Mar 20, 2024 · Episode 12

Change: It’s a long game

Liz Hustedt is a Senior Engineering Manager at ActBlue, an American political action committee and fundraising platform established serving left-leaning and Democratic nonprofits and politicians.

Show notes

In today’s episode, Rebecca and Liz talk about how Liz’s early experience as an ICU nurse shaped her leadership skills and style, and about managing change in a way that’s empathetic to where the organization is at the moment.


(00:00) Introductions
(00:50) Liz’s background
(04:00) About ActBlue and Liz’s experience there
(08:55) Understanding team health
(12:35) Building trust
(15:15) Roadmap planning
(20:07) How Liz and her team are evaluated
(21:21) About outcome-driven goals
(26:26) Tips to transition towards outcome-driven goals
(28:59) Skills needed in management
(34:34) Managing through change
(40:50) Milestones and who Liz wants to be

Links and mentions


Rebecca: Liz, it is such a treat to see you again.

Liz: Oh, it’s so good to see you again, Rebecca.

Rebecca: A lot of chaos getting this scheduled, but we’re doing it. We’re doing it today.

Liz: The past four years has just taught me that the world is chaos. So this all the same.

Rebecca: Well, I’m glad to have you here. Tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Liz: Sure. I’m Liz Hustedt. She, her, hers. Right now I’m an engineering manager at ActBlue.

I’ve been in tech for about 12 years now — now that calendar year is turning, I get to increment the year by one, right? So I’ve done everything from a seed-stage startup. I’ve done midsize hyper-growth models in that beautiful 0 percent interest rates phase. I’ve worked at a large homogenous organization for about eight years.

And then actually prior to my experience in engineering, I was a neuro-ICU nurse for five years. So initially from my childhood, I really wanted to get into computers. It was Tron Legacy for me — I wanted to live inside my computer. I wanted to understand how it worked. I wanted to ride my little bike down all the circuit boards.

That did not happen, but, I really wanted to get into engineering and going into college at the ripe age of 18, it wasn’t exactly the spirit of diversity and inclusion, right? So, I quit and I did something else that was adjacent to my interest and what I learned about myself through my career changes, I really love the way systems work, whether they’re fleshy or medley, I really just like understanding how they work and that’s no exception for nursing.

I started as a Java developer, worked my way up as a lead engineer, and then — I swore I never would do this, but — I switched into management.

Rebecca: We all swear that.

Liz: Oh my god, right? I’m not going to sell out. I’m not going to live my whole life.

Rebecca: You’re one of those people

Liz: I’m not gonna talk to people. And guess what? I love it.

Rebecca: As a neuro-ICU nurse, I’m guessing you have a lot of experience with stress.

Liz: Yeah, that’s one thing. My experience there, just number one, the knowledge of having worked in nursing continues to pay back. It’s dividends and whether it’s around neurological questions, or if we’re on a production incident, who’s getting stressed out on that call? I’m going to tell you something: it is not me, it is absolutely not me. Because I’ve given CPR, I’ve seen people die, I’ve brought them back to life.

So we’re hemorrhaging millions of dollars a minute? It’s money, ee can reverse these transactions, it’ll come back, we got this. Just having that grounded perspective, but also I can take things seriously when they need to be taken seriously and add that levity when it needs to be added.

Even just having that knowledge, you, I tend to be that person, quote around the office, but of course that’s remote now where people will be like, “Hey, what’s this thing? Hey, I’m having a problem.” I’m like, all right, here we go. I’m the office nurse.

Rebecca: Office nurse? That’s better than office mom.

Liz: It’s much. Oh, yes. It’s a little gendered, but I feel like my expertise is valued there. And I did give vaccinations during the pandemic, which was really full Florence Nightingale, the purest form of nursing. Here’s a shot. There you go. Here’s a shot. There you go.

Rebecca: So now you’re at ActBlue. Now what’s your role there.

Liz: I’m an Engineering Manager, will be a Senior Engineering Manager coming up this quarter, I’m getting a promotion.

Rebecca: Congratulations!

Liz: Thank you.

Rebecca: I will admit having mixed feelings about ActBlue. My inbox has lots of feelings about ActBlue, but we’re not going to talk about those.

Liz: I will talk about that. A lot of people have those mixed, heated feelings, and that is something we are addressing on our end to get less notifications, less mugging, less nagging, have you be in more control of your communications with ActBlue. So we hear you is what I mean to say.

Rebecca: Yes. It’s the ActBlue PSA. And I should say that we have listeners who have no idea what ActBlue is, so can you explain? I would explain, but you’ll do better…

Liz: Totally. No, that’s a really good point. It’s a political fundraising platform for progressive causes. So if you’ve ever donated online to a progressive cause, and you might see “” in the header that we’re a pass-through for those transactions and those donations. So we really rely on small donor power. We work with the Democratic campaigns and entities, and it is a very impactful place to work, especially post 2016.

Rebecca: Yes. Yes. I can imagine. Speaking of elections, how long have you been there?

Liz: About a year and a half.

Rebecca: So you haven’t been through a national election yet, but how does that cycle affect the work? There’s not an election going on all the time, or is there?

Liz: It’s either there’s not one going on, or if you think about it, it’s always going on. And I’m really glad you brought this up because this is something that was really concerning to me when coming into an organization. I had this idea in my head that our work would be centered around election years. It would be very, very stressful around election years. And how are we going to navigate this work?

It feels like the non election years might be in a lull and then the election years are a frenzy. And I wanted to suss that out before joining the organization. I can speak confidently that I don’t sense this cyclical panic around election years. I’ve experienced a midterm election, this will be my first presidential, and with the way our roadmap is planned, we plan far in advance, such that there aren’t any “six months before the election” gotchas. There might be, of course. Like any organization, we change our priorities, we have to remain adaptable, when you plan things out way in advance. It’s high ambiguity, so you have to accommodate for the fact that unexpected work may arise.

So the one thing about the election cycle that does remain to be true is that on election years we do tend to take less of a risk, right? We’re not going to make any huge sweeping changes to our payment system with election year and risk, all of that. We try to time certain initiatives for off-election years if we can.

Rebecca: Okay. But not the panic? You know the election is coming.

Liz: I know that, there’s enough. I’m not going to tell you there’s no panic. Like palms be sweaty. Okay, it is a heated time. I just sound chill because it’s a fun time.

Rebecca: Got it. Love it!

Liz: It’s kind of that bubbling ether that naturally permeates the environment, right? We’re all anxious to see what’s going to happen. We’re all obviously very invested in the outcome. I think the one differentiator here, at like back in 2016, I worked at a large homogenous organization and I lived in the Midwest — it’s not necessarily politically diverse at all times, right? I remember when Trump was elected, it felt I didn’t know what to say or who to talk to.

Rebecca: Now you’re surrounded by people who want to talk about it!

Liz: Which sometimes I’m like, okay, can we like pause it for just a second? But mostly it just feels good to feel that I’m making a difference in my day-to-day at work — the best I can, all things remaining equal, not feeling like I’ve missed out on an opportunity on those eight or nine hours a day to be able to do my best work and possibly change the face of democracy. To speak with gravitas.

Rebecca: We do not have to talk anymore about those stressful parts of the job, and we’ll just talk about the normal stressful parts of every job, being an engineering manager. Something that I spend a lot of time thinking about is team health and trying to understand how the team is doing.

There’s all sorts of ways that you can approach this. I’m curious, how do you understand how your team is performing? Maybe most specifically when you got there, how did you assess where am I?

Liz: The number one thing that I do in any organization is to observe. To listen deeply to people without judging or presupposing anything about the environment. I could sense — this was even in a remote environment — you can palpate a lot by reading people. My favorite meeting — and my past self would scream — is a one-on-one. I learned so much from people when they share one-on-one and we build that rapport we build that trust and I’m gonna say this: It’s amazing what people will tell you if you ask. If you directly ask what’s pissing you off right now?

People want to be heard, they want to be seen and they want to be validated. So as I came into the organization I sensed low trust, especially between our individual contributors and executive leadership. So I knew that no matter which metrics I wanted to capture, which surveys I wanted to send out, and all the data that I wanted to collect, it didn’t really matter if I didn’t have the trust of my team to be able to employ that.

That’s the number one thing I had to do to really understand the lay of the land. And not just within my team, but I also had to build that trust with the other engineering managers in the cohorts there. Also, building a relationship with the staff engineer cohort and making sure that there’s trust there. As technical leaders in the organization , they have a huge finger on the pulse of what’s going on and what needs to change. Basically looking at my team of direct reports and then examining my first team of fellow engineering managers and then examining the staff cohort as an adjacent team.

Rebecca: How do you feel good about making time for all that before you start doing things.

Liz: I don’t, right? I don’t. Because then I want to talk to, I want to manage up, I want to talk to people above me, and I want to talk to my aunt boss, and I want to talk to my uncle boss… You know, I’m talking about, you know… Where does the time go? I have to resolve myself that this is the strategy I’m taking. Because sometimes I’ll look at my calendar and be like, this is a meet and greet, or other people might perceive that as “Oh, there’s a gendered-meaning behind a people-oriented manager. Ooh, does she have the technical jobs?” You’re goddamn right I do. But my strategy is to optimize on listening to people and understanding what the problems are before I just start hopping into somebody’s code and pointing at PRs and planning a roadmap. I really want to understand the history of where we’ve come.

So how I make peace with that is reminding myself that it serves a purpose, and it’s not a waste of time. It helps me to capture these outputs as well from any of these one-on-ones. At first in my career, it looked like handwritten scrawled notes, and then next in my career, it looked like electronically-captured notes on my Mac? Now it looks like either a spreadsheet or maybe even a Miro board, depending on how I’m feeling. The constellation is laying out where I can group and sort these pain points that people are calling out and start to track trends of what people tell me.

Rebecca: How do you go about that trust building, is that like through conversation? Is there more to it than that? Or is it just take the time to listen?

Liz: I think it’s the fact that your actions speak louder than anything you will say. What I’ve heard from people is that they feel confident they can trust me. And by the way, not everybody feels like that. I’m not winning it with everybody. I’m sure there are people out there who are like, “I don’t know about that one.” I get it. I don’t know about me every day either.

The part for me that feels most impactful is making that time, right. Carving out the time for individuals and also the actions that you solicit or that you take during a group meeting also indicate who you are as a manager as a leader. If I can give signals that of what my values are and how they apply to my work, that seems like a good step in the right direction for me.

In a group call that could be me advocating for others or allowing space for people. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve got neuro-diverse people, making sure that we have that thinking time for people who need to pause for a second before we charge into decision-making land.

So that for me feels like the way that I demonstrate inclusion, and also that I trust you, I trust you to do your job. I want to put that trust first, so I think that helps as well.

Rebecca: I love that question of what’s pissing you off today, or just like what’s getting in your way? What’s hard about today?

Liz: That’s hard. Why is it harder than it should be?

Rebecca: I love that question. If I could only ask one question on a survey, it would be that because I want to know. Like you said, people will tell you if they know that you want the answer.

Liz: And I do think there’s a way for surveys. They will tell you. And I do think there’s a way where surveys make a lot of sense. I don’t think it’s that. What I’m going to tell you on this podcast isn’t necessarily scalable, repeatable for every single personality type. Sure. I think it’s important that the meat of what I’m getting at around trust building and around getting that data in a way that feels safe for you and safe for your team is really important, right?

It’s so important to be able to read the room and palpate what your people need. So sometimes a survey that’s anonymized is exactly what your team needs too.

Rebecca: You talked about planning and how the nature of politics and elections maybe impacts planning. What does it look like for your team to figure out what horizon are you planning on and what fidelity and who’s involved?

Liz: Roadmap planning is a big one. We especially are in a stage of the organization where we’re growing in our maturity and we want to have a strong product strategy. Admittedly, it’s nascent, right? It’s a couple of years old. So we’re still iterating on that. And that’s number one, what I have to remind myself about anything in the organization is: Hey, we’re still iterating on this. It’s not going to be perfect, and to be, to get better at something, you have to be willing to be kind of not so great at it to start.

So with the product strategy. And how we plan our roadmap current iteration is such that we plan about 18 months, maybe even two years out. And we’re looking way down the line and trying to get the candidate features that could be on our roadmap.

Also, what you’ll hear from me really reflects a feature roadmap that has been created as opposed to a product roadmap. And the way that I’d love to see this change in the future. I’ve worked at organizations where you’re given a metric to move the needle on and your team has the autonomy to be able to move that metric in a way that they can solution on. They have the freedom to do so and suggest that we hypothesize that we could increase user engagement by making it easier to create a profile or whatever it is. That’s the one thing that I see will make steps on in the coming years.

Right now it looks like we’re going to this craving for a high level of precision in a period where typically there’s very high ambiguity, right? And it’s not reasonable for us to know exactly what is the t shirt size going to be? And what of our business casing and everything? And that’s been challenging. And at the same time, developmentally appropriate for the stage of our organization.

Do you know what I mean? I can say these things, but they’re merely observations, and I trust that we’re going to iterate on that and improve. So the one thing that I have actually challenged us as a team to do, because initially it would look like, all right, uh, I’m getting together with my PM and my UX designer, and we’re swarming on some features and getting like an initial scaffold out there for what we think. And then the next stage would be pulling in engineers to be able to recognize technical feasibility and to be able to estimate any risks or identify any risks or estimate any external dependencies… Of course there’s at that stage, there’s so many unknowns.

My challenge for the team with this next iteration was, “Hey, let’s be okay with not being as precise. Let’s be okay with saying get in the dartboard and throwing a couple of things on there” because I found that the way that we were operating did not give us a good ROI. Within two weeks of having the product roadmap planned, we would have inevitably some changes or some reprioritizations within two weeks.

And as somebody who’s like a big optimizer of time, the feeling of wasted time is vitriolic to my core. It hurts me.

Rebecca: I was just talking to somebody this morning about this tension between you want to plan, you want to have a vision for the future, right? You don’t want to just wing it every day when you wake up. And there’s a huge cost to planning and getting something or a work item ready. And then you get it ready. And then your plans have changed two weeks later, or there’s no capacity to actually do the work. So I think that that tension between when we have to have a roadmap, we have to have a list of things that we hope to do someday… How that translates to the backlog of a team. We don’t need to take all of that information, all of that context and stick it in JIRA as tickets that are ready to be worked.

Liz: Totally. It need not be perfect. It need not be perfectly groomed as I mature more in my career and as a recovering perfectionist, that is something that I’ve really embraced. Good enough is fine right now. That’s what we need, okay? So, we’ll figure it out. We figured this out. Let’s trust that we’ll be able to figure the next step out as well, right?

Rebecca: This kind of goes into the outcomes versus outputs. It sounds like you’re saying that where you are today is that it is more output-focused.

Liz: Very much.

Rebecca: How are you evaluated? How is your team evaluated? Who decides whether your team is doing a good job and how do they decide that?

Liz: That’s also a strategy that’s iterating and it’s a mix of product and engineering goals. We’d like to have more partnership between product and engineering and creating those goals. And I’m seeing good signals that 2025 would be even better.

So the way that my team is evaluated… and by the way, I’m on a product team, in the growth area, I have a full stack group of folks. The type of work that we do is very close to the user. And I feel like my answer to this question oversimplifies the heart of your question. Because for me, it’s, did we meet our team goals? And that’s something that I outlined at the beginning of the year in partnership with engineering leadership to be able to identify like what we think we’ll be able to achieve.

And again, for my particular team, I’ve started to nudge us in the direction of the metrics that we want to change or that we want to effect some change upon, but that’s not necessarily cohesive for the rest of the org quite yet. So I’m looking forward to having more of an outcome-driven set of goals.

Rebecca: What stops you from having those today? That may be a hard question, but what stops you from framing their work that you’re doing in terms of outcomes?

Liz: I think it’s a combination of factors. Most importantly, we got a new CEO in early 2023. So there’s been a bit of adjustment to that, and I think the way I describe ActBlue sometimes is we’re a very old, but sometimes immature company. We’re one of those places where you’re either going to have something documented four times over in four different spots, and you’re like, “Okay, we know the hell out of this.” Right? Or we’ve been doing something for literally 20 years, like, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess we should write that down.” Do you know what I’m saying? It’s that juxtaposition of qualities of the company that make it very unique.

I think we’re in a stage of transition. We’re still coming out of mom’s basement and putting pants on for the first time. So we’re getting used to what that feels like. We’re getting used to instituting certain processes and not for the sake of process. I think the fear is — and some of the things I’ve seen is — the pendulum swinging heavy into the process direction. So I like to have processes that make sense for where we are. I don’t want to build the skyscraper when we need a ranch house.

Rebecca: The thing that you say about you’re an old and immature company. I think that I have worked for older companies, I’ve worked for newer companies and I think it’s always good to give yourself some grace. We didn’t know any of this stuff in 2004. There’s so much! So much investment has gone into understanding this discipline and optimizing this discipline. And we didn’t have that then.

Liz: No, and we were flying by the seat of our pants.

Rebecca: Some people didn’t have version control back in 2004.

Liz: Oh my gosh, remember? Oh my gosh, remember? Oh, I just got some trauma flashbacks. Oh my word.

Rebecca: That was a real thing.

Liz: Oh my word. That was such a dark time. And that served the purpose for what we needed. You know then, and the new things we have now, hopefully will shepherd us through the next chapter of the AI revolution and beyond. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about that existential threat.

But to your point. Yeah, that’s another reason why as much as I’m like, “Oh, I want to change how we do planning. I want to see changes on how we make goals.” I also give a lot of grace to our past selves and a lot of compassion for the system that we’re in as people. Even our architecture, I’ll look and say, “Oh my gosh, that feels so clunky. It hurts.”

And I have to acknowledge that there’s a reason, and a good set of reasons, for why that evolved into what it is today. And that helps me frame change in an iterative way without angst. I think that the big thing that I want to remove is angst.

Rebecca: I am impressed with your patience here as well, because I am the same thing. I come in like, “You’re doing it, everything’s wrong!”

Liz: I think like for me, building compassion and empathy for our systems and for the people really helped me take my ego and opinions out of it and allow people or allow myself to learn why the system exists the way it does and to have that grace and patience and to change and iterate in a really methodical way, right?

I’m the type of person that I have trained myself, restrained myself now, change maybe one or two things at a time, right? Maybe once a quarter, I’m going to change one or two factors, right? But over the course of a year, we’re going to have a number of different processes or a number of wonderfully failed experiments that we can look back on and be like, “Well, that didn’t work. Great. Let’s try something else!”

But the learnings there are invaluable and it truly adds up. I play the long game, right? I can’t come in and say “Within a year, I’m going to prove to everybody” What? What am I going to prove? That I can work really hard for a year and burn out. No, I got to play the long game and really sow those seeds early on.

Rebecca: So true. How is it that we don’t figure this out until done the other thing for years? #America.

Liz: Being 23 and energetic.

Rebecca: I remember those days.

Coming back to outputs versus outcomes, because it sounds like you’re in the middle of this or you’re somewhere in the transition to thinking more about outcomes. And that’s actually a really hard transition to make just without knowing anything. The change associated with that and the human feelings associated with that. Thinking differently about how people relate to each other at work and who gets to say yes, no.

Any tips for somebody who’s at the beginning of that realization that outputs are wrong and we need to make a change?

Liz: Here’s another radical self-compassion from Liz Hustedt. Even like the idea that outputs are wrong? That’s just your chapter of the organization. If it’s serving you for where you are right now, that’s great. I would encourage that to be the stepping stone to outcomes. I think this will depend on the personality type involved. There’s a certain level of insulation that I have had the privilege to experience within engineering, or I can go to product and speak to my uncle and aunt boss. And try to effect change, try to explore. “Hey, what are our next steps? Have you considered X, Y, or Z?”

The example I’m giving to you in this organization is a person who wants to make change. And now I’m being the change agent and trying to work the people to do the thing. And that’s not necessarily scalable, but I do think there is truth in finding partnerships and not being afraid to ask difficult questions or to pose changes when you’re like, “Hey, have we considered X, Y, or Z?” and approaching that again with curiosity and an appetite for experimentation as opposed to “Outputs are wrong. Outcomes are where it’s at!” #2024Outcomes.

Like here we go trying to illustrate with data and with information. It takes building rapport, of course, to get people to be receptive to your ideas. I’m of that belief. I think it’s a level of fearlessness. I mean, what’s the worst that they’re going to say? No. Okay. And on to the next one, right?

Rebecca: Again, your patience is impressive.

Liz: And I remember the long term goals. When I hear no, that just means not yet to me. That means not now. I’m just gonna, all right, then let me, Let me talk to some other people. Let’s see if I can get some buy in from another chapter and have a louder chorus around me. Maybe that’s the tactic, you know, so that can be iterated upon too.

Rebecca: I think it’s so interesting how you were saying you didn’t think you’d get into management. I also, it was like never, ever, ever. And yet, there are a lot of managers who don’t have these skills to like build the network, do the marketing of the idea or whatever you want to call it.

Liz: I know there’s a number of huge technical high impact technical initiatives that my team could probably take on in 2025. So that means in 2024, I’m going to be sowing those seeds, getting buy-in, socializing those ideas, so it doesn’t seem like a foreign topic when I’m like, “Yo, my 20 percent tech debt is going to look like this, this, and this for the whole year. Maybe I can take on 30 percent tech debt for this reason or share it across the org.”

But to your point, it feels like a tax to have to do the people — pardon my funny words here — I’ve got to do the people stuff and that feels undervalued, it feels underrepresented, it feels gendered as well, that that type of caretaking skill or that listening or that making sure people are okay or making sure people are heard less. But women do, you know what I mean, typically. That’s been also a challenging thing that I, didn’t want to stereotypically fall into. I mean, that’s the real reason.

Rebecca: These skills… they’re not typical, I guess.

Liz: They’re not typical!

Rebecca: The people who have them can navigate this sort of change in a way that often engineers want to navigate change through code.

Liz: Right. Through ones and zeros.

Rebecca: They write some code and show you how it will work.

Liz: Absolutely. It’s seductive. It feels easier to be able to just leave it to the computer. And when you look at your code or you look at data… I’ve heard there are the people in data who are like, “Well, data doesn’t lie”, and then there’s people in data who are like, “Well, it really depends on how you interpret it. Because if you associate this factor with it…” I’m like “You’re my person. Gray area, that’s where it’s at, right!?” And there’s also the type of engineer who gets older in their career and it determines themselves to know more, and more, and be more, and more…

And I think there are also folks in there — and this is not actually relegated to engineers, but to any craft — there’s all the other types of engineers who grow in their career and realize, “Oh my gosh, the more I learned, the less I know!” Having that humility and that curiosity, and also for me, it was also about recognizing the craft that is management

It felt like once I stepped out of being an IC into an engineering manager — IC meaning an individual contributor here — into engineering management, it felt like that was being stripped away. Part of my identity was being potentially stripped away by moving into that.

And I had to realize that no, there’s a new craft to be held here. And that’s another thing that I hone that I get good at. And can I tell you a secret that nobody else is clearly ever going to hear, right here, okay? So everybody else you have to keep a secret too, okay? I didn’t have social skills for like a long, I was an awkward teenager into my 20s, right?

And I thought code was the answer that I could reason my way into and out of anything. Spoiler, that’s not necessarily where life took me, but it’s those types of skills, just like coding. That’s what I had to iterate on. I had to commit to the fact that that’s something I wanted to improve on. I used to hate small talk, for example, and could not understand why people would — I couldn’t understand the reason for it, right? If it just felt like meaningless, it felt like — I mean, gosh, this sounds ruthless, like — a waste of time, right? I was like, “Oh my God, I could be doing anything else. And now we’re shooting the breeze.” It felt as meaningless as that phrase does.

I remember meeting somebody in my early twenties and she was just so effusive. Her emotional intelligence was so much higher than mine, like very clearly. And the way she could navigate seamlessly through conversations with complete strangers. The context that I would see this most was we’d maybe hang out at a bar or like a club or something.

And she would just be able to engage in conversation with anybody, anywhere. It was the first time that I could see the impact that she had on people and what that behavior could do. I was like, “Holy cow, I think I want to be better with people. I think I’m off putting. Am I off putting? I think I’m alienating people. Oh God. Okay.”

There’s a bit of enlightenment there and it took a while to understand how she was doing that. Step one: ask questions. If people said something about their job and I would be frozen like “I know nothing about construction management. Oh man, I wish they’d asked me about video games so I could talk about video games all day…”

Instead of hoping that somebody is going to ask a question, maybe instead learn more about what they have to offer. “Oh, what does that look like day to day? Oh, how long have you been doing that? What’s your next step? What’s the thing you don’t like the most?”

The same thing that you get in one-on-one. I’d argue that just like code, it’s the same deal, just in a different domain that we hone our skills.

Rebecca: A little change of topic here. Thank you for that, though!

Liz: Social Skills 101 with Rebecca

Rebecca: For real.

Liz: Thank you for the feedback.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a lot about change and managing change and managing through change. I want to talk about managing through a change that maybe you aren’t so enthusiastic about.

Liz: Oh yeah. Love it.

Rebecca: At least skeptical. And you need to, because it’s your job.

Liz: It’s your job. We have jobs. It’s a job. I have job and I must job now. I think we could all be Ken and just have a job where our job is beach, and that would be great. It seems like there’s not a lot of like change management there, and you’re right, we’ve talked a lot about process is changing, ourselves changing, careers and then, changing in ways that we don’t want, right?

Maybe things that come from the top down or that are imposed on us, or we may not understand the reason why — I’ve given you a lot of reasons or excuse me, a lot of examples where the change might have been easier to sell because I can point to the why and I believe in it. Number one: it is harder to operationalize a change if you don’t believe in it, if you don’t understand the why.

I would caution that from happening in any organization. If there’s a way to get ahead of that with people and to be able to give the cohort a sense of here’s why we’re making this change, here’s the pain points we’re seeing, here’s the solution, and here’s the problem that we are intending to fix.

That’s like low-hanging fruit. Maybe step up — I’m not answering your question, but I promise you, I’m going to get there — It would be great to see stakeholders pulled into that problem-solving to be like, “Here’s the problem we’re facing,” just like we do when we’re trying to affect metrics. Maybe there’s an administrative process that certain manager stakeholders would like to be a part of.

I mentioned before that ActBlue is in a state of getting dressed and we are seeing this on light for the first time. I’m sorry, we’re much more established than that, I just think it’s a very funny analogy, so you’ll have to forgive me. But they’re moving into like scrappy startup identity that we’ve had — especially on the tech side — to mature organization with tried and true processes in place.

There’s some ambiguous, wiggly, yucky part in the middle where we have to like make changes and it’s no fun. Here’s two examples. 1. We are in a process where we’ve started performance reviews, right? Annual reviews every year. We have a mid year reflection as well. And starting last year, we needed to begin attaching ratings to each performance review. And as you might imagine, that is not a fun change to try to socialize. 2 Another one: entering time off into our HR system. It felt like “Why?”

So there’s part of me that when those types of changes happen, I found out early in my career one of my values that I like to adhere to — and I do believe that if you can stay grounded in your values as a leader, that’s the easiest way and most authentic way for you to really blossom, and one of my primary values — is transparency. So when I would get information — I’m going to tell you how I mess it up when I get information — I would want to immediately, pretty close to the time after I got the information, go to my direct reports and give them the information and be like, “Okay, get this. I want to give you a heads up that this is coming down the pipeline.”

And I learned that there’s a line between being transparent as quickly as possible and being transparent where you have the answers that you can anticipate to the questions people might ask. Right? So when changes come through — and again, maybe initially, I’m like, “Oh, Lord, I can see that this is not going to go well. This is not going to be good.” Okay, I think it’s important for me to get the questions answered and also get that why for myself. I’d like to reduce that skepticism within myself and understand the why. So even if it’s something that is more quote unquote homework for me at the end of the day, or something else that makes my job a little more complicated, I can at least get on board with the change and implementing it because I do have an interest in having a consistent experience across the organization.

And it does not behoove me to sometimes put on the cow poke hat and we just kind of ride the Wild West and we’re a little rebellious. Sometimes it really makes sense to build that alignment and cohesion, not consensus, but that alignment — there’s a huge distinction between those two things.

It helped me for when we were going through the PTO changes, understanding “Hey, there’s a number of my employees that aren’t taking enough PTO. We have an unlimited PTO policy.” It’s not the case that I’m in there. I’m certainly not looking at data. And I know my boss is not looking at data and being like, “Well, who’s taking off all this time for all the things?” But we just have two categories, sick and time off — two categories, right?

It helps us get an understanding of the folks who are under utilizing that kind of wiggly unlimited PTO policy where it feels like sometimes a hollow mandate, you know what I mean? Where some people take a day and some people take a month off. So that’s one reason that I could get on board with that.

But also there’s a part of being a manager — especially in middle management where you feel the middle with a capital M — and I have to reconcile the fact that this is what I signed up for. I signed up for an organization that is in this growth stage. I may not consent to all the changes that are happening around me, but it is my duty to get buy-in with my first team, my engineering manager cohort, and to try to socialize this and explain it to my direct reports as best I can in the least gross way possible.

Rebecca: So I want to wrap up here and the last question I want to ask is a surprise because I didn’t tell you about it, but what do you want to be when you grow up? Where’s this going?

Liz: Okay. Do you know exactly this?

Rebecca: You know exactly this? That’s impressive. Tell me more.

Liz: Well, keep in mind, I’m that type of person who had like a 10-year plan, and then it turns to five years, right? With our conversation on planning, it’s really illustrative to me that — as the famous saying goes — a plan is dispensable or frankly useless, but planning is indispensable.

That’s the valuable part of it. I am the type of person who enjoys planning, but I’m going to tell you something about aging as a woman. Which you and I are both doing right now and we can’t stop it and it’s happening whether we consent to it or not. And there’s that fear. I’ll never forget that episode of Friends where — by the way, I’m not a huge Friends person, but this one apparently stood out, where — Rachel turns 30 and she grieves it. I don’t even remember how it happened, I don’t really remember the episode, but I remember 30 being this big, scary thing. And this was also in the throes of 90s media where we treated women like shit.

I’d like to think that we do that less so now, but it’s still not perfect. And I remember that feeling milestones — as a young coming-of-age person — milestones are to be feared. They’re something to be terrified of, you’d hear people around you saying 21 is your last real fun birthday, and then after that, it’s whatever. That also shows you who my friends have been in the past.

But, I think about what 30 looks like, what 40 looks like, what 50 looks like. All of those are milestones that in my 20s would scare me. Now I am determined to face that head on and say, “Who do you want to be?”

I remember walking through a grocery store — I think it was a Whole Foods to set the demographic. We can set the scene, you’re at the cheese thing and the guy’s cutting stuff and there’s this woman who walks up to you and she’s got silver hair and she’s dressed in this collared shirt. She’s got a blazer. She’s got her shit together. She doesn’t care. She’s assertive. She knows herself and she has the experience to look back on it and say this is me and I love it. That’s who I’m going to be when I grow up, and I like that’s somebody who’s going to be well-suited to run a company or to be a C-suite.

It’s never occurred to me to stop, which is another issue that I’m working through to be able to carve out that rest. Part of the journey to self-compassion is allowing rest and recovery for oneself when you have ambitious goals. To recognize what feels good about right now and who that 50-year-old person needs to be now to be able to get there, and that looks like somebody who’s like, all right, I’ve got my shit together.

And I think back to when I worked at early in my career at a homogenous org, and one of my fellow engineers was just trying to get to know me and tossing like a hacky-sack at my cubicle. He’s like, what do you like, where are you, where are you going to go? What’s your promotion goal? Do you want to be lead engineer? Do you want to be like an architect? What do you want to be? And I was like, “Oh, I’m going all the way to the top.” It didn’t occur to me — I was young then — that people would want to stop somewhere along the way.

Oh, doesn’t everybody want to just like run the world? No? So that’s what 50 looks like for me. That’s what maybe I start tiptoeing, I get into a C-suite of some capacity. Maybe I start working as a fractional C-suite, if that is still a buzzword. Whatever we’re going to call that then, or whatever trendy thing that we’re going to do then I see that for myself and I’m choosing to manifest it. I really appreciate that question, too.

Rebecca: I love that question. I’m still figuring out how to answer it myself.

Liz: Catch me at the next pandemic when I’m like “All right change of plans, we’re opening an Etsy shop and I’m gonna sell press-on nails of nail art because I also do nail art in my spare time.”

Rebecca: There are definitely worse things than that. Well, Liz, this has been just a delight. So fun to talk to you and I can’t wait to hear where your journey takes you next.

Liz: Aw, thanks Rebecca. Likewise, this has been so fun and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you.

Rebecca: Absolutely. I’ll see you soon.

Liz: See you soon. Take care.

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