• Nevin Danielson

Spending Can't Fix Feeling Misunderstood

I recently spent three weeks in the Bay Area for my sabbatical. I'm capturing some thoughts on what I saw and learned .

On my trip I saw levels of investment in employee engagement that boggled the mind. Taking care of every human need - from meals to haircuts, from amazing work spaces to transporting you to and from work in a WiFi enabled bus - there are examples of companies addressing every employee comfort.

Some other features of these Utopian environments:

  • Exceptionally smart and qualified colleagues

  • Training that brings out the best in managers

  • Impactful, meaningful products

  • Compensation that ensures you're paid what you're worth

  • Brand recognition that instills pride 

  • Contribution assessments that focus on measurable contribution (rather than subjective opinion)

  • Daycare, gyms and onsite massages

I think we can say that there are only small, marginal improvements still available to further serve an employee's every physical need.

Despite this, employees can still become disengaged. Perhaps it is less common or happens less frequently, but it is still there.

When I visited these amazing, generous organizations, I still encountered (to be fair, I probed and sought) examples where things weren't perfect. I wasn't looking for negative, but I did want to know what constituted a bad day when SO MUCH was taken care of. The consistent theme that I encountered is the locus of decisions. 

If you find an instance where one entity is making a decision that affects another, you're going to find misunderstanding and frustration. You're going to find instances where "they don't get it" and "dumb decisions" are made. As I say in the title, it seems clear that you can't spend your way out of that one.

I'm immersed in Self-Management and Holacracy. I found myself biting my tongue a number of times when these situations were exposed. The most practical answer I can see is to decentralize the decision-making and discretion to the individual affected as much as possible (while still having a cohesive, organized business). I held my commentary in these conversations because my response is a completely different paradigm than what exists for my hosts. It's impractical to even suggest it (and it's not my place). I also don't fault these organizations, by the way. They're wildly successful, after all. On the specific topic of creating a fulfilling, engaging environment for employees however, their model is not enough.

I loved my time in the Bay Area. It's an exciting and energizing place. For all the advanced practices and environments I saw, I return quite proud of where we are when it comes to distributing power, control and decisions to the people that know best. We're far from perfect. We have a long way to go. We're also further ahead than many Bay Area organizations. That has me excited, engaged and ready to stay on this path. 

This is the closest I've come to describing what I wanted (and got) from my Sabbatical. A confirmation that I'm in a great place to pursue cultivation of an authentic and realistic place where we can be truly engaged and successful.

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