Are Your Employees Building a Cathedral or Breaking Rocks?

March 30, 2011

Do your employees feel like they are building a cathedral or do they feel like they are breaking rocks? Are you able to attract the top talent to come work for you and your company? One of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face is hiring the best and brightest. When all you have is fledgling startup, your office is inside your garage or at a local coffee shop, that is going to feel pretty sketchy to potential new hires. If you’re just graduating and you have the option of working for a company like Google who apparently is offering newly graduated computer science majors $90k – $105k (NYTimes article) why would the person ever consider working for your startup? Granted it’s going to be very difficult to compete against that kind of salary there are people out there that look at working for companies like Google just like it’s working in a salt mine. Work there and you’ll be doing time — 80 hours a week, sleep on the office floor, never see your family or have a social life.
The reason I’m writing this post is because I had lunch with Paul Anderson, Founder of ProLango Consulting who provides career transition, outplacement support, and puts on the ProLango Career Mixer where 400+ people attend every month.  Paul asked asked me the following question “How do I sell the idea of getting people to work for thinkspace”. I don’t think I gave him a great answer, but, after thinking about it further here’s my top five things:


It is paramount to have an incredible company culture. This can be a massive differentiator between you and your competition. If your employees love coming to work that’s going to show through to your customers. I can guarantee you that your customers will be able to feel the culture immediately when they walk through the door. Whether you are a person that buys into company culture or not, your company’s culture is going to happen either by design or default. Chances are if it just happens by default it’s not going to be great. I’d rather be one that designs it. This is an area that I have been feeling stronger and stronger about over the last few years and hopefully for my team I’m becoming a better person to work for too. As a team we’ve gone so far as design our core values together and make sure that people know what they are. We’re getting to the point where employees and even customers need to align with our core values. If they don’t align, then they need to be working with someone else. Here’s a link to John DeHart’s “6 Tips on How to Design Core Values“.


You must have a BHAG, a Big Hair Audacious Goal. In my MIT Entrepreneurial Masters program we’ve focused a lot on this. [pullquote]Your BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort, often creating immense team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal … A BHAG should not be a sure bet … but the organization must believe ‘we can do it anyway.’ – Jim Collins[/pullquote] The phrase “big hairy audacious goal” was first proposed by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book Built to Last. Your BHAG needs to be big, a 10+ year goal that can pull you into the future. Let’s face it, if you’re not going somewhere its going to be really hard to get people to want to join you in your quest. Without a BHAG, you’ll end up with people that are there for extrinsic reasons like they need to pay rent, eat food.  The best is to get people for intrinsic reasons so there will be a commitment and they will stay with you for a long time.
The next three items come straight from Daniel Pink’s book “Drive“. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Pink in Seattle a few years ago and what he shared definitely had a strong impact on how I want to work with my employees. After learning more about what thinkspace is, Daniel said to me “It’s more than simply real estate, interesting!”


Fostering innovation and creativity is key for me. Allowing people to be self directed allows them to feel like they are in control of what they are doing. I want my employees to make smart decisions and take their ideas and be able to implement them. I provide them with the outcome and let them figure out how to get there. If someone needs to be told exactly the path to take to complete something then likely the are not a good candidate to work for me.


Mastery is the urge to get better at stuff. One of our core values is “Appetite for learning”. You want to have fun, to learn something and get really good at it. You have to be someone that wants to learn and get better at something. If a person is looking to work in place where its fine to just do what something the same way because that’s the way it’s always been done, then they will immediately feel that this is not the kind of place that they should work. Accepting the status quo sucks. Getting better and better at something is much more interesting.


Is your company looking to be the leader in your industry or you just doing what everyone else is doing? Are you looking to be the best in the universe? Are you just about making a profit or is there something bigger than just making a buck? I have to be honest and say that I’m in business to make money. The reason why I want my business to make money is so that we can create more jobs, so my employees can be well taken care of which allows them to take good care of their families. However, at the same time, I don’t want to create a product or provide a service that is exactly the same as what is already out there. There is a bigger purpose in what we’re doing and creating.
Do your employees feel like they are building a cathedral or do they feel like they are breaking rocks? Please share some ideas that you’ve implemented as this is challenge all entrepreneurs, small companies or people building teams go through.


Picture of thinkspace