Ask, rather than tell

Notes on empowerment, transparency, and growth

👋Hi there! I share a weekly update on ways to be a better marketer, brand-maker, team-builder, and person. If you enjoy this, you can share some love by hitting the Substack heart button above or below. 

How are you? How’s your team? How’s your business?

We all seem to be in such unique circumstances, depending on our industry, our location, our business model, and our finances. I’m happy to share where things are at with Buffer. This chart does a good job illustrating the past several weeks for us. It’s a look at the social accounts that our users connect each week. You can see the clear and obvious decline in mid-March, followed by a rebound into early April:

Many of our awareness and acquisition numbers are back to pre-covid baselines. It remains to be seen how other down-funnel metrics like trial conversion and churn/retention will fare.

Hope this data is interesting / useful. If there’s anything I can help with, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Wishing good things for you and your people this week,


Goal-setting without managers

When given all the context, people do remarkably well coming up with the right goals, projects, and strategies themselves. No managers required.

We went through a round of Q2 planning last week at Buffer, and it reminded me just how smart and capable my teammates are — and how effective it is when I remove myself from the equation.

As a manager, it’s hard to remove yourself from the equation. You get your feelings of productivity and belonging by being in other people’s equations!

But that’s rarely the most empowering, rewarding, encouraging way to treat your team.

It’s a lesson I keep re-learning (you’d think I’d remember it by now).

Ask, rather than tell.

Listen first, then listen more.

Don’t rush to solutions.

The way this manifested in our Q2 planning was through a week of conversation with the team. It started with our director of marketing and I sharing all the context we had in our heads about our marketing strategy, product strategy, upcoming roadmap, and available resources.

Then we gave a prompt:

Given this context … 

What do you feel makes sense to work on? 

And wouldn’t you know, all the things the team thought to work on were spot on. They were exactly the types of things I might have ended up telling them to work on — PLUS a host of great new ideas that I could have never come up with myself.

There are two foundations of this that make it possible

  1. Transparency

  2. Communication

I feel lucky to work at a place like Buffer that values transparency so highly. We have transparent salaries, diversity numbers, roadmaps, etc. When you share everything by default — including the context behind strategy and decision-making — the whole team moves faster because we’re all on the same page, operating with the same information. When you don’t share (which we see happen sometimes at Buffer, too, as we learn how to scale), people can’t make informed decisions.

Once all the information is out there, all that’s left is for the manager to get out of the way. A lot of this comes back to some communication principles that I hold quite dearly and that guide me in work, friendships, relationships, parenting, and more. These are a few of the things I value:

  1. Trust

  2. Respect

  3. Affirmation

I see these pillars evident in a manager-less goal-setting process. I see them pop up in moments of friendship, relationship, and parenting, too. For example, here is how some of this manifests in parenting (taken from a book called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk):

To Encourage Autonomy 

1. Let children make choices.
2. Show respect for a child’s struggle.
3. Don’t ask too many questions.
4. Don’t rush to answer questions.
5. Encourage children to use sources outside the home.
6. Don’t take away hope.      

At the end of the day, you want planning and goal-setting to be exciting and motivating. You want your team to be excited to take on the coming months. If you ask, “Is what I am doing empowering or discouraging?” you’re likely to find that asking, rather than telling, gets empowering results.

What I’m reading & watching

Growth in Turbulent Times, webinar series from Reforge

Building a growth framework for your crisis response

The most creative coronavirus pivots

This Twitter thread on pricing pages and the unconventional questions you can ask during the design process.

Digital project management course from SuperHi.

Stop Trying to Be Productive by Taylor Lorenz, New York Times

Shameless plug: My interview at Very Good Copy

What I’m bookmarking — Top user flows from popular products (the latest is from Qibi)

This colorful Concept Planner notebook

Livestorm — New webinar platform

Free Audible stories for kids

You’re Wrong About — a podcast that reconsiders events or people or trends that have been misremembered by the public.

Thanks so much for reading. Wishing you a good week!

— Kevan

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