Does your team need to rebrand?

Cate Huston, writing for Quartz at Work:

Sometimes part of rebranding a team means rebranding people—especially those who were seen as responsible for the team’s previous underperformance, or who had struggled to be effective under the previous structure.

Sometimes the reputation is deserved, but far from always. Most people don’t want to fail. The challenge of rebranding is to understand the reasons for the failure—perhaps some were structural, and some were personal—and working to address them. Were people in the wrong role? Had they not gotten the right feedback? Were they not set up to succeed?

Once you feel the structure is addressed, you can start positioning them more positively, working with and showcasing their strengths. Often you also need to rebrand people in their own eyes too—helping them see themselves as a leader when they used to be an individual contributor, or helping them understand their strengths lie in technical leadership, not people management. You also might need to rebrand the environment to them, moving them out of a victim mindset into one that is more empowered.

In every failing team I’ve encountered, there were people who weren’t a good fit and needed to leave to move forward. But also in every situation there were far more people who, with the right feedback, coaching, and encouragement, were able to surprise everyone (not least themselves) with what they were capable of. Making sure those people got the recognition and credit for their work, in terms of both personal growth and business impact, is a key part of a good team rebrand.


Ethical Trajectory

Mike Davidson wrote about the consequences of Superhuman’s read receipts complete with possible solutions. This is pure gold:

When a company first forms, there are no norms or principles guiding how its people should make decisions. It’s basically just what’s in the founders’ heads. With each decision a company makes, its “decision genome” is established and subsequently hardened. You’ve decided in your first month that you’re only going to hire engineers from Top 10 engineering schools? That’s now part of your genome and will determine the composition of your company. You’ve decided to forgo extra profits by keeping your prices low for consumers? That’s now part of your genome. You’ve decided to employ a single dark pattern to trick users into adding more things to their shopping cart? Part of your genome.

The reason this matters is that what may seem like small decisions early on become the basis for many more decisions down the road. These decisions affect your ethical trajectory as a company. Let’s use the dark pattern example. Maybe the shopping cart thing was pretty minor and you were able to rationalize it internally in a variety of ways, including the fact that the extra item in the user’s cart was inexpensive and provided value (like a product warranty, for instance). Down the road, when employees want to employ more dark patterns, here is how the conversation would go:

Greg: “Hey, we aren’t getting enough people to opt-into our mailing list when they sign up. Can we try maybe unchecking that box by default but using language such that leaving it unchecked opts people in?”

Desi: “Wouldn’t we be intentionally deceiving users if we did that?”

Greg: “Uhhhh, we already add things to your shopping cart that you don’t even ask for!”

Desi: “True. This seems like less of a big deal than that. I guess I’m OK with it.”

If you’ve never worked at a tech company before, this is how things go. When faced with making a product decision that is even mildly uncomfortable, employees often first look towards expressed company principles like “Always put the customer first”, but the next thing they look for is precedent. What other decisions have we made that look like this one? Designers do this. Engineers do this. Product managers do this. Executives do this. It’s an easy way to inform your current decision, and it’s also an easy way to cover your ass. Imagine the above decision was made by a product manager, and later on the company was called out publicly on it. The CEO or Head of Product marches over to the product manager and says “what were you thinking here?!?” The product manager needs only to point to the shopping cart behavior in order to let him or herself off the hook.

The point here is that companies decide early on what sort of companies they will end up being. The company they may want to be is often written in things like “core values” that are displayed in lunch rooms and employee handbooks, but the company they will be is a product of the actual decisions they make — especially the tough decisions.

Rahul Vohra, founder and CEO of Superhuman, responded with changes to come.