An Old Dinner
All the guests arrived on time. The whole team was there—all the developers, who had labored for years to build an innovative product, and their new CEO, who had recently purchased the company and flown in from out of town for the night.
The food was delicious, cooked to perfection and coupled with precision, with a mix of made-to-order cocktails and paired wines. In short, everything went off without a hitch. But then again, is there any surprise in that? After all, what’s a small dinner at your home with its handful of critical path items, a few dependent tasks, and a semi-flexible delivery hour?
For a team that regularly handles infinitely more challenging coordination problems with hundreds of tasks per week, all with interlocking dependencies, getting a well-cooked steak on the table in time to keep your team from knifing each other didn’t even require a JIRA task. And as the team lead and his wife reminisced after all of the dishes were done and the guests had all gone home, all they could think about was how perfect this night had been. The signs were definitely positive. Maybe this new management would actually work out.
The following morning, the team arrived in the office still basking in the hopeful glow of a night gone right. Sitting at the top of the company’s internal blog, they found an article posted by the CEO. Expecting it to be some sort of public thank you, one by one they all began to read. And one by one, their jaws dropped. It started out all right. The opening sentences were all about how the meal was great, and how it was clear throughout the evening that the team cared about each other, got along well, and generally operated like a family. It was the next line, though, that stopped them in their tracks:
“But who cares…”
But who cares, dot dot dot. The CEO went on from there to flip the tone entirely. None of the preceding mattered. He did not care in the least that they enjoyed working together. He did not care that they had forged a positive work environment over years of execution. He did not care about any of this. All that mattered was the work, and the more they liked each other, the harder it was going to be to fire people in the months ahead.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the company mentioned above lost a significant portion of its development team shortly after that night. The company hasn’t grown in years and likely won’t grow anytime before it shuts its doors for the last time. And when that day comes, the management of the company will have only itself to blame.
The world is changing. And companies that don’t realize the role their employees will play in that are the ones most likely to wake up one day and find that it changed without them.
The Widening Definition of Shareholder
Corporations have porous borders, and the only kind of employee you should ever want is one that has the option to leave at any moment. Even better, multiple options. Because the reality in today’s startup world is that ideas are meaningless.
That’s not to say that a company doesn’t need a good idea. It does. But with the hive brain that results from a fully connected society, you have to assume that most ideas are simultaneously had by dozens of other people. At least a few of them will start the same company as you. And the only way to survive and build a leading company is to out-innovate, out-execute, and out-hustle your competition. The key point, though, is that this cannot be done with anything other than A+ talent in every role in an organization.
And this is where the selfish side of taking care of your employees comes into play. There are countless studies that show that companies with happier employees get more patents awarded, are more productive on a per capita basis, and have lower turnover. Think attracting A+ talent is hard? Try losing them and finding a replacement, thus essentially hiring and training twice for every available position.
But there is also a less selfish side to building the right kind of organization. After two decades of increasing private equity purchases and cost rationalizations in every sector in the economy, many companies no longer see their employees and community members as important shareholders. All decisions are made to optimize for quarterly earnings, leading to less and less stability for workers. Couple this with changing health care policy at the Federal level and an awful lot of folks are feeling less comfortable than they should. Do companies need to operate like this?
Our view at VidMob is that the answer to this question is an emphatic ‘no.’ When we started the company, the long-term goal was to create a million jobs for the creators in our marketplace and, through that, hopefully positively impact people’s lives at scale. But closer to home, we wanted to build a company which was keenly aware of its multiple constituencies and cared for each of them. Our employees, our creators, our clients, our investors, and the communities within which we live and operate—they are all important “shareholders” as far as we’re concerned.
So while we certainly celebrate every big deal we close, and every time a client emails us thanking our service for a job well done, we’re equally excited that VidMob is in a position to offer some of the best health benefits available. That, and with an engineering team of eight people now in the Berkshires, we’re beginning to add real economic value to a community whose industrial heyday has passed—but has a bright future on the horizon.
A New Dinner
We recently had our own dinner in the same setting as the one mentioned above. The same home and hosts. And at least a few of the same people around the table. But the management was different, and with it, so was the way of thinking. We weren’t really celebrating anything in particular, which is often the best reason to celebrate. Perhaps a successful day prioritizing features and making sure we were all in sync in the long-term product roadmap is reason enough.
In the midst of all this, the story of the old CEO and his blog post came up. I couldn’t help but think how desperately we’d be failing in our mission if we ever felt or behaved that way. And while any one company’s ability to impact a society is limited, if thousands of companies all adopt an evolved view of their responsibility to their community, that can make an impact.
So who cares? The short answer is that VidMob does. We care for selfish reasons because we know that it will lead to a better caliber employee and better results for the company. But we also care because we recognize our role in the world around us. And if you care too, give us a call. We’re hiring.