Thought Leadership From Culture Amp
3 min read

Why our CEO wrote a user guide (to himself)

Didier Elzinga

Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp

 

 

Recently, I've been writing a user guide for others on how to work with me. I've borrowed this idea from Claire Hughes Johnson, the Chief Operating Officer at Stripe, who in turn borrowed it from somebody at Google. I was also inspired by The Leader’s Calendar from the Harvard Business Review. In particular, the concept of the CEO agenda and how it has time pre-allocated is a useful one. After two people at Culture Amp sent me the article, I figured it was time to write my own handbook.

It sounds narcissistic, but it’s actually been very useful because it helps people get up to speed on my habits and quirks that would otherwise take time to learn through experience. My handbook is still in draft form, but here’s five things that it includes:

1. Communicate the big picture first

One of the things I’ve been reflecting on as I’ve been writing the handbook is how I like to consume information. When information is being communicated to me I like to see the big picture first then go into the detail.

There's a model that explains how people like to receive information in terms of forest vs. trees and lumpers vs. splitters (it sounds weird, but stay with me).

The first axis has the forest and the trees and it’s about whether you want to see the whole thing first or zoom in and start with the detail. Some people like to see the big picture (the forest) first while others prefer to focus in on the detail (the trees) and zoom out. I like to see the forest first, so give me the big idea and then we can drill into the detail.

The second axis is about how you understand information. Do you understand through similarities (lumpers) or differences (splitters)? I’m a lumper - I like to have things explained to me in terms of similarities rather than differences.

As a Forest / Lumper, I consume information fast and effectively when I receive the big picture first and the detail is then explained in terms of how it is similar to something else.

2. Get to the point quickly

I like people who are communicating with me to get to the end point quickly. If I’m 10 minutes into a meeting and I can see 20 more slides coming without a clear focus or question I’ll leave. So don’t leave me waiting, get to the point quickly so we can discuss it.

3. Don’t read a deck to me

I consume and synthesize information quite quickly. So when someone comes to me with a deck the worst thing they can do is put up each slide and proceed to explain it to me. Nothing irritates me more than having to sit through someone explaining something I’ve already read.

I don’t mind if people create decks or don’t create decks, but if you do it’s better to put up a slide and just give me time to process it. Then, ask me if there’s anything I don’t understand or have questions on so we can have a discussion about it.

4. Escalate to bandwidth

I'm a big believer in escalating to bandwidth. I’m happy if somebody sends me a quick message by Slack or email but if there’s a misunderstanding or a large problem, my preference is to escalate to bandwidth as quickly as possible.

For me, bandwidth runs from an email (lowest) to meeting in person (highest). The more challenging the problem, the further up the stack we should be.  

People shouldn’t be afraid to escalate quickly. If we need to solve a big problem then I need to see you face to face. While that’s not always be possible from the other side of the world,  we can get on a call or video and hash it out.

5. Don’t make claims without critical thinking

A real hot button of mine is when people make claims that are not based on critical thinking. I will stop listening if somebody makes a generalization and I know it’s not necessarily that clear-cut.

If you do use critical reasoning it’s also important to do it properly. Don’t make a sweeping generalization based on a small sample or opinion. Use meta-research or be prepared to back up the claim properly. If a claim isn’t properly backed up it’s best not to make it at all because I stop listening to what you’re saying. Sometimes I may make grand generalizations and it’s completely okay to call me on it too.

By keeping these five things in mind you can make sure that we don’t push across purposes when we’re working together. They will also help you get me to a decision more rapidly.