Session Transcripts

A live transcription team captured the SRCCON sessions that were most conducive to a written record—about half the sessions, in all.

Goals and Roles: Explicit is better than implicit

Session facilitator(s): Brian Boyer, Livia Labate

Day & Time: Friday, 11:45am-1pm

Room: Johnson

AUDIENCE: Are you going to dance?

LIVIA: Synchronize!

BRIAN: Dancing not my strong field.

LIVIA: All this stuff is online. You can download, follow along, and feel free to do that so we can chat more. So if you’re here for Goals and Roles, you’re in the right place.

BRIAN: Can y’all hear?

LIVIA: I should, since I’m saying this.

BRIAN: I’m Brian Boyer and I’m from a company called Spirited Media that’s in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Hello to former teammates in the audience.

LIVIA: I’m Lívia Labate and I joined Spirited Media a day and a year, day and a month ago yesterday. And I’m newish to journalism as of three years. I was a fellow with MPR. So let’s jump in. So goals and roles.

BRIAN: Okay. So I don’t know how many of you in this room, does anybody want to shout out why explicit is better than implicit in Python?

AUDIENCE: Importedness!

BRIAN: But the idea — sort of inspiration for this is that these — we often are very bad at making extremely clear what our teams’ goals are, and what the individual roles on the teams are. And much like Python programming, being explicit is much better than just hoping people figure it out on their own.

LIVIA: And having a definition of roles really describes what an individual’s scope is. They tell you what you’re supposed to do every day and also, what the responsibilities to your teammates are. Similarly, with goals, they define the direction of your team, and hopefully you’re taking a direction that’s in line with your team’s goals, or the broader goals. So the why it works are usually between the goals and its definitions.

BRIAN: For the writers in here, we don’t need a where and a how, it’s the whos, whys, and whats.

LIVIA: That’s the circumstance, the hows are informed by the setting that you set up with these goals and roles. So that’s our starting point. So with that, we’re going to start talking about some of the issues that we see when these things are not working so some observations from newsrooms that we’ve seen. Things like turf issues, and unhealthy competition between people, people stepping on each other’s toes, saying you’re supposed to be doing this job! This, like, uncertainty if you’ve got the power to make a decision. Like, do you ask for forgiveness, or permission? Important things don’t get done because nobody owns them. So when nobody’s responsible, nobody’s responsible. You have a huge team backlogs of everybody could do, and you don’t have any downtime, so no one ever does them and it just accumulates.

BRIAN: And, yeah, of course — we all have a ton things to do, how do you choose? How do you prioritize your work, right? The most important thing you can do every day. So what I’m — y’all — I want to hear from y’all. What sucks when you don’t know what your job is? Come on. Shout it out.

AUDIENCE: My mental health.

BRIAN: Your mental health. I know I’ve worked at organizations where I may have thought I was doing an okay job setting up goals for my team, but I didn’t have goals from the organization. And so there was a mismatch in your team’s goals, and the organization’s goals, how do you know you’re doing a good job or not. And then other teams get grumpy at you because because you should be doing off doing X but you’re doing Y.

LIVIA: And then you play the game of fetch me a rock, is this it? Is this it? And you never know, and they never know because there’s no definition. So let’s start with roles. So a lot of the issues that we kind of touched on are overlapping platform role definitions so we’ll start with roles just to start having a good starting point. Some of these are about what a team should be doing, and others, more about what I should be doing as an individual. So let’s zoom in on individual roles, or individual jobs that many people have to do. So there are many tools that you can apply to try to address this. But here’s one that we wanted to talk about.

BRIAN: Sure. This tool is called responsibility matrix. The — what it does is we sort of lay out very concretely the names of people, or the jobs of people, and then the specific jobs we have to do, and it makes it really clear who is ultimately responsible for doing something versus who is merely consulted. Or who is merely informed? There’s a lot of people that you might think want to be informed who think I really should be involved with this. But if you lay it out, then you know, which what’s the way to go.

LIVIA: So those are, you know — there’s variations on thousand this matrix are used on different projects but that’s one of the definitions is having these different levels of responsibility as Brian mentioned much more nuanced so that you — there’s more clarity about what contribution is expected of each person. And it’s a great tool to just, you know, use up front as you’re kicking something off. It’s like, okay, we can kind of get a sense of the tasks that we have to do, sort of a breakdown and these are the ones that we assume should be involved, and as we go through it, start identifying things like, oh, we’re missing someone doing things particular job, so we need to add a person, or this is a more than one person job, how do we break down those responsibilities? So this is how we keep going, but I’ve written that down here.

BRIAN: And this alphabet soup here, if you look at the responsibility matrix, there’s a whole bunch of different letters that you can pick and it’s just one of those things, I’ve been using this one, but it’s not religion here.

LIVIA: But let’s look at an example sort of to make it more tangible.

BRIAN: So I love this example. This is Lívia and I are roommates in this example. And what I like about this is like, roommates, not even your boss, right? So this is useful not just a situation where you have hierarchy but where you have teammates that are responsible to each other for things, right? So in this situation, for preparing dinner, Brian, I have the R, so it is ultimately my responsibility to make dinner, but if I make dinner and didn’t ask Lívia like, hey, do you like tacos? She might hate me. So it’s probably my job — so I’m going to put anchovies on this pizza, and she hates anchovies, and I consulted her, and Lívia says, I’ll do the dishes because I’m not a jerk, I’m going to support her and put the dishes away.

LIVIA: Right, we have all to clear the table. There’s some implicit tasks here we chose not to break down because it’s good enough. But depending on your circumstances, you might want to go more in-depth. So this is a very straightforward, small example. But you get a sense of, like, you just use the letters to associate. And you’ll never have — well, you will have multiples of things and we’ll discuss that in the more complex examples. So let’s try our own thing. Let’s try a news project maybe with a bigger team than two roommates and more nuanced tasks. So what happens when you need to make a locator map for breaking news, for example?

BRIAN: So this happens to many of us. There’s a train crash, or a thing that happens, and you need to put it on a dot on a map and put it on Facebook.

LIVIA: So now that we’re going to do the exercise, feel free to grab a sheet of paper and try it yourself. I feel like when you’re trying out a new tool, the physicality of drawing it out, and filling it in kind of helps you imagine that in context, and how you would do it. I like doing it on whiteboards, and just going to the spreadsheet. But the way to start is with just draw that matrix, and you don’t know when you’re starting, like, how many tasks you’re going to break down, or necessarily how many people are going to be involved. So just try to break it down to three and that’s probably enough.

BRIAN: Okay. So — are we gonna do people first or jobs first? So I’ll ask y’all… any of y’all intimately involved in this, as well. Who are the people that are involved, who are the people that have to do work, after the train crashes and we have to make a little map. Who are the human beings doing the work along the way?

AUDIENCE: The map maker.

BRIAN: The person who makes the map. Maybe the graphics editor or the graphics designer.

AUDIENCE: The social media manager person.

LIVIA: Yeah, so you can write down on your sheet, like, write down the labels of representatives of the goals that you would expect to be involved in this situation.

BRIAN: So reminder, the columns are the people. What else?

AUDIENCE: There’s probably a reporter that knows where everything happened.

BRIAN: A transportation reporter, or maybe a reporter who’s familiar with the area. Anything else? There’s a few other jobs, but those jobs are different. So we’ve got the graphics reporter, the graphics editor, and a social media editor, right? And this is maybe the first post that’s going out. So the rest of the newsroom hasn’t been involved yet. Just run with this for a minute. There’s clearly a subject matter expert, and there’s a transportation reporter, and maybe that’s the story that comes out in half an hour.

LIVIA: So now you’re going to think about, like, what activities are part of this project. So you’re really thinking workflow. Like, what — where does it begin? How did this start? Yes? The train crashed, and then…?

AUDIENCE: Gather the facts.

BRIAN: Right. Gathering the facts. Also someone’s noticed. It’s also someone’s job to pay attention. What other jobs have to have? What other things have to happen when you put this thing out in the world?

AUDIENCE: Cartography.

BRIAN: Cartography. Somebody’s going to make the map.

AUDIENCE: Somebody needs to edit it.

BRIAN: Somebody needs to edit it.

AUDIENCE: Somebody needs to make the Facebook post.

BRIAN: Somebody needs to post it on Facebook. You figure out how we have three lines here. You’re decoding our matrix pretty quickly.

LIVIA: So, you know, you summarize it in a way that makes sense for your team. In our case, yup, we know what that means, and in this case, we mentioned Facebook, you can tweet, or whatever it is. So just clear enough so that it’s not completely foreign to maybe a member of the team to kind of understand the task but… so once you have those things in place, then it’s the fun part. It’s just a discussion about, okay, who is gonna do what, and to what extent. And that’s where we can use the levels of responsibility. So let’s say in the beginning, somebody noticed that this happened. Who is that person? Who is the person who is monitoring?

AUDIENCE: Social media.

BRIAN: It’s probably social media. It’s a bigger task.

LIVIA: So you would say primarily for this line for this activity, that person is it, right? So they are an R, responsible. So what’s the role of the other people at that time in the project?

AUDIENCE: Informed?

BRIAN: Yeah, probably — it’s the job of the social media editor to inform the other people, hey, I’m going to have work for you. So it’s the email, the pager, it’s the call someone on the can feel, right? Just let them know.

LIVIA: It’s a really useful heads up. It’s coming.

BRIAN: And maybe in your situation it’s a graphics editor, or a consultant. Maybe consultant says hey, a train crashed, and the graphics editor looks at the photo and says, dude, that’s a model train. We don’t care.

LIVIA: So we are going to do this, we understand, the circumstances we get it, the data, we know what it is. Let’s make a map. Who does that?

AUDIENCE: Graphics reporter.

LIVIA: Graphics reporter. Okay. So what is the role of the other people at this time? Like what it is a graphics editor gonna do with this map?

AUDIENCE: Make sure it’s correct and apply it? Sort it?

LIVIA: Okay. So that’s where we have this additional one called accountability because if the locator map doesn’t happen, who’s gonna answer for it is the graphics editor, right? So the graphics reporter is the person with the skill set to accomplish it, but the buck stops at the graphics editor. So that’s the person that’s accountable. And a lot of times, while we’re going through more examples of more complexity, a lot of times, one person might have the additional responsibility. The buck stops there, but they have to do it. This person, the graphics editor is actually responsible to delegate that to the graphics reporter. So that’s why you have that distinction. And the social media editor. Do they have a role here?

AUDIENCE: Consultant?

BRIAN: They might be informed. Like hey, there’s a map coming. They might be a consultant, saying, hey, what’s the best headline to put on the map. Or they might just be nothing. Maybe your workflow — we’ll call social media when it’s ready to go.

LIVIA: Right, so you may not be ready for everything. So that’s a good example where not everyone needs to play a role and that’s okay. So then —

BRIAN: And even if you — to build on that, when you do this, it’s a simple example but when you say, hey, you don’t have a role and you write it down, then people don’t get upset when they weren’t called.

LIVIA: They weren’t invited or anything else. So that lack of confidence in definitions and roles come from not knowing things, or expecting that it’s implicit knowledge of the project. So, hey, it’s ready to go. I need to tweet the update with the map. Who does that?

AUDIENCE: Social media.

LIVIA: All right. And…

AUDIENCE: Informed. Yeah, for anyone else.

BRIAN: Probably a couple of informs. Maybe the graphics editor retweets it from the visuals Twitter account they’re supporting, sharing.

LIVIA: So supporting is interesting because a lot of times you’ll see if you’re breaking down to a more higher level, the activities for the project, the tasks are really big and you’re going to have a separate discussion about how we’re going to break those down, so maybe one big thing is, like, deployment. There’s several big steps and multiple people are involved. So the supporting role usually starts with someone has the core responsibility but there’s additional people doing work with them. So using that, they could just be retweeting stuff. Cool. So let’s move on. Another example.

BRIAN: That was fast. Good slide!

LIVIA: So the idea is that what if we have, like, a news app project. Like, say we have health code violations data and we’re going to do a story on that, and we decided that a good way to give users the opportunity to explore the data is to create a look-up tool. So here’s some example roles that we might have on the team, or what are the participants from across the newsroom, and this sort of some basic things that need to happen to know what “done” looks like. Do you want to try to put some roles in there? So getting your data. Somebody found this data somehow.

BRIAN: Probably the reporter.

LIVIA: And then what do they — they probably told everyone should be at fault for it.

AUDIENCE: Would the developer be consulted about what format the data would be most helpful.

BRIAN: Sure. We have people who might be savvy about the stuff, some of the reporters might need a buddy who have been to ask for the data. So maybe you’re working with OpenData and they haven’t worked with found out before.

LIVIA: Or like here’s this really cool dataset and there’s some burning data that you have to transform in some way to make sense. So what do you think are our next steps here?

BRIAN: Shout it out.

AUDIENCE: The developer.

BRIAN: And maybe that’s it.

AUDIENCE: Probably consultant.

AUDIENCE: The editor.

LIVIA: Supporting, because they found the data so maybe they have some contextual knowledge about it. But that data shouldn’t keep going without being cleaned and verified. So if that doesn’t happen, that’s gonna become a problem. Someone needs to be accountable for that, right? So maybe there’s multiple developers who can absolutely take that job, but editor is probably not going to be the one that’s like, let’s make this one happen.

BRIAN: And the other thing that I’ve done before, let me see your data pipeline. I want to see it how you’re going to do it with that data and clean it up. That’s part of my job as editors, but just to make sure as we transform the data, we transform the data properly.

LIVIA: So let’s jump in. Now that we’ve got everything that we need, let’s delve into coding the app, and creating the interactions elements. Who has the primary role here?

AUDIENCE: Developer.

LIVIA: Developer. And similarly… so this is not dissimilar from the other one. Do you think anyone has a role here, or should we move on to the next task? All right. Moving on to the next task. Write the story.

AUDIENCE: Reporter.

LIVIA: And then what are roles that other people have here?

AUDIENCE: The editor or the previous editor might be accountable.

BRIAN: If it’s their first time.

LIVIA: It’s their time to shine. And anything else that the news apps developers and editor would contribute here?

AUDIENCE: They might be consulted.

LIVIA: Like this person now knows the data a little more, and this person may just needs to be aware about the process and that the features are becoming involved. And then at the end, we edit the story.

AUDIENCE: Feature editor.

LIVIA: Possible. And maybe at this point we have a support here.

BRIAN: So this kind of framework is useful for a lot of things. It could be really useful… let’s say you’re starting — something that we do a lot, we’re starting a collaborative newsroom project where it’s the team of programmers and designers working with the team of the politics team and the science desk, right? Maybe you’ve never worked together before, and so it’s really unclear if you’ve never worked together before what everyone’s job is. Right, maybe the politics editor or the politics person doesn’t know that it’s the developer’s job to clean the data, but it’s — it probably should be the reporter’s job to get. So you could easily have these projects to get stuck really quickly because no one knows — because it hasn’t be explicit just who does what. So I’ve done — so this is really useful for a two-week project, or a six-week project. We’ve talked about using something similar to this as a sort of checklist for breaking news. News breaks, who’s covering each role in a breaking news situation, so you know who to call. And it’s also really — it’s also, you know, you can do something really similar for just how a team works over time. So managing responsibilities on the photo desk, right? It’s one person’s job to manage the Instagram. Occasionally this other person helps. It’s this other person’s job to post to Facebook. But being very clear about it means that people know who me to ask for help, and I think really importantly, people know — I mean, you can give an R, or an A to the most junior member on your team, right? It’s not — the responsibility and authority don’t have to be hierarchical, right? You can say, this is a junior of our team, the Instagram is yours, and that senior person still has to ask you before they post.

LIVIA: And I think that’s one of the powerful things, it has nothing to do with role power. It has nothing to do with what your overarching responsibilities are. It’s saying, this project at this level, we’re going to need this person who gets this activity done. And some of these can be recurring things. And the things that are recurring can be someone’s job. You don’t have to break it down because you already know that’s the workflow of the data task, essentially. So moving on.

BRIAN: Any questions so far?

LIVIA: All right. We’ll jump into goals. So looking back at the issues that we talked about at the beginning. A lot of them are why questions like why am I working on this, or not that, or why are we working on our entire backlog and not having an end to these things often creates a lot of anxiety. And a lot of times, redoing work because we’ve started out in a direction, where it’s like, no, that’s not it, and we’re working in another direction. That’s the problem that we were talking about. So having a definition even if it’s, like, a crude definition is better than not knowing. And, again, there are many tools that we can apply here. Some more precise than others. So I think one that people naturally gravitate to is, like, writing a mission statement for your team which has mixed results. Like, if it’s meaningful and people really embrace it, and it’s like at a level that is actionable, like, through the grade. Sometimes super abstract things where it’s like, I don’t even remember this, maybe I can have it at my cubicle when I get the chance to look at it.

BRIAN: And there are frameworks, many have been asked by our HR department to develop smart goals that are specific, measurable. That’s fine.

LIVIA: Actionable, realistic, and time bound.

BRIAN: We were doing this yesterday and Lívia knew the whole thing off the top of her head.

LIVIA: I worked with HR for a very long time.

BRIAN: So better than a mission statement and smart goals are something called objectives and key results. It’s been around for a long time. Smart companies have been doing this for a while. It was developed by like Intel, like, in thehee ’70s or something.

LIVIA: So it is a robust tool so we didn’t want to focus on the process but the goal definition of it and how do you identify the parts that work concretely for people. And then there’s the part how do you work and assess and work with the team to make sure you’re making progress. We have references in the etherpad about that. There’s one called Proposed by Christina Wiki. I highly recommend it. So let’s jump into some examples.

BRIAN: I’ll just talk through?

LIVIA: Yeah.

BRIAN: Okay. So your objective needs to be, like, big and bold and difficultt but also something that you can achieve in a few months, and most importantly, your objective needs to be qualitative. It’s not like, “Make a million dollars!” It’s like, “Make the best fucking product.” And you don’t have to cuss. I prefer it. So, you know, a goal — one goal might be let’s — and this doesn’t necessarily — this objective doesn’t necessarily describe everything that your team does, right? There’s all kinds of stuff your team does all day long. Like, we make the charts, we do, you know, whatever — we fix bugs, we, you know, write stories. But then there’s this other thing, there’s this big thing that you’re really trying to achieve and if you don’t remind yourself of that big thing over and over again, you tend to forget, right? So, for example, maybe a team, maybe at a graphics desk decided that over the next three months, our team is going to be way better at making charts. Or maybe if you’re a product team, we’re going to launch the world’s greatest photo blog in the next three months. Recreation so in a way it’s more aspirational but still attainable and you shouldn’t really drag your feet on this. It shouldn’t be like, yeah, I can totally do this. You should be a little anxious. I feel confident that we could do this but we haven’t really done anything like it. So let’s try it. So that way, it will be a mission. So if you stay one example, like launch the world’s greatest photo blog. The next step is defining how do you know you got there? That’s the next part of how you see people write on goals. It’s like the goal sounds right but how do you actually know that you actually did it? Like, is it clear? So that’s really called key results. So the key results are different from the objectives in that they must be quantitative, and as a consequence, must be measurable. And they have to have a consequence, it’s not a checklist of things to do that are completed, but things that are going to be outcomes from completing those activities.

BRIAN: So, for example, so let’s ask — you know, participate a little bit here. Key results can be measured in growth. Like page views. They can be measured in performance, they can be measured in money you’re making, this can be measured in how good your stuff is, or how many awards you’ve won. So let’s just say, you have, in fact, launched the world’s greatest photo blog, what would be some evidence of the? We’ve won an award from the World’s Greatest Photo Blog Committee. What else?

AUDIENCE: Web traffic.

BRIAN: We have a billion pageviews. Traffic. What else?

AUDIENCE: We’ve sold ads on it.

BRIAN: We’ve sold a bunch of ads on it. That’s because we’re a for-profit business.

AUDIENCE: We’ve been able to expand into a separate vertical.

BRIAN: We launched and we expanded into another vertical. These are all good examples so far. So we have almost the same lines. So growth. So if we, by the end of this quarter, right, so we’ve defined these by quarter, and if by the end of the quarter, we’ve hit a million unique visitors on the photo blog we’ve launched, then we’ve succeeded and we can check in throughout the quarter and check our progress against this number. All right. So we’re at 2,500, we’re at 5,000, we have to meet our goal of making the world’s greatest photo blog.

LIVIA: And you have to measure the time that it works, 90 days is usually enough so that you have actually enough time to do it and not big enough that you would create — or encounter new barriers, that someone quit in the middle of a six-month project or something like that. So that’s the recommendation. That means that it’s four times a year. And to Brian’s point, there’s all this other stuff that you need to do, we won’t get into it, but there’s an additional aspect that we want to add which is health metrics. Health metrics is stuff that we need to monitor and keep going, but if it breaks, it’s going to get in our way of doing this, so we really need to keep an eye on it. And in the references, there’s more about health metrics. So let’s do one exercise?

AUDIENCE: I just had a quick question. I’m curious about the example that you wrote up about winning an award from the international photo blog evaluation committee. That seems like kind of putting a checkbox on top of a qualitative quantity, rather than a quantitative. There aren’t really any numbers that you can pull to change their mind directly.

LIVIA: Well, in a way. So I think yeah, that’s a very good point. And I would say the nuance of, like, the qualitative stuff, I think, could vary by team. So if it’s a team that’s applying for an award, that’s gonna appear the because you’re just gonna do that. That’s part of what’s valued, culturally in the team work for that organization. So I think that makes sense but it can also be a cop-out like not having more meaningful in other ways.

BRIAN: This is a similar conversation that we had on our team. The objective is launch is — make our website really awesome and worth paying for. And one of the results — this is literally what we were doing a month ago, one of the key results was increase net promoter score by 50%. So that’s, like, a measurement of are you likely to be in a survey. Are you likely to recommend this to a friend. So that’s a question that you would kind of recommend to a friend, or whatever. So we’ll do a survey in the beginning, we’ll do a survey at the end and we’ll see if that number went up, right? And one of our teammates’ response was, well, that’s a side effect of the work we did, it’s not a direct product of the work we did. That’s not an OKR result. We certainly want it to go up. Right, we want people to be willing to recommend this to a friend.

LIVIA: So to be fair in any methods conversation, the more proxies you have, the higher the risk, but it’s good to have these approximants because they’re sufficient to represent the direction that you want to pursue. So if that helps.

BRIAN: Let’s do an exercise here. We haven’t done enough exercising. You’ve got all that paper.

LIVIA: So I’ve been hearing at SRCCON, the examples that we used, and I’ve heard a lot of frustration over the lack of diversity in the newsroom, coverage, in terms of the teams in the newsroom. So we said, okay, let’s address it. Let’s make a commitment on your team for this quarter, let’s do something about it. It’s stated. That’s our objective. We have a goal of our work and we’re going to be way more representative of our city to reflect the people in the newsroom reporting. So how do we know that, how do we know we’ve been successful at trying. There’s a lot of tactics that we can apply and we’re going to choose those tactics based on how can we tell we’re doing a good job. So I was hoping that you guys could help us shout out some ideas.

BRIAN: Let’s write them down. Give everyone five minutes.

LIVIA: So for five minutes, think about those objectives and what you need to do specifically. You don’t have priority specifically, but how do we know.

BRIAN: What are the things that we can measure that show that you’ve achieved it. And maybe I can show the slide examples of growth. So as a reminder, these are possible aspects of a key result. It’s not a complete list.

LIVIA: And it doesn’t matter if you have mostly growth ones only, or mostly performance. It depends on your circumstances but this helps you guide some ideas for that. So we’ll give you five minutes.

BRIAN: Does everyone feel like they know what they’re doing?

LIVIA: To give you an example. So, for example, for every story we published, we’re going to include a source from an under-represented group that we identify. Right, that’s concrete. We have some more work to do to find what the representative groups are. It’s relative to our locale. So specific.

BRIAN: Just write them down. We’re just going to share them individually.

LIVIA: Try to write them down, a few things that come to mind. Just something realistic. All the good ideas.

BRIAN: And we’ll talk about them in a minute.

[ Group Work ]

Still have one more minute. Some folks are already starting to chat down but let’s have each table just talk to each other about their kind of favorites so we can go around and pick a couple that they think would be good to shout out. Let me know. So… talk to each other. About two more minutes? Less than five. Three more minutes!

[ Group Work ]

So we’re going to wrap this chat up in a second. Maybe focus on, pick one that you might want to highlight for each take. One that you might be like, yeah, this is worth talking about.

LIVIA: All right. It sounds like we have some good conversations. Do I get to pick a group to start, are are you going to volunteer? So we would like to hear one example from each group. Go ahead.

AUDIENCE: Part one story comes from at least once in the neighborhood, every neighborhood for the city.

AUDIENCE: We were saying, in LA, for example, maybe there’s a lot more restaurant views than on the south side, than the south of LA, and making sure that there’s equal coverage for the types of stories because there’s a higher percentage of crimes or something that’s happening.

LIVIA: Cool, awesome. Next?

AUDIENCE: Reporters spend at least one day a week in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

AUDIENCE: We had increasing the proportion of under-represented groups in readership, either online, or we talked about subscriptions of those who are under-represented.

AUDIENCE: You said what we were going to say, but as a backup, we said maybe increasing the diversity of advertisers that we, you know, that would maybe reach different groups than the allocation differently.

LIVIA: I think that’s a super strong one because you have so much data about that. You know exactly who you’re targeting today, so you can make a really confident shift there if you want.

BRIAN: I think there’s probably two ways to read that sentence. The thing, we’re going to try to increase the number of advertisers. Okay. That’s, like, a task but then also there’s, like, if we achieve this, if we make a much more representative newsroom, we’ll have more groups advertised. It’s, to me, much more valuable to read that sentence as an indicator than a task.

AUDIENCE: We took time to go out and meet different groups in the city not only to kind of advertise the solutions that are available at the publication in order to increase the diversity of hiring but also to kind of develop a community ideas in in general, hoe develop the ideas and ideas that are important to that neighborhood and develop sources.

AUDIENCE: Dual publishing one story a week, in English, and then whatever the language is of your under-represented demographic.

AUDIENCE: One thing I was thinking about is doing a job swap within the newsroom so that, you know, maybe you don’t have a very diverse staff but you could have somebody else taking a stab at the story for a couple months.

LIVIA: Is there someone here? You guys are just doing this on purpose, right?

AUDIENCE: Something is open up the spaces in the newsroom to talk about biases in the coverage that the newsrooms have.

AUDIENCE: We talked about diversifying sources that we use. So providing more people to go to, like, for if you need a mathematician, or whatever so that not all sources come from the same background.

BRIAN: Good. Let’s — okay. So we were hoping to maybe talk about — we were hoping to maybe talk about these things. So this process, this process is super. I’ve done it twice with my team. And picking a good objective is hard. And picking good key results, it could take hours, it could take days. So do we want to go through — do we want to talk about these — pick out a couple that we would talk about?

LIVIA: Yeah, sure. So let’s just go over them and see, like, we don’t have to critique them too deeply but, like, are they sufficiently clear for you? Like, do you know what tactics might you try to accomplish them? Or are they too narrow or too broad, like, those are the kinds of things you’re going to go through. One thing that I haven’t done before but when I first joined Spirited Media, I think our second day, we did OKRs. We did dot voting. We have all these ideas for OKRs that made sense, and the team just went around, and everybody had three votes and you picked the ones that you thought were the strongest and I thought that was a really cool way for the team to, like, own it. No person had more of a say in what made sense. So that’s maybe something to explore.


AUDIENCE: I’m getting kind of confused about — oh, sorry. I’m getting kind of confused between result that is kind of like reflective of, like, the thing we’re doing is working, and a result that’s basically did we do the task that we were gonna do? I’m not sure if those are different.

BRIAN: I think you’re asking the exactly right question. That — I would say that a number of the things that we shout out are more like a to-do. Like, hey, we really ought to do this. And several things that we talked about are more of an indicator that we got there. So, for example, having — what was the — readership, increasing the number of under-represented groups in our readership. Like, that’s a result of you having become a more representative news organization, right? That might take more than three months. But that is a — that’s something that you could say, oh, look at this, our numbers are better now. Good job, group.

LIVIA: So that’s why it’s good to just try to write as many as possible because it’s impossible to try to prevent your brain from having ideas when you do it. So a lot of these ideas are going to be able to tactics or actions that you’re going to take. And then you’re going to see them, and see how you question them, and identify exactly what you’re questioning and then you can identify exactly the things that produce results. Or you could say, maybe these two things are actions that I can take to contribute to this particular result. And this can go to your backlog, or your idea or bucket or whatever.

BRIAN: I want to ask you a question. Lívia has done this more than I have. So our very first one, every story published includes a story from an under-represented group. To me, even though it’s a task, it’s sort of an audacious task if your users are not used to that. It’s publishable. We’ve published 300 stories this month. And by the next time around, we want to have 250, 300 of ours — all stories. So, to me, that seems like a pretty good result. Maybe it’s a result of our new sourcing program that we’ve developed. So the task is creating a list of great sources and the results of that is this. I don’t know, I’m just talking to myself. What do you think?

LIVIA: So one way that I can use to address like is this good enough, or is it too detailed, or too high level is doing the seven whys. So you see the statement and you say, well, why do I do this? So if the next answer to the why is the objective, then you’re on the right level. But if you have some things in the middle, then that’s too specific. So that’s a good way to kind of bring it back. So in this case, are we more representative of our city if every story includes a story from an under-represented group. Is that a clear yes? That would be my question. So I agree, those are things that might be a good point. So using that, just ask why until you reach an objective. So if you reach an objective quickly, it’s a good one. Do you want to go over them? What do you want to do?

BRIAN: So does anyone else have questions, or ones that they want to pick at, or ask about? Not picking on anyone, just critiquing. I was thinking what we could do is you guys could go for a couple more minutes and do it again. Let’s do that. Two minutes. We got you in the back.

AUDIENCE: I really liked the concept of an open space. Sorry. I really liked the concept of an open space in the newsroom to talk about biases in news coverage and I think that it — that could even lead into biases within our own newsrooms and that could then, you know, sort of be kind of an influencer on our coverage. So I thought that was a brilliant idea.

LIVIA: And that’s really cool because it — like, at first glance, it seems prescriptive. It’s like, oh, it’s a thing that we’re going to do. But you can interpret this in a variety of ways. You can be open to a newsroom for people to come in who are not part of the newsroom, or have never been in the newsroom. It could be an invitation for journalists in the city to get together and talk about this issue. It could be — the tactics can actually be more nuanced. So that’s a strong one. Do you want to go to the next one?

BRIAN: Yeah.

LIVIA: So we’re going to try solo exercise where you write a bold qualitative objective statement for the next 90 days for yourself, for your team. So the idea is that — because we don’t have enough time for you to give context of certain things in your newsroom, your team, what you’re doing. So you can have an open discussion. So do it for yourself because you already have that knowledge in you. We have five minutes, literally. So just think about some — and the idea for OKR is that it focuses you. So you did one thing, I’m sure there are ten things that you could add to your list but pick one.

BRIAN: And just write them down. Write down a whole bunch of them. Circle one or two of the things.

LIVIA: All right. Five minutes.

BRIAN: Give everyone one more minute. Let’s wrap it up. So I don’t know about y’all, I find that this part gets really hard. Anybody want — what was hard about it? Did y’all find it hard? Is this easy?

AUDIENCE: Yeah. I could write —

BRIAN: It was easy?

AUDIENCE: I could write, like, a hundred.

BRIAN: But I only asked you to write one. So what’s hard about it. If you’re able to read them, you were able to choose? I did ask you to write a lot. Were you able to choose?

AUDIENCE: Yeah, I wrote one.

BRIAN: Oh, yeah! All right. That’s great.

AUDIENCE: I think it’s hard sometimes to find something that you want to learn from but maybe certain things are out of your control, so you want to know where you want to go, but do you have the time, are you going to have the resources to do that?

BRIAN: In case you didn’t hear. So it’s hard because you have something you want to work on that may be out of your control, or maybe you don’t have the authority to choose that objective. This is something that I would say I personally have heard of in jobs where you want to set a goal for your team, but maybe you don’t have a clear direction in your organization about what your team’s goal should be. And that’s actually pretty hard. And, you know, I’ve winged it. Like, this is a thing that we want to do. Nobody’s told me not to!

LIVIA: Yeah, but the power of writing it down, and saying, well, we’re doing this. No one’s giving a direction, then you been respond to that and maybe that’s a conversation that can happen and maybe they can provide you with a tool perhaps to get to that. So these are most productive if you are doing it as a team like we’ve been talking about. But one thing that I put in the references for you to take a look at later is you can do that at a personal level. And usually if you have a team that’s doing this, then it cascades, right? You look at the team objective and the team key results and you identify, like, what is my role there, all right? So that] the goals with the goals, which is then you can identify for yourself, what responsibilities you become responsible for, and then create your own OKRs. Every Monday, starting the week, you can say, I want to get this done by the end of this week to contribute to this shared team objective.

BRIAN: One thing bouncing off the idea of other people being involved, right? Like, being involved in a team. We’re not getting into the nitty-gritty details of how you might write these down and plan for that stuff. There’s good literature on that stuff for you to read. But, for example, we use this as a communication mechanism. So every Monday morning, we as a team, we sit down and we look at our key results and say to ourselves, are we making progress on this, or are we not and we would grade ourselves, yes, we’re doing great on this one, no, we’re doing poorly on that one. But that’s our Monday morning kickoff meeting and say, hey, we’re making progress and then decide what we’re going to do for the next week. And then I spend the next hour — because I’m the boss — I spend the next hour with the boring task of collating those, this is our results, this is our objectives, this is what we did last week, and this is what we’re going to be doing next week. And I email that to every other team in the company so that everybody knows what we care about, how we’re measuring it, and what we’re up to, and if we’re succeeding or failing part of it. And that failing part is a little terrifying. But, you know, everybody needs to know if shit ain’t workin’.

LIVIA: First of all, it really shows the commitment. I said we’re going to do this, everybody is seeing that we’re all committed to actually doing the same thing. And that doesn’t change. But that’s another thing about OKRs, even if they look like they’re going downhill, don’t change them. Treat this part as an experiment and do better this time but don’t change them in the middle. So it gives you that sense of commitment and it also gives you visibility into issues. So, you know, we have the Monday morning but we have daily scrums and you’re like, I’m blocked here, and I’m blocked there, and you know how that’s progressing and if you send that out to the whole company and say, we’re super great, but we’re blocked on this other team that’s super aware we’re doing this, but they’re not doing this moving forward but that type of visibility, meaning that now that you get that visibility, you have that much greater transparency.

AUDIENCE: I have a question. Do people read those emails? Do people read those emails?

LIVIA: They ask questions about it. As far as I’ve experienced.

BRIAN: I have evidence that at least half of the recipients on each occasion reads the emails. I haven’t read receipts on all of them but they’re long emails sometimes, right? Because it covers a lot of ground. And I don’t — and I bury the lead all the time. I have a structure that I follow, and maybe there’s some exciting things the second page down, but if somebody says, dude, I’m really excited about that thing that’s coming up next week, it’s like this huge, managerial adrenaline rush. And it happens at least once a week, at least once a week I get one of those emails. But, for me, like, trying to acclimate the organization to working this way because we’re like the only team that does, but I’m trying to be sneaky and doing it with other teams. So I just keep sending emails but you never know but hopefully there’s useful information to them. Like hey, this is what the product team is doing this week. Like I’m changing the website this week. So read the email.

LIVIA: Anything else?

BRIAN: Any other questions? You guys are awesome! Thank you so much!

LIVIA: Thank you.

[ Applause ]

BRIAN: Oh, um, so this is gonna link to this? Or the…?

LIVIA: There’s the slides, the template, the various references that we mentioned are all on the URL for the etherpad and feel free to ask questions. I’m around.

BRIAN: And, yeah, to make a point… the structure of this is kind of a pain in the ass, kind of thinking about, okay, so how am I gonna run a meeting for my team. It’s like, crap, I’m going to have to figure out how I’m going to run that meeting. Well, there are wonderful blog posts about how to run that meeting, and there are wonderful blog posts and how to send an email every week, there are wonderful blog posts — so people have been doing — so we’re not in this alone, the information is available, the literature is out there.

LIVIA: So that’s what I was saying, this is a robust tool. People have tested it, and honed it. And it’s good, and there is good material to supporting and trying it out. And in the references, I also have some example of how you can apply it to your personal projects on a personal note. So thank you.

[ Applause ]