#118 Rules Are For Fools: Trust Your Teammates

Staying with the “it’s summer - keep it short” theme, here’s something from Airbnb Co-founder Brian Chesky. It's an excerpt from a letter he wrote to the Airbnb team a few years ago.

Here’s a link to the entire letter if you’re interested. (F-bomb alert: Don't click the link or read below if you're allergic to F-bombs.)

“Culture is a thousand things, a thousand times. It’s living the core values when you hire; when you write an email; when you are working on a project; when you are walking in the hall. We have the power, by living the values, to build the culture. We also have the power, by breaking the values, to fuck up the culture. Each one of us has this opportunity, this burden.
Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial. And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap. Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes.”
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It’s my observation that the larger your business gets, the weaker the culture tends to get. And, as predicted by Chesky, rules start multiplying like rabbits. Which further erodes the culture. Which necessitates more rules. Which further erodes the culture...

You get the point.

This is exactly how and why billion dollar behemoths tend to be rules-laden life-sucking sloths.

So yes, your growing business needs rules, but think long and hard before you give life to yet another one. They each carry a cost that’s hard to see and measure in the present - but you’ll eventually feel their collective weight sitting on your chest. As you lay there dreaming of your unlikely exit plan.

Don’t let this happen to your growing business. Double down on your culture!

#117 Disengaged Employees: They Can Tell When You Don't Care

It’s summertime, so for the next several weeks I’ll try to keep things short and sweet. This one should take 3 minutes to read.

I recently came across this Dec. 2017 poll done by Gallup. They call it the “State of the Global Workplace” and it claims that 85% of employees are “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged” at work.

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More specifically,

18% are actively disengaged
67% are not engaged or are indifferent to your organization

And their suggested fix for this disengagement is threefold…

  1. Audit your current performance management system…
  2. Train your managers to have effective performance development conversations.
  3. Build a scientific system to make the right decisions about who becomes a manager.

Being a recovering engineer, I get a little warm inside when I hear phrases like “performance management system” and “build a scientific system”.

But, being a human being that’s had the pleasure of managing other human beings, I’m not sure I agree with their advice. I hear this conversation in my head.

“Our people feel disengaged, what should we do?”
“Let’s try more systems and measurement.”

Sounds a little impersonal and tone deaf, doesn’t it? I’ve never met a disengaged employee who told me their main gripe was a performance management system that wasn’t scientific enough. 

On the other hand, I have heard employees say…

“I work for a company that doesn’t give a damn about me.”
“All the owner cares about is putting money in his pocket.”
“I’m just a replaceable cog in the machine”. 

Bottom line, if a whole bunch of your employees feel the same way - disengaged - it reflects on the business owner. You either suck at hiring, suck at managing, or maybe you really don’t care about them. Either way, you're the common denominator and you have to address the problem.


The fix is pretty simple. Ownership has to sincerely care about the employees, and that caring has to shine through in their daily interactions.

And yes, that's hard to do. Especially when you’re fighting to keep the place above water, and those doggone employees are misinterpreting your intentions, and they just don’t understand how much you really care.

I hear you, but that’s what you signed up for when you hung up your shingle. Your most important job is behaving in such a way that your employees know, for sure, that you care. That you're invested in helping each and every one of them grow each and every day. That’s the only way I know to run a high-growth business that you won’t eventually come to hate.

And I promise I’m not anti-rules, anti-process, anti-systems - but I do believe all of those things are over-prescribed. They remind me of expensive pills that people take to half-ass fix their ailments that could be better corrected with diet and exercise. 

Really caring about the growth of your employees is diet and exercise. 

It’s the all-natural answer to your engagement challenge, and it avoids the nasty impersonal side effects that come with those magic pills / systems.