In Pulse, a madewithlove podcast, Andreas talks with leaders from the tech startup and scale-up ecosystem. There are also some podcast episodes where Andreas talks with his own colleagues about everything he comes across when working as a CTO in residence for various clients. Sit back and enjoy Pulse!

Episode: Free Range Management – the book

A special Pulse! On this episode of madewithlove’s podcast, Andreas and Steve talk about the book they recently wrote: Free Range Management. They outline the content, explain the concept of free range management, and share why they wrote this handy book.

If you are interested in buying the book, you should go to Free Range Management

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Podcast transcript – What is Free Range Management about?

Andreas: Welcome to Pulse. This is our podcast where we talk about everything that startups do, from engineering to investments, processes to leadership, and everything in between. Today’s a very special episode because we have big news. We wrote a book, we launched it.. soft-launched, launched it last Friday. And today we’re going to talk with the authors of the book, which happens to be myself and Steve Tauber, one of our CTOs in residence.

Steve: Hello. Thanks for having me. 

Andreas: It’s so nice to be finally able to have this conversation. 

Steve: Uhu, what a big relief for sure. 

Andreas: Yes, exactly. . So of course, together we wrote Free Range Management, our first book. We say first book… maybe there’ll be more, maybe not. But for our people that are listening, can you maybe explain the idea about the concept of free range management?

Steve: For sure, and I think the subtitle does a great job, in explaining it. So how to manage knowledge workers by creating space and really the focus of Free Range Management is all about: give your people a good structure and then get out of the way. Let them do their thing. You’re paying a lot of money for your knowledge workers to be smart people. So, you need to get out of their way and give them the space that they really need so they can do the best job possible. That’s the real core message of free range management. It’s all about autonomy, freedom, and really creating value. Having your knowledge workers create value through this system.

Andreas: Yeah, and it’s pretty cool because it describes more or less the management style that we apply at madewithlove. And, I mean, I’ve been running the company for 15 years and I never worked anywhere else. So I basically freewheeled a bit on what I thought would be a good way of managing people, which ended up to be more or less what we call free range management now.

Andreas: And, um, yeah, basically one of my core concepts about it was basically that if you create a company you would like to work in yourself, that you would be creating a good company for your people as well. And if the, your people are happy, of course your customers are also going to be happy that that’s more or less from a management perspective, how I get into this kind of management style. 

Of course, we will discuss a bit the content of the book in a bit, but maybe, um, before we do that, we explain a bit what the book’s about. I mean, in terms of like how long is the book and things like that, um, so I think it’s, let me quickly check…. It’s 112 pages!

Andreas: Uh, so it’s very short book, but that’s also what we wanted. We want to make some kind of manual for, for first time managers rather than to, uh,  write a very thick management book. Um, can you maybe describe a bit like how the chapters are structure, and how it can be useful and hands on for people.

Steve: Yeah, for sure. So I think the most important thing to understand about the book, you’re right, it’s very, I wouldn’t say short, it’s 112 pages. It’s very dense though. It’s really focused on the best practices that you need to get your team running. If you’ve never managed a team, You’ve just hired someone. What do you do now? This book gives you the best practices so that you can get up and running in a way that gives those people the space they need to do the best job possible. So we actually, when, when I was, writing out the skeleton for the book, I got to the end of my structure and I realized I got it all backwards.

You really need to start with the outcome of the work and figure out how to assess outcomes, how to understand if someone is doing a good job. And we use the word outcomes here because the process isn’t necessarily so important. It’s really not about butts and seats management by site. Being hardcore, as Elon Musk would say, it’s really about the result of the work, and that’s what we care about here.

When do you use metrics to evaluate people and when do you sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with them? 

So that’s the first chapter of the book, is about assessing outcomes. Of course, once you have those outcomes, you need to give people feedback about what they are doing well and what they’re can improve upon.

The second chapter is about embracing feedback. From there, you need to be able to have good psychological safety in order to have the vulnerability that’s necessary to have open and honest conversations. After that, you can define clear tasks and use your capabilities to know what is the most important thing.

You need to prioritize those tasks and you need to chunk them and break them down so that they are consumable by the knowledge workers. 

Create focus is next, so in this way you can make sure that they, the knowledge workers, have time to really focus deeply about their work. After all, they’re paid to think, so they need to create space so that they can really think deeply about the tasks at hand, and how can you as a manager, support that deep focus 

Any team needs to be able to collaborate. So the next chapter’s about support, collaboration, and really creating the systems so that workers can still have time to deeply focus, but when they need help, get the help that they need.

As a manager, it’s really your responsibility to ensure that your team is not gonna burn out. That they are having healthy habits so that the pace is sustainable. So your job is to monitor healthy habits. This is the seventh chapter. 

Andreas: Yeah. That was the hardest chapter for us to write. 

Steve: Right. It was so hard because you don’t know how far to go with the advice.There’s all these studies about how much sleep you need, what you should eat, how much exercise you need, and so, and you as a company, you have to be opinionated. It’s very difficult to balance. Absolutely.  

Andreas:  I think also as a manager, it’s really also where do you draw the line with interfering with people’s personal lives, so I think that was also from my perspective, why I find it very hard to, to write it.

Steve: yeah. I, one time I had, uh, an employee that was working for me and she wanted to quit because, She was really struggling with depression. It was something that was causing her a lot of anxiety. It was a very sad situation.

She had a longtime partner that died suddenly and, I had just joined the team. I had been, I think I had been, uh, her boss for, I think one month. There was this restructure going on, and she came to me and she’s like, I have to give notice. I can’t work. And I said, okay, what’s the problem? We started talking it and there’s a clear line there where, okay, you definitely need to seek professional help, right? I’m not a therapist, I can’t help you with that, but I can encourage you to do that. I can help you restructure your workday so it’s less stressful so that you have more time to focus on taking care of yourself. 

And I think that’s one thing that businesses are maybe sometimes scared to do. And I think that’s one thing that madewithlove does a great job, is recognizing there is an individual behind the worker and you have to support that person and make sure that they are thriving as an individual, that their families are thriving.

 If you’re paying them the bare minimum wage and they are having to go stand in a food line like some Fortune One companies do, then that is not helping them overall. They are still struggling and they are gonna check out of the work situation. They’re just a cog in your machine and they’re gonna get chewed up and spat out. And that’s unfortunate because we should treat people with more respect than that. 

Andreas: Treat the people like you would want to be treated yourself. Absolutely. As it comes down to it. And then we in the two final chapters are about becoming knowledge first and building the teams. Maybe you can elaborate a bit on that like what does that mean, like, building the teams? 

Steve: Sure. Yeah. So first with knowledge first, that’s a, that’s a concept that we invented and it’s really about that you as an organization, need to put knowledge at the center of your organization. So you have to be transparent with your communication, with the the information as it flows through the company. 

You have to have this reflex as an organization to document everything because knowledge is the most important aspect of the business, if you’re a knowledge working company, this is what’s important.

So you really need to put that at the core of your organization. And then, building the team is really about finding the responsible people, hiring them in a way that is unbiased and, making sure that they feel welcomed on the team. So there’s a bit about equity and diversity. Basically ensuring that people are included on the team.

Andreas: When I see in the, in the past weeks, all these, things passing by from Elon Musk, that goes to work at Twitter, and basically kind of applies all the things that we say in the book in basically the complete opposite way of what we are  doing. 

So I think that’s very crazy to think about,a Twitter engineer, at one point in time you have to go show your code base printed out to the CEO. How do you, do you look at that like from your perspective and keeping also Free Range Management in mind. Do you have the same feeling, like it’s like totally crazy what he’s doing, or do you kind of understand where it’s coming from?

Steve: It’s absolutely wild to think that you can come in as a CEO and understand the context to make decisions about who is contributing and the value that they’re contributing within the first three days of a platform that is as big as Twitter. Now, that being said, there’s definitely some low-hanging fruit that you could figure out from that.

But I think more times you’ll be wrong than right. I saw a great tweet go by by someone. I’m unfortunate that I don’t remember who that person was, but they were talking about who are the teams that don’t write a lot of code. At a large organization like Twitter, those are the teams that are responsible for product security. They don’t write a lot of code. They’ll write some code, but they do a lot of reading of code. They do a lot of education. So what happened to that team? Right. That team was absolutely gutted. And you see people that are in positions of leadership where they aren’t necessarily contributing a lot of code.

Those are the people that know about systems at a very deep level. They are probably not contributing a lot of. Were those people fired? Can’t say for certain, but I think in the next month or so, we will see just how devastating this management style is at a place like Twitter. 

Andreas: Yeah, you see it also from the people running away. For me, it, it is really came down to, okay, you acquired this company already in, in very bizarre circumstances, and then you have zero trust in anyone working there. And I guess trust is also a very important cornerstone of, of being able to apply free range management. You need to trust the people that you’re hiring if you cannot do that, then it’s not going to work anyway. 

So I guess that’s also the problem that, that he has, is that he’s not trusting the, the people on any level in the, in the organization. And I guess that leads to these kind of very radical, actions that he’s doing. 

Maybe we should try to send him the book, and see if he likes it or not.

Steve: Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. They will persuade ’em. We’ll see . 

Andreas: Cool. Okay. I think very clear. We are not going to make this too, too long. I guess people just should just buy the book and read it so they get a better understanding what we mean with free range management. They can also check the website, which is free

We’ll put a link in description of the of the podcast as well. Uh, and maybe also interesting to know for people that we want to give keynotes presentations about the topic because we really believe in this. So they can reach out to either me or Steve or to the company in general to engage about, about that. 

We’re more than happy also to hear the feedback on the book itself. If you have any questions or things you think you want to get more information on or maybe things you disagree with, um, yeah, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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