Being predictable is good

Books shouldn't be predictable. Neither should moviesmovie teams. Or sports teams. When it comes to entertainment, predictability is boring.

Work relationships, though, (hopefully) aren't just forms of entertainment. We should be predictable. When people can anticipate our feedback, they require less guidance. I know that the team can predict my thinking when they start gently mocking my predictability (as my team did when they wrote a chat bot that responded to all questions with the same advice: work in small batches). That's a sign I'm getting a point across clearly.

To that end, here are behaviors that will predictably make me happy. I try to practice these behaviors myself, and I value them not only in people who report to me but also in my peers and bosses.

  • Give your best effort. This one is self-explanatory. I don't expect people to work all hours of day and night, but I do expect them to care. If you don't care about your job, you may be in the wrong job. I'm open to talk about why that may be and trying to find a better fit (even at another company).
  • Know what's important. The best productivity trick I know has nothing to do with time management or keyboard shortcuts. If you why you're doing what you're doing and why it matters, you can focus on valuable activity and prune out whole classes of problems that you don't need to solve. A great sign is when someone has a simpler, cheaper way to accomplish a goal than I envisioned. A bad sign is when someone can't answer the question, "What are you trying to achieve?"
  • Be transparent. The information in our heads is valuable to others. We have an obligation to share it, especially when we have news that might disappoint. I like getting feedback that a plan is unrealistic (especially when it's accompanied by a proposal for a new plan). I hate getting surprised at the last minute by information that was known to the team.
  • Put the team first. Succeeding at anything requires a mix of glory and grunge. I like to structure teams so that the grungy tasks are shared. Even the perfect job will have its equivalent of boring bugs, build troubleshooting, and 2 am pages. GameChanger's iOS developers set a great example here. When our testing team was understaffed, developers executed test cases themselves in order to ship faster.
  • Don't tolerate the status quo. It's easy for organizations to drink their own Kool-Aid. For an organization to survive and to grow, it must be doing something right. But there are always opportunities to improve, often dramatically. My former colleague Tom Leach obsesses about learning how other companies solve technical and organizational problems. He's great at evangelizing those solutions to his teams.
  • Make decisions when you need to. We're going to face hard decisions and ambiguous circumstances. When time allows, I'm happy to talk through those decisions. But there are several instances where someone simply has to make a decision. Making decisions under uncertainty — whether to assume command of a production firefight or to pick one technical design over another — always earns my respect, whether or not the resulting decision ends up being the right one.

These behaviors make me happy. They also tend to make other people happy. Should I succeed in articulating these principles consistency, I expect that future colleagues will easy be able to predict whether "Phil would love that" or "Phil would hate that."

(Credit goes to Kiril Savino for planting this idea in my head when he promoted me into management and for exemplifying it personally.)

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