What the heck is this?
Back in the day, when you installed a new program on your computer, you might find a file named README. This was a text file that explained how to use the program and often included known bugs and fixes. Think of it like an instruction manual.
I’ve often wondered why people didn’t come with instruction manuals… It turns out, some do.
Recently, tech leaders in Silicon Valley have taken to writing “Manager Readme’s” that explain their management style and how to work well with them. Here are a couple Manager Readme’s that I really like.
I wanted to do the same for you.
This document is a user manual for Tim. I’ve included personal details about me, how I like to work, and I’ve even included some known bugs and how to re-boot me when it seems I’ve crashed.
If you’re reading this, that means that we may be working together, and I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I’m excited to partner with you. I hope this guide helps you understand me a little better. Hopefully, if we both follow this manual, I'll operate as intended and we'll see great results together.
This is a living, breathing document, and I will be updating it as I learn more about myself. If you spot anything that you think is inaccurate, please let me know!
Now, let’s get into it!
A little about me...
My name is Timothy James Hickle. Pronouns are he/him. I’m married to a wonderful woman named Kristen Hay. We have a son named Myles Robert Hay Hickle, born on May 6th 2020.
Kristen is a Marketing Manager for Bloomerang, a nonprofit donor database located in Indianapolis by Fort Harrison State Park. We live in a house in the Geist area and spend our free time hiking, camping, watching the Indiana Pacers, and reading. She’s more into fiction, I’m more into non-fiction. She’s more introverted. I’m more extroverted. She’s a cat person. I’m a dog person. We have two cats named Clue and Jenga, so… She won that one.
I was born and raised in Indianapolis to two top-tier parents. My dad, Dennis Hickle, was a CPA and accountant who is now an accounting professor at Ball State. My mom, Rosie Hickle, was the Executive Director of the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana and is now semi-retired, but she still makes time for tutoring. I have three sisters, two older (Laura and Katie) and one younger (Andrea). My two older sisters each have a son and a daughter, giving me two nieces and two nephews. I pride myself on being a really fun uncle.
I graduated from IU Bloomington in 2013 and I’m a huge IU fan. I was there for the Kentucky game. It was awesome. I actually like IU football more than IU basketball. To be honest, I’m not sure why. I follow the Colts, but not as closely as I used to. I used to do sketch, standup, and improv comedy, and I still follow the comedy scene pretty closely. Some of my favorite comedians include Pete Holmes, John Mulaney, Tim Robinson, Jerrod Carmichael and Bo Burnham.
I also serve on the marketing committee for Arts For Lawrence, a non-profit theatre in the Fort Harrison area. Other non-profits I support include the ACLU, Indy Reads, and the UNCF.
What pays my bills
The way I view my job is simple: Capital-efficient growth over time wins every market.
I actually wrote a book about my views on marketing strategy, and they’re pretty simple.
Short-term tactics generate short-term results and long-run losses. The brands who focus on adding value and generating assets that are helpful for their target market have always, and will always, beat the brands who focus on hype and promotion as their primary marketing engine.
Jay Baer said it first, but it’s my mantra: Help over hype.
When I’m doing my job, I’m laser-focused on helping our target market. My goal is to always stay 20% ahead of goals, 20% under budget, and 20% more valuable than our competition.
My personal values
My actions are guided by four core values that I bring into work every day:
My job will never be as important as my family. I don’t expect for your job to be as important as your family, either. Family is always most important.
This concept is stolen from the world of improv
, but it’s my favorite way to approach work and life. When we contradict one another, we tear eachother down. When we say “yes, and,” we build on one another.
Help over hype
Calm over crazy
Again, stolen from Jay Baer, this principle is simple. Put another way, Zig Ziglar once said “You can have anything you want in this world as long as you help enough other people get what they want.” My job is to help other people get what they want.
I believe that it doesn't have to be crazy at work. In fact, I believe that there is an inverse relationship between craziness and long-run sustainability of a business. Churn-and-burn, growth-at-all-costs businesses are lame. Sustainability is sexy.
Working with me 101: How to be my friend and trusted advisor
- You know what you’re doing: You wouldn’t be in this role if you weren’t skilled, and you wouldn’t show up to work if you weren’t going to earnestly try your best every day. I trust you and I believe that you have talents, skill sets, and knowledge that I don’t have.
- You trust that I know what I’m doing: I believe that you trust me to do my job. You want to see me succeed and you want to help me succeed whenever possible. We’re on the same team.
- When we disagree, your intentions are good: Conflict is unavoidable in the workplace, but I trust that our disagreements are always in good faith. We both want what’s best for the business and one another, we just may disagree about how to get there. We’ll work through it together!
- Quick-Start: I have an extreme bias for action and love to get started and ship things. I hate talking about things. Let’s try it and see what happens. I learn by doing, failing, and iterating.
- Hyper Productivity: When I’m in heads-down mode, I’m a freaking speed demon. When I’m writing, I can crank through 3,000 words in a morning easily. My favorite meetings are 5 minutes. Essential information only. Let’s keep moving.
- Passion: I’m driven by passion and that comes through in my writing and speaking. When my writing or public speaking skills are deployed, I can be incredibly persuasive and inspiring.
- Finishing Everything I Start: I love to start things, but I tend to start some things that I don’t finish. Not all my baby turtles make it to the ocean. Sometimes, it can be hard for me to focus on only a few high-priority items instead of chasing shiny objects and testing new things.
- Manic Work Mode: When I get in that hyper productive headspace, I get manic and that can be really off putting. In my head, I think I’m in the West Wing doing a walk-and-talk. Witty banter, only essential communications, I don’t have time for this! In reality, I can come off as curt and dismissive. I’m working on this.
- Burnout: I can be so driven by passion that I burn myself out too easily. I get excited about a project or two and commit myself to 12 hour days and unsustainable work/life balance. I need help from my wife, friends, family, and co-workers to prevent this.
How to motivate me
Positive verbal affirmation is my lifeblood. The single easiest way to motivate me is to ensure that, if I do the thing you want me to do, I will receive praise from you or others. I’m a golden retriever and that’s my treat.
Be my friend
I really value my relationships, and the closer I feel like we are, the further I’ll go to help you. If you’re my friend, I’ll stay up until 2 AM to help you. I’m a people pleaser, which is a bit of a double-edged sword, but if you become a close friend of mine, I’ll stop at nothing to help you.
Help me level-up
I have always struggled to go to the gym consistently, but one trainer changed my perspective. He said: “Focus on what you’re gaining, not what you’re losing.” Instead of focusing on losing weight, focus on gaining core strength. That perspective shift changed my life. If you focus on helping me level-up and gain new skills, I’ll endure a lot of pain to get there.
How to de-motivate me
Criticism (Not Feedback)
There is a very, very big difference between criticism and feedback. (Note: Here is the feedback model I use.) I’ve had managers in the past say things like “[Project] is bad” or “You’re not very good at [Thing].” When that happens, it erodes trust.
Make things transactional
If it feels like you don’t care about me as a person, it’ll be hard for me to get on board with you. I know that no one is irreplaceable, but the more I feel like a cog in your machine, the less likely I’ll be to respond to you.
Use a scarcity mindset
I’m a big believer in the power of the prosperity vs. scarcity mindset. I’m an optimist and believe that, ultimately, if we try our best and work together, things will probably work out. In the past, I’ve really struggled to work with hyper-pragmatists. Their worldview has been “things will fail unless we do X, Y, and Z.” I find that to be a self-defeating worldview and don’t work well with those people.
How I Like To Work
- Calendaring: I believe in the power of FBOTs (Focused Blocks of Time) and try to keep at least one contiguous block of 3+ hours blocked for heads-down work every day. This ensures that, no matter what, I get at least one meaningful thing done every day. Please do not schedule over this time unless it is urgent. If I am routinely unable to get an FBOT scheduled, I will be forced to put myself on a minutes restriction for meetings.
- Meetings: Meetings are extremely expensive and should be as small and as infrequent as possible. Most meetings cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of worker hours. If there isn’t a desired outcome that is worth that amount, it’s a poor use of resources. When I run a meeting, I promise it will start on time, end on time*, have an agenda, and a desired outcome. “Syncing” with someone is not a desired outcome. Most communication is more effectively done asynchronously.
*NOTE: Networking meetings always run long with me... I'm a talker! That's the exception to the rule.
- 1:1s: The one exception to this rule is 1:1s. I believe strongly in the power of 1:1s to build relationships and align individuals. I love this 1:1 model and use this list of 1:1 questions frequently. I don’t believe in using 1:1s for status updates. I like Manager:Direct 1:1s weekly, peer 1:1s monthly, and skip-level 1:1s quarterly.
- Communication: As with most things, the Basecamp crew nails this. Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time. Meetings are the last resort, not the first option. Never expect or require someone to get back to you immediately unless it’s a true emergency. The expectation of immediate response is toxic. Here’s a simple waterfall to understand how I think about communication:
> Start by taking a note to cover with me
> After you’ve done that, think about the matrix below. If it needs to be covered before the next time we’re talking 1:1, send an email documenting the issue and your proposed solution. This ensures proper context on my end.
> After you’ve done that, send me a Slack message if it needs to be covered in the next 24 hours.
> After that, send me a text if it has to be taken care of in the next four hours.
> After that, call me or find me in-person if it has to be taken care of in the next hour.
How I Prioritize My Work
Consequences: What happens if we don’t act? If the consequence is we miss a quarterly goal, that’s high. If the consequence is that we’ll put a project timeline at risk, that’s medium. If the consequence is that a blog post might be 10% worse, that’s low.
Urgency: How quickly do we need to act on this information? If it is within the next hour, it’s highly urgent. If it’s within the next year, it’s not urgent at all.
These activities are highly important to guiding us, but they don’t need to be done right away.
My goal is to bucket these items and focus on them during FBOTs when there aren’t pressing matters at hand.
These are the most important activities to the business. They have a meaningful impact on our ability to hit our goals.
My goal is to dedicate at least one FBOT per day to builder activities.
Busy Bee Activities
These activities aren’t very important or urgent, but they’re something to do.
My goal is to either delegate these activities or do them during down time. I’ll keep a running list of them over time.
These activities need to be done right away, but don’t have a structural impact on the business. Maybe it’s fixing an error or helping with a deal that’s at risk.
My goal is to funnel as many firefighter activities into another quadrant as possible, empower others to fight their own fires, and dedicate flex time every day to helping put out fires that require my attention.
Feedback and Evaluation
I like to have my work evaluated on a regular cadence using this feedback model when possible. The best way to give me feedback is to align on desired outcomes and ability of my work to achieve those desired outcomes.
"This copy isn’t good enough."
Not actionable and value judgement. Likely to erode trust between us.
"This copy isn’t converting."
Not actionable and hard to build on. Likely to frustrate me.
"This copy is too long. We need shorter copy to convert."
Opinion-based. Could lead to an escalation.
"I’m concerned about the conversion rate of our copy. I think it might be too long."
Situation and hypothesis are clear. Next steps are a bit uncertain. Not that big of a deal, but could slow down action.
"Right now, we’re not converting enough to hit our goal. I’d love to test some shorter copy to see if it increases conversion rates."
Situation, hypothesis, and next steps are all clear. I’m ready to rock!
Known error codes, and how to re-boot me
- 307: Temporary Redirect: I’m distracted and focused on something I shouldn’t be focused on. I’m probably feeling obligated to help someone with something “quickly.” Thank me for trying to help, but remind me of my top priority right now.
- 301: Moved Permanently: My priorities are wrong and I’m not focused on the right goal. I’m probably feeling a little uncertain about how to align my expectations and yours. In our next 1:1, say that you want to talk about priorities and list the goal, including the timeline, that I should be focused on hitting. Now ask if I’m spending the majority of my time focused on that goal. If not, why? That will give me clarity and provide you with context to get me un-blocked.
- 408: Request Timeout: I forgot about something. This happens. Simply remind me. If it’s something that I can’t afford to forget about, it might make sense to ask me to set up a reminder on my calendar when we originally discuss it. I’m sensitive about this, so please don’t make me feel guilty about forgetting.
- 413: Request Entity Too Large: I’ve been distracted by a project from a higher-up. Because it came from someone I think is important, I’m prioritizing it too high. Ask me why it’s so high on my list and offer to talk to this person for me about timeline. I don’t like letting people down, so this would be a huge burden off of me.
- 417: Expectation Failed: I’ve missed a goal and I’m panicking. A lot of my personal self-worth is tied up in my professional accomplishments and I don’t miss goals very often. My mind is probably spiraling right now… What does this mean? The best next step is to provide me with clarity. Tell me explicitly, with no room for misinterpretation, what the consequences of this are. Am I getting fired? When would I get fired for this? Leave no room for misinterpretation.
- 420: Enhance Your Calm: I’m spiraling. I suffer from anxiety and depression and this happens from time to time. You may have noticed that I’m not as engaged in conversations as usual or I’m not being very animated. Don’t ask me “what’s wrong” because I’ll deflect and say I’m fine. I feel bad for not being my normal, enthusiastic self. Instead, tell me that you care about me and it’s okay for me to come to you if I have problems.
- 426: Upgrade Required: I don’t have the skillset necessary for a task I’ve signed up for. I might be nervous about navigating this conversation. Make it safe for me to admit this by asking me what resources I could use to make this project world-class. That will make me feel secure enough to tell you I need someone to help me in an area where I’m weak.
- 429: Too Many Requests: I’m getting a lot of requests for my time. I’m probably feeling overwhelmed. I don’t want to let anyone down, so I’m either saying “yes” to more things than I should or I’m getting frustrated with my perceived inability to please everyone. Sit down with me 1:1, empathize with my desire to help, give me permission to say no, and offer to block for me.
And, that’s me in a nutshell. If I missed something, let me know. My goal is to make this comprehensive so that every working relationship I have is as successful as possible.
If you made it this far, send me an email with the subject-line “HIGH SCORE” plus your initials and I’ll add you to the leaderboard.