Every month we have a management meeting where we look back and audit the previous 30 days. We audit what worked best and what didn’t, compare numbers to the forecast, go over all the most important metrics, and plan for the next month.
In our last one –end of January 2019– we sensed that something was off. We had this feeling that management just wasn’t on the same page as everyone else.
Our first thought was that our mission and vision might not be clear or supported enough. However, I realized that those might not be the most important factors that drive our team.
What they were, however, I didn’t know.
So I asked the management team: “Why are you all still here?”
Why People Stay At Our Company:
After the initial blank stares, each of them started sharing their own personal reasons. And I learned that it wasn’t the company’s mission and vision. It wasn’t any one thing, really.
What came out in the discussion were 7 fundamental things that drew people in and kept them as part of the team:
Multiple people in the room mentioned this in different ways. As we all talked through it, we started to understand that it wasn’t just the obvious forms of opportunity –progressing in their careers, for instance.
But also the opportunity to grow. To do something different. The opportunity they have at Polpo to take on new challenges.
High-performers love being held accountable. They want someone that pushes them to be better and always stay on top of their game.
I really valued that they considered this a positive element of our culture. We don’t want things to get too comfortable. We don’t want to accept mediocrity. We don’t want “good enough” to be, well, good enough.
That’s the kind of people I want in my corner –and that’s what my leadership team enjoys. I do, however, think we can do better in this area. And we will focus on this moving forward.
Freedom can be shown in many different ways: freedom to express yourself, freedom of choice, freedom of responsibility, etc. That’s something I was very intentional about when I started the company.
I believe it’s a sign of mutual respect. I consider my employees capable of performing at the highest level, and I will give them room to play.
But, at the same time, it comes with the understanding that they will be accounted for and held to the highest standards.
Several people specifically touched on the opportunity to be creative on a daily basis. That they weren’t told exactly how to do things or the specific form a given work project should take.
We work with different clients which means that things change over time. And, after all, they fly the ship that they built. Executing the ideas and strategies they came up with.
It allows people to be creative regularly, to flex that muscle and work it out. More than just being fun, it creates ownership.
High-performers prefer being around other high-performers because they can sharpen themselves on each other. They level up.
We make an emphasis on only letting people in if they share our values –as professionals but also as human beings. Obviously, it doesn’t always work. But we want to have people that we enjoy being around.
Polpo and Jakt provided plenty of unique opportunities to solve complex problems. Many of the managers in the group mentioned this as one of the perks of their job: that there’s always a new, exciting challenge to solve.
I get it because that’s something that also drives me. Solving a complicated, smoke-off-your-head problem is very fulfilling –and one of the biggest rushes you can experience.
Jakt (a company under Polpo) has changed a lot over the years. What we do and who we are now is not the same as 7 years ago.
The willingness to adapt, to change strategies when the business requires it, is needed for our company. But it’s also good for all the people who appreciate new and different job experiences.
These seven elements were recurring themes over our conversation. Interestingly, you’d also see a lot of similarities between them and our company’s values –just worded differently.
All of them were important for feeding into the bigger picture –the culture of the company. And they mix to form a compelling environment that pulls people in for the long haul.
But what about your mission/vision?
Once you list the reasons people are here, you can see the negative image clearly. And it reveals what doesn’t make people stay.
I always thought that what made people want to be here was our vision and our mission. Maybe it’s why they joined us –I don’t know– but it doesn’t seem to be what keeps them here.
What I learned through this exercise is that is not what they get out of bed for.
Nobody said, “the mission and the vision of the company are just so compelling.” After all, we’re not solving world hunger, and we’re not landing a man on Mars. And that’s OK.
I think there’s a lie we keep telling ourselves in the startup world, and it’s that the grand vision is why people will keep at it day-in and day-out.
But it’s not. It’s the privilege of working, living really, within a culture that provides you with those 7 pillars above each and every day.
Note: I’m talking about my company. And yours might be different. Just saying that it’s important to know what really drives your people.
Why do I stay at the company?
They ended up turning the question around to me.
And funnily enough, a lot of the same reasons they gave apply to me as well.
Here’s what I said:
- I like to create something out of nothing.
- I like to have a group of great people and work together to build a company bigger than ourselves.
- I want to have freedom and be able to work on what I want so I can express my creativity.
- I want to be held accountable, and I want to solve meaningful problems.
- I want to provide a space for people to grow and realize their potential.
At the same time, I feel a responsibility to my team and their families. I built this thing from the ground up, and now there’s a lot of people that it supports, and that’s a big part of what keeps me here.
Why people really stay, from my view.
I’ve never been an employee. It’s not easy for me to put myself in their shoes. Which makes it really hard to fully understand why they’re here.
I know this though: My intention from the start was always to create a company with people and a culture that I’d work at myself.
And it was very interesting to realize that mission and vision might not be the most crucial elements that keep my team working together.
What came out instead were 7 things people valued across the room: opportunity, high-accountability, freedom, adaptability, problem-solving, people, and creativity.