As a recent addition to the new fathers club, completely clueless as to what I am doing, I find myself discussing parenting and different approaches quite frequently in hopes that I can gain some wisdom from those more experienced. A recent conversation I had serves as a perfect illustration.
My friend has two children already. We were discussing setting an example for our children and the best way to go about it. My friend said: “Your kids won’t always do as you say, but they will always do as you do.” We finished our beers and parted ways, but that statement keeps popping up, at home and at work.
You see, what holds true for your family holds just as true for your employees and your peers. This may be an obvious point to everyone else, but I am just beginning to realize its full import. While I have slightly more experience running a company, as the CEO and co-founder of Rented.com, I am still a relative newbie on that front as well. As a newcomer, I try and instill the scrappiness and hunger that led to the founding of the company in the first place into each and every one of our employees. I do this in a number of ways, from giving every single employee equity in the company so that they are true owners, to having a weekly idea board where anyone and everyone is encouraged to bring forward new ideas for discussion.
I explained to everyone that I do this because as an early stage company, we can only survive and grow if we improve every single day. Every day we come to the office, we have to be better than the day before. And each day, we have to learn something new that will enable us to come in the next day and be even better still.
Back when we were a two- or three-person company, this was much easier. My co-founder and I were so close to every single component of the business that we could personally ensure that we captured the learnings required and executed on them.
Now that we have 20 employees, we are more reliant on others to do this and to help push us to continue doing this. We want them as invested in the company as we are. We also know that since they are closer to our customer, they can and should have new ideas that will improve the business and our service to our customers. We not only want them to bring these ideas up but we need them to in order to keep improving.
At first, I told my team that I wanted and needed their ideas. Over a period of a few months, I saw a decrease in the number of new ideas coming in even as we added more employees and more customers. We had more opportunities for learning and we should have been developing new, creative and impactful roadmaps. And I didn’t know why we weren’t.
After several one-on-ones, the reason became apparent. Despite my words, despite my encouragement, not everyone felt their ideas were sought or valued within the company. Digging a bit deeper, the reason for this became clear: It wasn’t them, it was me. My background and training are as an attorney. In law school, our approach to hashing out legal reasoning was for one person in class to throw out an argument, and then the rest of the class would try and break that argument down. If the class succeeded, then we moved on to another argument, and so on, until we settled on the “answer.” No one took this personally because the idea was separated from the person. This was just how we came to a resolution.
In the business world – and especially with creatives – the situation is different. Whether or not you say the idea and the person are two different things, the person who came up with the idea often sees them as one and the same. Thus, an approach that seemingly starts with “no, and why not,” is about as uninspiring as telling them their ideas and opinions hold no value for you. My entire approach to eliciting feedback and new ideas was undermining exactly what I was trying to achieve.
I could have defended my approach, and tried to get the company to understand it and change. But it seemed far easier for me to change and improve my own style than to try and change all 20 people at once.
It is still in its early days but the new approach of “yes, and” rather than “no, and why not” seems to be working. Ideas are flowing in once again and a few have already been rolled out directly to customers with immediate impact. I can’t say for certain that there will not be times I revert to my old argumentative ways, but for the sake of the company and our culture of innovation and idea sharing, I will do my best to make sure everyone can do as I say and as I do.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives, and small business owners.