Fine Graphical Designs


My Readme

[This is my “readme” file that I share with new arrivals to my team and anyone I’ll be working with on a regular basis. Thought it might be an interesting thing to share publicly. Heavily influenced by Rands in Repose, which is a blog well worth your time. -cy]

Hi, welcome to the team! I’m so glad you’re here.

First things first: It’s going to take a few months to figure this place out. I understand the importance of first impressions, and I know you want to get a check in the win column, but this is a complex place full of equally complex people. Take your time, meet everyone, go to every meeting, write things down, and ask lots of questions – especially about all those baffling TLAs. More than any other organization I’ve worked in, success here is directly related to your ability to cultivate relationships with others.

One of the working relationships we need to define is ours. The below is a user guide on how I work, like a readme.txt file. This file captures what you can expect out of the average week, how I like to work, my core principles, and some of my, uh, nuances. My intent with this document is to clarify and accelerate our working relationship. (When you finish reading it, let me know if it worked!)

Your Average Week

Your average week will likely be something like this:

  • 50%: Your core duties: graphic design, writing, etc.

  • 25%: Meeting with customers (this is where you’ll do a lot of the relationship-building I mentioned above)

  • 20%: Meeting with me and your colleagues to discuss internal processes, performance, training, etc.

  • 5%: Administration work (your weekly report, for example)

If you find yourself straying too far from the above numbers, let me know and we’ll develop a plan to adjust things. I strive to not interrupt people who are ‘in the groove,’ and I think uninterrupted work time is incredibly important.

We’ll have a tag-up meeting every week, no matter what. This meeting will be just the two of us, in the back room (or similar venue), last at least 30 minutes, and will happen every week. This meeting discusses updates, strategies, or any variety of things (as you’ll discover). To prime the pump, at every meeting I’ll ask these three questions: 

  1. How are you?

  2. What are you working on? (Note: I probably already know what you’re working on, but I still want to hear you describe it so we can discuss.)

  3. Do you have any feedback for me, and how can I help?

It may be helpful to keep a post-it, digital note, or other running list of topics you want to discuss at your tag-up. 

When our tag-up meeting feels over, and there is remaining time, I often have a couple of meaty topics to discuss. This discussion is brainstorming, and the issues are usually front-of-mind, hard topics that I am processing. It might feel like banter, but we’re doing real work.

We’ll also have a staff meeting with your peers every week for about an hour. Some of these may be cancelled, but never two consecutive meetings. These meetings will vary in content – topics may include project status, discussion of successes and challenges, collaboration sessions, semi-formal training sessions.

On the rare occasions that I’m out of the office, I’ll give you notice in advance. I may postpone our meeting(s) as a result.

I sometimes work a bit on the weekends, or late at night. This is my choice. I do not expect that you are going to work on the weekend. You can text me 24 hours a day. I like responding quickly. I might text you things, but unless it says RUSH it can wait until the next business day.

Customer Service

I expect you to be great at customer service. Customer service is more than just doing whatever asked, though. It’s about understanding and anticipating customer needs, doing the right thing at the right time, and clear communication. Sometimes, too, we will need to convince a customer that what they want isn’t what they need. Your ability to be persuasive is just as important as your subject matter expertise.

Customer service isn’t about never making a mistake, though.  Customer service is also about how we recover from our mistakes, the lengths we will go to “make it right.” 

One specific thing about customer service: whenever a customer emails you or calls, I expect you to respond within 24 hours, excluding weekends. (So noon on Friday needs a response no later than noon on Monday.) Sooner is better! Note that not every problem will be solved in that window – it’s okay if the response is letting the customer know you’ve received their email (for example, “Got it, I’m working on your problem.”)

Core Principles

You matter, and your work matters. It’s important to me everyone feels like their work matters, and to feel like they’re treated honestly and respectfully. When you have people who care about the work, and a workplace that cares about its people, productivity and results come naturally.

Leadership comes from everywhere. While I believe some number of managers are an essential part of large organizations, I don’t believe managers have a monopoly on leadership, and I work hard to build opportunities in our teams for non-managers to lead.

Problem solving is why I get up in the morning. I take great joy in attempting to understand problems and how the puzzle pieces fit together to form a great solution. I’d like your help in solving our problems and our customers’ problems.

People should be treated fairly. I believe that most people are trying to do the right thing, but unconscious bias leads them astray. I work hard to understand and address our biases because I understand they often create inequity.

Understanding the why is just as important as understanding the what. It’s important to me that you not only understand what I’m asking you to do, but why I’m asking you to do it. This is true at the big level (“Why does our office exist?”) and the really tiny level (“Why do we want to avoid space between paragraphs and indenting the first line of the paragraph?”).

I believe in “compound awesomeness.” I believe quality assurance is everyone’s responsibility, and there are bugs we can fix everywhere, all the time. Fixing the bugs is part of “continuous process improvement,” and it’s one of the key commitments I expect from you while you’re here.

I start with an assumption of positive intent for all involved. This philosophy has generally worked out well for me.

Feedback Practices

I firmly believe that feedback is at the core of building trust and respect in a team.

We have a formal feedback cycle that occurs twice a year. The first time we go through this cycle, we’ll discuss goals for you for the next review period. These goals won’t always be directly related to your subject matter expertise, they are usually professional growth goals for you. Before your mid-year and year-end reviews, I’d like you to prepare a list of all the awesome work you’ve done in the preceding six months. (This list helps refresh my memory and shows me what you think your high points were for the year.) I’d like to review any goals you have in mind for the next six months, too. If you have any goals in mind for the next six months, I’d like to review those beforehand, too.

In your first mid-year or annual review, we’ll discuss and agree on your goals for the next period, and I’ll ask for feedback on my performance. At later reviews, I’ll also review your performance against our prior goals, and we’ll consider new goals. Rinse and repeat.

Review periods are not the only time we’ll exchange feedback. This will be a recurring topic in our weekly tag-ups. I am going to regularly ask you for feedback. I am never going to stop doing this, no matter how many times you say you have no feedback for me. (Stubborn persistence should probably also be one of my core values.)

Disagreement is feedback and the sooner we learn how to efficiently disagree with each other, the faster we’ll build trust and respect. Ideas don’t get better with agreement!

Meeting Practices

I go to a lot of meetings. Full disclosure: I hate meetings. I’ve wasted a lot of time in poorly run meetings by bad managers. I remain skeptical of managers even as a manager. 

My definition of a meeting includes an agenda or intended purpose, the appropriate number of productive attendees, and an individual running the meeting to a schedule. If I’m attending a meeting, I’d prefer starting on time. If I’m running a meeting, I will do everything I can to start that meeting on time.

I deliberately run with my calendar visible to you. If you have a question about a meeting on my calendar, ask me. If a meeting is private, it’s title and attendees will be hidden from your view. Most of my meetings are not private.

If a meeting completes its intended purpose before it’s scheduled to end, I give the time back to everyone. If it’s clear the intended goal won’t be achieved in the allotted time, let’s stop the meeting before time is up and decide how to finish the meeting later.

Nuances and Quirks

I am secretly an introvert and that means that prolonged exposure to people is exhausting for me. Weird, huh? Meetings with three of us are perfect, three to eight are ok. More than eight, you may find that I am strangely quiet. (Do not confuse my quiet with lack of engagement.)

When I ask you to do something that feels poorly defined, you should ask me for clarification and the level of importance. I might still be brainstorming. These questions can save everyone a lot of time.

Ask assertive versus tell assertive. When you need something from me, ask me. I respond very well to ask assertiveness (“Chris, can you help with X?”). I respond poorly to being told what to do (“Chris, do X.”) I have been this way since I was a kid, sorry.

I can be a little over-the-top sometimes but it’s almost always because I am excited about the topic. I also swear sometimes, depending on the context. It happens.

People stating opinions as facts are a trigger for me.

This document is a living, breathing thing and likely incomplete. It’s stored on the server in the “documentation” folder. I will update it frequently and would appreciate your feedback. (You can also make edits to it if you’d like.)

Chris Yates