Companies both big and small are struggling to create cultures where employees are able to move as fast as today’s digital technologies.
Technology is now developed in sprints, after all, not long leisurely walks on the beach.
Everyone has come to the conclusion that businesses need to figure out how to help their people move more quickly. The question is, how do you create a culture that’s built for speed?
The days of commanding-and-controlling employees are gone, especially in the knowledge economy. No one moves quickly when they’re told what to do and how to do it. They drag their feet, shirk responsibility, and watch the clock. They work for the weekend.
Netflix has this great culture deck with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that suggests an alternative approach: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
I’ve tried to put this different approach into practice at Blackcreek and to create a culture based on freedom, ownership, self-discipline, autonomy and accountability. I strive to serve and inspire, rather than command and control.
In practice, that means Blackcreek employees are free to come and go as they please. No one watches or cares when people come in or go home. No one is told how to do their job. The focus is always on delivering high-quality work on time. On owning the outcome.
We focus on doing work that matters to us, our clients, and the customers they serve. The best way to get people moving quickly is to give them a good reason. A problem worth solving. An itch worth scratching. An impact worth making. The motivation to move quickly must come from within.
Though with greater autonomy also comes the need for self-discipline. To succeed in a more free-flowing environment, people must be willing to hold themselves to a higher standard. As former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink likes to say, “Discipline equals freedom.” That’s one reason I like to hire self-taught developers and designers. Teaching yourself requires a high level of discipline and the desire to always improve.
Accountability to ourselves and to each other is the glue that holds it together. We live by the words “it’s 99% on you, 1% on the person to the right of you.” That’s something a mentor of mine taught me early in startup life. If you want to create a culture of leadership, everyone needs to be accountable for the work they do. They need to step up and take pride in what they produce.
The final part is acting in the service of my team. I encourage everyone to be open and honest about the roadblocks they’re facing so that I can do everything in my power to help as quickly as I can. I’m successful when my team is successful. It’s my job to make them better, to empower them to do more, to be the ladder they climb to reach higher. No job is too small. No detail too specific. You can’t be fast moving if you’re allergic to the weeds.
In the end, the idea that you must make people move quickly is mistaken. In my experience, it’s better to find people who want to go fast, who are eager to learn, driven by curiosity, and have a deep passion for solving problems. If you start there, most of the job is removing obstacles and getting out of the way.
Too often, talk of culture ends up being just that—all talk.
At the end of the day, the high-minded words on the wall aren’t what matter most. What matters is how you do the work. Living by the words. Leading by example. If you build a business around doing work that matters, give people the freedom to do it the best way they know how, and help them work through issues as they arise, trust me, the work will get done quickly. Even faster than you could’ve ever commanded.