Lesson from having a ton of different jobs:
You are replaceable. Especially if you are young.
It’s not nice. But that’s how the majority of employers think.
It’s an attitude that spills over into the workplace: “Because our people are replaceable we don’t have to treat them as well” think the employers.
“What is unique and scarce is valuable. They’re not.”
When you’re not treated as well you feel differently. You don’t feel appreciated. Your energy is sapped. Your vitality lessens. Work feels more like work.
As an employee, the obvious way to combat this is to make yourself irreplaceable. This is what books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin and Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You teach.
But from the perspective of an employer, a boss? How can you make your team feel incredible and compel them to produce an extraordinary amount of value?
It helps if you start from the following notion:
It’s easier to produce value when you feel valued in return.
So just how can you make your team feel this way?
In Seeking Wisdom, it’s noted that most of Berkshire Hathaway’s managers are independently wealthy. Which means they don’t have to work.
So Buffett and Munger have to find ways to make the jobs interesting and exciting enough for people who don’t actually need to do them.
One of the ways they do this:
They give them a sense of ownership. They allow them tactical and strategic autonomy and they give them responsibility for the performance of their individual units.
A step up from a sense of ownership is actual ownership.
As James Altucher says in the The Rich Employee: when an employee’s personal success is tied to the success of the company, they perform better.
It promotes something Nassim Taleb calls “skin in the game”. If the company succeeds, they benefit in proportion to that success. If it fails, they lose in proportion to that failure.
They cannot have access to the upside—success and wealth—without exposure to the downside—risk of failure and loss.
Another example of how to treat your team is found in Silicon Valley. Start ups are always on the lookout for top talent, and one of the weapons that these companies use to attract talent is perks.
Free dry cleaning. Hair cuts. Fertility treatment. Play rooms. Cleaners sent to your house.
In Zero to One, Peter Thiel talks about fighting the perk war. Or rather, why not to. He makes the point that the biggest benefit you can offer to entice someone to work for you is the following:
The chance to be around good people and do exciting work that will have an impact on the world.
It’s that simple.
Another interesting idea is the notion of unlimited holiday. Now, you won’t find many traditional companies that offer this. It’s in direct opposition to their ethos: exploit maximum value from staff at minimal cost.
But by giving someone unlimited holiday you show trust. And of course trust is one of the best ways to bring the best out of people. When you trust someone with unlimited holiday, you are saying that you trust them enough not to abuse it.
Usually, they won’t.
Also consider something called error culture. It’s a concept I learned from Gerd Gigenrenzer.
A negative error culture punishes those who make and report mistakes. It propagates an environment of fear and revenge for things that go wrong.
A positive error culture on the other hand rewards the exposure of flaws. To the person who identifies an inefficiency and makes it known, it says thank you. It treats errors and missteps as valuable knowledge.
The upside to a positive error culture is twofold. First, employees are not afraid to innovate and become more effective at finding weaknesses. Second, as a consequence, your operation gets better. By finding and correcting a weakness, you gain in strength.
Another way to make employees feel valued is to offer an educational stipend. The traditional way to do this would be in the form of reimbursement. By covering the cost of books, seminars, workshops and coaching on a monthly or annual basis.
An alternate way to provide an educational stipend is not in the form of money, but in the form of time. Allow your team a day each week devoted exclusively to personal and professional development.
Or sponsor regular sabbaticals devoted entirely to pursuing new interests.
After all, you are only as good as the people you have, so it’s in your interest to help them be the best they can be.
The final way in which you can make your team feel valued is to give them gifts not bonuses.
A bonus is what a banker gets. A child is rewarded with fast food for being good.
Rewards and bonuses instill an “I’ll do this if I get that” mindset. And having a team who will only use their energy and ability when the reward is obvious and immediate is a sure way to poison any chance you or your employees have of long term success.
So what should you do instead?
A gift is unexpected, either in timing or in form. It isn’t delivered on a fixed schedule or due to a set of criteria. It’s a gesture of generosity, and if generosity is sincere, you can’t schedule it.
You could give everyone a week off after a particularly tough few months. You could take your team for a surprise meal and foot the bill.
It’s only limited by your imagination. But bear in mind, gifts are more powerful when they are meaningful, not when they are marginal.
A marginal gift: giving everyone a ten pound voucher.
A meaningful gift: contact your employee’s partners, ask them what they’ve wanted for a long time, and arrange for them to receive it.
Yes, this is a lot to offer as an employer. And yes, there is the risk is that someone could take all this, stab you in the back and walk away chortling about your naivete.
But there’s also risk in not doing any of the above.
You are only as good as the company you keep. So if you want to encourage your people to do their best you have to trust them. You have to make them feel valued and appreciated and show how grateful you are for the work they do.
John Boyd, fighter pilot and creator of the OODA loop, saw how different organisations operated. He was in the US Air Force. He spent the tail-end of his career promoting change in the Pentagon and he had a close working relationship with the US Marines.
He believed that it was people that won wars. His priorities went like this:
People first, ideas second and technology last.
Your team is the most valuable asset you have. Respect them. Trust them. Be generous to them. Make them feel valued.