We’re highlighting the winners of our Manager-X Awards for Excellence in Management over the next few weeks. Our five winners were chosen from more than 100 nominees from brands around the world, all submitted by their peers and direct reports.
Business is increasingly digital, and systems generate mountains of data every day. Smart leaders know they can use this data to their advantage, but it’s a rare few who actually know how. Professional service automation is the way forward, for organizations to save time and manpower and move their productivity to the next level.
Don Harris is Head of Support at Pluralsight, Inc., the technology learning platform for developers and companies. In Don’s eyes, moving data through the organization and making it available to teams are key to company success.
He consolidated support at Pluralsight into a single team, and created an API Developer position to ensure their systems talk to each other and everyone has up-to-date data to fuel decisions. He also implements technology to automate repetitive tasks, saving teams countless hours across his organization.
That’s why Don is our Manager-X Award winner for Routine Work Automation. His commitment to transforming productivity in his company has helped Pluralsight grow from small startup to one of Utah’s crown jewels—and now a publicly traded company. We spoke with Don about his role, his team, and his management style.
How did you feel when you found out you were a winner?
I was really happy. I’m very passionate about work automation, and it was great to know that others see the value in the work I’m doing.
You’re the Head of Support at Pluralsight. What does your role look like?
We do support a little bit differently at Pluralsight. In most companies, you’ll typically have sales support, marketing support, people ops support, and accounting support. We try to consolidate those functions so there’s just “Support.”
We also support our customers, provide QA for our developers, and provide technical documentation. That means working cross-functionally and being able to organize all the work coming in is critical. That's how support is broken down at Pluralsight and an overview of my responsibilities at a very high level.
You’re our award winner for Routine Work Automation. What’s your approach to building a technology ecosystem that fosters automation?
When I'm building the ecosystem or systems to integrate with it, autonomy and flexibility are critical. I like to make sure that if I'm looking at a system, I'm not just looking at it through a support lens, but that it can actually be a bridge between support and let's say, legal, accounting, or sales, and that it’s also able to serve those functions.
To give a tangible example, when I was looking at project management systems, I initially started off looking at task management systems. There are a lot of task management systems catered towards individuals or specific departments, but I could tell they wouldn’t be a good fit because they didn’t have the universality to share information from team to team.
So when I stumbled over Wrike, as an example, there was a lot of flexibility and autonomy that I had over the tool to customize it to the needs of each department. And that's when I decided to incorporate it into our software ecosystem here.
The next step is taking on small segments of work to prove value. Once you can prove a tool’s value, it typically expands by word of mouth.
What are your thoughts on how companies can use automation to aid their workforce?
A couple of years ago, I thought of automation as scripting and coding, to make software say “if this, then that” for specific functions. Today, it’s evolved to become more personal. It means asking, “Can I streamline any of the steps for the work that I’m doing to help me do it more effectively?” That means automation can be very personal, and also customized for each team or department, or the entire company.
I try to step back and take a look every six months or so, and try to attack some of the tasks that are taking too much of our time. If you can consolidate workflows with automation, then you’re moving in the right direction.
Do you find this strategy becomes even more valuable as a company grows?
Absolutely. As your company grows and your team takes on more work, you’re going to have more routine work piling up that you need to take off your plate. If you can’t do that, it’s going to be hard to reach the next level, and routine work could become a bottleneck for your growth.
Technology is just a part of your job. What’s your philosophy for managing people?
As a people manager, I try to help unlock an individual’s potential by creating an open and exploratory environment. At the heart of any team, it's having fun that drives success.
What do you mean by exploratory environment?
It's means breaking down the boundaries of a defined role. For example, on our support team we don’t have a concept of “this isn’t my job.” Our philosophy is “our job is to solve issues, so any issue could be a part of our job.” Once an issue has been identified, we pick up that issue and try to drive a resolution or a better outcome.
We’ve heard you’re fiercely loyal to your team. What does that mean to you?
When I was younger in my career, I was highly motivated but I didn’t know how to progress or even where I wanted to go, so it goes back to that. So many of the jobs that will exist in the future don’t even exist today.
As a manager, I like to ask my team, "Hey, what do you like to do? And let's see if the company can use that." Then I try to help them build the skills and understand the resources that are available to them to help them create that job that may or may not exist already.
I also truly believe that they can get there and succeed if they're willing to put the time into it. And I try to reassure them that if they put the time and work in, great things are going to happen and they're going to get pretty close—if not exceed—anything that they are thinking about right now from a career perspective.
So you’re trying to design jobs around the person, instead of fitting the person into the job title?
Exactly. I try to match people’s strengths with problems, more so than titles. It takes some soft skills to create a job for people, because you need to be able to articulate both the issue and the solution, then make the path for them to get there. And when people reach that point in their career, it’s really rewarding.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
Being able to consistently meet new people, help them see possibilities that weren't necessarily there for them before, and help them achieve those possibilities. That's hands down, by far, the most rewarding part of what I do.
What’s your best advice for other managers?
Challenge what you take for granted—whether it be what you can see for yourself and your career, the environment that you're working in, or even your management. Be able to speak up and challenge with the intent of making things better. If that's the intent, dream big and find the people to surround yourself with who are going to help support you and help you become better.
Stay tuned for our next interview with the Manager-X Award winner for Excellence in Small Business Operations. For the full list of award winners, check out the announcement post.