I have always struggled with company HR policies that make me not feel trusted. Why don’t HR and/or management trust who they hire? Why create HR processes for the very few people who don’t behave? Shouldn’t processes be designed for the vast majority of people who are to be trusted? I just don’t get it. If you are given freedom it comes with a lot of responsibility, isn’t that rather implicit?
It comes down to a choice - minimize risk by implementing all possible controls, or trust people and implement necessary controls only. We believe the latter drives ownership, motivation and a better product and company. That doesn’t mean it is easy though - the need to control is a fundamental human need, and we need daily reminders to always push in the opposite direction.
When I was in discussions with Erlend (our CEO) about joining wgtwo, the term “startup for grownups” was used and I remember thinking “huh, that makes sense”. Now, 2 years in, the simple fact that yes we are all grownups here and we all deserve to be treated as such has become an embedded part of our company culture.
I wanted to give you some tangible examples of how we do things. For context, we are a startup tech company with a team of ~50 (87% engineers). We have offices in Oslo, Trondheim, Stockholm, a hub in Germany and remote team members in Japan, Spain, the U.S., Canada, London and Myanmar.
We try to minimize that amount of approvals necessary to a minimum. Here is how we communicate that to new hires in some of the areas companies typically have approvals
- Vacation: Yes, we do have the standard 25 days of vacation (standard in the Nordics) in our contracts. But, we also trust you to know yourself best, and understand that no year or situation is the same. Sometimes you might need more, sometimes less. As long as it works for your team, we trust you to make a judgement. We also trust that you take enough time off as we all need time off to reset and recharge.
- Expenses: We trust your judgement and that you wouldn’t be making the purchase if it wasn’t necessary for you and the team. This applies when deciding on which equipment (i.e. laptop, monitor, keyboard, phone etc) you need when you start and later if there is something you need. I have yet to experience anyone asking for anything totally unreasonable. Of course you are welcome to reach out if you are unsure and from time to time we might have discussions, but surprisingly seldom to be honest.
- Travel: We encourage you to travel between offices to build a strong relationship with the whole team (unfortunately not now of course with the covid-19 going on). You do not need approval to book travel, and remember you don’t need a “reason” to go.
- Working hours: As long as you do a good job we don’t care if you work half days Mondays or start working at lunch time and into the evening, go to the gym and so on. Up to you, as long as it works for your team. Not to mention where you work from. Office, home, cabin, boat - who cares as long as you are connected right?
These aren’t necessarily big things in everyday life, but they take out administrative hassle, and it aligns with the messaging of that we try to trust each other.
Are you a role model?
This lack of approvals does create another need though - the need for role models. So we do remind the team to keep in mind that we are role models for each other. It provides alignment. Whether it’s sharing with the others that the train ticket prices are currently low and recommend people to book now to save money, or taking initiative to set up a virtual social Friday get-together to end the week together. We even have our own role model emoji in slack, which we sometimes remember to use and I do believe people feel proud if they get one.
Sharing is caring
That we see each other as grownups is also evident in how we communicate and what information we trust each other with. If there is one thing the team mentions to me that has surprised them the most after joining, it is the amount of information that is shared across the team about sales, customer meetings and other business processes. The good and the bad. When I had a “6 months in” check-in with one of our newest team members he emphasized exactly this and explained how this made him feel involved and prepared for what was coming. It is also evident when people choose to share that they are struggling with the likes of depression or something else often considered very private. Or just putting up your hand and saying “I broke something” and taking responsibility for that. I believe this level of sharing is possible because we trust each other and have each other's backs and management leads the way when it comes to sharing.
To clarify. We do of course need to make sure we move the company in the right direction together. We have chosen to use OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as a tool for that. A tool that helps us discuss and decide together as a team what we want to achieve, but without dictating the how. This is a delicate balance, and we always have to fight to not create too detailed OKRs. The teams and individuals should feel empowered when understanding and agreeing on the why and what, but are allowed to determine the how.
Stay open to change
So do we have improvement areas? Of course! One example is that I believe we can be better at living one of our values which is “Tough Love”. This relates to among other things how we give feedback. I wouldn’t say we are bad at it, but our inclination is often towards being a bit too soft, which sometimes leads to unclear feedback or neglecting giving feedback. So we need to keep practicing to make sure we challenge and develop each other as much as we can. And I’m sure it’s a bunch of other stuff. We are still a young company and open to change - we try out stuff and sometimes fail. We keep on learning and making small tweaks all the time to adjust to our team. Just this morning I listened to an inspiring 5 min talk from Lucy Adams about probation periods and realized that we have those in our contracts - yikes that doesn’t exactly scream that we trust who we recruit does it? I will look into that asap…
So, we are all grownups here. At least most of the time. Although maybe not when the Trondheim team bought naughty chocolates and expensed it to see if anyone would notice (we didn’t).