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One of the biggest advantages of working at a startup is the opportunity for every employee — from intern to top executive — to access and understand the context behind what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Keeping this sense of purpose (what I like to call our “why”) front and center creates the kind of alignment that motivates people to do their best work and be their best selves. But how can this be achieved on a practical level?
At Lumanu, we’re taking a unique approach to ensure that all of our employees have insights into our priorities and decision-making. Each week, our employees dedicate 15 minutes to completing a check-in. On a scale of 1 to 5, they rate how they’re feeling about their week, including their biggest wins and challenges. Every manager then spends five minutes reviewing his or her employees’ weekly feedback. In just 20 minutes, we are able to get an honest and accurate pulse on the mindset of every one of our employees.
I participate in the same exercise and answer additional questions tailored to my perspective as a founder, including my feelings about everything from company building to product quality to growth to brand equity. But since I don’t have a manager to review my check-ins, I proactively share my thoughts with the entire company, and employees can comment and respond. And unlike a traditional CEO newsletter, this approach provides my team with an unfiltered view of my thoughts, just like they’d receive if they were my manager.
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In just over one month, this approach has made a meaningful impact on our work and our culture. We use a wonderful platform called 15Five, but a simple email template with pre-populated questions can achieve a similar result, yielding a number of benefits.
Greater opportunities to collaborate and take action
Many employees can feel intimidated by the thought of reaching out directly to a CEO to offer their opinions or ideas. By creating a welcoming environment and an easy way for employees to engage with you as a leader, you’re better able to foster a sense of ownership and accountability. Rather than waiting for employees to ask how they may be able to help you solve a problem, this approach encourages them to proactively offer their own thoughts and ideas to you or collaborate with others to come up with alternative solutions.
The idea that problem-solving and direction must come from the top down is no longer applicable. Leaders today need to flip the script and empower employees to take a more active role in confronting key challenges head on. By making these collaborative opportunities an intrinsic part of your workplace culture, employees will feel more comfortable initiating contact with you to help your company grow.
Experienced founders know that making mistakes is a necessary part of fast-paced growth. Rather than sweep them under the proverbial rug, I believe in calling out my mistakes openly and honestly. Having a forum to own my missteps allows me to show my vulnerability, which is an important part of being a transparent leader and sends a signal to my team that I don’t expect perfection. I always say that 99.99% of mistakes won’t actually kill the company, so don’t be afraid to make them. Maintaining a high level of transparency as a leader encourages a culture where employees feel empowered to make decisions autonomously to push the company forward.
It can be especially helpful to frame mistakes as “learning opportunities.” Whether it’s my own mistake or an employee’s, it’s important to take a moment to understand what happened and reflect on how to avoid repeating that mistake. Remember that you can’t change what happened, but you can change what happens next.
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Fosters autonomy and connection to why
Giving employees a direct window into your thinking allows them to feel like a founder, which is one of our core values. If your employees can understand why you gave yourself low marks on meeting a particular challenge one week, they can be better informed when discussing priorities for the following week. Similarly, if your employees can understand why you were especially excited about meeting a key milestone, they can better appreciate the effort that was involved and the greater impact on the company. Providing employees with a greater sense of autonomy and permission to connect the dots helps them make more insightful decisions and take strategic action. This is a fundamental part of any employee’s professional development.
Creating these kinds of asynchronous conversations is key to keeping employees engaged, informed and grounded in what your company is striving to accomplish. When employees know they have a forum to share what’s on their mind — and that their thoughts actually matter — they will be much more inclined to keep sharing. When you, as a leader, reveal your authentic self, you’re giving your team permission to be vulnerable and make mistakes. And when leaders and employees are on the same page, it’s easy to see how much value can be unlocked in just 20 minutes a week.
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