Each week for the last six months, Eric Richard, the relatively new VP of engineering at HubSpot, has sat down to write a post on his internal company blog, Notes from a Nomad. Blogging doesn’t usually fall into the purview of the VP of engineering; Richard manages developers. Yet his weekly musings have become one of the most important parts of his work. “I almost feel like I’ve become a professional blog writer internally,” he tells Fast Company.
Early on in his new role, Richard realized that top-down management wouldn’t work at HubSpot. Like many startups, the Internet marketing company tries to give its teams as much autonomy as possible. “This is a world in which giving people the freedom to explore and innovate really leads to great things,” explained Richard. Freedom is great and all, but where does a manager fit in? Richard, who worked at more traditional organizations before coming to HubSpot last year, said learning to lead the 130 engineers and product managers at HubSpot felt like working out different muscles. “A lot of it is giving the team information they need to understand the context, and understand the higher-order goals, and let them to figure out how to optimize inside of that,” he said.
Richard realized communication was the number-one way he could help his team. The natural place for that, he thought, was the weekly team meeting known as TechTalk. But that gathering exists for engineers to raise issues. It’s not really a forum for managers. “I kind of felt like I was butting in a little bit there. I didn’t want to get to the point that I was hogging that meeting,” he said.
That’s when he came up for the idea of his blog, Notes from a Nomad, whose name comes from Richard’s status as a desk nomad. With the team growing so quickly, Richard doesn’t have a dedicated workstation, instead sitting at what’s called a nomad table.
Each week, he uses the blog as a way to help the engineers understand the company’s overall priorities and goals–to give them some larger context for the day-to-day duties. He has written on topics like understanding how the company thinks about career progression and team growth. What does that mean about new opportunities inside the organization? How should engineers think about their personal role? He also written about new initiatives and the overall strategy of the company.
Imagine if your boss, on a regular basis, updated you on the state of the company. You might feel much more secure about your job. Or have a better understanding of how to improve or move up in the ranks.
It also addresses another workplace challenge, which is that trust and communication is currently lacking in many organizations. Edelman’s Trust Barometer has found that employee trust in leadership has plateaued, and in 2013 it found a “crisis in leadership,” noting that 82% of people don’t trust business leaders to tell the truth. Transparency via communication as a means to productivity and overall team morale is a proven way to build trust, which leads to better results.
Indeed, that is exactly what happened at HubSpot. “The transparency is helping them and making it happier,” said Richard. How does he know? HubSpot uses Tiny Pulse, an anonymous polling app, to gauge overall employee happiness. Since starting Notes from a Nomad, Richard has found through Tiny Pulse that the engineers are happier because of the transparency and communication, when before they felt opaqueness, confusion, and a lack of understanding.
Those feelings have had a direct effect on performance, Richard alleges. “When we are able to aim our team at a mission, give them the freedom to explore, they do amazing things so long as there isn’t friction in the way,” he said. “I look at context being one of those pieces of friction. It’s one of those things that can get in the way of them doing great things.”