Over the years, I’ve talked to a handful of business advisors, personal coaches, peers and entrepreneurs because when you’re a solopreneur, it’s hard to bounce ideas off yourself! The interesting thing about those conversations is most of those folks seemed to be clinging to an archaic view of what a business is supposed to be.
They would always ask me: What’s your vision? Where’s your mission statement? What’s your roadmap for the future? Where’s your hiring strategy? What’s your revenue strategy?
Businesses become bureaucratic nightmares because they’re engineered that way. I remember working in a ~20 person organization that had 8 different departments! I also remember that same organization hiring an agile coach 4 or 5 years after I left because they paved the path towards functional silos and it was getting harder and harder to get work done.
Obviously it wasn’t intentional, it just happened, one new hire at a time.
In William Schneider’s Reengineering Alternative, he describes how the culture of the organization is derived from the personality of the founder, or top leader.
Organizational culture is intimately tied to leadership. How the leaders of an organization believe things should be done drives the kind of culture that is established. Leaders build paradigms about how things should be.
I suppose you could say my two current main gigs (Spero and LCMA) are ‘startups’. Since the early 2000’s I’ve started, or been one of the first five hires, in five or six companies. The ‘way things work around here’ is always molded from those early years. How you respond to problems, how you approach growth, and how you work together starts taking shape, and it will be impossible to change as your organization grows.
The pandemic has taught us plenty of lessons about the world of work. The most important being the fact that you can work on anything, with anyone, from anywhere. Brick and mortar offices are becoming extinct, hybrid working setups are becoming more common, and there seems to be a general acceptance of remote working.
For me, and plenty of others, the move to online everything wasn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when and the pandemic accelerated that.
Of all the business advisors, personal coaches, or peers I talked to over the years, only one of them was able to pose the most important question about growing a business:
What do you NOT want it to become?
What an awesome freaking question! It was a question that was easy to answer:
- I don’t want to wake up in 5 years and have an office full of people
- I don’t want my business to get sucked into the black hole of how a professional organization is supposed to look and operate.
- I don’t want it to feel like a job
- I don’t want to be chained to a ‘corporation’ and trapped in a status quo
Now that I knew what I didn’t want, it was really easy to figure out what I actually wanted:
- I want to help the helpers
- I want to make enough money to never need a real job
- I want to have fun doing what I’m doing
As the LCMA grew, it was obvious I needed help. Anyone who’s started their own business knows the importance of the first hire. Who should it be? Sales? Marketing? Business development? IT? Some other creative position?
Hiring with a role-based, silo-mentality is completely the wrong approach. When I stopped to think, what was it that I really needed the most?
So my first hire was Mr Zurkon, a robot.
Yeah, that’s right. A robot.
Anytime I did some mundane task more than once, Mr Zurkon automated it. Plus I thought it would be funny to announce Mr Zurkon as an employee, which aligned with one of my 3 main goals I listed earlier. They are super easy to manage (“They” because Mr Zurkon is a gender-neutral entity), never complains, never needs free snacks or a pool table, and has a generally positive disposition. Plus if he gets insubordinate, I just take his batteries out.
But eventually even robots need help which leads me to my second hire, or first carbon-based lifeform hire. Sorry Sarika, you can report me to HR if that was inappropriate!
Sarika and I have known each other for years, she attended one of my workshops in Helsinki, and we’ve worked together on Spark the Change. We talked a few times about what it could look like if she joined the LCMA and this past June we decided to experiment!
At first Mr Zurkon was a little jealous, you might even say they/them was resisting change! It didn’t last long, now they get along quite nicely.
Anyway, now we’ve got real things to worry about:
- How do we decide on a fair salary?
- How do we coalesce around operational and day to day stuff?
- How do we put in motion the way we work that’ll be the foundation of the future of the LCMA?
- How do we set the right expectations of each other?
- What do we do if we disagree on stuff?
- What boundaries, if any, do we need?
The big worry for me was: How do I let go? Anyone who knows me, I mean really knows me, knows I have narcissistic tendencies and I can be a bit of a control freak. The good news is, a good friend once told me, “You know, you’re not as much of an asshole as you used to be”. I guess that’s a good thing?
Slowly getting to the point
I’m going to save the details of some of the things we’ve done over the last couple of months for future posts, but at the core, we started with our relationship, not tasks to be done. Obviously we did talk about that stuff, but it wasn’t the first thing we talked about. We both recognized the value of a contract, but also didn’t want that to turn into either of saying “oh, that’s not on my list of responsibilities…I’m not doing it”
Step 1 – Why This, Why Now?
We had a bunch of conversations about the future of the LCMA, and why Sarika wanted to be part of it. Sarika actually did a bunch of work in Mural to organize her thoughts and we had a few chats about it.
We started with what’s in it for her, me, us, and the organization. A Fishbowl of Perspectives you might say!
Step 2 – The Contract
We talked about setting expectations, but we both realized something needs to be written down somewhere, so we created this:
Step 3 – How will we work together?
We agreed that the simplest thing to do was to work in weekly increments. We’ll plan the week on Monday, meeting for a daily standup and do a retrospective and review on Friday.
As far as tools, we agreed on Mural for just about everything a Kanban board built in Airtable as part of my already existing Gadgetron backend that Mr Zurkon manages.
Keep it Simple
That’s it. Two main activities: What’s in it for us, how we’ll work together and commitment to talk about how it’s going.
So How’s it Going?
Sarika will share her thoughts in the next post, and to be sure, I added it to her performance evaluation.
For me, the hardest adjustment was learning how to work with someone day-in-and-day-out. I’ve worked with people all over the world for years but I haven’t had real co-workers for almost a decade.
The good things:
- It’s forced me to write down all the stuff that’s in my head, or at least transfer it to someone else.
- It’s kept me accountable…mostly. When you work alone, you only have yourself to blame so if I want to take a couple days off and play drums, I’ll just do that. Now I need to make sure I’m being more responsible, not out of obligation, but out of responsibility.
- It’s removed a ton of stress already, just by knowing there’s someone else I can rely on.
- It ‘feels’ better
- We have a LOT of fun because I don’t think either of us take what we do or ourselves all that seriously.
- We do a lot of things on ‘feel’. Whenever we change how we work as a result of our retrospectives, we talk about whether or not it ‘feels better’ than it used to. Yes we have some organizational diagnostics and measurements, but it’s not the only thing we use to move forward.
The not-so-good things:
- Working remotely still sucks more than working in person. I’m in Canada, she’s in India so it’s not like either of us can just hop on a train and rent a collaboration space once in a while.
- Everything slowed down. I suppose that’s not a good thing from the perspective of the organization, but it’s a good thing for me. I can’t tell you how many job descriptions I read where the hiring folks want people to ‘just figure it out’ and ‘be independent’. It doesn’t work that way.
- We both have other responsibilities outside of the LCMA so balancing work and making commitments is tough sometimes.
In our next post in this series, Sarika is going to write about all of this stuff from her perspective.
In future posts, I’ll share more details about some of the day-to-day things we’ve done and how we’ve evolved in a few short months including:
- How we decided on salary
- How we handled ‘employee onboarding’
- How we coalesced around the future of LCM by practicing what we preach
- How we solved our collaboration problems