People Aren’t Machines

If you’re anything like most people, you want to work at a job where you feel valued, have purpose, still have enough energy to do the things you want to do outside of work, and enjoy some sense of security that things are going to be okay.

When these things happen, you’re arguably a better colleague, friend, partner, and parent. Things we all want to be.

And while working conditions over the past several decades have improved drastically (for many, though not all), there’s often still a sense that something’s off with how we’re treated at work.

When I was getting my MBA, I remember teacher after teacher talking to us about how to manage employees in order to get the most out of them. And my fellow students were asking questions like: How can we maximize employee efficiency? Is high attrition just part of the game? How much control and power are enough, and where’s the line in order to tell if you’re micromanaging or not?

And there’s a history behind how we got here. Slavery, the caste system, and the industrial revolution (think about how most of our food is created) have all been systems of power throughout history that perpetuate the idea that people and places should be treated as cogs. They should be maximized to reach their full output potential. And that getting employees to reach their full output should be each manager’s highest achievement.

But there’s a fatal flaw with this kind of thinking.

What if output isn’t the best barometer of our success? What if our goal shouldn’t be to “get the most out of people” in the first place?

What if we should instead be asking how to best treat employees in a loving way, how we can do everything in our power to keep people around for the long-term, and how to let people largely self-determine their own roles and milestones so they can work autonomously, but toward the benefit of the collective?

There’s Another Way

At GAN, there are the three things I think about as goals when managing my team (in this order):

1) Is each individual increasingly becoming a thriving human being?
While most of us are obsessed with our companies, there’s a bigger goal at play and it doesn’t have anything to do with how our companies are actually doing. Instead, it has to do with humans flourishing all over the world, in their homes and with their families and friends. And while I’m not advocating for you to take on full responsibility for your team’s “thrive-ness” (I just made that up), you can set-up environments that allow people to thrive more than they would in others. For instance, at GAN, we do things like have a maximum 40 hour a week policy, pay for 100% of the health insurance for our team, take about 30 minutes each week to share what we’re thankful for about one another, and give sabbaticals every three years. Those are the high-level, public goals. But there are also daily interactions, like the ways in which we’re all asking for things and how quickly and easily we work to apologize to one another. And they’re all ways that encourage a culture where people thrive.

2) Is each person growing into the role they want to have?
Another way to help people thrive is to give them opportunities to grow in their abilities and talents every day. Every quarter, I sit down with each person on my team and ask them this question: Are we getting you to where you want to be? If someone is working at your company and sees their position as a dead end, don’t be shocked when they leave. For most people, the current job they’re in is not their end goal. But as managers and colleagues, you can help by setting up structures in their current job that prepare them for their future one. Does your salesperson want to be a manager one day? You can easily start giving them responsibilities that prepare them to manage. Does your marketing manager want to take over a business unit one day? You can start inviting them into meetings where you discuss the current status of business units. But you won’t know any of this until you understand exactly what that person’s goals actually are. And that means you not only have to ask, you have to be open to their answer. In other words: You have to make it safe for them to be totally honest.

3) Is each person hitting the goals for our company that they set for themselves?
In order to put any of this into practice, you have to actually have a company that’s in operation. And in order for your company to keep operating, you have to watch expenses, build a product, and make revenue. That means your team has to hit goals. And, if I’m being honest, this is so hard for me execute. Holding people to the goals set out in front of them is essential, but it doesn’t make it easy. One thing that’s helped me the most is allowing people to set their own goals. If the people on our team make their own goals, they’re more likely to be bought into them. And then, my only job is to hold them accountable to the goals they laid out for themselves. And of course, people will inevitably fall short some of the time. When this happens, I’ve found three questions help most. First, did we somehow overshoot on our expectations, why might that have happened, and how can we adjust moving forward? Second—to the extent that they’re comfortable sharing—ask what might be going on in their life. Everyone has a story, and without understanding the full context of what’s going on, you may not be able to understand why they aren’t meeting their goals. Last, I like to ask, “How can I help?” Because there’s usually at least one thing I can do to provide support, and it helps them know they’re not on an island.

What else? Do you have other techniques you’re using to help people thrive? I’d love to hear any other ideas you practice to encourage human flourishing at the office.