You can read this post in Spanish here.
We all fuck up. All the time. It’s human and it’s ok. As long as we don’t let our ego blind us and learn from our mistakes.
You fucked up
Here is a message I wrote on a private Slack channel not so long ago:
@here Peeps just wanted to say something about the whole search feature. Using the provider directly or as a bypass is something that WE, as Engineering team decide. If we think it will help the current and possible future product requirements, then we can go with it. But if we think there is a simpler solution to meet the product requirements then we will go with that one. Just wanted to say that is US who decide how to implement the feature.
So much is wrong with this message. It is pretty aggressive. It promotes division between Product Managers and Software Engineers. The use of @here doens’t help. And the use of capital letters doesn’t help either.
I know it is out of context but the important thing here is that I just fucked up.
When you reach a certain point in life, it is hard to make friends outside of the work environment. A big part of my social life and interests spins around the startup ecosystem.
I’m subscribed to newsletters, read books and blogs, read newspaper articles and listen to podcasts. I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I have silly T-shirts. I go to meetups and events. I have a blog. And I don’t have the data (I wish) but I assume most startup employees do the same.
Over the years, I’ve made very good friends around the startup ecosystem. We all have the same problems and we all have to overcome the same personal challenges. We are all interested in what happens in other startups, how do they overcome those problems, how did they evolve and where did they screw up so we don’t have to. The books are a nice way to learn the theory but nothing helps you as much as sharing experiences with other people.
My point is… we know. Everybody knows. We know when you fired someone while they were on medical sick leave. We know about that aggressive Slack message even if it was on a private channel. We know about your dubious marketing practices. We know about your homophobic comments during lunch time. We know about your unhealthy hiring process and how you never give any feedback to the candidates that don’t pass. We know about that time you left a meeting screaming and slamming doors. We know how unhealty is your culture and how bad is your internal communication.
It doens’t matter if you are a Software Engineer, a Product Manager, the CEO or an Engineering Manager. The consequences are demolishing. You won’t be able to hire the people you want. You won’t be hired by the companies you want. You won’t be able to work with the investors you seek. You won’t be invited to give a talk to a meetup. Nobody will read your blog. You won’t be able to grow. And the list goes on and on.
And now what?
You can’t hide. You can’t undo what you’ve done. And you can’t deny it. But you can fix it.
It’s sad that I have to be so explicit but, as Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman write in Debugging Teams, you should build your culture around humility, respect and trust from the beginning. Not only your culture, but also yourself. Because almost every social conflict can ultimately be traced back to a lack of one of these 3.
You will fuck up. I do all the time. In many ways. And I’m ashamed of some of them. But we are all here in this pale blue dot learning how not to be douchebags. We either learn to live together, or die alone. You see, learning is the key. If you have a true desire to improve as a human being and as a professional, it will be alright.
Everyone has their own journey but the basics are:
Take accountability and admit your ego was bigger than your values and principles. Admit you were wrong. Sometimes you need to ask for forgiveness. There is no other way you can wash your own image and the image of your startup.
Identify your own personal issues and start working on them. Being a decent human being is hard. Talking with your manager, with your mentor or with your friend works sometimes. Therapy works most of the time. It works for me.
Start acting like everything could go public at any time. It already is public. NDAs protect intellectual property but they don’t stop spreading the word about unhealthy culture and toxic personalities.
Start identifying and fixing the systemic problems of your unhealthy culture one by one. ASAP. Mostly because it takes a lot of time and effort. So the sooner you start, the sooner you’re going to see results. Your role doesn’t matter. Take ownership and start fixing your culture. Some books I recommend on this topic: Debugging Teams, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, Mastering Collaboration and What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture.
Huge thanks to undraw.com for the illustrations. You can subscribe to my newsletter With a grain of salt and receive an email with updates from time to time.