25th May, 2020 culture
“When spring comes, snow melts first at the periphery, because that is where it is most exposed” - Andy Grove
This quote comes from Andy Grove, Intel’s former CEO, and which I was reminded of in the most recent book I finished reading, Seeing Around Corners by Rita McGrath. The idea is that snow melts first from the edges, at the periphery. This is where the first changes occur and are evident. This “snow melting” idea is powerful and very true within a business context, too.
When market changes are happening, the first people within Buffer to know it are generally those who are at the edges of the organization. Those who are talking directly with customers, most likely within our Advocacy or Marketing teams. Some members of those teams have found that when we eventually get around to making changes, those changes are things they’ve been wishing to see us implement for weeks or months. “Finally!”, they might think.
When I read the chapter with this title in Seeing Around Corners, it set off a light bulb in my mind. I found myself thinking about how many individual contributors within Advocacy, or within Marketing, or other areas such as Engineering, I’ve spoken with recently. The answer? Not many at all.
One of my fondest memories of the past month was a town hall that I did with the members of our team in the APAC region. Our regular Town Hall was in the middle of the night for most of them so we arranged a time where I could chat with that smaller group of Buffer teammates separately at a time that worked for their time zone.
In this casual and smaller group setting, we were able to have an informal chat and after a while, the ideas, questions, and comments really started flowing. I learned a ton and was left feeling energized.
It was in the APAC Town Hall meeting that Mel, a Customer Advocate on our team, asked me whether we had established a clear stance for how much we can help customers throughout COVID-19. This really got me thinking. The next day I spoke with Åsa, our VP of Customer Advocacy, on the topic and we immediately put in place our first couple of customer relief efforts. And those initial steps have now turned into our COVID-19 Customer Relief Program. A lot of this was already starting to happen, but this direct contact with Mel was powerful for me and spurred me to put more of my attention and weight behind the initiatives.
Since being reminded of this concept, and feeling a few first-hand experiences, I’ve started to question the balance of how much time I spend working directly with Buffer’s leadership team, versus how much time I spend interacting with the teammates who interact directly with customers. I’ve also found myself wanting to get back to answering customer emails from time to time.
When I’m shaping our overall strategy, it’s essential that I have regular contact with folks from all different parts of the organization. I’ve realized, therefore, that spending time with people I don’t regularly work with is a vital part of my role, now and always. It’s a way to recognize upcoming inflection points sooner and to act on them earlier. In a sense, by spending time at the edges, I develop an ability to “see the future.”
I’m currently implementing “snowmelt meetings” with Buffer teammates and am looking forward to speaking with more of the team more regularly over the coming months.