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Twitter technical lead on ‘malleable’ managers for the new era of work

15 Feb 2021316 Views

Siddharth Rao, a software engineer and technical lead at Twitter, shares his tips for managing teams and setting KPIs in the post-Covid working world.

With the working world currently in flux and plenty of new challenges to contend with, leaders across the globe have had to rethink their management styles. As a technical lead in the revenue product organisation at Twitter, Siddharth Rao has made some discoveries about his own approach in the past year.

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In his role, Rao must define his teams’ technical strategies, mentor engineers and design products for Twitter users around the world. In the post-Covid era of work, he believes investing in your people will be critical. How leaders treat their employees will define whether or not a company can withstand the “current economic winter and turbulent times”, he said.

“It’s often easy to get carried away by short-term gains and problems, especially during times like these. However, winning companies understand they need to make decisions for the far distant future. One of the easiest ways to do that is to take excellent care of your workforce.

“It’s not news to anyone that the average employee is struggling, be it with health problems or economic ones. Leaders in companies should make their employees’ health and wellbeing their priority. This isn’t just the right move for the short term, but also for the long term.”

A black and white photograph of Siddharth Rao of Twitter.

Siddharth Rao

Key things to consider for the new era of work

Like many others in leadership roles, Rao sees the future of work as hybrid. For tech companies in particular, he thinks it’s less likely that teams will “end up on a particular end of the spectrum”. Instead, he believes a hybrid model will take hold and give people “the freedom of working from home if they would like to”.

“I believe we’ve just started scratching the surface of what the future of work and leadership styles hold,” he said. “One of the things that we all learned during the pandemic was that remote work can be quite efficient and it opens up a new way of hiring, onboarding and training employees.

“Now, let’s take this from the perspective of leaders in technology companies; quite a lot has drastically changed. How do you run your one-to-ones with your direct reports? How do you give feedback in a remote world? How are decisions made in the company when people are not in physical proximity? How is planning and road mapping done?

“These are just a few examples where the previous playbooks need to be thrown out the window and every leader needs to fundamentally redesign their approach to management and leadership. One of the keys to success in this new atmosphere is being malleable and ready to alter the processes and structure in place with the new demand for work.”

KPIs for the new working world

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are a core tenet of leadership. According to Rao, it’s crucial that leaders iterate the importance of “creating, communicating and following through with KPIs”.

At their most fundamental level, he explained, KPIs allow leaders to measure something. This can include everything from productivity to product metrics. In the era of remote work, there are two KPIs Rao believes every leader should “care deeply about”: relevancy and achievability.

“Given the world around us has drastically changed and continues to do so, it is paramount that leaders holistically evaluate the relevancy of their KPIs,” he said. “Are they marching towards the right direction? It is so important for every leader to re-evaluate their KPIs, regardless of if they end up changing them or not.”

In terms of achievability, Rao emphasised that leaders need to assess where the biggest bottlenecks are in the development lifecycle so that they can set appropriate KPIs.

“Even more important is that your team deeply understands the KPIs and what leaders deem as achievable. On a team and people level, I would recommend looking at metrics which measure how your team is feeling through these times and if there are certain employees who might need an extra hand. Having metrics like these and keeping a temperature check of your organisation will pay dividends over the long run.”

What leaders should try to avoid

Instead of trying to consider everything you should do as a leader, it can be helpful to rule out what not to do. For Rao, there are three common areas in which leaders are coming up short at the moment.

The first is worrying about their employees’ productivity levels. In his experience, remote work has been a positive change for worker productivity rather than a roadblock.

“Leaders in companies need to deeply understand how their employees are doing and figure out a way to do so from a distance,” he said. “This can be quite hard, but I cannot emphasise the importance of ensuring the wellbeing of your employees enough.”

‘Previous playbooks need to be thrown out the window and every leader needs to fundamentally redesign their approach to management and leadership’
– SIDDHARTH RAO

Secondly, it can be easy to overlook building and preserving company culture while leading remotely, he said. Failing to focus on this, however, can leave employees feeling unmotivated and less likely to stick around in the long term.

“A lot of virtual culture-building activities have recently popped up and while they might seem awkward at first, it is a great way to ease new and veteran team members into learning about each other beyond a work setting, which is quintessential in building a world class team.

“The focus should be on being able to fit in everyone and their schedules, regardless of where they are located.”

Finally, Rao said that ineffective communication can be a “massive pitfall for any leader in the new era of work”.

“With in-person meetings and gatherings, one can get a lot from body language and messages carry a lot more context in addition to just words. One of the key aspects of remote work for all leaders is learning is that overcommunication is becoming the new normal. “Leaders and everyone in the company are generally wary of overcommunicating and this takes quite some time to get used to.

“My recommendation to other leaders in the industry is to find the right balance and tools for themselves. If your communication tools, frequency and manner has not changed with the changing times, something seems wrong.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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