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Onboarding at Convictional: Async Vs Sync Time

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Convictional works differently than most other companies. In the Onboarding at Convictional series, our Chief of Staff Jessica Powell covers what makes us different by sharing how we do it.

Convictional is a distributed company with a default async culture. In this article, I’ll share why we default to async and how we use syncs effectively. 

Some synchronous syncs (at least now we know where the word sync comes from) are valuable and necessary. In most companies - especially those who espouse to avoid meetings - people often get caught up in overwhelmingly busy calendars. This is because they do not value their time appropriately. We offer ideas to support us in having the most effective meetings.

Time value of money

Time value of money is an investment concept that explains why it makes more economic sense to take a lump sum of money instead of smaller payouts if a huge wad of cash lands in your lap. In essence → money is worth more over time, assuming you invest it appropriately. We think this applies to time as well. 

Half of your perception-adjusted life is over before you’re even a realTM adult. It’s not a secret that we perceive time to move faster as we age. This is because, over time, each incremental span of time accounts for more and more of your remaining life. We feel time pressure to do things that matter later in life because we regret wasting all of our time early in life. The hack - and therefore competitive advantage - is doing things that matter early on.

Want to see how time perception changes with age? This interactive graphic from Maximilian Kiener is super helpful. Source: Maximilian Kiener.

So, time wasted early in life is worse than time wasted later in life. The same is true in a company. If we spend our time working on things that are tightly aligned to our mission now, we can expect outsized benefits in five years as the impact of our accomplishments compounds. If we waste our time now, it won’t matter in five years because we probably won’t exist anymore, at least not on the same trajectory. 

Startups often focus on the wrong things at our stage - diversifying lines of business, scaling faster than their systems can handle, deploying meaningful resources on side projects, spending huge amounts of investor capital on perks that don’t reflect ARR. These are all short-term strategies. In theory, they help you pull big wins (and paydays) faster. In practice, what goes up fast, comes down fast (just look at Fast). 

To capitalize on this concept, we should spend the vast majority of our time on opportunities that have the greatest potential to bring us through PMF and beyond. It’s highly unlikely that spending meaningful time in sync with each other is the best way to do that. To help you determine if it’s a good use of future money to spend time in a meeting, here’s a quick shorthand: 

The impact of a given meeting on customers should be greater than the cost of the meeting.

To keep it simple, budget $1000/person/hour of time. If the benefit of your sync to customers is not at least the total cost of the meeting, it’s not worth it. You can see why we discourage recurring syncs as much as possible.

Opportunity cost

Opportunity cost is about saying no. Every time we say yes to something, we have to say no to something else. This is true every single time we make a decision. We are often unaware of what we are saying no to, and sometimes the thing we say no to isn’t even a tangible thing. The way we make these tradeoffs reflect our deepest values because saying no to something is almost always an implicit decision.

Here’s a couple low risk examples of these tradeoffs:

  • You’re running late for an event. It’s probably pretty obvious to you which things you’re definitely going to do to get out the door. Are you showering or eating breakfast?
  • Your fun budget has $100 left for the month. Do you go out for dinner with friends or buy yourself a cool gadget?
  • You’re feeling drained after a busy week. Is it more important to meditate or call your mom?

These examples have one thing in common → a key resource (time, money, wellbeing) is constrained. It can be easy to assume that Convictional does not have constrained resources because we have investor backing and we’re rapidly becoming a better solution than the competition. This assumption eliminates urgency from our approach and we can guarantee that there will be someone who wants to win the B2B enablement market more than we do if we don’t keep pushing ourselves to make tradeoffs which benefit us long-term.

If you aren’t able to choose something, it’s perceived as a character flaw. When you have the option to omit something, it becomes a character asset. For example, we culturally vilify trailer parks, but laud minimalists for building inexpensive and values-driven tiny houses. What’s the difference? 

Seriously, what’s the difference? Left photo by Maryna Nikolaieva on Unsplash. Right photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash.

Having access to a decision and choosing the path of leadership when it’s easier to make the same decision as everyone else (buy a big fancy house and fill it with lots of fancy stuff). We have positioned ourselves to be tiny house builders. That means we have the responsibility to make the best values-driven decisions with our available resources as we can for long-term impact.

Every single time you want to sync with someone, ask yourself what you’re saying no to by saying yes to that sync. 

  • Are you asking a customer to wait longer on a support issue?
  • Are you avoiding working on your own learning project?
  • Is there a long-term deliverable that you’re stuck on?
  • Could you take a half day to recharge?

Assuming you decide to go ahead with the sync, it’s important to also go back and reflect on the value of that sync and make sure it’s not less than the potential impact of whatever you said no to in taking the sync in the first place. If you find you made a poor decision, make concerted efforts to learn from the failure and avoid it in future.

Some ways Convictional leverages async collaboration

We’ve shared the philosophies that undergird our approach to async communication and collaboration. Below, we cover a few ways we put these philosophies in practice.

1. Product standups

Every day, everyone on the product team jumps into a Google Doc and writes in what they’re working on that day. Here’s an example of what this looks like from our engineering team’s standup:

2. Weekly metrics reporting

Every Monday, our Head of Business Operations Adam McCabe records an overview of metrics for the prior week, enabling the entire business to get a quick snapshot into week over week progress.

Both our async standups and weekly reports save the team several hours of time by eliminating synchronous meetings. Async updates also help with documentation and accountability across the team on a regular cadence, and enable us to save the most important discussion and decision points for syncs.

3. Fusion meetings

A fusion meeting is a meeting type where updates are shared asynchronously and discussion of those updates occurs synchronously.

For example, the People team has a biweekly 45-minute fusion meeting where the first 15 minutes are for sharing async initiative updates in a doc. The next 30 minutes are for Forming (Tuckman) activities, discussion topics, and decision making. Discussion should be saved for things everyone has a vested interest in and is fully prepared for, and should have a clear goal/outcome, like a decision to be made.

4. Weekly updates

Every Friday, the team leverages Lattice’s weekly updates feature to share what’s going on for us. The team reads through others’ weekly updates and managers comment back on what’s been accomplished and where we can push ourselves further.

A snippet from one of my recent Weekly Updates.

Sync with intention: sync checklists

A small amount of prep work can be extremely worthwhile for raising the value of a given sync. The barrier to access can also force you to consider your needs more deeply and ultimately raise awareness that a sync isn’t actually necessary to get the job done. We hope this structure supports you in making the most of the time you do spend syncing and that you use it every time you ask someone to meet (outside of your manager syncs).

  • Problem Statement → define the goal of the sync before asking for it, include specific discussion points to hit.
  • Sync Style → identify whether you’re looking for an interpersonal- or task-focused sync. Most people will hit both topics, so timebound the one you bias towards (e.g. we’ll spend 10 minutes catching up and the rest of the time talking about x project).
  • Feedback → include an ask for feedback about your relationship, about a specific competency you’re working on, about a deliverable, etc. This ensures you’re still focused on learning from each other, even if the primary purpose is something else.

If you want to learn more about the theory behind this, check out Checklist Manifesto.

Value a default async culture too? Come work with us!

A distributed team that is always on Slack isn’t default async. 

A distributed team that needs to get on video calls all day isn’t default async. 

Time value of money and opportunity cost are important principles that help us approach async vs. sync time with intention. Sync checklists enable us to use our syncs as effectively as we can.

If you value a work environment that empowers you to shape every aspect of your workday, consider working with us! We’re aggressively hiring across all our teams.

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