I was first introduced to the #givefirst mentality by TechStars, a global startup accelerator community where I mentor. They define #givefirst as simply trying to help people without expectation of getting anything back…and I saw firsthand how it transforms individuals, teams, and companies.
In our #givefirst series, we’re showing how the philosophy of “giving before getting” in four different key roles—Sales, Marketing, Engineering, and Customer Success—can help your SaaS company better connect with customers and drive growth.
For product and engineering leaders, it’s all about empowering your team to make customer-centric decisions, act on those decisions, and then feel like they accomplished something great. (Which they did!)
Why Give First in Product Engineering?
What your customers want more than anything is for your product to solve their business problems—and that comes down to product and engineering teams. Success starts way before your software hits the virtual shelves, and when your engineers have a #givefirst mentality, they keep the customer top-of-mind through the entire product workflow.
We got Jonathan Tushman, founder and CEO of Quala, on the line to talk about several aspects of #givefirst, from servant leadership to the butterfly effect of unconditional giving. Read on to discover how you can instill this mentality in your team.
#givefirst empowers your team
Servant leadership turns the traditional company hierarchy upside down, with the leader at the bottom empowering their team to do their best work. This management style is a key part of the #givefirst philosophy for successful SaaS companies. “You’re really there working to create the right environment for your team to be successful,” says Tushman. “You’re not just telling them what to do.”
This gives your engineers co-ownership in the process, so they feel invested in the outcome rather than thinking of product development as a set of to-dos forced on them from above.
The result? A better product for your customers. Says Tushman, “What they’re putting together is something that they’re really, really proud of…something they want to think about even outside the nine-to-five.”
Here are four ways to serve your team so they can do better work:
1. Empathize with the individual.
By that, we mean that instead of using the same management and training techniques for everyone on your team, you try to understand each individual and tailor your methods to them. Everybody learns differently and responds best to different kinds of feedback, so this #givefirst method can result in a smoother workflow and a better product—which means you’re giving to your customers, too!
2. But do take group responsibility.
While servant leaders treat each member of their team as individuals, when problems arise they don’t heap blame on a single product engineer. “You succeed as a team,” says Tushman. “When there’s a bug, you never say, ‘Hey, that was John’s bug.’ You say, ‘Hey, we had a bug. Let’s figure out what we did wrong. How can we improve as a team?’”
3. Push their limits.
To boost your team’s confidence and help them grow, give them a challenge that is just out of their reach.You want to strike a balance of stretching them, but not giving them the impossible, or overwhelming them. “Don’t just throw them into the deep end and expect magical results,” Tushman warns.
4. Co-solve problems.
Traditionally, bosses make all the decisions and delegate all the tasks. In servant leadership, you instead encourage your team members to solve problems with you (and with one another). This gives them the skills and confidence to take on more and more. “I’m now able to trust my team with large parts of the application and functions, so I don’t need to worry about it anymore,” says Tushman. “The payoffs are totally huge.”
Investing in your product engineering team through the #givefirst method of servant leadership leads to better results all around: a 2019 study in Management and Economics Review found that opportunities for improvement and organizational climate have a big impact on job performance.
#givefirst delights customers
Now that your team is empowered to make the best decisions and inspired to do their best work, you can build on your #givefirst culture to not just satisfy your customers—but to absolutely wow them by making sure that with every single line of code your engineers write, they have the end user in mind.
These steps will take your customers from happy to thrilled.
Care about your craft.
When engineers show pride in their work it inadvertently will delight the customer. It’s not just about picking up and delivering a JIRA ticket, it’s thinking about how a customer will interact with that feature. “If I was in their shoes, how would I want the application to behave? What would delight me, what would make me want to share how awesome this feature is with my colleagues and friends?” asks Jonathan.
This could be as simple as thinking about adding autocomplete to a text area or a progress bar on a callback that could take more than a few seconds to respond.
Do a customer sprint.
Every so often Tushman dedicates an entire week to delighting a small set of customers. “Instead of picking things off one per week, we have a real focus sprint just on these guys and get them to delight as quickly as possible,” he says. “We dive in to really move the needle for customers who have given to us. We want to pay them back with a little bit of acceleration on things that are really important to them for their specific roadmap.”
These customer sprints apply the #givefirst philosophy not only to the customer, but also to your engineers; engineering teams often spend so much time on urgent customer needs that they don’t have time left over to focus on individual clients. Now, they’re freed up to do this less urgent—but perhaps more interesting and meaningful—work.
Get out of reactive mode.
It’s all too easy to focus on big customers at the expense of the rest. “You can get whiplash from always responding to customer requests and never moving the ball forward, or responding to the most vocal customer and not building a product for your customer base as a whole,” says Tushman. “If you’re always listening to a certain type of customer, you can start building the wrong thing, and you can actually make your code more brittle by creating additional stuff to solve for the one single customer.”
Instead, encourage your engineers to take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Outside of the customer sprints we mentioned earlier, is what they’re working on important to more than a tiny sliver of your customer base? If not, authorize them to move on to work that has a bigger impact.
The trick to all of these customer-delighting #givefirst methods is to do them quietly. Do special things for your customers just because you want to make them happy; making a big deal out of it which turns it from unconditional giving into an implied “give-and-take.”
#givefirst creates a butterfly effect
The methods and philosophies we just talked about ripple out from Product Engineering to impact the rest of your SaaS organization…your industry…and even the world outside of work.
Engineering → Customer Success, Customer Service, Sales & Marketing
When product engineers #givefirst, it makes things easier for the customer success and customer service teams. And when they create products that delight customers and serve the entire customer base, word of mouth spreads—helping your marketing and sales teams create better promotions and make more sales.
Your Company Influences Other Companies
Other companies can benefit from your #givefirst culture, too. When team members move on to new organizations, they take all the good things they learned and experienced with them. (Don’t worry—the #givefirst philosophy also makes it easier to attract new talent, so even when you lose an amazing team member you won’t be lacking for long.)
Your Industry Influences The World
Finally, no matter how small your SaaS company is, your #givefirst culture will reach even outside your industry. “When people can come home after a good day of work feeling positive, their family is also more positive,” says Tushman. “It’s not just coming to work…it has a much bigger effect.”
Want to help your customer success team—and your customers—through #givefirst? Schedule a time to chat with us. We’d love to share how Quala is powering today’s intelligent, top-performing, human-first customer success teams.