When it might actually be a good idea to ask to be 'layered' under a new manager

Noam Lovinsky, chief product officer at Grammarly, said his experience as a project manager of Youtube benefited from being "layered" with an extra supervisor.Reuters
  • Grammarly CPO Noam Lovinsky sees potential benefits to being "layered" under a new manager.

  • Lovinsky credits his professional growth at YouTube in part to asking to be layered under a supportive manager.

  • Project managers should be self-critical and prioritize the team's needs above their own careers, he says.

Getting "layered" at work — when an extra supervisor is put in the chain of command between you and your boss — is not usually taken as a good sign.

But there's one executive who thinks it can be a positive in the right circumstances — and even went so far as to ask for to be layered himself.

Noam Lovinsky, chief product officer at Grammarly, said as much in a recent interview on Lenny Rachitsky's Product, Growth, Career podcast. Lovinsky, who previously worked at YouTube from 2010 to 2015, described his experience at the online video platform as "atypical."

Reporting to then-CEO Salar Kamangar, Lovinsky admitted that he "really struggled" in his first few months as head of the company's creator team. While he learned a lot while working directly under the YouTube CEO, who he called an "incredible strategic thinker," it wasn't all smooth sailing.

"He was asking me questions that I felt were from a different planet," Lovinsky said of Kamangar. "I didn't know what they meant. He just thought in a different way, a different level, a different scale. And that's still something that I was learning. Eventually, I figured it out, but I was really struggling in that moment."

Former YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar
Former YouTube CEO Salar KamangarGetty/Kris Connor

Lovinsky said he leaned on his YouTube colleagues for help, including Hunter Walk, who was then head of the viewership team, and Shishir Mehrotra, who was head of advertising at the time.

That inspired him to start thinking differently about his position in the company, he said.

"I actually went to Salar and said, 'I think I should actually report to Hunter,'" Lovinsky said. "'I think this would work better if we combined the organizations in this way, if we divide and conquer it this way.'"

Kamangar agreed and reorganized the product team accordingly, Lovinsky said. Even though being "layered" meant that he was an extra degree of separation from the CEO, Lovinsky said he knew it had been the right decision.

"Hunter was a fantastic manager and support at YouTube. I learned a ton, grew a lot," he said. Reached for comment by BI, Walk said his former colleague is an "amazing product leader" and entrepreneur.

The experience was eye-opening for Lovinsky. As a project manager, one of the biggest lessons he said he took away from his time at Youtube was being self-critical — even in areas where it may run counter to conventional career-climbing advice.

"No one has ever come to me in my career and said 'I would like you layer me and this other person,'" he said. "But in that moment, I was just like, 'This is how I will do better work, this is how I will get better support. I will be happier and more productive and it will be better for the team.' And you know what, for me anyways, I was right."

Lovinsky suggested that being honest with yourself can be one of the biggest challenges for project managers to overcome. He mentioned another episode early in his tenure at YouTube where he pushed for another reorganization of his team, even though he was "basically negotiating myself out of a job in month three."

"Look around at what the rest of the team is doing and be really honest and open about the relative priority of the thing that you're working on," he said. "Even if it might lead to your project getting canceled."

He suggested that good organizations reward those who advocate for "what's best for the team," even if it personally puts them in a difficult situation.

"If it's is a healthy team that rewards those sorts of decisions and actions, good things will happen," he said. "If it's not, that's good to know too. That's good to know early."

After YouTube, Lovinsky went on to work at Thumbtack and Facebook before landing his current C-suite job at Grammarly.

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