Behind The Podcast: Ask A Manager's Alison Green offers advice about the challenges of the modern
Navigating the modern workplace can be daunting‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääopen floorplans, flexible office hours and locations, clashing personalities, etc. There are countless blogs offering advice for the employee, but those tips rarely come from an experienced manager. Alison Green started Ask A Manager to give employees and job applicants an inside look into the minds of managers and interviewers. The site started on a whim 11 years ago but has since grown into a powerful media company, complete with books and the Ask A Manager podcast. Simon Says spoke with Green about her unique approach to podcasting and the longevity of her brand.
(Note: Some answers have been lightly edited for readability and flow.)
1. Ask A Manager, the website, has been around since 2007 and has become a valuable resource for professionals. You just launched the podcast in February of this year. Why did this feel like the right time to start the show?
I‚Äôve thought about doing a podcast for years‚Ää‚Äî‚ÄäI love podcasts, and it‚Äôs something readers had suggested quite often. I‚Äôve never really had the time to sit down and actually make it happen before now!
2. One of the standout elements of your show is your guest strategy. Instead of bringing guests on to add their expertise or banter, you counsel them through a real-world problem they‚Äôre experiencing in the workplace. How did you decide on this approach?
One of the limitations of the traditional advice column format is that, in most cases, you get a letter and you offer advice based on what‚Äôs there, and that‚Äôs it. I figured the podcast allowed me to be more interactive than I can be in a standard written advice column‚Ää‚Äî‚ÄäI can ask clarifying questions, check to make sure the advice is working for the person I‚Äôm talking to, and refine it as I get more information. So it‚Äôs great for me‚Ää‚Äî‚ÄäI‚Äôm not just publishing advice and hoping it works for the person; I actually get to hear in real-time what they think. And I think it‚Äôs interesting and hopefully useful for listeners to hear the back and forth.
3. You also include feedback from listeners, as they provide more context or advice for problems from previous weeks. Was this something you planned from the beginning? Or did listeners just start responding this way?
I‚Äôm using a free podcasting app called Anchor, which makes it really easy for people to leave messages for me/the show. It was pretty great to see that start to happen.
4. Given Ask A Manager‚Äôs longevity, what do you think brings readers, and now listeners, back time and time again?
I think advice columns are inherently really interesting‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääother people‚Äôs problems and perspectives are intriguing! And there‚Äôs so much weirdness in the world that a lot of the situations in the letters I receive are pretty entertaining too! I think sometimes people think, ‚ÄúOh, work advice‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääthat must be all about cover letters and negotiating salary.‚Äù But if that‚Äôs all it was, it would have gotten boring long ago! So much of what we end up talking about at Ask a Manager is about the nuance and complexity of interpersonal situations, and there are endless varieties of that! What do you say if you accidentally hugged your CEO? What if you throw up on the floor during a job interview? What do you do if your new boss is the ex you ghosted 10 years ago? Those are all real-life letters from my site. I think if you‚Äôre interested in people, and weirdness, and life, and awkwardness, and how they all combine at work ‚Ä¶ there‚Äôs an endless supply of it to be had.
5. How did you first start the site?
It was a pretty impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision! I‚Äôd been a manager for a while and I kept seeing evidence that people would benefit from getting a better understanding of how managers think. And while there were a lot of career blogs out there, I didn‚Äôt see anyone giving advice from the perspective of a manager‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääa source that would explain to people, ‚Äúokay, here‚Äôs what your manager (or interviewer) is thinking when you say X,‚Äù or ‚Äúhere‚Äôs what your manager means when she says Y to you.‚Äù I felt like that could be really helpful to people‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääsomewhere they could go and figure out how their manager might be thinking.
I figured I‚Äôd just do it for a few months, no one would read it, and that would be the end of it. That was 11 years ago! It turned out that there‚Äôs a real hunger out there for helping people figure out how to navigate workplace issues.
6. The gig economy has gained popularity in recent years. We‚Äôve seen traditional workplaces try to embrace flexibility, as evidenced in your most recent episode about the employee who works from home too often. Have you seen a change in the types of questions you receive? Are new problems arising as companies attempt to adjust?
I started the site in 2007, and the recession hit in 2008‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääso for years my mail was full of very desperate letters from people in extremely tough situations, career-wise. I see less of that out there now, which is nice. And yes, you‚Äôre right, flexibility has been a huge trend in the last decade, and I see that reflected too‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääthere‚Äôs much more openness on the employer side to letting people work from home or work flexible hours, and there‚Äôs much more of an expectation from employees that reasonable companies will offer that when the work allows it.
One increasing problem, I think, is with open offices‚Ää‚Äî‚Äämore and more companies are moving to open floor plans, where people are all shoved into the same space with no privacy and no quiet. For many people, it doesn‚Äôt work well at all‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääbut the trend doesn‚Äôt seem to be abating.
7. For someone who hopes to build a long-lasting media brand like Ask A Manager, what advice can you offer them?
Put out good content! I didn‚Äôt have any SEO strategy‚Ää‚Äî‚Äästill don‚Äôt!‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääor really any deliberate branding strategy at all. I just put out content that I thought was interesting and that I‚Äôd want to read. I‚Äôm sure there was plenty of luck mixed in there too, though.
8. Your show is produced in conjunction with Anchor and Penguin Random House. How did those partnerships come about?
Random House is publishing my new book (it comes out on May 1 and is called Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work), and they‚Äôve been a great help in partnering with me on the show. We‚Äôd been kicking around the idea of a podcast, and as part of that, they introduced me to Anchor, which recently re-launched a new version of their platform‚Ää‚Äî‚Ääwhich really does make podcasting incredibly easy.
9. Aside from Ask A Manager, where else can we see your work?
First and foremost, at askamanager.org, where I publish about 18 pieces a week. I also write the ‚ÄúAsk a Boss‚Äù column for New York Magazine‚Äôs The Cut, and some of my older columns from Ask a Manager are syndicated at Inc.com.