Tricky Situations.

As a capstone to the course, we will tackle a diverse bundle of tricky management situations that are drawn from real life. The tricky situations will deal with managing people, setting goals, measuring performance, designing organizations, and communication. We will have fun applying the ideas we’ve discussed and coming up with some new ones.

Slides from today

Digital class guide, with digital spread of cards


Course materials

Tricky situations adventure cards

🃏 Build Your Deck: Beck's Cognitive Behavioral Theory

🃏 Build Your Deck: Black Box

🃏 Build Your Deck: McCallum's Five Duties

🃏 Build Your Deck: War Room
In a crisis situation, bringing in everyone who has relevant information to the problem to work together on solving it.

1. Customer Service Call

Bad Comcast service call:

2:20 of a 20 minute call of a customer trying to disconnect from Comcast. Recording had 9 million listens; customer ended up on Good Morning America, etc. Went viral. Comcast was on fire; what can management do?


🃏 Composting

🃏 OKRs

🃏 Black Box

🃏 Real Self

Call shows the lack of humanity; need to make a public, personal response.

🃏 Minto's Pyramid

Write effectively for both internal communication and external PR.

🃏 Drake's Equation


What did they actually do?

Internal letter ("internal for public consumption"):

A Message From Dave Watson,
July 21, 2014

You probably know that there has been a fair amount of media attention about a recording of a phone call between one of our Customer Account Executives (CAEs) and a Comcast customer. The call went viral on social media and generated news headlines. We have apologized to the customer privately and publicly on Comcast Voices, making it clear that we are embarrassed by the tone of the call and the lack of sensitivity to the customer’s desire to discontinue service.

I’d like to give you my thoughts on the situation.

First, let me say that while I regret that this incident occurred, the experience that this customer had is not representative of the good work that our employees are doing. We have tens of thousands of incredibly talented and passionate people interacting with our customers every day, who are respectful, courteous and resourceful.

That said, it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance. I know these Retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast. We have a Retention queue because we believe in our products, and because we offer a great value when customers have the right facts to choose the package that works best for them. If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer and work with them to find the right solution.

The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do. He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect. This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us — from leadership to the front line — understands the balance between selling and listening. And that a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost.

When the company has moments like these, we use them as an opportunity to get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. We will review our training programs, we will refresh our manager on coaching for quality, and we will take a look at our incentives to ensure we are rewarding employees for the right behaviors. We can, and will, do better.

Thank you for your support, and many thanks to the thousands of exceptional employees all around the country who work so hard to deliver a great customer experience every day. I am confident that together we will continue to improve the experience, one customer at a time.

Dave Watson
Chief Operating Officer, Comcast Cable

What cards were played?

🃏 Real Self

🃏 Composting

But it doesn't look like they're going to change anything – "review", "refresh", etc. Not a significant problem here. Could redesign the black box, but probably won't.

🃏 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

"Retention" is capitalized – they've built a shared worldview around why that is so, with a whole set of behaviors, theory, expectations.

🃏 Leverage Points

Just received a lot of publicity; taking advantage of it to speak to the tech blog world in a way they've never been able to before.

🎴 The Goat (dark side deck)
Someone needs to fall on the sword.

The CEO needs to do earnings, etc. Doesn't want to show up when you Google search him.

When you are playing cards, someone else is playing cards too.

The writer of this letter, Dave Watson, is now CEO. A great additional coda. He played his cards right, in one interpretation.

2. Dead customers – Extra strength Tylenol

Someone bought Tylenol from a store, put cyanide into the bottles, then returned it to the store. People bought the Tylenol, ate it, and died.

This incident started the practice of safety wrapping medicines. Before then, you could open bottles and change the contents without indication.

To reintroduce Tylenol after the disaster, they put the medical director on TV ("looking like someone from central casting") sincerely talking about the new safety sealing mechanism protecting the new bottles.

Leveraged their goodwill bank account built over a hundred years to bring back their reputation.

Chris Romer: We recently used the war room and Becks’ to survive and gain reputation with a very tricky situation around the new Tax Bill which could have severely harmed Guild. We end up not only safe but gained new friends and stature by playing the right cards and punching way above our weight.

Four years later, it happened again – even with all the precautions taken. Held a press conference just 4-5 days later, announcing they stopped manufacturing capsules and would exclusively sell "caplets" instead. Was clear that they had already planned for this worst-case scenario – they knew that if it happened again, their company would be dead.


🃏 War Room

🃏 Kahneman + Tversky, S1 + S2

Could have used S1 and S2 for problem solving too:

🃏 Black Box

🃏 Industrial Revolution

Performance review for James Burke



3. GitHub

In March of 2014, Julie Ann Horvath posted to her Twitter account:

I'm incredibly happy to moving on to join a more healthy work environment, with a team who doesn't tolerate harassment of their peers.

I've been harassed by 'leadership' at GitHub for two years. And I am the first developer to quit.

I regret defending GitHub's culture to feminists for the last two years. I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt in doing so.

In one day, all of the work I've done at that company to be a better place for women to work has come undone.

There are good people at GitHub and leadership should be accountable to them, not predators and harassers.

One thread was from one of the cofounders of the company and his wife. His wife didn't work at GitHub but worked out of the office. Ended up in conflict with Julie: corporate bullying, spreading misinformation to gain leverage over her, etc. Was never clear why the wife was colocated in the space.

The other dimension was Julie's colleague, a male software developer, who wanted to date her. After she turned him down, she saw some retaliation behavior from him where he would not include her in relevant workstreams, reverse her work, undo her commits.

Those situations kept being "ignored by senior management" instead of being resolved over time. At the time, the company didn't have any org structure or senior management as we know it.

Michael Dearing: If you haven't seen this in your own workspace, you eventually will – people can't help themselves but treat other people badly.

Put yourself in the shoes of the leader of this company. What cards would you play?

What else would you want to know?



🃏 One-on-One Meetings

🃏 Black Box

🃏 Minto's Pyramid

Response from company

Chris Wanstrath (CEO)'s initial response:

This weekend, GitHub employee Julie Horvath spoke publicly about negative experiences she had at GitHub that contributed to her resignation. I am deeply saddened by these developments and want to comment on what GitHub is doing to address them.

We know we have to take action and have begun a full investigation. While that’s ongoing, and effective immediately, the relevant founder has been put on leave, as has the referenced GitHub engineer. The founder’s wife discussed in the media reports has never had hiring or firing power at GitHub and will no longer be permitted in the office.

GitHub has grown incredibly fast over the past two years, bringing a new set of challenges. Nearly a year ago we began a search for an experienced HR Lead and that person came on board in January 2014. We still have work to do. We know that. However, making sure GitHub employees are getting the right feedback and have a safe way to voice their concerns is a primary focus of the company.

As painful as this experience has been, I am super thankful to Julie for her contributions to GitHub. Her hard work building Passion Projects has made a huge positive impact on both GitHub and the tech community at large, and she's done a lot to help us become a more diverse company. I would like to personally apologize to Julie. It’s certain that there were things we could have done differently. We wish Julie well in her future endeavors.

There's a spectrum in the approach:

After the investigation concluded, Chris sent another message:

Last month, a number of allegations were made against GitHub and some of its employees, including one of its co-founders, Tom Preston-Werner. We took these claims seriously and launched a full, independent, third-party investigation.

The investigation found no evidence to support the claims against Tom and his wife of sexual or gender-based harassment or retaliation, or of a sexist or hostile work environment. However, while there may have been no legal wrongdoing, the investigator did find evidence of mistakes and errors of judgment. In light of these findings, Tom has submitted his resignation, which the company has accepted. Tom has been a huge part of this company from the very beginning and we appreciate all that he has done for GitHub. We wish him the best in his next endeavour.

As to the remaining allegations, the investigation found no evidence of gender-based discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or abuse.

We want to create a great place to work for all our employees and we can’t do that without acknowledging the challenges that exist in providing an inclusive work environment. We are implementing a number of new HR and employee-led initiatives as well as training opportunities to make sure employee concerns and conflicts are taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. We know we still have work to do.

Many signs and symbols of an inhuman message. This is sanitized armor. Feedback was understandably brutal.

Finally, a week later, another follow up:

Last Monday I published the least open and least transparent blog post GitHub has ever written.

We failed to admit and own up to our mistakes, and for that I'm sorry. GitHub has a reputation for being transparent and taking responsibility for our actions, but last week we did neither. There's no excuse. We can do a lot better.

I'd like to share with you as much as I can about what happened and a bit about how GitHub is changing.

4. A peer at your company is failing in his job.

5. CEO wants you to spy on competition.


This whole course is tricky situations. Keep playing – it helps.

You have a secret knowledge advantage now: this has all happened before. We are not the first generation of people to ride this rollercoaster. For the last 200 years, we've been on this trajectory to change the planet and change civilization for the better.

It's our turn to drive this train now. It's our work that will cure the worst things about life on Earth.

Reading: Andy Grove’s “One More Thing”

A meditation: New management

Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back. Rest your feet on the floor. Just relax – you've done a lot in three days. It's your chance now to have some quiet time.

Focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. Imagine yourself in a happy location – a room that you love, outdoors in the sunlight, maybe at the beach – any place you feel peaceful, safe, welcome. Just let yourself enjoy this place: the details all around you, the shapes and the colors, the sounds and the textures.

Now imagine you turn to the left and there's a screen in front of you showing your colleagues at work. They're talking to each other as normal, they're busy and happy. But you know they miss you – you've gone to the happy location, you've left your job behind. You feel a great sense of accomplishment about the work you've done there, but you are also excited about what comes next.

Without judgment, you remember things that were hard, you remember some successes. You may feel some emotions about your work.

You look back at the screen and see a new face – the person chosen to take your place. He or she is smart, kind, hard-working. He or she is comfortable making hard choices, taking actions you know are the correct ones. He or she is an exemplary team member to your colleagues in every way.

What will this new person do in your job? You see on the screen this person talking to your colleagues – a new plan of action. There are goals and details, some continuing what you did, some completely new. He or she is unburdened by past history, unafraid of what needs to be done, eager to lead and contribute to the future.

You may feel gratitude for their thoughts, admiration for what they plan to do for your team, excitement for what they can accomplish with the opportunity that you've set up for them.

Now imagine that person can be you. You can return to your jobs, your colleagues, at any time and implement those ideas – unburdened by the past, unafraid to do what needs to be done, eager to do the best work of your life.

One more thing to remember is that this happy location, this meditation, is always available to you. Within a few minutes, you will be able to come back here, see what any exceptional new talent can do with your job, and see that you can do those things yourselves.