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What Shape are You?

My post before this was a kind of therapy / Buddhism / personal growth kind of deal, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about how to run effective teams and to be a responsible, thoughtful manager of people. It is my work: I am a lead engineer at Bungie, an independent video game developer of about 300 employees (though not for long, we're growing.) There are some unique aspects to making videogames, and I'll use game development terminology here as I refer to, say, texture artists or sound designers or programmers, but when I talk to friends in different creative industries - film, industrial design, other software development - I find these themes are pretty universal.

If you're going to manage people, you're going to have a lot of conversations about employee performance. It's just bound to happen. Sometimes, like during reviews, it might seem excessive. You might wonder if's worth all the time it takes. It is. It's OK that you spend a bunch of time on this. As a manager, that is your job. It's your job to have well-formed opinions about how you evaluate people and how you work with them to help them grow. If you aren't spending time on that, then you may be succeeding as a leader, but probably not as a manager. Apples and oranges.

It is, however, important to spend this time well. During conversations about performance, everything you talk about should boil down to one thing: the value they contribute to the team. What is their value, and how can they become more valuable?

I find a lot of review conversations tend to focus on strengths, weaknesses, and specific work results. These seem like reasonable topics, and there's value there, but I also find this often leads to a review that looks like this:

Fairness is OK

On SEBASTIAN MARSHALL

In the past, I've advocated against the word "fair" - I thought it was subjective, emotional-driven, largely arbitrary, and led to muddy unclear thinking.

I've changed my position on it. I now think the word "fair" is okay for external evaluation and communication usage.

See, "fairness" still can screw up your life, if you let it. Lots of people do petty things or self-destruct because of fairness. Or they don't ask for a promotion where they'd do well in that capacity, or they turn a deal that's great for them where they get slightly less than "fair" but still massively more than they would otherwise.

Evaluate your own life and actions based on what's best for you, not fairness. Sometimes that does mean turning things down out of principle, heuristics, or for reputation reasons. But "fairness" shouldn't be a big component of your evaluation for your best action.

It can, however, be a big part of your external evaluation and communication.

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