Github COO Erica Brescia knows how to ask the right questions

Flight Templates are templated flights, or sets of questions, written by some of the world’s preeminent business leaders. With Flight Templates, Balloon users get unparalleled access to seasoned perspectives and proven business strategies across all areas of business, including leadership, product, marketing & sales, innovation, employee experience, culture, and more. This feature is part of a series on The Insight that profiles Balloon’s Flight Template authors.

Erica Brescia knows that you might not understand what she does just by looking at her title. Having previously served as CEO of Bitrock and co-founder and COO of Bitnami, the Bay Area denizen joined Github as its COO in June 2019. One year into her new role, Brescia is reminded once again that success in Operations hinges on, more than anything, making the right judgment calls.

“A lot of people, when they hear ‘COO,’ think that I just streamline workflows and operationalize company habits. That’s actually not my job,” Brescia said with a laugh. “Of course that’s part of it, but it’s much more than that. Really, it’s about ensuring strong communication and taking calculated risks. ”

This aspect of operations is particularly emphasized when a company is scaling, a startup rite of passage that Brescia says can determine whether the company sinks or soars. Her role at Github includes governing several of the company’s internal organizations—workplace experience, business development, international expansion, and diversity, inclusion, and belonging, or DI&B, just to name a few—and with so many fast-moving parts under her auspices, it can be difficult to weigh every nuanced decision with care. But Brescia knows the secret to successful scaling; it’s how she’s been able to help Github double in size to more than 2,300 employees since she joined, and it’s one of the topics she covers in her five-part flight template series, Building Operational Excellence.

  • Scale Operations during Rapid Growth
  • Operational Excellence Audit
  • Drive Productivity in a Remote Setting
  • Define Company-Level Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
  • Monthly OKR Operational Check-In

“Successful scaling really comes down to one thing,” Brescia said. “You have to know the right questions to ask.”

The first of Brescia’s flights, “Scaling during Rapid Growth,” asks six of them. It is a deep dive into this vital process, offering Operations leaders expertise and prompts they could only otherwise obtain through years of trial and error within a particularly tricky function.

To achieve and maintain high growth, Operations leaders must first create tight, cascading workflows that can be applied across functions and levels. Brescia warned that that first step is the most difficult to develop—in fact, it can take years to perfect, so she wrote her second flight template, “Operational Excellence Audit,” as a way to start the right conversations, surface the best ideas for sturdy and scalable operations, and communicate the results in the most effective ways. 

How you choose to communicate, too, is a facet of Operations that Brescia stressed is just as important.

“At Bitnami when we started to grow, there were times where I'd forget to bring certain people into conversations because we were moving so quickly,” Brescia said. “I didn't always pause to think about how new information or issues could most effectively be communicated to avoid disruption or uncertainty to the business.”

In other words, you need to know the right questions to ask, and the right ways to ask them.

Check out Erica Brescia's Flight Template Series

COO at Github