Reading list: Lessons learned about people management

Main illustration: Susan Payne

Over the coming weeks, I, along with others on the team, will be selecting and sharing articles from the Inside Intercom archives that have proven helpful to our customers and visitors in the past.

With so many of us looking for positive outlets for our increased time at home at the moment, we hope these articles can be helpful again. They may even prove a small distraction from what can seem like universally bad news right now. I’m kicking things off by sharing some pieces that have helped me (hopefully) get better at managing people.

People before product and profit

At Intercom we firmly believe that people are the most important thing – your product and ultimately profits will follow if you get the people thing right. (“Take care of the people, products and profits in that order,” being a phrase used by former Netscape CEO Jim Barskdale and subsequently popularized by Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing About Hard Things.)

So while Inside Intercom built its reputation as a source of advice on building great products, some of the most impactful lessons that have remained with me from helping colleagues publish their insights on this blog are all about people rather than product.

“All behavior – good and bad – can scale”

If there’s one person at Intercom who is synonymous with distilling actionable product insights it’s our co-founder Des. But at our 2017 Inside Intercom World Tour he surprised a lot of attendees with a talk about the people aspects of running a fast growing company and the common problems you face as you add more people to your company.

He shared insights such as how all behavior – good and bad – can scale and how you can manage that as well as the need for hierarchy, even at an early stage. It’s an honest and entertaining talk that anyone who manages people will benefit from. It’s available as a video (embedded below), podcast or article, so you can consume it in whatever format works best for you.

One of the best conversations I had about the messy business of managing humans was this podcast interview with Kim Scott, the former Google exec who subsequently wrote the Silicon Valley bible on people management Radical Candor. The key takeaway for me? The medium matters. Face to face feedback is so important because you can see if the message has landed or you need to adjust it. Sorry Slack.

The value of values

An early lightbulb moment for me personally when I moved to Intercom from a 150-year-old media company was the importance placed on team values. In the media world, values seemed like something rigid and dusty that were holding us back from adapting to a rapidly changing world.

“Values seemed like something rigid and dusty that were holding us back”

They seemed to run contrary to what is needed to manage a rapidly growing company, but Intercom’s R&D org soon changed my thinking on that. Our Senior Product Engineer Waheed made the argument most succinctly in this post about the importance of building strong values if you want to build great products. (If you’d like a take on values from a marketing perspective, Stewart, our former director of brand design, shared his team’s values and why they are so important to the team.)

In fact our engineering team have shared some of the most actionable advice on the people side of business – whether that’s Rich’s cautionary tales of management overconfidence in People leave managers not companies or John Looney’s deep dive on the importance of psychological safety if you want to create high functioning teams. These lessons are highly applicable not just to engineers but to anyone whose job involves helping people do their best work.

If you found this useful or have other topics you’d like to see us cover in the Reading List series you can give us feedback through the Messenger on this page.