The Feedback Boomarang

People criticize or applaud others regularly and seem to forget that human beings are defensive creatures. They will criticize or applaud you back. If they cannot return the favor directly, they’ll find another way – often behind backs. It’s only human.

If you feel entitled to give feedback, you should be willing to receive it. Take that notion a step further: dish out feedback expecting to get some back. Managers do themselves a disservice by sitting high and mighty over direct reports that have no forum to return the feedback favor. I mean to call it a “favor” because employees have great insight into their boss’s management style that could seriously help the manager grow and improve. When feedback is a one way street that only cascades downhill, the genuine reciprocation of ideas and flow of information that helps a machine accelerate forward collapses. Honesty, inspiration and purpose all suffer when the feedback loop breaks (or never existed in the first place).

A Job Is A Lifestyle Choice

While everyone may suggest that day jobs are the answer, they are not for everyone. Many of us were raised to think there’s no other way. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many legal and non-humiliating ways to make an income. You can consult, provide a service or build an empire of your own. Specialize, mix it up, split your time however you want. There are no rules (except perhaps the law).

If you find yourself in a day job, be careful not to get too consumed by it. When all you see everyday is your desk, it’s difficult to believe that there are other options out there. It’s difficult to remember that you made this choice and could have made others. It’s up to you to decide if a job is the right lifestyle choice for you. If you decide that it is, embrace the choice with confidence and be at peace.

Hierarchy Does Not Work Anymore

In a world where everyone in an organization needs to be on the same page, hierarchy can be fatal. The time it takes for information to travel up and down the ladder, pass decisions up to the qualified decision maker, and fix broken translations will derail your team. Hierarchy in an information-age company turns into a big clumsy game of telephone, a jumbled mess of words and directives totally unacceptable and avertable in a world ripe with efficient communication technology.

Hierarchy today helps only in one scenario: eliminating the time it takes to collectively vote on a decision that needs to be made. In some situations, big decisions need to be made quickly without consulting the committee. That said, the time it takes to disseminate and re-orient everyone around the decision may take as long or considerably longer than taking the time to vote in the first place.

An efficient organization awards every member of its team the autonomy and trust to make decisions and solve problems when they arise. An efficient organization rallies everyone around a core mission and invites everyone to shape objective extensions of that mission. An efficient organization promotes true transparency, total accessibility, and the free-flow of information. Everyone who needs to have a say has a say. No one is left out. And no one needs to answer to anyone but themselves and their work.

The Three-Step Interview Process

Interviews by themselves are not sufficient for thoroughly realizing your connection with a potential candidate. It takes at least three of the following steps before you can even scratch the surface:

Vocational Interview – classic meet and greet to dissect the position together.
Social Interview – drinks, meal, exercise or games to test a cultural fit.
Portfolio – collect samples of past work like writing, formulas, apps, design, etc.
Shadowing – an observational half-day tour of the office, team and work ahead.
Co-Piloting – a hands-on tour of the job, shared and observed in part by an employee.
Contract Work – full trial of a person’s skills and autonomy to complete a project.
References – a second opinion from people who worked with the candidate before.

The more involved your interview process is, the better. Candidates who make it through show true dedication to the position ahead. There’s always a way to work with someone in advance of hiring them, even if it means tours or co-piloting after hours or remotely.

Bad Hires Beget More Bad Hires

One of the most costly and toxic mistakes you can make in building an organization is hiring people who do not fit or deliver. Especially at the management level. Bad managers that don’t fit tend to hire more bad people who don’t fit. Not a good situation to be in. If you continue to grow without amputating the infection, you might find yourself with a heavily weighted and unhealthy organization. Don’t do it. Never compromise on hiring. Make sure at any cost that the people you are recruiting can do the job and fit in. It’s worth hard questions. It’s worth confrontation and debate. It’s worth negotiation. Do not be afraid to be absolutely sure.

A Deal Is Not a Done Deal Until Money Hits the Bank

No matter how good you feel about it, do not boast, act on or go to press about a deal you just made (business, employment or otherwise) until the first check goes through. I learned this in Hollywood and continue to stand behind it as I make deals or watch deals unfold around me. You can never completely guarantee a deal will go through until it actually goes through. You can make a serious fool out of yourself by jumping the gun, making public announcements or spending money you don’t have. Better to keep your mouth shut and fingers crossed until fiction becomes fact.

You Can’t Buy a Dreamer

Every person may have a price, but the dreamer can never give you 100% unless you enable the dream. He or she may give you all the effort and energy available, but it’s not everything. You cannot squeeze every last drop from a man or woman whose heart lies elsewhere. Dreamers are not satisfied by a paycheck alone; they crave higher purpose. Stifling or shattering the dream only makes things worse.

As a leader, you should investigate your team’s dreams. Interview for and understand them. Dreamers and goal-oriented individuals share eagerly. If you want a culture full of yes-people, hire people without dreams. If you want a culture full of dynamic human beings that can take you to the next level, hire dreamers and foster dreams.

Give Employees Feedback Permission

Seth Levine made me think a lot today about feedback loops within organizations. Employees fear giving feedback to their managers or superiors. Makes sense – if you take constructive criticism too far, you may find yourself on the street. Tragically, most managers and executives want and need advice to help them do their job better. While leadership coaches may help, third parties are not close enough to the conversation. Only people within the organization spend enough time around you to identify a specific and timely list of your faults. More importantly, outside help cannot understand all of the personality types you lead. Every team is different and takes a different approach. At the end of the day, you must own a leadership style that fits your team.

Fortunately, there are people who can help – your employees. By giving your team permission to provide feedback, you open a door to better-understand your style and flaws. Permission is not enough, however (remember: people fear the guillotine) – you must build structure to provide feedback. Some managers approach this anonymously, with surveys and the like. Others organize reciprocal reviews and have it out one-on-one. The anonymous approach allows employees to craft their responses and be more candid. A more open and direct approach can work for people who can manage tempers like monks. I suggest a combination of the two to get the full picture.

If your team corroborates specific faults across the board, you should take a pretty big hint. By including your people in the dialogue, you can empower them to challenge you to improve. If everyone can set egos aside, feedback permission can radically improve morale in the workspace, the drive for improvement, personal ownership of their role in the company, and collaborative honesty overall. I don’t care what numbers or information you share with your team; you are not truly transparent as an organization until teammates have the freedom to be honest with each other.

Optimize the Commute

Commuting is a bitch. Last month, I spent 29.3 hours in my car driving to and from work. That’s a full day out of my month lost to driving. There are so many things I could do with that extra day. Worse, there were times in Los Angeles where I spent as much as 4 hours in my car going to and from work for a 24-mile round trip (that’s 6mph in traffic on the 10 freeway!). I dare not do the cumulative math on that one.

As a society, we lose so much time getting to work every day. To put things into perspective: if Denver’s average commute time is 23 minutes one way and working population is roughly 600,000, the city as a whole loses 52.5 man years per day to the streets. From another angle, that’s 57,500 eight-hour work days vaporized per day. Can you imagine what businesses, communities, and our government could accomplish with that much time?

When it comes to personal productivity, public transportation can work for people who find ways to use that time effectively. But when it comes to driving you’re own car, there’s not much you can do except sit there. I tune into NPR and make phone calls to catch up with people, but I wish I could get more done. Siri and other dictation applications are a step in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go.

A world without commuting is a utopian fantasy. Without question, people should live where they want to live or where they can afford to live. Working from home is a pleasant solution, but difficult for collaborative work. And while it was nice for me to walk to work every morning in Hollywood, there were also downsides to living so close to the office (like 2am phone calls from people who forgot their keys). Regardless, it’s worth extra money for me to live close so that I can help save that full day per month. I will hopefully make that change again soon. I just have to decide how much a day of my life is worth.

If you are forced to commute, do what you can to make that time worthwhile. For my fellow commuters out there, what do you do to make that time worthwhile? I need ideas.

Mortal Passion

You could die tomorrow. Probably not. But who knows. Today may be your last. The activities, tasks, and adventures before you may fill your final chapter. Coast through it if you want. Or face it with a mortal passion. Accept every challenge, job, and event as if you will never get the opportunity to do it again. Pour your heart and soul into it. Give it all you’ve got.

If you find the work unworthy of your mortality, you better find something else to do before it’s too late.