Balance is interesting.
I watch my kids in the skatepark, and the older and younger kids and adults too. Flexing, swaying, tilting; it’s all about balance. There was an adult guy today, he had the basics but he just looked so stiff every time he came to land something. Too rigid to balance. And a tiny kid the day before – 4 maybe 5, seemed to be stuck to his board, so flexible were his joints. At times he would be lying horizontal after an attempt – like he was superglued to the skateboard. He was probably too flexible!
I see it at work too, in teams and in myself. Keeping balance in the priority list. Being balanced in ones reaction. In energy levels and health – burn outs before holidays, bounce restored at the return to work. Crashes at weekends. But also the bigger balancing act – rigour and process balanced with agility and instinct, risk and flair balanced with consensus and thought. And across functions – the interplay between marketing and sales, finance and HR, support and product. Planning vs execution. Most of this happens around us. We’re part of it but it’s part of something much bigger.
All of these things are in tension, are interconnected, pull at one another. Balance isn’t static, I don’t think it’s an achievable or even desirable state. It’s a promise, at best a momentary flicker in time. The plane is never on course, it’s just always nearly on course.
(Aside: probably the most incredible masters of balance I’ve seen have been working mothers. They’ll tell you what an exhausting never-ending pursuit ‘balance’ is).
My current challenge with balance is around short-term vs long-term. We usually take the long view in my team but it’s coming to the year end and I’m desperately keen for the team’s short-term results to give us the proud finish we deserve after the year of effort, growth and achievement. So there are I am, consciously and deliberately chucking balance out the window, and instead relentlessly chasing the short-term.
I’ve also seen balance in our company.
I’ve seen us sway and tilt, learning to land tricky new shifts. It’s just as hard as any other kind of balancing act. Sometimes the changes feel like sine waves – a rise in chaos and ambiguity, the smell of entrepreneurial cordite in the air, and then a counter-wave, a tranche of new process and accountability, as the company lurches back to a more sober state, for a while…
The thing is, we need it all. It’s all right. And it’s all about balance. About how much and when and where. Its about forever tweaking dials. It’s like cooking or conversation or music or – most of all – nature, of course. It’s the growth that follows a forest fire. The art that follows a recession.
I love all of this, I have to confess.
I love the dynamism. I love the lack of knowability. And the bloody challenge.
And as for what to do, I think this is the best advice I’ve found in recent times, from Gianpiero Petriglieri:
Here’s to balance. Shout when you find it.
Developing people is probably the single most satisfying thing I have been part of in my working life.
I know that have helped some people to substantially develop themselves and I have helped other people move forward a bit. And there are people that I haven’t really helped at all, too – people I didn’t click with, people I didn’t prioritise and people who didn’t seem to want to or were stuck.
At Brandwatch I think I’ve focused mainly on ‘results first’ in the past year, on outcomes, and I’ve tried to nudge people and stretch them in ways that they could in order for us to better accomplish our goals. It’s been a secondary goal.
In this second year I want to flip that around and put developing people first and foremost. I know if we can do that together – really grow and enable and unlock their creativity and drive – that the results will continue to flow.
As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that the people who I’ve been able to help the most tended to behave in a particular way. They shared attributes or desires, even though they were all very different characters.
1. Want it
They all wanted to develop. And were prepared to take risks, expose themselves, try harder than just showing up for another day. It’s so bloody simple, but they wanted it. Most people I find can tick this box off.
2. Make it happen
They all made stuff happen – they took overall responsibility for their growth. They bought and read books, they updated their plan, they took the steps and volunteered for the projects and pushed their development to happen. They definitely were not sat back. There’s a big drop off from people who want it and people who are prepared to make it happen. The knowing-doing gap.
Pretty simple. So all we need to do as managers is unlock in people the desire to develop themselves and then the habits and commitment to follow through on those desires.
Unfortunately, that skips over two fairly big blocks.
1. It’s bloody hard to *make* someone want to develop, if they don’t already
2. It’s fairly hard to change behaviour in order to develop as an individual (in oneself or in others)
Maybe we could noodle on those two another time 🙂
Unbelievably, it’s just a week from my first anniversary at Brandwatch. These are the things that stand out for me.
If my experience has confirmed one thing to me it’s about the importance of teams. The quality of the people in them. The communication within and between them. Their environment, their happiness. Their sense of purpose.
The moments I’ve enjoyed the most over the last 12 months have been being part of focused happy groups doing great work and accomplishing new, difficult things.
The moments I’ve enjoyed the least have been where I’ve been disconnected from a team I belong to (I can think of three formal teams I belong to, plus more informal project groups) or where I’ve lost sight of what makes teams tick, and ignored the issues that needed addressing.
For me it’s all coming back to people.
When I joined we were 140 people. 12 months later and we are close to double that. That is a lot of change. As I’ve said to people internally, in most cases it feels like the primary unit has shifted from being the office – like Brighton or New York – to the team or even sub-team. Which means that the affiliation and communication between teams and sub-teams, even within the same office, now requires additional effort and probably some new skills too.
It’s very interesting and exciting seeing this arise as a challenge and seeing us find our way through it. (We also have a fantastic new chief of staff Tom who is helping us all out, which I’m delighted about).
Speed of change
One of the other things I am absolutely loving at Brandwatch is the sheer pace of change.
Every week something happens in our market or in our company which makes a material difference to the company’s business or my team’s work.
There is literally no time to get bored and I bloody love that. I love the dynamism. I love how we have to deal with it and seeing the people around me dealing it so admirably.
And yet most of us in the company would like to be moving faster, to be innovating more quickly, to be launching everything, everywhere, tomorrow (!) and that tension between quality and speed, and having to say no many times in order to say yes a few is really fascinating to me.
This 12 months has also helped me clearly see that, having worked in a startup, then my own entrepreneurial endeavours, and now a scaling startup, I definitely belong in this world. Startups for evarrrrrr (probably).
Travelling for business is just a reality within the US. And in my role I need to travel to Europe and beyond too pretty regularly.
What I’ve learnt is that my travel comes in waves. September is a write-off – I’m at home for (most) weekends, but that’s it. April and May were pretty full-on too. But the summer is quiet and there are troughs in between the peaks in which to recover and spend time getting back into healthy patterns.
I met a friendly guy from one of our competitors who travels every week within the US as a VP of sales. Because of the time involved he told me that over the years he has worked to reduce and compress all of that waiting around time as much as possible to the extent that he accepts that he will miss 2-3 flights a year, and if he isn’t missing those flights, he’s not pushing it hard enough and wasting time sitting in airports.
I can feel myself on the same trajectory. I was the last one on the plane on my last US domestic flight, and on the outbound leg I got through security with 30 mins to spare (still plenty of padding). I’ve racked some serious miles this year and am getting more polished at the business of travel. Although travel becomes a ball-ache, I love visiting new places and I love spending time with people face to face. It is part of the adventure I sought out and signed up for, and I’m lucky because I feel in control of it at the moment.
As I side note, I LOVE the BA mobile app. It’s close to Amazon and Uber for me in creating loyalty through sheer simplicity and ease of use. Big fan. Quite impressive, given their not being a digital native company.
Health and happiness
Despite the intensity and change, I’ve managed to stay reasonably healthy and sane. I’m not as fit as I was a year ago – I haven’t clicked with the way they structure the CrossFit programme at my local box, and bouts of travel mean that running has become a more reliable, easier to plan activity.
It sucks a bit because CrossFit is the most amazing way to be all-round fit IMO, and physically I’m not exactly built to be a natural runner – that said, I do enjoy it and I’m looking forward to running in a ‘race’ or too. (Race in inverted commas because I won’t be racing, I’ll be surviving :).
So I do feel grateful that 12 months in I’m genuinely happy and pretty healthy. You never know when you change job, country and all that other stuff.
Lastly but most importantly, the most amazing thing about moving country as a family has been what it’s done for us as a family. We were already in a good place but there’s something ‘us against the world’ about hoiking yourselves to an entirely foreign country where you know next to no one. I never saw that coming.
It’s been beautiful to see how we’ve pulled together and been able to share in the joys of difference together.
So that’s it.
A great 12 months. Learnt loads, done loads, and excited for the next 12 🙂