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Episode 20: Navigating organisational change and traumatic times with Nivia Henry

    Guest Biography

    Nivia is a technologist with over 20 years of engineering and leadership experience. Her career path has included nearly every role in tech; but her true passion is inspiring people to do their best work. These days Nivia applies her talents as Director of Engineering for Spotify’s new music team, tasked with bringing enriching artist expression tools and experiences to Spotify. 

    Nivia gives back to the tech community by speaking at, chairing and attending tech conferences. Her hobbies include: mentoring Black engineering leaders; reading; and relaxing on her farm with her hubby Andre and their feline overlord Zuko.

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    Transcript

    Patrick Kua: Hi everyone. Welcome back to the Managing Managers podcast. Today I’m really delighted to be joined by Nivia Henry. Nivia is a technologist with over 20 years of engineering and leadership experience. Her career path has included nearly every role in tech; but her true passion is inspiring people to do their best work. I think that makes a great manager. These days Nivia applies her talents as Director of Engineering for Spotify’s new music team, tasked with bringing enriching artist expression tools and experiences to Spotify. Nivia gives back to the tech community by speaking at, chairing and attending tech conferences. Her hobbies include: mentoring Black engineering leaders; reading; and relaxing on her farm with her hubby Andre and their feline overlord Zuko. Welcome Nivia to the podcast.

    Nivia Henry: Oh I am so happy to be here. Thanks for having me Pat. And what a lovely intro.

    Patrick Kua: Thank you. You’ve got such an amazing background. You’ve been working in tech for a while. So can you remember when you first got into the management track and why you made that transition?

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. It’s been a little while. I felt every year of those 20 years. So I would say my first official leadership job came around, I want to say 2004/2005. incidentally it was not exactly a tech job I was at. I was the marketing manager for a luxury toilet company. Kind of far with tech. I started out as a tech intern. Took over the marketing role. Got promoted along the way. One of my roles was leading at the time. I remember talking to my parents about it. My parents are still, in my eyes, very successful, leaders. Some of the best leaders I’ve seen to date. They were executives at IBM. I felt such a big responsibility and their advice to me was, remember, at the end of the day, people will respect your authenticity. So everything you do apply yourself. Apply your talents. You’re curious. But meet people where they are. Come from it from a place of genuine interest and the rest will sort of work itself out. I found that to be true. I love tigerette(?) and took on a much larger team right after at DDI. And that team, oh I want to say it was in the dozen. So I went from meeting a couple of people and that was a tech job and that felt it was definitely out of the frying pan and into the barbecue pit. So I would say that was probably my first significant leadership role at that time.

    Patrick Kua: Wow. Yeah I mean it’s great to have a couple of great role models. Also some great advice about really leaning into authenticity. I can see that really come through in how you talk and how you present yourself as well. I can imagine your team would really love working with you. Can you remember when you started to manage other managers? What was that transition like?

    Nivia Henry: Wooo. Oh boy. So you think, OK, I’ve been leading and supporting people for a while now, it should be the same job. Maybe a little bit more scale? And I did not find that to be true at all.

    Patrick Kua: You’re not alone. You’re not alone.

    Nivia Henry: So basically my first significant managing managers, I had small tastes of it here and there, when my manager was out. Even at DDI and I would sub for them. But my first full blown full time job was at Spotify. I was promoted from engineering manager to senior engineering manager. At Spotify what that means is you’re now managing managers. You’re managing a group. A product area some people call it. And so it was a group comprised of about 4 or 5 teams and each team had an engineering manager reporting to me. So luckily that promotion set me up for success because I was already part of that team. I understood the culture domain well which I think is extremely important. And I knew the folks well but what it did is when I transitioned into the role I had to first change a little bit of my mindset from how do you interact with your peers to people who are now reporting to you? That becomes a tricky dance of itself. And so a lot of my time was spent making that transition as organic as it could be, because let’s be realistic, the dynamics have shifted. All of a sudden the jokes about your manager being a pain in the ass you look around and you’re the manager.

    Patrick Kua: That’s you, that’s you.

    Nivia Henry: Exactly. So those were moments of, oh right, right, I am the pointy haired boss now in the room. So I spent a lot of time trying to manage that transition organically as well as just trying to give my team as much space as possible. Because that was the risk as well. I knew the domain so well that I could have really over leaned in and helicoptered them to death. But that would have done them a disservice and that wouldn’t have given them an opportunity and that would have only limited me anyway. So I would say those were the two things I recall focusing on.

    Patrick Kua: Great. It sounds like a really nice transition for you. I think one challenge for engineering managers is sometimes they find themselves as a manager without a lot of support. When you transitioned to becoming a senior engineering manager did you have any support and if so what did that look like?

    Nivia Henry: Oh that’s such a good question Pat because I don’t. I’ll butcher the joke but I remember the joke, someone making the joke to me, the higher you go the less support you get. You’ll know whether you’re doing well if you still have the job. And that tends to be true. In terms of support early in my career, the person who supported my promotion was my manager and who helped me transition into the senior EM. Her name is Michelle Alexander Baller. Oh my god. She’s such a good leader. One in a thousand, I would say type of leader.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing.

    Nivia Henry: Michelle, if you’re listening. First of all, you ought to be listening. But if you are listening… She was so supportive. So the short answer to your question is, yes, she was extremely supportive and a lot of it had to do with her coaching stance. At the end of the day, she had a lot of faith in me, it was a long journey. We were together for years. What she intended to do was act as my sounding board. Oftentimes I would go to her and be like, I need.. what do I do and she’d go, well, let’s talk it out. No. Give me the answer. She’s like would you give your EMs an answer? In this crisis I might. Well what would they learn if you gave them the answer. Instead, let’s talk through the scenarios. Let’s talk to the pros/cons. Oh darn it. So she just became a sounding board. A new type of rubber duck if you will.

    Patrick Kua: Fantastic. Yeah I mean it’s so useful to have a sounding board. I’m just comparing it to many other people’s experiences of being thrown in, as you say, you just are expected to operate and you’re lucky if you continue to have the job. People don’t have that sounding board and it sounds like you’ve got a really good relationship and Michelle was able to help you by acting as that sounding board.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed.

    Patrick Kua: So that’s some fantastic support. What were some maybe surprises for you? So sometimes people think, oh, if I become a senior engineering manager in your case, it’s more of the same. So what was maybe something that was different for you or some surprises?

    Nivia Henry: Right? There were quite a few. So the ones that stood out for me, Pat, were, we already talked about the fact that the relationship dynamics change. It wasn’t a surprise but the extent to which it changes took some adjustment. It’s all good. It should change. But one never is prepared for that. The second one was that you have to give up a lot of your, I would say, lower level knowledge or more detailed, finer grain knowledge in order to absorb more nebulous concepts. What I mean by to oversimplify it, you have to start really seeing the forest for the trees. And you have to then shed a lot of the individual trees and branches. To overextend the metaphor I was deep in the trees and trenches because it’s somewhere I was, for at least 2 years I think, before I became senior EM. These are teams I worked in. These are technologies I built. I was very proud of having that knowledge. But the brain only has so much space so I had to give a lot of that up and really start looking around. Also the other thing that stood out was where one operates or where specifically I had to operate.

    Nivia Henry: In other words, as an engineering manager, really is a first line role where your primary concern is your team and their health and how do you block and unblock and support and enable. That concept of a team, for me, never went away which I love, but it’s no longer an engineering team. It is now a cross-functional team of my peers. So it was more of a peer group where the biggest role I had was influencing. I had to influence my peers to work with me and to work with my teams. To get on board with some of the same goals and concepts that we’re trying to achieve together. Then I also had to influence it because the cruel joke is, people are like, oh you’re the manager. You have all the power and the answer is no, no, no. The higher up you go. Middle management is just a progressive loss of power, until you become CEO. Then you maybe get that power back. The other change I would say was the ability to bring others along through context and influence as opposed to the perception that you can just tell people what to do and they’ll follow along, which is laughable. So those are the ones that stick out.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah I love the way that you phrase it as well. Context and influence. I think it’s such an important aspect and you’re right is that I think a lot of people. It feels you have more authority but actually feels you don’t when you’re in that role right?

    Nivia Henry: Not at all. Not at all. My goodness. To your point I wonder if other managers have felt that shift as well because somehow when you look at your own reporting line, they do still seem they have the greater influence. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they have a manager too. They have a limited sphere of influence as well at the end of the day. Unless you’re the owner of the company, sometimes not even the CXO, your ability to make things happen and the snap is limited. So even I sometimes am reminded that we all operate in this capitalistic system that we all have to make do.

    Patrick Kua: Indeed. Unfortunately but it is also the reality of it.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. All good.

    Patrick Kua: I want to jump to a talk that you gave related to this theme of managing managers at Leading Eng. It was called, “Living in the future: How leading leaders is a lot like time travel.” So what is this concept of time travel and how does that relate to leading leaders?

    Nivia Henry: My goodness. Oh that brought back great memories. I was sad to have missed being live for that talk because I caught COVID. Unfortunately.

    Patrick Kua: On no.

    Nivia Henry: But to your question, I am a huge sci-fi geek. I love sci-fi. I primarily read fiction and sci-fi is my favourite genre. So it was inevitable that I would have some kind of time travel sci-fi at my talk. The concept I would say resonated with me because oftentimes when I think about my day, it’s never about what’s happening today. Today as a director, and this is timely because we’re planning, as most people are. We are always or at least I find myself thinking about either next month. The next three months. The next quarter. The next six months. The next year. It is very rare that I am talking about, thinking about or operating at today.That’s probably appropriate, right? I have very incredible talented people, who are supporting and executing on the day-to-day thinking about the challenges that come up day to day but oftentimes it just doesn’t come to me. If there’s an issue on production, for example, unless the CEO of Spotify is going to know about it, it rarely comes to me. There’s someone there. Rightfully so to support it. So what the organisation and what my teams rely on me for are things like, what are we doing in the next six months that will have an impact? What are we doing in, well, really what are we doing in the next year? We start there and back that into six months. Back that into three months. Then how do I help enable it? Do we have the tech stack we need to succeed? Do we have the people? Do the people we have the skills?Do they have the confidence and the enthusiasm? Those are the domains that I find myself thinking about which to me is time travel. I’m always thinking in the future and there are days where I wake up and I’m like, how is it Thursday? when yesterday was Sunday so that’s what came about.

    Patrick Kua: Time definitely flies faster. Particularly in these more senior roles.

    Nivia Henry: It’s true. It’s true.

    Patrick Kua: I think it’s an interesting perspective of living in the future with that different time perspective, particularly that six, maybe, twelve month horizon. I also understand that it’s probably not something you can do by yourself. Is that you have to get input from other people. What’s your strategy for bringing people on that time travel journey with you?

    Nivia Henry: Oh such a good question. So first of all, you already know this, Pat. But leadership is best done when it’s a team sport. I love tennis but, to me, tennis is a contrast, where it’s really all on your shoulders all the time. If you’re sick, you’re sick. There’s no game. Whereas I see the leadership team as more of a basketball team, where you have, hopefully, a strong bench. You know how each other operates and at any given time you can jump in for one another. So to your question about what that looks and how do we do that together, because you can’t have all the context, you can’t see all the blind spots, for me, it starts with operating as a team. Even as a leadership team. I know you already know this but, for me, first team’s principle mattered quite a bit. Things Patrick Leoncini, if I’m pronouncing his name right, his style and philosophies called to me a lot. Starting from Five Dysfunctions of a Team to down all the way to Working Geniuses. And I invest a lot of time building trust in my cohort teams and my peer team.

    Nivia Henry: One thing I like about my current employer Spotify is that there’s a forcing function organisationally, whereby myself and the product leader tend to, we’re sort of like a hive mind. We are seen as the core leadership team along with design and insights, to make up the whole team. When it comes to planning product and and engineering, we plan hand in hand. Product is thinking about the strategy. Product is trying to get food on the table ultimately. In engineering I’m thinking about okay well I need to enable you. I’m accountable ultimately for delivery, execution, team health, org health. So when you bring food on the table I want to make sure that it’s cooked in whatever analogy.. I can’t extend this out to now.

    Patrick Kua: It’s working. It’s working.

    Nivia Henry: Yeah, there go. There you go.

    Patrick Kua: No, it’s a great metaphor of that. Yeah, the sports analogy that you talked about with the difference between that tennis and basketball, I completely agree. I think given how complex software is, how complex the organisations are as well, also I can imagine how big Spotify is internally. So the number of people and alignment discussions that you have to work with to get things working together. That metaphor really fits well I think in that way that you were using it. Building that first team concept I think for a lot of people is a new concept, particularly, if they were really good operators at team level. I think it’s a great reflection on what you describe as to some of those shifts.

    Nivia Henry: Thank you. That means a lot that you see and understand how important that is because you have a broad spectrum of insights across different companies and so, if you’re like, oh, no I’ve seen it differently. I’d be, oh no…

    Patrick Kua: No. It’s a constant thing I think. I think it’s great that you can articulate it so eloquently as well.

    Nivia Henry: Thank you.

    Patrick Kua: One thing on that time travel thing is sometimes you do need to maybe pull people who are maybe critical to the day-to-day operation because they have knowledge. They have context. How do you do that without perhaps interrupting schedules?

    Nivia Henry: Oh boy, as you were mentioning bringing people along I was thinking of, I think it was Marco Rogers who tweeted, you know, only get into leadership if you enjoy a special kind of pain. It resonates quite a bit because bringing people along is the other part of the job. It’s probably a huge part of the job. Is, as we talked about before, your influence skills get constantly sharpened because I think it’s a good thing actually. I think it’s a healthy signal when people are like, why? Because it means that they’re tuned in and they’re engaged. But you still owe them a response. You still owe them that context. Then sometimes you share that context and they’re nah. And then what? I’ve had a lot of that practice, I would say. One that stuck out in my mind was when I was making a controversial, then controversial, now standard reorg decision. What I realised is, back to your point Pat, I was seeing the suboptimisations because I have the luxury of stepping back and seeing the system and all the nodes in the system, if you will. When I say system, I mean organisation obviously, not people, and then again because I have more context and I’m operating three, six months, a year ahead, I can sort of see how those breakdowns could happen.

    Nivia Henry: So people don’t have that and I’m happy to be wrong. But in this case, for this specific decision, I was able to articulate, OK, with this current structure, let me tell you a story. The story is here’s what’s gonna happen when, three months from now, when we’re trying to bring these integration points together, here are some of the breakdowns I’m seeing. What are you seeing? Because I still want that check. I want my teams to always give me a healthy dose of reality because, again, because you’re seeing the forest, not the trees, you might be missing details. So I always provide a lot of room for, hey, give me the feedback. I’m sharing the context with you. I’m telling you what I’m seeing. What are you seeing? Then if we’re past that because we’re seeing the same thing where at least you agree with my hypothesis that really comes down to, okay, change is scary. Change is scary to everybody. Change is scary to me. So let’s talk through the change. Let’s sort of demystify it. Let’s make it, as, I use the word organic a lot, but as organic as you can. So sometimes folks are worried about the change because it’s a new skill.

    Nivia Henry: It’s a loss of teammates. It’s a new domain. Sometimes it’s just about acknowledging that. And saying you’re right. That is true. How can I help? What can I do? I would say 90% of the time those sequences have worked for me. When they don’t, it’s either because I’ve made an error somewhere along the way or there are people who are, I get it. It’s true. But I am opting out because I am tired or I’m not on board. And that’s okay, we have to be okay with that. Then it’s a matter of, okay, how can I help you transition into something you are excited about? Maybe you want to work in a different area of the org and I can give you a referral? Or maybe it’s a different project so that it doesn’t affect you? Or maybe you need more time and maybe this is a great time to do a self project and then you can come back into the fold?

    Patrick Kua: Yeah great. I can hear you really taking people with you on that journey. Involving them. Sharing that context. Telling that story. Also asking for input and I’m also hearing its input, not the vote for the decision. It’s information for you, right? I think that’s the hard thing where sometimes some people think that they’re getting the say in the change where really you’re just looking for some input and feedback right.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. Indeed. At the end of the day, I do believe that if… when the CEO of the company. I’m not saying the CEO of the company contacts me all the time but in the scenario that the CEO of the company has to contact me, they’re not gonna contact you. They’re gonna contact me. Which means I’m accountable. Which means I have to ultimately make that call. To your point Pat, it’s gonna be with a ton of input, a ton of context, and if I’m wrong I will readily admit it because it’s for all of our benefit not to implement something that’s wrong. But at the end of the day it has to be the person who’s taking the accountability. It has to be their call and we have to either disagree and commit or we need to rally and commit. Either way we need to commit. Or if you’re opting out then we need to find a healthy way for you to opt out.

    Patrick Kua: Absolutely. I love that humane aspect as well. The options that people have and not just the yes or no. Which way? Which several options do you have to talk about that scenario?

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. I love that you called it humanity as well. Because that’s the thing. If you give people some options then you’re recognising and you’re honouring their agency.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah absolutely. I want to follow up on the org transformation because this seems to be a theme that particularly a manager of managers often either trigger or are responsible for. An engineering manager might change a process but when you’re talking about team structures and people, that’s a scary thing for a lot of people. Amongst some of the things that you’ve talked about with being empathic and setting context, what are other tips that have helped you lead change in organisational transformation.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. So that’s where the secret superpower of agile coaching I think comes in. Because as a former coach and as somebody who’s partnered with former coaches, I do think that we get a healthy dose of transformation and change management. At least those of us fortunate to have had that line of experience in our careers. I do use a lot of that still. I have done a lot of formal training as well because it’s that important to me. To me, changing somebody’s organisation and context is probably the most impactful thing you could have at work and if you get it wrong, it can have a lasting effect. I’ve seen and have been part of botched org changes myself. It’s traumatic. I don’t want to do that to anybody else. So I take it very very seriously. I’ve studied about it. I’ve studied systems design. Both from an organisational as well as a triple D systems design. So I really do… I find myself a student of it. So finally to answer your question because I am a wordy person, Pat you’re finding out, the other things that help is 1) I do think it’s important to get that training. This is not the place to figure it out. This is not the scope to figure it out. This is the place to be intentional. So get training. A thing I did at a recent organisational change, was I actually listed out who was on board and who needed to be brought along. That helped me focus my energy and who will never be brought along.

    Nivia Henry: That sounds a little bit Draconian but the idea there was to really focus on, okay, folks who are brought along. Great. Just make sure that they have the context. Make sure that they’re empowered for action and that maybe one of them can, or two of them could become evangelists. The people who are not brought along, that’s where I want to spend most of my energy. I want to understand why. I want to give them space to talk through the things. And the people who never be brought along, that is, critical. Because if I spend all my time there then it’s to the detriment of everybody else. They’re never going to be brought alone. I am always receptive to being wrong. But I feel that when I made that list, it bore out. That the people who are never going to be bought along were the ones I identified. They had their own reasons that I completely respect. That I completely supported. We found success. I didn’t go to them saying I know you’re not going to be brought along, but it was, hey, I want to check in here. We’ve talked about these.

    Nivia Henry: I’m sensing that even after this context, you’re still not necessarily on board. There were a few of them and they’re, yeah this is true. Some of them I was like, let’s work through it. As we talked about before, now that we know this, let’s not pretend. Let’s talk about what that means for you. Are you looking to stay? Okay, if you’re looking to stay and you’re not brought along, sometimes that’s not possible because it’s an org change. Or sometimes possible because you retain your same role. You retain your same team and it hasn’t necessarily significantly changed things. I’m not trying to carve out favours. But sometimes taking somebody else’s personal consideration if it doesn’t change the goal and if it’s not favouritism it can go a long way. But almost everyone on that list ended up deciding something else and that was completely fine. We’re still friends now.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Yeah and I think that’s such a useful tool or heuristic. And also realistic given that particularly managers of managers operate in that very gray space. It’s easy to want to always have that yes or no answer. So it’s easy in or out. But I think that mental bucket of 3 sections of, in, maybe people have to be worked through, and hopefully that bucket of people who are never going to be in this, is smaller than a lot of the other buckets. But I think it’s also a great energy management tool for you to say, well, realistically, regardless of how much energy you want to throw in… As you said it’s also at the detriment to other people who are going to maybe benefit from that change. So there is a bit of a balance that is very difficult to have so I think it’s a very useful tool.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. Indeed.

    Patrick Kua: You mentioned a lot of training, particularly when it comes to organisational change. Is there a resource or a book that you would recommend for people who are perhaps leading change or going through this? What would be a favourite resource?

    Nivia Henry: Oh that’s a great question. Dang it. I would love to follow up and send you some of the things I’ve used in the past, as none of them are readily coming to mind. They almost feel… it almost feels like once you’ve known something for so long, you forgot how you acquire knowledge.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah absolutely. I mean if you want to send some links, I’ll make sure they get added to the show notes as well, for sure.

    Nivia Henry: On it. I will do that because I would love to share some of the resources that I’ve used that I found helpful. Yeah.

    Patrick Kua: One training that I heard you say, was it triple D or four d’s? I’m not quite sure what that is. Can you explain what that is?

    Nivia Henry: Yeah. Oh and that reminded me of another one. So triple D. Domain driven design. Is okay, you’re already familiar. But basically it’s the concept of system design. Architectural design that I absolutely adore. The idea. tl;dr, for anyone who’s not familiar, I highly recommend looking it up. But basically most organisations and systems operate in domains. A domain is just something where there’s a shared context. So understanding what the shared context of your systems are. Again, when I say systems, I’m largely talking about non-human systems. So tech components, architecture, and sometimes even teams but not the humans necessarily. Set that aside just for a little bit. It’s not that they’re not included here. But set that aside a little bit. And really try to understand that. Because understanding that then leads you to better understand how to optimise for flow. Then once you optimise for flow, then you can start thinking about the other factors that are just that, or sometimes more important, like people’s preferences and how people’s work style comes into it. And then you apply those to team dynamics. So it’s almost starting from the root. To me the root is the systems and how to best optimise for those.

    Patrick Kua: Great, wonderful.

    Nivia Henry: Thank you. The other one I keep mentioning, that came to me, I don’t know where I got the training. But the concept is called BAPO (Business, Architecture Process and Organisation). The context here again is how to look at your holistic system and useful frameworks. This framework I think is helpful because it basically says, first try to understand your business, and then understand how your architecture enables that business. Which then to me pulls in DDD and then understand what the processes are that are necessary. Then understand how to organise the actual teams and folks to optimise for those things. I find that people usually start with processes or a specific problem they’re trying to solve, when they’re doing transformations, organisational change and maybe that’s great for your context but, oftentimes that could then have a limited shelf life.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah great. Great pointers and frameworks as well. I know that there’s a DDD europe conference, so I’ll make sure that there’s a link there. Not quite sure what’s available in North America, as such, but there’s a lot of great resources around DDD out there for sure.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed Let’s start a list.

    Patrick Kua: Let’s talk a little bit about your current role then. So Director of Engineering at Spotify. I think one thing probably since you’ve been there is that Spotify became known to be sort of large and embraced remote working.

    Nivia Henry: Yes.

    Patrick Kua: So how did that impact your role in a manager of a manager’s position?

    Nivia Henry: Oh my goodness Pat. So we’ve been talking about, sometimes I don’t want to you know, sound self pitying. There’s lots of joy with leadership and management but sometimes it really takes…

    Patrick Kua: It’s hard.

    Nivia Henry: Take all of the hard parts and put them in a single role and sometimes it could feel thankless. If you take that it’s difficult on site when you have opportunities for knowledge to sort of flow through osmosis because people are near each other. Then take away all of that. Take away all of the charm. Take away all of the water coolers. Then do the same job and do it while people are undergoing the trauma of a global pandemic. Go. I laugh because you gotta laugh through the pain sometimes. It was painful. It was very very personally painful.

    Nivia Henry: I Had a lot of family loss during the pandemic. As did others.

    Patrick Kua: I’m sorry.

    Nivia Henry: Thank you. I lost my product partner. That was traumatic for all of us because she is really loved. During the pandemic, the team was going through a lot of grieving that felt compounded. But we still had to show up to work every day. But then we had to show up to a screen. We’re exhausted and we’re grieving. And you have to download it to a 9:15 meeting to talk about what? None of it. It was so hard. It was so surreal.

    Patrick Kua: It’s tough.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. I’m sure we all have our stories. I’d love to hear yours one day but all I can remember is that that was a period of surrealism and trauma. So, for me, all I could do, I don’t even know if this was the right thing to do, but all I could do is just acknowledge that fact. It’s surreal. It’s traumatic. In the grand scheme of things none of it matters. Maybe that’s nihilistic. All I mean is I love my job. I love my company. But at the end of the day when you compare it to what was going on, and then the George Floyd protests coming. Oh my gosh. I just had to find myself taking several steps back to going no matter what happens we will do our best.

    Patrick Kua: Yes, Yeah I mean you’re absolutely right. I think the combination of everything going remote. So change. Forced change. In terms of working habits. The personal things that are going on with people being affected by the pandemic. Extra stress from that sort of side. People deal with that. As you say there isn’t really a lot that you can personally control in that as a manager. I think it is healthy to at least acknowledge that. Do not pretend that it’s something that you could do something about and you also have obligations. To your team. To your organisation. So I think that’s probably the hard part is that you end up being a meta support structure for your team because if you see your director feeling very chaotic, it sort of naturally amplifies and cascades as well which adds to that uncertainty. So I think it’s absolutely healthy to accept what the situation is. Was at the time. In order to be able to even think about the future and how do you start moving forward which is really hard.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. Amen over here.

    Patrick Kua: Absolutely. Can I ask, so now, how does your team operate? Is it more hybrid? Is it fully remote still? How does that work for you and do you get more water cooler conversations?

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. So it’s hybrid. So Spotify’s policy, which I think is the best of both worlds, is that you can select on an annual basis whether you’re fully remote or fully in the office or a hybrid of both. A lot of people have maintained the fully remote. That’s okay. I have folks spread across the United States and what we’ve done is we’ve at least tried to have moments of levity in between moments of work. Which is no big secret. Everybody does. Right now, we’re not travelling as much but we do plan to have get togethers because that’s still essential. I don’t want to disrupt or minimise it. Remote work is valuable. Remote work is important. The concept of remote work is important. That’s a battle oftentimes on Twitter and on the socials and I want to respect that and I want to respect people’s ability and choices to work fully remote.

    Nivia Henry: At the same time there is something to be said about getting together once in a while. The things you naturally can’t talk about or haven’t had an opportunity to talk about to the course of your day-to-day interactions, you get a chance to do that. So for example, last year we all went to New Orleans together. That was momentous. It was the first time I met many of my new team because I transitioned from a larger organisation to a starting organisation within Spotify. We met each other. We ate together. We danced a lot. I won’t cover that part. Be out until 3am.

    Nivia Henry: It’s a whole new level of bonding. So now when we’re slacking, it’s a different feel. The slacks feel richer. They feel they have tapestry and meaning behind it. Or sometimes we’ll joke with each other. I went, while on the dance floor and so you know, and in one meeting somebody was like, don’t get her out at 2am and everybody knew the context. It was funny. You don’t get that when you’re fully remote.

    Patrick Kua: No. You’re absolutely. The relationships are a lot harder to build up and those in-person opportunities are really hard to substitute.

    Nivia Henry: Indeed. Exactly.

    Patrick Kua: Great. So we’ve covered quite a lot of interesting topics related to managing managers. A couple of final questions for you. If you were to work with somebody who’s transitioning from perhaps an engineering manager role to becoming a senior engineering manager role. Somebody who’s about to manage managers for the first time, what piece of advice would you give them?

    Nivia Henry: Ooo. So good. You have such good questions Pat. Okay, if they haven’t already please study these first team principles. I would start out with the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Sure there are parts that might not work but I think that’s a great foundational book. I would definitely pick up, part of being 42 is my memory is not what it used to be. There’s Camille Fournier’s The Manager’s Path but there’s also a newer one I think it’s by Emily, oh man, I’m gonna have to come back to it.

    Patrick Kua: No worries. We’ll make sure it gets into the show notes for sure.

    Nivia Henry: OK. Thank you. Patrick Leocini’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Camille Fournier’s The Manager’s Path and then there’s one more book that will get into the show notes. I’d say if you’re a reader or if you like an audiobook, start with those for sure. I would also, there’s this thing through coaching that I’ve learned called the Me Canvas. A personal canvas and it helps set your intentions about a coming phase in your life. I would recommend something like that. Something that helps you set your intentions for this coming phase. What are the challenges gonna be? How do you want to show up? For me, in my personal canvas at the time was things like, I want to maintain my authenticity because at the end of the day, I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to lose my humanity. I want to see others. I want to preserve people’s dignity. That was important for me. I want to be courageous because I think the higher you go in leadership the more courage you have to exercise and when you don’t it’s obvious and detrimental. Something that helps you focus on those and review those on a regular basis would be another tip. Then find yourself a mentor. If it’s a peer. If it’s your leader. Whoever it is. Find yourself a mentor. I have a group, of what we call, we jokingly call our board of executive and its mission. My old manager, we’re friends. But I joke she’s on my board of executives or board of advisors. All that means is we’re a peer group of leaders who talk through things on a regular basis and oftentimes it starts with, “Help!” Flurry to a Google hangout where we talk about whatever leadership challenges we’re facing. So those are the ones that immediately come to mind that I still use today.

    Patrick Kua: That’s some fantastic pieces of advice. I’m sure many listeners will really appreciate that. Thank you. One final question for you then, which is, where can people find out more about you or contact you?

    Nivia Henry: Despite it being a complete dumpster fire for the past year now, I’m still largely on Twitter. That’s my primary social media platform. I’m @lanooba. Pat will put it in the show notes. Then I am, more and more, increasingly using Linkedin because that’s actually where a lot of the business and leadership thinking I’m seeing a lot of that conversation happen on that platform. So I’m at Nivia there. I’ll include my link there as well. And when you contact me through those things, oftentimes, I will try to make time to meet with folks 1-1. I won’t give away my email address because my inbox is a little bit hairy, but if somebody DMs me and they’re curious about this topic. They’re a new leader. If they’re from an underrepresented group oftentimes I try to make time to talk to them.

    Patrick Kua: That’s really wonderful. Thank you very much and we will make sure all those links appear in the show notes as well. And thank you so much for spending the last hour with me, sharing our experiences. I love your authenticity. It really comes through the stories, the challenges. And thank you very much for sharing your experiences with the audience today.

    Nivia Henry: Oh, Pat. I really appreciate it. I love your thoughtful questions. I love how you summarise things. You do a wonderful job recapping my rambles and I found them useful and you made this such an easy and amazing process. Thank you so much for that opportunity.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Thank you.

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