I want to learn about management, mentorship, running organisations, and things like that. (This is related to my interest in the topics of scalably using labour and improving the EA-aligned research pipeline.) Two people I know who seem skilled at those areas recommended reading The Great CEO Within: The Tactical Guide to Company Building, so I listened to the audiobook. 

I'd tentatively recommend the book for people who want to learn about running organisations, and maybe people who want to learn about management.[1] But large chunks of the book seem far less relevant to nonprofits than they would be to for-profits (and especially tech startups). Luckily the chapter names typically make this obvious - you may want to just skip many chapters. 

This post shares some concrete ideas the book left me with, as well as the Anki cards I made while reading the book. My hope is that this will be a low-effort way for me to help some people to quickly (1) gain some key insights from the book, and (2) work out whether reading/listening to the book is worth their time.[2]

Note that:

  • I haven't yet read any other books on these topics, and maybe if I had I'd recommend them instead.
  • You can get an earlier, free, ebook version of The Great CEO Within here.
  • I also have a list of other books on these topics that people I know have recommended; let me know if you'd like me to share that.

A handful of concrete ideas

These are ideas that I now think it may be worth orgs doing, and that I got from The Great CEO Within. I'm not highly confident in any of these. There are some other ideas in the book that also seem good but that I already knew about (e.g., OKRs), so I don't note them here. I particularly had in mind nonprofit research orgs; maybe I'd have pulled out different ideas if I had different orgs in mind.  These are in no particular order.

Idea 1: Decide on, clearly articulate and share, and promote/maintain the org's values

  • Possible ways to decide:
    • Just the leadership team decides
    • Send out a survey
    • Think about specific ways specific staff at the org have seemed to act in line with values that the org would like everyone to act in line with
  • Possible ways to articulate, share, promote, and maintain the values:
    • Look out for times when a person acts in a way that’s particularly representative of one or more of the org's values, then mention this at meetings
      • E.g., manager tells them at the 1-1
      • E.g., team members are paired for 1-1s and give each other this feedback
      • E.g., at team meetings or all-hands meetings

Idea 2: Office hours with the CEO / Executive Director / President / whatever

  • Could also perhaps do office hours for team leaders or department heads, if an org expands enough that that would add value compared to just team meetings

Ideas 3-5: Have an internal wiki + “when you say it twice, write it down” + document all processes

  • These are three separate but overlapping ideas
  • Regarding an internal wiki:
    • The book recommends using Notion
  • Regarding documenting processes:

A well-run company documents every aspect of its operations, so that its team members can easily step into a new role when needed. 

An easy way to do this is:  Whenever you find yourself doing something twice, write down exactly what it is that you did.  Place these written processes in the company Wiki.  This allows the other members of your team to learn from your experience.  

Require that all members of the team also follow this practice to share their knowledge.

  • Create a Sheet to track all processes (see example).
  • Ask each Department head to:
    • List the processes in their department.
    • Assign a writer and due date to each process.
      • Space the due dates out so that each writer need only document one process per week.
    • Each write links their process write-up to the spreadsheet, so that you can verify that all have been created.

If you use this process, and spread the writings amongst the whole company, you can likely document every process in your company within 3 months.

These written processes then became your company’s onboarding curriculum.  Each new hire reads all the processes they will be asked to do.  You can now safely scale your team knowing that they will have effective onboarding.

Ryan Breslow, Founder/CEO of Bolt shares: “We have noticed that whenever we hire a new manager, they want to instantly bring in their own processes.  But then we lose all of our hard-won institutional knowledge that led to the creation of our original process.  So, we now require that all managers use the existing Bolt processes for at least 3 months before making any changes. After they know our system in this way, they are free to make the changes they want to.  And yet most make relatively minor changes after that.” 

  • Regarding "say it twice, write it down":

Whenever you find yourself saying something for a second time (to a second audience, or in a second situation), it is highly likely that you will end up saying it again and again in the future.  To vastly improve the quality of the communication, and reduce the amount of time that you spend communicating it … write it down.  

Then, the next time you need to communicate that message, you can simply share it in written form.  If it is something that all members of the team should know and remember, put it in a company-wide Wiki.  If it is truly seminal to the organization, post it on a wall for all to see. 

[...] Once you see this system working for yourself, start encouraging others in your company to do likewise. Everytime you see a question answered on Slack (for example), prompt the questioner to document the response in your company wiki.

Idea 6: On a team or org level, the relevant “manager” could explicitly consider which of the following three approaches to use for each nontrivial decision: 

  1. The manager makes a decision, announces it to the team, and answers questions.
  2. The manager writes or assigns someone to write a "strawman" (a hypothetical answer designed to inspire discussion), invites the team to get feedback, and facilitates group discussion.
  3. The manager invites the team to a meeting where the dilemma is discussed from scratch.
  4. Like 2, but with part or all of the process happening asynchronously (e.g. via Slack/docs), rather than in meetings.
  5. Like 3, but with part or all of the process happening asynchronously (e.g. via Slack/docs).

(I got the first three of those possible approaches to decision-making from The Great CEO Within. I thought of the final two possible approaches in light of having worked for remote orgs and during COVID.)

My Anki cards

Mochary highlights three ways to make a decision:

  1. The manager makes a decision, announces it to the team, and answers questions.
  2. The manager writes or assigns someone to write a "strawman" (a hypothetical answer designed to inspire discussion), invites the team to get feedback, and facilitates group discussion.
  3. The manager invites the team to a meeting where the dilemma is discussed from scratch.

What are 2 things Mochary says about "top goal time"?

  1. It should be about 2 hours per day
  2. It should ideally be at the start of the day

(You can read more about this here.)

What does grade-level planning (GLP) involve?

Creating a detailed definition of every position and seniority level in a company, along with compensation metrics for each position and level, then sharing this throughout the company

[Managers must not deviate from this when deciding about promotions/raises]

Mochary distinguishes between four "zones":

  1. Zone of incompetence
  2. Zone of competence
  3. Zone of excellence
  4. Zone of genius

Mochary distinguishes between three types of information flows (for meetings etc.):

  1. Accountability
  2. Coaching
  3. Transparency

ACT

Explained in Chapter 23 here. I don't think I understand how coaching and transparency are meant to be distinct.

[1] I've roughly ranked The Great CEO Within as the 29th most useful to me of the ~52 EA-relevant (audio)books I've read since learning about EA

[2] In other words, I intend this as a lower-effort alternative to writing notes specifically for public consumption or writing a proper book review. See also Suggestion: Make Anki cards, share them as posts, and share key updates.

This post expresses only my personal opinions, not those of my employers, as should always be assumed unless I specify otherwise.

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9 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:29 PM
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If you or anyone else are looking for other titles to read on leadership or management, here are 7 books that others have recommended to me. They're ranked in descending order of how much I would recommend them, even if I haven't read some:

  1. Managing to Change the World by Alison Green and Jerry Hauser
    1. I'm only 10% through this one, but I've seen 2 others in the EA community recommend this as a very practical guide for new managers/leaders in non-profits. Even if I haven't fully read it, it looks very practical and useful.
  2. Essentialism by Greg McKeown  (has audiobook)
    1. I've listened to this one and would recommend it (even if you aren't a manager)
  3. The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Chapman, Dethmer, and Klemp (has audiobook)
    1. I'm 60% through this audiobook. Dustin Moskovitz and Tim Ferriss recommend it, and so did a former boss of mine. I think it's good but it's not for everyone.
  4. The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo (has audiobook)
    1. I liked this one, especially since I had a UI/UX design background, and Julie Zhuo's background is in design. I think it's a relatable book great for first-time managers to read.
  5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (has audiobook)
    1. Read this 6 years ago and it was helpful then, but I haven't re-read it since.
  6. Quiet Leadership by David Rock (has audiobook)
    1. Eirin Evjen from EA Norway recommends this, though I only read a bit of it
  7. High Output Management by Andrew Grove (has audiobook)
    1. I haven't read this one - it might be more for leaders of for-profit companies.

Great, thanks! I've added these titles or your comments to a doc I made listing books on these types of topics and who (in the EA community) recommended them. Here are the books from that list, in descending order of number of recommendations:

---

And Daniel Kestenholz, an EA coach, lists the following books in the spreadsheet linked in this post: Professional development in operations:

People management

  • The Effective Manager and/or Manager Tools Podcast – Mark Horstman
  • Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior – Edwin Locke
  • The Essential Drucker – Peter Drucker

Project management

  • HBR Guide to Project Management
  • Zapier Guide to Project Management
  • Making Things Happen – Scott Berkun
  • Making Ideas Happen – Scott Belsky
  • Results Without Authority – Tom Kendrick

Thanks for this! I didn't expect High Output Management to come out on top - will consider reading it in the future.

Something I've noticed is that a fair few of these books come from tech/startup people, and a fair few of the EAs I'm directly or indirectly getting these recommendations from are either from those worlds or are "the sort of people" who would fit in those worlds. High Output Management and The Great CEO Within are both examples. I'm not sure if this has any implications, but perhaps it makes me inclined to slightly down-weight recommendations of books that come from those worlds, as I expect them to be a bit overrepresented, or something.

That said, next up on my own reading list, from this category of books, is High Output Management. After that will be The Coaching Habit, which may or may not be from a tech/startup world (haven't checked. This is based on some semi-random mixture of what was most often recommended, what has been least often read at Rethink Priorities (so the org can collectively gather a wider range of ideas and perspectives), and what's available on audible. I'll post notes on those once I'm done with them.

Oh I just found out now that there's already an Audible audiobook for High Output Management, cool!

Thanks for this!

Idea 1: Decide on, clearly articulate and share, and promote/maintain the org's values

"Idea 2: Office hours with the CEO / Executive Director / President / whatever"

Why did Mochary recommend these two ideas? I can kinda guess why, and both seem to be good ideas. But I would want to know the context, and/or what makes you agree that they are good ideas.

Excerpts on deciding on, clearly articulating and sharing, and promoting/maintaining the org's values

Chapter 17: Culture

Culture is the unspoken set of rules that people in a group follow when interacting with each other. You act differently when you’re in a bar than when you’re at a family dinner. That’s because the rules that run the interactions between the different nodes in the networks have changed. Culture is the name for those rules.

Values

By Alex MacCaw

Values are a critical element in your company’s culture, and your company will function at its most efficient if your employees understand and share them. Once your team has a referenceable shared set of values they can make decisions without you, and more importantly evaluate candidates for culture fit. As the team grows interactions between new hires and the core team, who defined the company values, diminishes. Having a set of established and referenceable values helps disseminate those values to new team members without daily interactions.

One misnomer [my note: should've been "misconception"; this activated my pedantry button] CEOs sometimes have is thinking they get to choose the values. By the time you’re 30 or so employees your company has a set of values whether you like it or not. It’s now your job to codify what’s already there. While it is possible to change a value, it will take a lot of work.

Agreeing on what your values are is the kind of statement that needs maximum buy-in, so it should involve your whole company. Send out a survey and gather contributions from everyone. Ask your team to suggest both a value and the name of an employee who exemplifies it. Then arrange all the suggestions into common themes and have your leadership team vote on the final cut.

Once you have agreed upon your values, use them to guide your hiring and firing. Bring in people who want to live by these principles and let go of people who don’t. Otherwise, your values will have no meaning. 

Distribute your values, print them out and repeat them until your team knows them back-to-front. Every week at the all-hands highlight a value and a person who’s actions best exemplifies that value that week. 

The following are an example of Clearbit’s values. They combine a short pithy statement (easily rememberable), with a longer description for clarity.

  • Care (Give a shit). Empathize with customers. Take the time to understand their frustrations, needs, and desires.
  • Craft (Master it). Own your craft. Never stop learning and improving.
  • Team (Work together). Teamwork makes the dream work. Fill gaps. There’s no such thing as “it’s not my job.”
  • Truth (Say it). Be upfront and candid. Say it like it is. Hold yourself and others accountable.
  • Initiative (Be resourceful). Don’t wait for permission. Figure it out — or figure out who can.
  • Fun (Have it). Don’t take yourself too seriously — life is short.

[...]

[Regarding company meetings:] For another perspective, Peter Reinhardt of Segment shares:  “We use all hands for sharing across teams of what teams are accomplishing, working on, celebrating wins (reinforce our values), and recognition broadly... plus bringing in customers to talk. I find this much healthier than an obsession with whatever leadership team is talking about (although we do present the board deck + board topics once per quarter.)"

[...]

[One goal of quarterly offsites is to "Refresh Vision and Values"]

[...]

Values

There are many ways to create your company values.  

A simple one is to complete the following sentence:  “The rest of you in the company can make all of the decisions from now on, as long as you ….”  This is appropriate when the company is small and values are entirely aspirational.

Another version is to acknowledge the culture that you already have.  To do this, each Leadership Team member should pick one person in the company who is NOT on the Leadership Team and exhibits a value that you wish would be a universal behavior.  Name the person and the behavior.  Then select 3-5 such examples.  This method is best used when the company already has a sizeable team and existing culture. 

I'll put some relevant excerpts from the earlier, free ebook version in a pair of comments. (And if you're wondering about any other specifics, you could also use the search feature in that.) Also note that I don't necessarily agree that these are good ideas, or good ideas for all orgs - the "handful of concrete ideas" section is things I thought it may be worth doing, and that I should note down so I can think about them later.

Excerpts on office hours

This accountability, coaching and transparency needs to happen in both directions (from CEO to the company, and from the company to the CEO) at every level (company, department, team and individual).

This is best achieved through a regular series of meetings:

  1. One-on-One
  2. Team
  3. Company-wide (All Hands)
  4. Office hours
  5. Company-wide social event
  6. Quarterly planning offsite

Each manager should plan to devote a full day each week to internal meetings.  The weekly team meeting will be the longest (up to three hours in the beginning, until teams learn the habit of writing down all input prior to the meeting, then it can get down to 30 minutes).  The weekly one-on-one meetings and office hours will consume the remainder of the day. This timing determines how many team members a single manager can effectively oversee. If one of your managers can’t fit all the necessary meetings into a single day, she’s got too many people reporting directly to her, and you need to re-organize, or she needs to run more efficient meetings.  

The overhead—twenty percent of the standard work week—can feel tremendous to a startup CEO who is accustomed to the organic information flow of a small group working together in the same room. But without this one-day-per-week investment, a larger team will never fully know what to do, nor will the CEO get the needed feedback on her performance or the company’s performance.

[...]

On your day set aside for meetings, schedule One-On-One meetings prior to the team meeting. Schedule them back-to-back, and allot twenty-five to fifty minutes for each one. If there is a serious issue to discuss, such as serious job dissatisfaction, then use your Open Office Hour (see below) later that day to fully address the issue.

[...]

Open Office Hour   

Each manager should set aside one hour each week for an open office hour, during which anyone can come introduce an issue. This ensures that all employees feel that they can be heard, but limits the amount of time required to a predictable level for the manager.