

If I ping you with a “ping” or “hey” or “there” — please call me out on it!

— Jason

David added a comment:

Couldn’t agree more, and I want to cop to being as guilty of this as anyone.

In addition to using pings with greater care, I think it’s worth considering when posting the purpose of your ping as a fully formed message or todo in a fitting project could work instead. I’ve often pinged someone about something that really just needs to be a todo request or a message to the team. I will do better.

One way I’ve been thinking about pings is this: If we were in an office, would this be important enough for me to walk over to someone’s desk, interrupt them in whatever deep thought they might be in, and ask this? The answer is frequently no.

And it’s even worse with pings because you can’t see the rest of the foot traffic. Your interruption may well just be a quick question, but it may also well be the fifth someone had to field that day.

None of this means you shouldn’t ask questions, or seek help, or get input. Just that you should think about the timeliness of your requests and what format is the best fit.

I hope this was useful.

Recognize the messenger

The way we treat the bearer of bad news, criticism, and new ideas matters. Here’s how to do it well.

Employee recognition” is all the rage lately.

The idea is that you should positively reinforce the behaviors you want to see in your team. Want employees to hit their sales goals? Recognize those who do. Want employees to be more creative in the work they deliver? Recognize those who do.

However, when it comes to cultivating and open and honest culture, what we often forget (or conveniently avoid) as leaders is to positively reinforce one particular behavior: We rarely encourage our team to tell the truth.

How often do we publicly and graciously recognize employees for being a voice of dissent? For asking tough questions? For calling out mistakes? For being flat-out honest in our organizations?

And, how often do we do it well?

A few years ago, I was inspired by a fellow CEO in Chicago who shared with me something she does at every all-hands meeting…

Prior to the meeting, she reflects on the feedback she’s gotten (through Know Your Team, no less — she’s a happy customer 😊). Then, at every all-hands meeting, she will publicly thank a specific person who offered a critical opinion, or asked a tough question, or brought up a new idea. She’ll recognize that one person by name, and with genuine sincerity. She’ll thank them for speaking up and being honest… even if she doesn’t necessarily agree with his or her viewpoint.

This CEO immediately noticed the difference her actions made after the first time she did this. At the next all-hands meeting, there were more hands raised, more questions asked, more ideas offered.

Her simple, earnest “thank you” went a long way when it comes to acting on feedback. She didn’t implement the person’s idea. Nor did she even agree sometimes with the person’s perspective. But she did truly listen, and appreciate what the person had to say.

This isn’t to say you should never act on feedback or implement someone’s suggestion. This is just to say that cultivating a more open, honest work environment starts by recognizing the messenger.

Most of the time, when an employee gives feedback, they are merely looking for this recognition: Acknowledgement that they have been heard. Validation that you are listening. Gratitude for weighing in. Sometimes that recognition is all they are looking for.

This CEO’s practice of intentionally recognizing a person publicly for giving honest feedback is powerful also in how she does it. Notice two things:

  1. The recognition is specific. She didn’t say “Big thanks to my leadership team” or “Great job, support team”. It wasn’t vague, it wasn’t generalized. She specifically recognizes the person by name, giving them respect and individualized attention for doing something that she believes is important to the company. Other employees who are watching and observing this won’t easily forget that.
  2. The recognition is heartfelt. She never faked the “thank you.” She never recognized someone just for show. People will see right through you when you’re doing something to just check the box and appear to be “doing all the correct things as a leader.” There are few things are worse as a saying something and not meaning it. Going through the motions of a “thank you” is one of the worst actions of insincerity.

Personally, I’ve taken a page out of this CEO’s book. I try to make my recognition toward my team specific and heartfelt. And, I do this not only in all-company meetings, but in the moment — during a one-on-one conversation, in an email or a group chat.

Give it a shot. Who do you need to thank in your company for telling the truth?

P.S.: This was originally published on the Know Your Team Blog. If you enjoyed this piece, please feel free to share + give it 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😊(And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

Five ways to receive negative feedback well

Receive feedback well, and you‘ll get more honest feedback in the future. Here’s how.

They’re watching you.

I don’t mean to sound creepy. But it’s something to come to terms with as a leader: Your team is watching you.

As a leader, your actions set the example – especially, when it comes to creating an open, honest environment in the workplace.

Your employees are taking note: When someone offers a dissenting opinion, do you come off as annoyed and brush it aside? Or do you calmly listen and say, “Thank you, I’ll consider that”?

How you receive feedback — especially negative feedback — sets the precedent for how welcome honest, forthcoming perspectives are in your company. Dismiss feedback on a whim or become overly defensive, and you’re not likely to hear critical feedback from that person again.

So how do you receive feedback well? Here are five things you can do…

Make empathy your mission.

How could they be saying that?” “I’m not sure that’s true…” Ever catch yourself thinking that while someone is giving you negative feedback? One of the most common, immediate reactions to feedback is to evaluate what the other person is saying… often before the other person is even finished talking! How can we truly listen to feedback and take in the parts that may be valuable, if we’re not completely listening to what’s being said?

To avoid this tendency to pre-judge feedback, make empathy your mission. Decide that your role in receiving feedback is simply to try to understand the other person. You don’t need to obey or agree with them in that moment — just understand. Once you make empathy your mission, you’ll be able to hear feedback for what it is: An opportunity to learn something, in some way. (I also talk about the importance of making empathy your mission when having a one-on-one with an employee.)

Sit in silence for 3–4 seconds.

To further mitigate your knee-jerk reaction to want to respond right away and offer a counterpoint, sit in silence for a few seconds after someone gives you a piece of feedback. While it might seem or feel unnatural initially, doing so gives you the space to digest what is being said, instead of superficially reacting to it.

Write it down.

Whether or not you are an avid note-taker by habit, bring a notebook the next time you’re in a one-on-one meeting. Having a notebook or sheet of paper in front of you, ready to take notes, physically demonstrates to the other person that you’re attentive to what they’re saying. You’re not thinking about what you’re going to say next — you’re intentionally trying to take in what they’re saying, and process it thoughtfully.

Assume positive intent.

Don’t get defensive. Getting defensive is the surest way to discourage someone from ever telling you their honest opinions in the future. The minute we become defensive is when we permanently dissuade the other person from ever bringing up feedback again. To overcome defensiveness, assume positive intent. The reason why we often become defensive is we think that the person giving us feedback doesn’t have our best intentions in mind — they’re out to “get us” or have a separate agenda. When we choose to assume positive intent in the other person, that urge to become defensive melts away. We stop questioning the “why” behind the feedback, and become more receptive to what’s being said.

Talk less.

The more talking you’re doing, the less listening you’re doing. So talk less. Talking less is the best way to show you’re listening to the feedback you’re receiving. Be conscious of your temptation to launch into full-on rebuttal mode, or to share your side of things. If you do feel compelled to say something, tell the other person, “Thank you — I’m going to think on what you said. Do you mind if I get back to you by X date?” That way you give yourself more time to think about what you do want to say, and you’re showing that you’re listening by saying fewer things.

Of course, writing about “talking less” is much easier to do than actually “talking less” in practice. Particularly, in the heat of the moment, when someone is telling you something you don’t want to hear, it is not easy to just shut up and listen to them 🙂

To internalize these tactics, just try one. No need to go after all five. Pick one. Perhaps you try bringing a notebook to your next one-on-one meeting. Or remind yourself to assume positive intent the next time you read an email from an employee that contains some criticism.

Regardless of which tactic you choose to try first, merely choosing to try to receive feedback well in the first place is a significant, positive step toward building an open, honest company culture.

Your reaction to feedback is a test for you as a leader. What example will you set for your team of how critical or dissenting views will be handled?

Remember, they’re watching.

P.S.: This was originally published on the Know Your Team Blog. If you enjoyed this piece, please feel free to share + give it 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😊(And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

Why we dismiss negative feedback

Three fallacies that get in the way of hearing what we need to hear. Here’s how by recognizing them, we can overcome them.

My stomach dropped. My face flushed.

I thought to myself: “No way that’s true!” and “No way that’s me…”

Those were my physical and mental reactions when an acquaintance gave me some feedback a few years ago. (She told me I had “come across as fake” to her… Ouch!)

My first instinct was to completely dismiss her feedback.

Now looking back, I wonder… Why?

Why was my first instinct to push this feedback away? Why was I so quick to say it wasn’t true or that it didn’t matter?

Simply put: We hate criticism.

Anything negative, anything critical — we fear it. We resist, push back, and build a wall around ourselves.

In fact, as humans, our brains are hardwired to resist negative feedback. Research show how our brains hold onto negative memories longer than positive ones — so the negative stuff always hurts more. We’re more upset about losing $50 than gaining $50… It’s the same when it comes to feedback. When we hear something negative, it sticks with us more than when someone tells us something positive about ourselves.

Our distaste for negative feedback is so strong that further research shows we drop people in our network who tell us things we don’t want to hear. In a recent study with 300 full-time employees, researchers found that people moved away from colleagues who provided negative feedback. Instead, they chose to seek out interactions with people who only affirmed their positive qualities.

Fascinating, right? In other words, whether or not we intend to, we seem to insulate ourselves away from any potential negative self-image of ourselves.

To be honest, it sounds like quite a self-absorbed way to live: To seek out only those who tell you what you want to hear. To never have the humility to want to learn, adjust, improve and become better.

How did we get like this?

Some psychologists suggest that we associate negative feedback with criticism received in school or from our parents growing up, and that’s what prevents us from hearing negative feedback.

Personally, I’ve found three fallacies in my own head that get in the way of me being receptive to negative feedback…

  1. I’m a perfectionist. I expect myself to be good at everything. So when I hear negative feedback about myself, it conflicts with what I think is true… and it makes me push the feedback away.
  2. I don’t trust the other person. I’m skeptical of the person who gave me the feedback. What was her intention? Does she really have the full story? Perhaps she just misinterpreted things? So I disregard the feedback, as a result.
  3. I conflate behavior with identity. I interpret the feedback as an assessment my sense of self-worth. “If I’m seen as fake by someone, that must mean I’m a bad person.” It’s hurtful to think about this, so I choose to ignore the feedback.

These knee-jerk reactions are the foundation for the wall I start to build around me when I hear negative feedback.

To knock down this wall, and make sure my mind and heart is open to receiving criticism, I keep these three fallacies in mind. When someone gives me negative feedback, I ask myself…

  1. Am I being a perfectionist? Are my perfectionist tendencies getting in the way of hearing something worth learning from this feedback?
  2. Am I distrustful of the other person? Am I resisting this feedback simply because of my relationship with this person, or what I perceive her or his intentions to be?
  3. Am I conflating behavior with identity? Am I shutting out this feedback because I’m projecting this feedback onto my sense of self-worth?

Take a moment to sit and marinate on these questions. They may uncover why you tend to isolate yourself from feedback. This understanding of why you dismiss feedback is the first step to making sure you’re hearing all of it.

After all, you don’t want to get caught inadvertently pushing away those who tell you the truth, creating a circle of yes-people who tell you only what you want to hear.

Know why you dismiss feedback, first.

P.S.: This was originally published on the Know Your Team Blog. If you enjoyed this piece, please feel free to share + give it 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😊(And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

What’s that mystery in your inbox costing you?

The inbox is the center of everything. Whether it’s email, assignments, messaging, chatting, IM, whatever, if someone wants you to see something, it shows up in an inbox of some kind.

The design of the inbox has more impact on our daily decision making than any other part of any piece of software we use. It’s fucking important.

If you use a group chat tool like Slack, HipChat, Microsoft Teams, or something similar, your inbox — and, therefore, your day — is filled with mysteries, secrets, and “Whats?”. You’re probably so numb to it that you don’t realize how much of your time and attention is being wasted.

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” -George Orwell

You’re stumbling around in the dark all day long because of a simple design pattern. The pattern is core to group chat, no matter the tool. It’s a fundamental flaw of the medium hidden in plain sight.

The inbox in the sidebar of Slack, Hipchat, and Microsoft Teams is stacked with rows like this:

There’s a category, room, or channel name on the left and an unread indicator on the right. But wait, what’s that 28 mean?

28 what? 28 things I have to see? 28 things I could see? How many of those things matter to me? Are any of them relevant? The category attached to the number is so broad, that anything, everything, or nothing important could be hiding behind the number.

If you use a group chat tool, there’s only one way to find out if the unread number is relevant: You have to click through and read everything just to figure out if there was anything worth reading. That’s the very definition of wasting time. Doing work to see if there’s work to do.

This design lacks context. General categories are too roomy to provide specific context, and specific context is what we use to determine if something’s worth digging into or not. Without it, we’re unable to use our time wisely. An absence of detail wastes our attention.

4 of those lines could have been jokes. 9 of them mildly interesting anecdotes. 3 of them relevant to you. 8 of them random observations. And 4 questions and followups that didn’t pertain to you. Or some other combination. Maybe all 28 were completely unrelated to anything you’re working on, even if 34 things earlier were. Who’s to know when all you have to go on is a number?

Surely not every single thing said in #design or #general or #marketing or #engineering or #projectname is relevant to you. And if it is — if you have to follow along with hundreds or thousands of individual lines a day — communication problems across your company run deep.

And that’s just one room/channel. Add in a few more, and you start to run into big numbers of unknowns, lot of whats?

I got 99 problems, and maybe these are some of them? Or not?

Making matters worse, if you’re like most people, your sidebar lists a whole lot more than just 3 rooms/channels. Many people keep a dozen or more up there. Multiply that by dozens or hundreds of people at a company, and you can only imagine how much time, money, and attention is being wasted every day. You’re paying for software that makes people do extra work just to see if there’s any real work worth doing.

We took a different approach with Basecamp 3

When we set out to design Basecamp 3, we put people’s time and attention at the center. Everything that matters must be surrounded with context and detail that gives you the information you need to make good decisions about how you spend individual moments throughout your day.

In Basecamp 3, there’s no sidebar that’s constantly pulling your attention away and to the left. Instead, there’s a menu at the top called Hey! When you choose to pull that menu down, revealing what’s inside, you’ll see rows that look like this:

At 3:08pm, Kris commented on the Client HQ: Design Update topic in the “BC3: Clientside 2.0 (Cloudripper)” project.

This design is full of context. Each row gives you the who, the kind of thing (an @mention, a to-do you’ve been assigned, a to-do that’s been completed, a comment, a new document, a new message, etc), the specific subject/topic that’s relevant to the discussion, which project or team it relates to, and when it happened.

Here’s my actual Hey! menu right now:

The context and detail above helps me know, act, or dismiss. A lack of context forces me to guess.

At a quick glance, I can see who’s said/done the most recent thing in each thread. I can judge relevance and timeliness. For example, I’m not working on the Business Cards stuff day-to-day, so I can ignore that one at the moment, but there’s a Highrise Board Meeting coming up shortly, and because Lynette, the Highrise COO posted something, then it’s important that I check that out. I can also see that Scott completed a to-do that I assigned to him. And that Zach @mentioned me in a conversation on a to-do about the Clientside feature we’re working on.

The Basecamp 3 Hey! menu is full of context. It lets me scan without committing. I’m informed simply by looking at it. I can jump in selectively and make my own decisions how to spend my attention because all the information is in front of me. I can pull it down, glance, and step right back out. When things are out of the way in a menu I can decide to get to them later.

Contrast that with the group chat style sidebar where I only have a scant, general idea what I’m jumping into. At a glance I can’t really tell if there’s anything behind the curtain that’s worth my time right now. So I have to go look at everything. What a distraction. The fact that you can’t know what’s behind the number actually entices you to waste time finding out. It’s a dark pattern.

This adds up

We tend to judge how things affect us personally. But when you’re using a group tool with others, the effects are wide ranging. If you’re wasting 15 minutes every hour peering through irrelevant chat logs and getting inadvertently pulled into unnecessary conversations, imagine all the other people at your company doing the same thing. Every hour. Every day. 1500 minutes wasted every hour? More? Quantify the waste. Bad design adds up.

So stop. Take note. Pay attention to how often you have to jump in to determine if jumping in was worth it. How often you have to read everything to see if there was anything worth reading. How many times you’re pulled away by secrets and mysteries in your inbox. If you start counting, you’ll be surprised how high the number goes.

Stop your day from feeling like this

Your time is too valuable to put up with this.

Tired of wasting your time and energy on the chat treadmill? Graduate from group chat to Basecamp 3. It’s the calmer, saner way to work. Stop spinning your wheels or running in place — Basecamp 3 helps you get traction with new projects. Since switching to Basecamp 3, 89% of our customers have a better handle on their business, 84% report more self-sufficient teams, and more than half save over 10 hours of busywork a month. Give it a try, for free.

Stop feeding Shit Sandwiches

One of the most popular methods of delivering feedback is, well, shit. Here’s why and what you should do instead…

I recently ran into a friend who mentioned how she uses the Shit Sandwich to deliver feedback.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Shit Sandwich is a technique for delivering feedback popularized by the classic management read, The One Minute Manager. It’s when you layer your feedback “good-bad-good.” You say one complimentary thing to your coworker (one slice of bread), then offer the critique or piece of feedback (the “shit” filling in the middle), and then bookend it with another complimentary comment (the other slice of bread).

My friend and I went back and forth about it. We disagreed. I don’t think the Shit Sandwich works at all.

On the surface, it seems like a solid tactic. You help the person know what they’re doing well, which is great. It’s always good to give positive reinforcement. And it’s nice to know there’s a handy framework when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Telling someone what they might not want to hear is never fun.

However, the Shit Sandwich can easily backfire. Here’s why…

It’s predictable.

Most people have been fed the Shit Sandwich before — so they know what’s coming. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to add cushioning before and after the bad news.

It feels disingenuous.

Because it’s predictable and feels formulaic, it can come across as fake. As a result, the good things you said will be labeled as “not true” because, to the recipient, it’ll feel like you were obligated to say these “good things.”

People tune out the good, and zoom in on the bad.

Oftentimes, even if what you point out as the “good things” will be cast aside entirely. People tend to have heightened sensitivity about what’s being critiqued when they know what’s coming, and when the “good stuff” feels fake.

The reality is that the Shit Sandwich doesn’t make the other person feel comfortable — it only makes you feel comfortable. No one likes to be seen as “the bad guy” or a heartless leader. So you pepper in the “good stuff” around the “bad stuff” to make you feel more comfortable in delivering the news.

You layer the feedback “good-bad-good” for your own benefit. Not theirs. Seems pretty shitty, to me.

If anything, the Shit Sandwich should be called what it is because you’re simply feeding the other person shit.

So what should you do instead? Instead of layering your feedback “good-bad-good,” try this…

Come from a place of care.

You’re giving feedback because you care. You deeply care about this person’s personal and career growth. You deeply care about the project’s success. You want both the person and the company to thrive. Communicate these things. Ask yourself: “What can I say to let this person know that this feedback is coming from a place of care and helpfulness? How do I let this person know I have good intentions, and that I’m not trying to spite them or be rude?” As you deliver the piece of critical feedback, make this clear.

For example, you could say something like: “I’m saying this because I believe in you and I want you to succeed…” or “This is important to me because I care about the company’s direction as a whole…” or “This matters to me because I only want to ensure that we perform well as a team…

Come from a place of observation.

We’re often worried that the person is going to take any negative feedback personally. This is big reason why we layer our feedback with the Shit Sandwich of good-bad-good. It’s to say, “Hey look, I don’t think you’re a bad person… see these things I like about you!” Instead, look to communicate your feedback more objectively. Come from a place of observation. Focus on the actions and the situation of what happened — what you observed — and not the personal attributes or characteristics of the person.

For example, if you think a coworker wrote a sloppy email to the client, instead of saying: “I think you’re careless and sloppy”… you could say, “I noticed that in the email you wrote, there were a few careless mistakes that seemed sloppy.” See the difference? The former makes it about the person, while the latter makes it about your observations on what has happened.

Come from a place of fallibility.

Your feedback is not infallible. Don’t forget that your feedback is only an interpretation of what you observed, and your own perspective of how things can improve going forward. Your perspective is not a universal truth. You could be wrong. Be willing to admit that your feedback, while it’s something you strongly believe in, is colored by your own personal lens. Ask yourself: “How can I remind this person that this feedback is only my opinion ? That this isn’t the word of God, that mistakes happen, that there may be information I’m missing?

A few examples of how you can do this is to say directly: “I might be wrong…” or “I might be off…” or to ask, “Is there any information that you think I might be missing?

Come from a place of curiosity.

When you give feedback, it should feel like a conversation. No one likes being talked at. Your time to give feedback also as a time to listen to what the other person thinks, as well. Be curious. Consider: “How does this person feel about my feedback? Was there anything I might have misinterpreted or overlooked? Is there anything that I can be doing better to help support the other person?” You want to invite the person to give their side of their story.

To do this, simply ask after sharing your feedback: “What do you think?

When you’re curious, you’re signaling that you value hearing their perspective on what happened. You’re not mad, upset, or resentful. You see the moment of giving feedback as an opportunity to learn and get better as a leader, yourself.

Sure, all the tactics I’m describing are a little more complex than the catchy “Shit Sandwich” moniker. And yes, they require a bit more nuance and effort to do well.

But when you come from a place of care, observation, fallibility, and curiosity — it makes for a much more honest and productive conversation. You’re going to get a better result.

The person on the other side is going to feel like you’re really trying to help them… which is the whole point of giving feedback, after all. They’re going to feel like you’re giving them a real, meaningful critique.

Most importantly, you won’t be feeding them shit.

P.S.: This was originally published on the Know Your Team Blog. If you enjoyed this piece, please feel free to share + give it 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😊(And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

What six weeks of work looks like

Basecamp 3 saw a flurry of updates over the last 6 weeks. Here’s what a few small teams working together were able to ship.

A few months ago I wrote up a post sharing the details of how we structure our teams and work in six week cycles at Basecamp. It turned out to be very popular article.

Now let’s take it one step further and show the actual work itself.

Six weeks , 8 people, 40-hour work weeks

Here’s what our core product team of 4 programers and 4 designers were able to start, complete, and ship to Basecamp 3 customers over the last six weeks. Note: This is for the web/desktop app only. The iOS (4 people) and Android (3 people) teams shipped entirely different work over the last cycle.

  • Many Basecamp 3 customers still prefer receiving notifications via email, but they can experience email overload quick on busy Basecamp accounts. So now we’ve fixed that for them. Now we batch together pings (Basecamp 3’s version of instant messages), to-do assignments, t0-do reminders, and file upload notifications that come in within a few minutes of each other. This means instead of receiving separate emails for each individual thing, now you just get a single aggregated digest here and there. Peace and calm!
  • Automatic check-ins, one of Basecamp 3’s killer features, just got better. Now customers have more control over when the automatic check-ins are sent. Daily, every other day, once a month, at exact times, etc. This update introduces major flexibility, which was a top customer request.
  • It’s now more obvious how to share files in Pings and Campfire chats on the desktop. It was always clear on iOS and Android, but on the desktop we only let you drag files into the window. Now there’s an explicit paperclip button you can click to select files (you can still drag too).
  • Admins can now delete comments from comment threads (on messages, to-dos, documents, automatic check-ins, files, schedule items, or wherever else comments are possible). This wasn’t a top request, but it was very important for those who really needed it. Done and done!
  • Now you can resend an invitation or send a direct link to anyone on Basecamp. Sometimes someone didn’t get the original invite, or they haven’t used Basecamp for a while so they forgot how to log in. Now you can help them do it rather than just tell them how to do it. Subtle difference, but a major level up for those who like to be full service.
  • Major simplification across the top of messages, to-dos, documents, files, etc. We combined a couple of menus into one, and exposed the bookmark icon outside the menu. These aren’t the kind of changes that people immediately notice, but they appreciate them when they run into them. It’s a better design.
  • We tidied up a row of buttons for saving a draft or publishing a message or document. This one had been bothering us for a while. Since the buttons are in a more logical order, and designed slightly differently, it’s now a lot harder to make a mistake by pressing the wrong button.
  • Now you can page through all attachments in a single thread by just using the arrow keys on your keyboard or clicking the arrows on your screen. This is a much faster way to browse designs, comps, photos, etc. We had this in previous versions of Basecamp, but embarrassingly we hadn’t added it to Basecamp 3. Now it’s there!
  • We eliminated a few steps to post the first message or to-dos when there were no messages or to-dos in a project. We were repeating ourselves before with a couple of screens in between you and the initial action. Now it’s single-click direct.
  • A variety of typographic updates to improve spacing of titles, paragraph breaks, and space above and below bulleted/numbered lists. Airier, more comfortable, and reads better.
  • Major update for managing people on the admin side (in Adminland). We condensed a variety of separate options into a single screen, made it much easier to see every single user across the entire account on a single page, and provided single-click actions to change someone’s access permissions, send a link to log in, etc. Major win for centralization here.
  • Now you can quickly jump to the HQ, any team, any project, your assignments, what you’ve done recently, your bookmarks, and your drafts from a single Jump screen. From anywhere you can now just hit command-j on the Mac (or alt-j on Windows), and you’ll get a pop-up that lets you jump anywhere from anywhere.

Nearly there…

There are a few things that were basically completed during last cycle, but either haven’t shipped yet or need a tiny push over the finish line. These should be shipped shortly:

  • Custom emoji picker for Pings and Campfire chats.
  • Lazy-loading images only once they’re on the screen. This speeds up load times, renders pages faster in the browser, and reduces bandwidth.
  • Tweaking the way Automatic Check-in notifications are represented in the Hey! menu. Subtle change, but should reduce unnecessary noise for very active accounts.
  • Consistent display of dates that outside the current year.

Correction: Six(ish) weeks

We say six weeks, but in some senses it was 7 or 8, but in other ways it was more like 4 or 5. This cycle we had one programmer 90% out on paternity leave (he came back the last week of the cycle), and we had one designer partially out for a few weeks (also on paternity leave). So we were understaffed the full six weeks. We used an extra week or so after the cycle had ended to wrap a few things up. That’s how we get to 7 or 8 weeks, even though we were only at full power for about two of those total 8 weeks.

Did those 8 people work on every project together?

No. Teams are usually made of of two or three people. Sometimes just one if a programmer or designer can handle the whole thing themselves. Multiple small teams are working on parallel on different things, no one team dependent on the other to move forward.

Who ran the projects?

At Basecamp, each team runs their own projects. We don’t have dedicated project managers. Generally the designer takes the lead (since nearly all work here at Basecamp starts with visual design), but sometime a programmer leads, or there’s truly equal leadership throughout.

Who decided who worked on what?

The core product team of 4 programmers and 4 designers figured it our themselves. David, Ryan, and I put together the big picture plan for this cycle (with input from a variety of people), and then the teams themselves divvied up the work and made all the calls and adjustments required to get it done on time.

Did everything ship at once?

No — we ship when things are ready. We don’t hold work to ship in big single releases. We work in six week cycles, but the work goes out when it’s done, one thing at a time.

Was that everything that shipped?

No — lots of other customer-facing stuff shipped as well. If we include just two more people in the mix, we also shipped a bunch of marketing site improvements and a/b tests as well as in-app a/b tests aiming to improve conversion, onboarding success rates, self-service discounts for students/teachers and non-profits, and some testing around a new tier we’re considering offering.

Any other questions?

Any curiosities? Stuff I didn’t cover that you’re curious about? Any other questions about how we work? Post ’em below in the comments and if we have answers we’ll be sure to respond. Thanks!

Announcing: The “Don’t Be the Last to Know” Workshop

On March 30th, we’ll reveal insights from almost 300 companies and 15,000 employees in a hands-on, in-depth workshop…

Over the past three years as the CEO of Know Your Company, I’ve heard numerous business owners say a version of this to me:

“Claire, I dig your software and the methodology behind it… but is there a way to put those concepts into practice on day-to-day basis? What are other ways that I can avoid blindspots? And is there a way to teach my leadership team and managers to do the same?”

I get it. I’ve always believed that creating an open, honest working environment requires more than just using a piece of software. As with any complex problem, you’ve got to act in a different way if you want to see any changes.

Because of this, I decided to pull together all our learnings over the past three years, across almost 300 companies and 15,000 employees, and distill it down into an interactive, three-hour workshop next month…

Introducing the “Don’t Be the Last to Know” Workshop.

In this hands-on, in-depth workshop, we’ll give you the playbook on how to not be “the last to know” in your company — it’s something we’ve never shared before completely end-to-end.

We’ll reveal best practices and techniques developed from hundreds of conversations with CEOs, and data from almost 300 companies and 15,000 employees in over 15 countries who use the Know Your Company software.

You’ll learn how to get your employees talking about what they really feel (and not what they think you want to hear), so you can avoid costly blindspots as a leader.

And, you’ll get to practice these strategies and tactics during the workshop with live in-person coaching from our yours truly 😊

While I’ve given plenty of talks, a 30-minute keynote has never been enough time to really dig into the issues, understand each attendee’s personal situation and struggles, discuss techniques in detail, and coach each person along on how to implement them. In this workshop, we’ll get to do that.

If you’re a business owner, founder, CEO, or manager, this workshop is for you.

Here’s what you’ll walk away with.

You’ll learn the answers to these questions and more….

  • Why am I constantly the last to know things in my own company?
  • How do I know if my employees are being honest with me or not?
  • Why don’t employees speak up? Why is getting honest feedback from employees so dang difficult?
  • What are the most common blindspots CEOs overlook?
  • What are the top questions I should be asking every employee?
  • What are the best questions other CEOs are asking their employees?
  • How do I get the people who are typically quieter in my company to speak up?
  • How often should I be asking for feedback in an employee?
  • What’s the best way to hold one-on-ones?
  • Should I be asking for feedback anonymously? Why or why not?
  • How do I coach my managers or co-workers to ask for feedback in a better way?
  • How do I break bad news to my team?
  • How do I give an employee feedback in a constructive way?
  • What feedback should I listen to? What should I not?
  • How do I not get defensive when I receive feedback?
  • How do I create a culture of feedback in my team, especially as my company grows?
  • What are the best practices for holding all-company staff meetings? Are they important? What should I talk about?
  • What are the warning signs of turnover? How do I avoid turnover in the first place? Is turnover a good thing?
  • What are the three things I should do to make sure a new hire stays?

The workshop will be held Thursday, March 30th at 1PM — 4PM at Basecamp HQ in Chicago (30 N Racine #200).

The workshop will be hosted by me, CEO of Know Your Company, Claire Lew.

Get your ticket here today.

I’m looking forward to seeing you on March 30th, and solving the problem of being “the last to know” in your company together.

Big news! We’re now Know Your Team. Check out our new product that helps managers become better leaders, and get the full story behind our change.

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share + give it ❤️ so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

Restoring Sanity to the Office

Sarah Green-Carmichael from the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast interviews me about sanity at work, how over-collaboration and excessive real-time communication/chat are destroying our work days, and plenty more.

What follows is a word-for-word, unedited transcript of the recorded podcast:

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Sarah Green-Carmichael. How is it that you can come away from a full day of work with that unmistakable feeling that you somehow didn’t get any work done? You were super busy all day. And then you go home at night and you just think, what did I really accomplish today?

It happens to me. I think it happens to all of us. Somehow you start what seems like a full day, only to see it sliced and diced into small little pieces of work– meetings, emails, online chats, catching up with your manager, things you get done, tasks completed. And then somehow, it doesn’t really feel like it amounted to anything productive.

Jason Fried thinks that there’s a better way to work. One that’s so productive that a 40 hour week is more than enough. He’s the CEO of the successful software startup Basecamp. Jason, thank you so much for talking with HBR IdeaCast.

JASON FRIED: Thanks for having me on today.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: So WHEN did you start getting annoyed with the way that workplaces work?

JASON FRIED: Um, kind of always.

I just always felt this way. It seems like, yeah, like you said. You know, people go to work. And when you actually ask them when they get the work done it’s not typically during the day. It’s early in the morning, late at night, on the weekends, on a plane, on a train, somewhere else. And that’s always bugged me. It just doesn’t seem right.

It seems like something that, for whatever reason, people put up with. But they really shouldn’t. That’s kind of a very broken system. Companies spend so much money on offices, so much money on productivity stuff, yet we just seem like we can’t get stuff done in those environments.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: It does seem like that companies have sort of made more of a push for work to become more and more collaborative. And yet it does seem like we’re maybe talking to each other all the time and actual work is maybe not actually getting done.

JASON FRIED: Yeah, I think there’s actually an epidemic of over-collaboration and over-communication. Collaboration is something managers seem to look at and think is particularly good. Because they see activity. They see people working. They see people moving. They hear buzz. Stuff’s happening.

But real creative work, especially, is usually done quietly, solitary sort of work, where people are in a flow or in a focus mode where they’re able to just focus on the stuff and not be distracted and interrupted. It’s very hard to do really good work when you’re constantly being interrupted every 15 minutes, every 5 minutes, every 20 minutes, every 30 minutes.

You know, people don’t have hours anymore. Like, you don’t have hours at work. You know, people say they work 8 hours a day or 10 hours a day or 12 hours a day. They don’t. They work 15 minutes and 20 minutes and 25 minutes and 6 minutes and maybe 45 minutes if they’re lucky. And that just seems broken to me. So I’m trying to push hard against that.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: You’ve suggested before that instead of casual Fridays companies should instead create “no talk” Thursdays so people can actually get work done. I thought that was a really interesting idea.

JASON FRIED: Yes, silent Thursdays. No talk Thursdays. Just be quiet for a day. Can you pick one day a month and just be quiet. Can we just keep the place quiet? And when companies do do that– because I’ve been talking about this for a while– and people email me and they say, hey. We tried this. It’s been great.

What people find is that, first of all, the world doesn’t end. If people aren’t talking to each other the world does not end. The business does not go out of business. It’s not this tragic thing that people are afraid of.

Actually what happens is, the people get a lot of work done. They feel really good about the day. They leave at a normal time. And they’re looking forward to the next time that that happens.

And so then maybe it’s every other Thursday or maybe it’s once a week or twice a week, whatever. At our company, at Basecamp, we actually Institute something we call library rules. Which basically means that you know, when anybody walks into a library anywhere around the world everybody knows how to behave. You’re quiet.

You recognize people are studying or learning or thinking or reading, whatever it is. They’re at work in their own mind doing something. And you don’t bother people. You don’t speak up and you don’t raise your voice. And you don’t tap people on the shoulder. You just be quiet. And if you want to talk to someone you go pull them into a room, and usually libraries have rooms where you can have full volume conversations. And so we’ve instituted that in our company.

And so if you walk into our office at Basecamp– we have 50 people in the company and many of them work around the world, but we have 14 people in Chicago at our headquarters– it’s quiet. It feels like a library. It reads like a library. It looks like a library. And that’s something we do all the time.

But I recognize that’s not really appropriate for all companies. So we recommend the one day a month or one day a week kind of thing just to kind get into the vibe, get into the rhythm of that.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: You could walk through the HBR offices and not hear a peep. But we would all be furiously chatting with each other on email, or Slack or Basecamp. Or you know, on one of these other online collaboration tools that kind of let people send messages to each other without actually speaking out loud. So I’m wondering what are some of the ways that you’ve cut down on that nonverbal over-collaboration, as well?

JASON FRIED: Yeah, that’s a great point. Because there’s two sides to this. There’s the physical, which is sort of library rules or no talk Thursdays or whatever. And then there’s also the virtual which has actually gotten worse. Because it feels like there’s very little penalty to just chatting and typing and pinging people and IM’ing people and direct messaging people and emailing people. Because it’s something you do and you just send it off and it’s just like gone.

Which is different than if you’re in a physical environment and you keep bothering somebody. It’s sort of obvious that that’s happening. What we tend to do, what we’ve found works really well, is to figure out when should you chat about something and when should you write something up?

In other words, when should you be real-time and when should you be asynchronous? And it’s our feeling that asynchronous communication is actually the best way for groups to work together. Because when you have to sync up everyone’s schedule, meaning real-time, you have to constantly pull people away from what they’re doing to have a conversation right now about something that’s probably not related to right now.

So what we do is, we consider chat-based conversations to be sort of ephemeral things that– it doesn’t matter if other people see it. If someone’s around they can answer or that kind of stuff. But if you really want people to see something. If you really want people to think about something, if you really want people to debate something, if you really want people to discuss something, you write it up– in our case it’s in Basecamp, but it can be in whatever, whatever you use.

And you give people time to consider and respond on their own time versus on your time. And that’s the big difference is that when conversations are sort of owned by the initiator, you end up with a very distracting culture. When conversations are sort of controlled by the receiver, when the expectation is that the receiver can get back to you when they’re ready, then you have a much calmer environment.

And yeah, it’s not as fast. But so what? What is this obsession we have with speed all the time? Like if someone gets back to me in two hours, that’s fine. When they’re ready, that’s fine. So we break conversations down into does this really matter? If it does make it asynchronous. If it doesn’t matter so much, chat’s totally fine.

But one of the other things we found is that chat’s really good with three or fewer people in the conversation. Once you have 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, whatever, it just isn’t really a great way to communicate something important. It’s really wonderful for social stuff and for sharing silly stuff and links and whatnot, but it’s not a great way to have a really good, meaningful conversation.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: I think it’s so true. I’ve see that happen again and again in a couple of different ways. I think one of the challenges is if you are in a culture where you’re expecting instantaneous communication or where there are lots of people involved in an email thread or a chat conversation, I’m not sure how much you as an individual can do.

Because if you don’t respond for a couple of hours the whole conversation may have somehow resolved itself without you while you were in a meeting or having lunch or with a client. And then you somehow come back to it and it’s like, oh. Well, this is not a decision that I agree with. So can you just talk a little bit about, I guess the challenge of being an individual caught up in these eddies of communication that you can’t always control?

JASON FRIED: Eddies of communication, by the way, is a great thought. I’ve never thought about that. It does feel like that sometimes. You’re right. It’s all about expectations. And this has to begin culturally. Tools don’t solve this problem. Tools actually kind of create the problem.

For example, you just said, if you’re out of the office and there’s this conversation that’s happening and you’re not part of it, now you even feel like you have to be paying attention to things when you’re not around. When you’re focusing on other things and you have to start paying attention to everything. There’s this fear of missing out.

When conversations are happening on conveyor belts– which is what chat rooms are, they’re conveyor belts– once they pass you by it’s too late. And so people are actually focused on conversations all day long to find out if they need to be conversing in that conversation. Like it’s– we’re no longer just being pulled into things we need to be pulled into, we’re being pulled into things we don’t need to be pulled into to wait to see if we need to be pulled into something. It’s completely out of control.

So it’s a cultural thing though. The expectations at the managerial level, at the ownership level, team leads– people who are in charge of these things and these projects and these groups or whatever it might be, they have to be the ones that set the tone and say, look, nobody here is expected to respond to anything immediately unless, of course, it’s an emergency.

Emergencies happen, crisis happens. But that should be once or twice a year kind of thing. It should not be all the time. So it really comes down to setting the tone at the top. And letting everybody understand that– let’s have a conversation. If this takes two days to resolve over– it’s not like two days of constant conversations– it’s like you chime in, someone else chimes in an hour later, someone else is free 90 minutes so they chime in. And let’s let this resolve over a couple of days. Let’s give this a couple of days to be discussed.

Then everyone calms down. They slow down. They think harder about the thing. And when they respond, they’re not on the clock as much as, like, when you’re in a chat room you’re kind of on the clock because this conversation is moving while you’re watching it. It’s moving out of the way. That heightens anxiety. It forces people to sort of be a reactionary and not calm down and think and deliberate and consider and even sleep on it.

I think most conversations are worth sleeping on. We just encourage people to take their time. There’s no rush here. Of course you shouldn’t like get back to someone seven days later. But tomorrow is fine. Tomorrow is fine. Or later this afternoon is fine versus right now.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: So we’ve been talking a lot about what’s going on in the culture inside your company. But what if you’re dealing with people from outside the company, customers, or clients, and they have very, very different expectations?

JASON FRIED: Yeah, I’m of a few minds here. So first of all, you’re right. You can only control what you’re able to control. So sometimes you just have to play by other people’s rules. But I’ve always had this point of view that people are always like, you can’t do that with your clients. My clients are demanding. My clients demand this, they demand that. They demand immediate responses. If they need to get a hold of me at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday night, then I’ve got to respond to them.

And I’ve never understood that, because I don’t believe that that’s true. What is true is that if you do respond at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday night, then they’re going to ask you 10 o’clock on a Thursday night. And they’re going to ask you 10 o’clock on a Friday night. And they’re going to ask you 4 o’clock on a Saturday.

But if you tell them– or you don’t respond, and you get back to someone the next morning and you say, hey, you know, I was sleeping or I was with my family. And I work from these hours and I’m happy to be extremely attentive during these hours, but we don’t work at 9 o’clock on a Wednesday. You can just have a very clear, fair conversation with somebody and set those basic rules. And if they’re going to fire you because you’re not available on a Wednesday at 10 o’clock, then that’s the wrong client for you.

Setting the tone is something that somebody has to do. And so I just think if you have that discussion about what’s reasonable, people start to understand the rules. And they’re fair. And if you get back to someone at 9:00 AM Instead of 9:00 PM, that’s going to be fine.

Of course, I recognize some people are shaking their head probably listening to this going, you don’t know my client or you don’t know the situation. And there certainly are situations that are very difficult to handle. But I don’t think most are. I think the problem is people don’t discuss them ahead of time.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: As we are talking about this kind of always on culture, I’ve been seeing a couple of studies lately that suggest that perhaps younger workers who are, you know, sort of born with their phone in their hands might be more susceptible to some of this than older workers who remember life before email or remember life before messaging apps.

Is this something you see in the people you manage and people you work with? Do you think that this is a kind of generational shift we’re seeing?

JASON FRIED: There’s probably some of that. So I think that’s a good observation and seems reasonable and fair. But there’s another truth, which is that we’re all flesh and blood and human and have the same DNA and you know– not exactly the same– but roughly the same. And that multitasking is not something that humans seem to be very good at, period.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 40 or 60, it’s just not really a thing our brains are built for. And the idea that our brains are changing in one generation like that, I just don’t buy it. I don’t think it’s true and there’s actually quite a bit of studies that prove this out. That multitasking is not really a thing. That context shifting is actually extremely expensive mentally.

We think it’s easy like bouncing between things, but we’re not actually giving those things consideration. We’re just sort of acting and not thinking and there’s less thinking going on. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Part of it, too, is that people sometimes think that being busy is actually doing work. And so context shifting and popping between this and that and bouncing between this and that feels like a lot of work. But it’s actually not the work that needs to get done.

You know, that’s my general feel on it. I do think that the younger generation definitely is more adept at sort of navigating some of these things. But I think that there’s physical realities and just physics that get in the way, as well.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: I want to also just ask you about meetings and the problem with too many meetings sort of cluttering up our calendars. Because I realize we’ve talked a lot about, sort of, electronic communication tools and people interrupting people in an informal way.

For some people, their offices may actually have more of a problem with that. So what’s your take, as a leader, on cutting down the number of meetings and making sure that that’s not the thing that’s wasting people’s time?

JASON FRIED: Yeah, I think meetings are typically a major waste of time. It depends on the kind. So let’s qualify this a little bit. I think things like status meetings, where people go around a room and update the rest of the people in the room about what’s going on, are enormous wastes of time. That stuff is better served up by writing it up and distributing it and letting people absorb that on their own time.

There is nothing about a status meeting where people are filling each other in on what’s happening this week or what happened last week that needs to be done all at the exact same time. And this is the problem I have with meetings is that meetings basically force everybody to be on the same schedule for an hour. And talk about something right now that generally has very little to do with right now.

And that’s really very inefficient. People think it’s efficient to distribute information all at the same time to a bunch of people around a room. But it’s actually a lot less efficient than distributing it asynchronously by writing it up and sending it out and letting people absorb it when they’re ready to so it doesn’t break their days into smaller bits. So there’s that.

There’s also the fact that meetings are very expensive not just in time but also in money. If you have four or five people in a room for an hour, it’s a four or five hour meeting. You’re taking four or five hours of productive work from other people in total and compressing it into an hour of very unproductive– mostly unproductive work. Where you’re spending an hour talking about something that probably could have been handled without having to have this meeting at all.

Certainly there are some meetings that need to happen. But my point is that I want to push back on the fact that the meeting is the first resort. I think it should be the last resort. Only when people really truly need to come together because they’re unable to communicate in another way and another schedule do they actually need to get together in a room.

And I’ve been in so many of them. And everybody knows how inefficient they are but yet we just keep kind of having them.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: Say you were at a radically different kind of company. And you’re a manager and you want to try doing some of this stuff, at least on your team. And if you’re a senior executive, you might want to try doing it in your whole business unit. Or if you’re a CEO, maybe you want to try it at your whole company. What can you start to do to try to change some of the culture to be a little bit more like what we’ve been talking about here?

JASON FRIED: Yeah, I’d start very, very small. And it kind of depends on what it would be. But for example, let’s say, you wanted to start to allow people to work remotely or something like that. The best way to do that is, again, pick one day a month and say, you know, the first Wednesday of every month everyone can work from home.

And just start to get used to that. Because it’s going to not work initially, probably. And so people aren’t going to know what to do. Like it’s going to be this weird thing. So you kind of start a little bit slower. Give yourself some time to figure it out and don’t just go all in on something. All in is really hard to make work. And there’s a lot of reasons why people are going to point to the fact that it doesn’t work.

So I’d just kind of ease in and take one thing and do the simplest possible version of that. Kind of get some quick wins and some small wins in there. And then you can sort of parlay those into something bigger.

The other thing you might say is, instead of having– let’s say we always do this Monday morning meeting. We’ve been doing it for seven years. Monday morning status meeting, stand up meeting, whatever it is, 9:00 AM. Let’s just not do that next week and see what happens.

Or let’s not do that. But instead, let’s write something up and I’ll distribute to everybody some way, either in Basecamp or email or whatever you use, doesn’t matter. But we’ll send it out versus talk about it in person. And let’s just see what happens. So I’d pick off little small things and try it that way. That’s the best way to get going.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: Working remotely– that’s come up a couple of times. And I’ve heard from a lot of managers that they are just not comfortable with that. And I think especially if you can’t see what people are doing and you’re also trying to inculcate a culture of like, it’s OK if you don’t respond for a couple of hours to an email– if you combine that with remote work, I’m just wondering if for some managers that’s going to feel like, are people even working?

JASON FRIED: Yeah, it is going to feel that way. But I think it points out sort of a fundamental flaw of management. Which is, the only way to look at the work is to look at the work. The only way to evaluate the work is to look at the actual work.

And unless you work in a restaurant or a retail where, of course, you need to be there because you have customers there and whatever, most information work, writing, creative work, design, programming, that kind of stuff, consulting– the work should speak for itself. And should be visible and viewable from anywhere. It’s not something someone needs to be sitting down in your view to do.

It’s hard for people who haven’t done it that way to admit that. But if someone’s sitting at their desk, the only thing it means is that they’re sitting at their desk. If someone’s punching on their keyboard, the only thing that means is that they’re punching on their keyboard. If someone works 80 hours a week, the only thing that means is that they’re there 80 hours a week. It doesn’t have anything to do with what they’re actually producing and making.

So I’m a big fan of saying, look. Let’s let the work speak for itself. And most work that I’ve spoke of, creative work, digital work, is sort of reviewable or it can be considered from anywhere at any time. So it’s a cultural shift. And I think it takes a lot of sort of guts from a manager to say, I’m just going to look at the work and not feel like this person is here or not here. And if they’re not here, it means they’re not doing anything. You’ve got to get over that.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: So we’ve talked a fair bit now about the manager’s perspective. If you are not a manager you’re an individual contributor, and you are not in a company that’s doing a lot of that stuff, realistically, can you experiment with it on your own? And how might you try to do that?

JASON FRIED: It’s going to be hard. So let’s just kind of say that right up front. It’s going to be very challenging if you’re going sort of against the grain and against the management’s momentum and interests and plans. So that’s always hard regardless.

If you’re going to try, again, I would just go with the smallest possible task. Maybe you’ve just decided that you’d like to try to work from home a little bit. Which might mean, can I have Friday afternoons at home? Or something like that. Just make a case and ask, you know, again, your manager might say, absolutely not.

But make a case and say, let me show you what I’m capable of working this way. Give me a shot. And of course, if you’re a brand new employee, you’re going to have basically no leverage. But if you’ve been there for a while, hopefully you’ve built up some rapport and some goodwill and you’ve got some trust in the bank and you can spend a little bit of that trust and show. And the thing is that results always speak for themselves.

If you work from home on Fridays or Friday afternoons, and you’re actually getting as much or more work done as you would be at the office– and I would argue that you’d probably get more done and you can prove that to your manager– they are going to listen, because that’s what they’re after anyway is results.

But also the other thing is, it just may not be possible. And let’s just admit that, too. It might be if you really care about this stuff you might have to get another job somewhere else. I know everyone would still like, just snap their fingers and say, things are going to be better wherever they are.

But in some cases, it’s not. So you’ve just really got to figure out what’s important to you and what matters to you and find fits where you can sort of be your best, the way you want to be.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: You’ve mentioned now a couple of times in our chat today that you’ve talked to people. And that often the reaction you get is well, that would never work at my company. Or my boss would never say yes to that.

I’m wondering, have you found– have you heard any success stories of maybe skeptical people who have changed or who have found that to their surprise and delight it does work for them actually?

JASON FRIED: Oh, yeah, I mean you’re right. Most people hear this and they’re like no, that would not work for me at my company with my boss, whatever. And I get that. That’s probably true. But yeah, I hear from people all the time who especially around the no talk Thursdays thing. That seems to be the thing that really resonates because it’s a very easy thing to do.

And I get emails from people all the time saying, we tried this. And oh my god, this is great. This works. And now we’re doing it twice a month. Or we’re doing it more often now. I think it’s because it doesn’t require that much behavioral change. It’s not like work from home and figure that out.

It’s just like, can we just be quiet for a day? Like that’s something you can kind of do. And people kind of shush each other. It’s kind of fun. You know like not in a sort of a passive-aggressive way. But like, we’re all in this together. Let’s figure this out.

And so I do hear from people like that. People switching to more asynchronous methods of communication versus having meetings. One of the things we hear is that this has actually changed their business fundamentally. It’s actually freed up lots of time for people to do more work, because you’re expected to do other things. Meetings are things that don’t typically result in work. They result in discussion that then requires work. And so you’ve got to make up the time.

So people are actually finding more time in their day. So I hear from people with that. But, yeah, there absolutely is pushback. And there are failures. People try it. It doesn’t work– for sure. So I get that. I get that there’s different cultures. And it’s very hard to change things that are already in motion, extremely hard.

But, you know, if you care about this stuff and you want to give it a shot, there are certainly ways to do it. Take small steps. And I’ve heard from many, many people who have seen this work out really well for them.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: As an individual, you kind of know when things are clicking and the work is going well and you’re in that state of flow. As a manager and as a CEO, when you look around your workspace, what gives you a happy feeling of like, yeah, this is how it’s supposed to be working?

JASON FRIED: Yeah, great question. When I see work go out the door that’s really good and I didn’t know about it happening, I love that. Like, that’s my favorite thing. We’re currently, it’s funny, we’re in reviews– doing employee reviews right now this time of year.

And one of the things I often tell people is like, surprise me. That’s what I want at work. I want to be surprised. I want to see stuff happening I didn’t know about. I want to see things being shipped that are wonderful that I didn’t hear about and I had no involvement in whatsoever. That to me is what’s great.

Not that I’m micromanaging and paying attention to everything and making sure people are getting stuff done when they said they would. Like, I want to see things happening that I didn’t even know about, I didn’t even hear about. That’s what I love to see. So that’s the kind of stuff.

Also I love hearing from employees who are able to say, I picked my kid up at 3:00 today and we went for a 2-hour little excursion. And I didn’t notice. Like, I didn’t notice them not getting stuff done. I love to hear that people are actually using their day for other things besides work and still, from what I can tell, from the work that’s actually happening–

Again, not for people being in seats, but actually from the work that’s being shipped and from customers enjoying the stuff that we’re making, that we’re actually getting a lot of things done, even though people are taking off a couple of hours during the day here to pick up their kids or do this or do that. That’s wonderful.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: Yeah, so I guess I’m just thinking so many companies still– we’re frankly working too many hours. It seems like the trend line here is towards more hours and more multitasking not the other direction.

And I’m just wondering in five or ten years, where do you think we’re going to be? Do you think we’ll have reached a kind of inflection point and maybe clawed back some sanity? Or do you think that actually, the problem may, unfortunately just be worse?

JASON FRIED: I’m not optimistic to be honest. I don’t think it’s going to be a large-scale change. I think there’s going to be certain enlightened companies who realize that this is a complete mess and that they’re willing to change their ways.

So I think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. That’s typically how humans are in basically every area of our existence. And so I think we’re on a sort of a bad trend right now.

I think one of the things though that’s kind of interesting is that one of the reasons why, I think, all this is getting worse is that companies seem to be valuing dependence inside companies. So they want more groups inside the organization to work with one another.

I actually think that’s the wrong way to do things. I think that you’re better off setting up very small autonomous, independent groups. There are very few things in our company that involve more than three people working on them. Every feature we build for Basecamp, every initiative we take, three or fewer.

Once you have more than three, things get exponentially more complicated and there’s more dependencies and then more people’s schedules. And someone’s out on this leave or someone’s sick and something has to be held up. It’s just, the more people you have involved the more opportunity there is for things to actually take longer, for people to be more dependent upon one another. For people not to be able to move forward without more discussion, all that kind of stuff.

So we cut the groups into really small tiny pieces and let them move independently. I think the more the organization can be built around that, the more chance you have for allowing people to work, you know, reasonable hours for conversations not getting out of hand. We can unpack that for hours.

But I think dependency is one of these things that it seems like it’s sort of the thing to do now is to get everybody involved. But I think that’s actually part of the root of the problem. There’s over-collaboration. There’s over-communication. There’s over-involvement. And it’s causing a lot of unfortunate side effects.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: Yeah, I think you kind of see this movement to enable employees and empower them and give them a sense of ownership over their work. But if everyone owns the work, then everyone has to be involved in everything. And there can be kind of a downside there.

JASON FRIED: Yep. A big one I think. Yeah.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: So on the hours question, you know, I think a lot of people will say, 40 hours a week in my job or my industry is part time. It just doesn’t cut it. And actually, I’ve known people who have managers who have come to them and said, you know, you’re in the big leagues now. 40 hours a week isn’t going to cut it. Or your job has to come before your family. Do you feel like 40 hours, realistically, is enough.

JASON FRIED: Yeah, I think it’s a moral question first of all. If there’s a boss who says their family comes second or that work comes first, unless you’re paying that person– actually, forget money. It doesn’t even have to do with money. I find that to be morally reprehensible and ethically off-the-wall. That’s wrong, I think.

As a business owner, I don’t feel like I’m entitled to anyone’s nights or weekends. And if I do, I think I have an entitlement problem. I think 40 hours is absolutely enough if you squeeze out all the stuff that doesn’t matter and you get really efficient about how you use your time. And I think that’s a noble pursuit.

The idea that we should just layer in more time because we’re inefficient with it and we waste it– I think, basically, if you really break down your day there is more opportunity to waste time than to use time in many companies. And I think that managers who ask people to work extra hours, significant extra hours– look, occasionally there’s a deadline or people need to put a few extra hours a week. Fine, of course. That happens sometimes.

But if that’s the norm and it trends towards more and more and more, I think you’re a pretty crappy manager to be honest. I think that if you think that you need way more hours from people and that that’s the solution, then you’re not really doing your job, which is to look at how people are working. What are people doing? What are people actually capable of in the amount of time that they have? And you’re not squeezing out the waste. You’re not doing your job. This should be your job.

Your job as a manager should be to help people be efficient– to protect people’s time and attention. Those are the only resources people have to use at work is their own time and attention. And if you’re stealing it or chunking it into smaller and smaller bits. And you’re surprised that people are saying, I don’t have time to do my work. And so you’re saying, well, you need to spend more time at work. I just don’t feel like you’re being a good manager to be honest, or a good owner or whatever.

So I think this is a manager’s job, to protect people’s time and attention and preserve it like the limited resource that it is. We spend time in businesses like it’s going out of style and like there’s an unlimited amount. And I find that to be reckless. Anyway I’m kind of ranting here. But that’s my general point. Which is I think it’s poor management.


JASON FRIED: Anyway, it just bugs me. It bugs me. It just bugs me.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: Yeah, well, no. Jason, I think it bugs a lot of people. And it’s really refreshing to hear you speaking out about it. So thank you for talking with us today.

JASON FRIED: Of course, I’m hopeful that this was useful for somebody.

SARAH GREEN-CARMICHAEL: That’s Jason Fried. He’s the CEO of the Chicago based software startup Basecamp. You can follow HBR on Twitter at HarvardBiz. And please do connect with us on Facebook and LinkedIn, too. I’m Sarah Green-Carmichael. Thanks for listening to the HBR IdeaCast.

This transcript was republished with permission from Harvard Business Review. You can subscribe to their IdeaCast podcast on iTunes.