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Know Your People

June 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

Get some perspective

“An attempt to understand the mind of another person, whether a stranger, your spouse, or your customer, is unlikely to benefit from imagining yourself in that person’s shoes and guessing what that person feels or wants. Accurately understanding other people requires getting perspective, not simply taking it. To understand the mind of another person, we need to rely on our ears more than our intuition.” — Tal Eyal, Mary Steffel and Nicholas Epley Perspective-Taking Doesn’t Help You Understand What Others Want, HBR, October 2018

At Commit, our engineers are the heart of our company. My job is to create an incredible experience for them. I start this through conversations to get their perspective and begin to earn their trust.

I begin each exchange by explaining why we’re talking, focus the discussion entirely on them, listen to understand, and take notes. I make every effort to make them feel safe so they can share problems or concerns without feeling embarrassed.

What I learned

I ask questions that help me understand each individual. I watch and listen as they comment about Commit’s culture, processes and systems, to see what makes them smile and nod, or cringe and shake their heads. All in 55 minutes. Here’s what I’m learning from a few of the “get to know you” questions.

Q: Why did you join Commit? What pulled you here? What made you say to yourself, “I’m in!”?

When we change our situations, everyone has something that pushes them away from present circumstances and pulls them towards new conditions. A universal pull towards Commit was the flexibility to work remotely, learn, and grow through exposure to the various challenges that arise in building a startup. With respect to learning, two comments stood out in particular: the chance to ‘try more stuff’ by adding to the breadth of their skillset by developing the top bar of their “T”-shape, and the chance to learn from an unfailingly helpful and kind community of peers and mentors at Commit. With respect to growing, Commit provides our engineers all the upside, excitement, and elevated responsibility of joining a startup without the financial risk. They also rely on us to find them a startup placement that matches their interests and growth objectives.

An unexpected but thoughtful tidbit about interviews came up too. We offer to represent them in negotiating all the aspects of their placements with startups, so they were delighted that Commit would be their last technical interview.

Our engineers cited all of the above as reasons they stay at Commit. That’s good news. Now, how can we do better?

Q: How can we improve at Commit?

Onboarding: our new engineers explained the program we use to welcome people to Commit needed better direction and organization because it felt too ad hoc. Other areas to improve are overall visibility of our engineer locations and projects, what placements are available and upcoming, and more options for startup placements. Engineers asked more ways to connect with other engineers, and our alumni asked for more frequent communication and coaching.

Q: How do you describe Commit to people? How did you explain it to your partner, friends, or family when you told them you joined?

This question elicited a variety of responses. Every single person had a slightly different answer. We need to dedicate more effort to our value proposition since our model is novel, serves a two-sided market, and is continuously under slight experimentation.

Time for action

Where to start?

First, fix the most urgent and quickly addressable issues frustrating to our engineers. Our first step has been rejigging our onboarding. Part of that rejigging has been to implement retrospectives for each new cohort so we can continue to listen to how things are going and continuously make the process better. Providing more visibility into upcoming and available placements is next on our list.

Second, invest heavily in the things they love about Commit. It’s easy to get caught up in fixing little annoyances, but those aren’t the reasons they join and stay at Commit. We plan to prioritize growing and scaling the things which engineers crave and benefit from more than fixing irritations. According to research collected by Dan and Chip Heath, to delight customers, chasing perfection is not the right approach. Instead, deliver moments that make an experience memorable. We want to play to our strengths and provide memorable experiences around our key promises of financial stability, an individualized career path, and a community to learn from and with.

Noel Pullen is Commit’s Chief Experience Officer.

Thank you to all the engineers at Commit for their inspiration. Thank you to Lindsay StaniforthRyan Abbott, and Greg Gunn for their counsel and editing.


Thank you to Noel Pullen for writing this article.