Make room for both at work – TechCrunch

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We have a monthly book club in our business. It’s evening and our entire team is attending (yes, we are really in the book clubs), so it made sense that a few minutes before our book club on the evening of April 20, a member of the team would do us all know that he ‘I would miss him.

He lives in Minnesota, the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial was about to be announced and the atmosphere was tense. He wasn’t able to focus and was giving the rest of the team a warning on Slack that he would be out. There were a few thumbs up emojis and then we started the book club.

A few days later, I was speaking with our management team and several of them mentioned that members of their team had brought up the book club situation. Something is wrong. Should we have canceled it? Reminded everyone that they are free to take their time for any reason? No one had the right answer, but it was an opportunity to reflect and come up with a more thoughtful approach, which is all the more important as our team is growing rapidly and we continue to be distant.

This past year, we have had so many times where an extremely important event occurs while we are working, entering our collective consciousness and forcing us to recognize that the line between work and life is thin and porous. Companies are wondering how or if they should discuss these events with their teams.

Most companies believe that in order to develop an inclusive business, there needs to be space for what is going on in the world. A few have gone in the opposite direction, arguing that business should exist separately from “politics,” which is a loose term.

I know the “shut up, do your job” mentality because I spent years in the military. On a political issue, for example, the salty soldiers would say things like, “If the military wanted you to have an opinion, they would have given you one.” (Side note: there were still a lot of opinions.)

But that’s not how I think of starting a business. I believe that our “work selves” and what is happening in the world are inextricably linked. And while I’m not sure exactly how to navigate rough waters, this recent experience has helped my team crystallize a few lessons.

Make room for when ‘politics’ impacts your team

Months ago, I was listening to “The Daily” while getting ready for work. The episode focused on the murder of Vanessa Guillen, an army soldier who had been sexually harassed while wearing the uniform. It was heartbreaking to hear her mother tell how the army had failed Vanessa. I cried. My own experiences in uniform came back to me and I had to take the time that morning to reflect and write. I moved some things on my schedule and only started the work day when I was ready.

I don’t think it’s the role of a business to dictate acceptable reasons for needing personal time. Instead, a business should hire smart, driven people and give them a framework to help them make the right decisions.

I needed time that morning. I don’t think it’s the role of a business to dictate what is and isn’t an acceptable reason for needing personal time. Instead, a business should hire smart, driven people and give them a framework to help them make the right decisions.

Our framework (and I say “working” because the construction of culture, for us, is a work in progress) is largely borrowed from Netflix: it is the double concept of freedom and responsibility. Ethena employees have the freedom to be absent for any reason and they do not need to justify managers. They also have a responsibility to do their job well. If they miss a meeting, they have to make sure there is a blanket, for example.

Hear when coworkers tell you something is wrong

While the founder’s mythology is strong, CTO Anne Solmssen and I do not subscribe to it. We believe two things can be true: We’re smart, driven, and resourceful founders and we’re better off with our team. We hire the smartest people we can find precisely because we want them to improve our business.

We have weekly feedback meetings between direct reports and feedback is always two-way, meaning managers receive feedback from their direct reports. Feedback Fridays are where problems tend to appear first. I’m so glad there are decompression valves for feedback, especially with a remote team, because otherwise I’m sitting in a bubble thinking it’s okay, when it’s not. I’m also happy that we incorporated the comments early in our cultivation, as it’s incredibly difficult to dig into it later.

An important but often overlooked part of listening to employee feedback is being honest about how decisions are made. For example, my co-founder and I want to hear dissent and criticism because it makes us better. But listening carefully is different from being a direct democracy. As CEO, I make decisions; I just want them to be as informed and inclusive as possible.

Invest early in people operations

We haven’t had a proactive approach to attending our recent corporate book club in part because we don’t yet have a human operations manager. Our team is around 20 employees and growing rapidly. We have prioritized the hiring of staff because it is a critical function and if we do not invest in it early we will continue to have problems between the cracks.

Yes, the co-founders should be personally invested in the corporate culture, but people operations are a profession and require expertise. Senior operations leaders have a lot of practice in dealing with complex problems. (Side note: we are hiring for many roles, including people operations. If you want to be part of a company that intentionally invests in corporate culture, come work with us.)

I want to build a highly functional team where everyone can get down to business and apologize when they need a minute. I definitely make mistakes along the way, but the best way to know where we’re stumbling is to let our smart, knowledgeable team tell us, listen when they do, and be intentional in building our corporate culture.



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