One of the most important parts of any workshop or presentation is … what you take away from it.  I could even argue that there’s NOTHING else that matters, because the whole point is to get something useful out of it.  Sure, you’re smarter and more informed, but what are you going to DO with this new knowledge?

To that end, I put together the list of 5 actions I titled What to do when you get home.  That link, hopefully, takes you to the Evernote archive I created for the DrupalCon CxO event.

Since I have some space here, though, I thought I’d expand a little bit of the thinking behind this.

    1. Capture the mission and direction of your company using the frame of reference of your employees

      Most companies will have some kind of overarching vision or purpose, but it’s usually stated as “here’s the position we want to have in the marketplace.”  Best at delivering these kinds of services, attractive to certain customers because of our unique expertise, that sort of thing.

      It’s something different to try to translate that into the employee’s viewpoint.  I don’t mean those environmental things you provide, such as “I like to work here because we have flexible hours and free pizza.”  That’s very inward, just a “what’s in it for me” attitude of an employee.

      Instead, we need to make the connection between that outward view and the inward.  For example, Google’s external mission might be to “change the way the world works through amazing internet innovations.”  You can imagine how that would attract certain kinds of employees.  From their point of view, a powerful statement might be, “we do leading edge internet innovations that blow peoples’ minds and change the way the world works.”

      What you’re doing is to make that connection to the success of the company and your customers – NOT focusing on having free sodas in the fridge.

    2. List 5 things that make your company different

      Why five?  No particular reason, it’s just that it’s enough to get you beyond just the surface stuff and platitudes.  Yeah, I know you’re in a fantastic location, give your folks all the best tools, have fun, and run informally.

      Hate tell you, but that’s largely true of the rest of the companies in your industry.  So dig harder.

      One thing that makes it unique is YOU.  For better or worse, your leadership and personality is not the same as anyone else.  So if people have good deep relationships with you, with your senior team, and with each other, it’s going to be more painful for them to leave.

      This can be a challenge for people who are working remotely.  Sure, you’re interacting on projects and IRC all the time, but that’s not the same kind of relationship as being able to have a relaxed beer together.

      As a side note, I did some work in a previous life around how to have wonderful VIRTUAL team celebrations.  It is indeed possible, but takes some careful thought.  If you’d like to find out more about that, let me know.

    3. Reality check: How can you tune these so that they’re compelling, “sticky”, and hard to copy?

      This part takes some good, deep thought.  Let’s suppose your list includes that you take everyone out for an afternoon off once a month.  Is it compelling?  Perhaps, because people really do like that kind of thing.  But it can also be an inconvenience to someone who’s worried about a deadline, or has to change their family schedule as a result.  And people who can’t attend might spend the afternoon feeling bad.

      Is it “sticky”?  In that this is a tool to develop deeper relationships, yes.  So it ends up depending on how people interact, and whether they end up feeling more bonded to each other, to you, and to the goals of the company.  If you can tie celebrations to key accomplishments, perhaps even invite in a customer to celebrate with you, it might be much more powerful than just going out for beer and pool on a Friday afternoon.

      Is it hard to copy?  The mechanism is very easy to copy, and not particularly expensive.  But if it’s tied to the personalities of people, and to the goals of the company, you’re going to get a lot more mileage for employee retention.

      And think about this:  If you’re going out for beer and pool every time, what about those people who don’t particularly care for that form of relaxation?  They’re not going to COMPLAIN, perhaps – you don’t want to look like a jerk in front of your teammates – but it’s not going to be very powerful for helping employees to stay engaged.

    4. Sit down with each employee and listen:

      What you’re looking for here is what makes the employee tick.  That’s a pretty complicated equation, because you want to get a sense of many things:  What kind of work they like, who they work well with, how they view work/life balance, their career goals, even some things about their personal life.

      And I wouldn’t intermix this with the employee evaluation/feedback process, because that often puts people on the defensive.  Instead, I usually ask people out to a 1-1 lunch, with the SOLE objective of “getting to know each other better.”  No agenda, no action items.  Start off the discussion with something like, “I wanted to take the chance to connect a bit better, because it helps me know how I can support you better and make this a great place to work and a great company.”

      If you have remote employees, get the heck out of your office and go visit them.  In person, on their own turf.

    5. Sit down with each team and listen:

      This is similar to the above, and should be done with any of the stable teams that you’ve identified.  If you’re pulling together a project team for the next 4 months, this is a great exercise to do at the beginning – even if 3/4 of the people on the team have been working closely together before.

      I suggest this approach because people behave differently in their teams than they do individually.  Not better, not worse, just different.  And one of the crucial dynamics here is for people to be hearing each other and bouncing ideas off each other.  One person will say that he loves the flexibility of being able to work late at night, and then another will ask how to reconcile these work hours with her own, which are more 8-5 and structured around her family.

      This is a great discussion to have, especially in an environment which isn’t under the gun of getting something completed in the next hour.

      You’re also looking for interests that people have in common, whether or not they’re work related.  You want to see how they’ve internalized the company goals, what particularly matters to them.  But your job is primarily to listen and learn.

If you’d like to talk with me more about these ideas, and how to apply them to your company, drop me a note. I’ve had a lot of experience in this.

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