In a recent interview with a candidate applying for Red Ventures, I was asked, “What best describes a typical Red Ventures employee?”
That is a hard question for me, since I believe we have a truly diverse workforce. But also because the word “typical” is completely alien to me when I think about our teams. I really couldn’t, for example, pick a single “poster person” to represent us in recruiting communications.
When trying to answer the candidate’s question, I kept going back to the analogy of a professional athlete as I believe that profile best describes our talent. We celebrate people that are constantly trying to get better at their game, who are very coachable and, without doubt, are great team players. We breathe a culture of “us”, while at the same time focusing relentlessly in individual development.
And then I realized that there was another question behind that question. The candidate also wanted to know our stance on diversity. And this is a topic so dear to me that I blew up the scheduled interview time in order to properly debate it. I want to share with you some of the thoughts and reflections that emerged from that conversation.
Committing to diversity
As some of my wiser mentors told me before:
It is much easier to manage homogeneity, but teams that learn how to properly leverage the benefits of diversity unlock much more potential.
I truly believe in that statement.
But let us not fool ourselves, achieving the benefits of a diverse work environment takes a lot of work, principled leadership and a genuine, deep personal commitment from everyone to become more evolved individuals and ultimately better people to work with.
Since we are going to talk about diversity, let’s refill our coffee mugs – our candidate promptly embraced that idea – and talk about three little words that get thrown around a lot when the subject is brought to debate.
The first one is tolerance. I believe it is the lowest form of evolution for teams seeking the benefits of diversity. The way I see it, it simply means one can live in the same space – physical or virtual – as another without being disrespectful. I don’t think it is enough to tolerate, we need more commitment than that. Tolerance in itself lacks understanding and a genuine desire to learn from others in order to self-improve.
Moving up in the social evolution scale, there is respect. Again, the way I see it, if I “respect” you it means I sought to understand you, I acknowledge our differences, and I believe you have good reasons to be who you are, the way you are. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone respected everyone? Our nice little planet would be a much more inhabitable place, wouldn’t it? Yes, but that is also not enough when you are aiming for maximum, professional-athlete-like levels of performance. You need something more, you need…
Embracing. Yeah, now we’re talking! I believe that once you “embrace” the other’s beliefs, history, points of view, skills and motivations, then both of you can start mashing your skills to build something together. See the difference? There is a lot more “us” in this scenario vs. “you and me.” The distances are shortened. The anxiety of managing others is reduced. And the psychological safety in the work environment is substantially heightened.
I use that expression a lot with my teams: psychological safety. It means you can come to work being exactly who you are without fear of being judged or prejudiced. If you work at Red Ventures, it means that several of our senior leaders believed in your skills and, most importantly, in your potential. We wanted you for who you are, not to comply with any rigid stereotypes.
I can’t describe a typical designer, or a software developer, or a lawyer in our team. Even within those skill groups, people are incredibly diverse. Life events, upbringing, personal choices – all of that makes individuals truly unique. And it is that uniqueness that brings out-of-the-box ideas to the work that we do.
I need to ensure everyone at work is feeling safe to be who they are in order for those ideas to gain a voice and to come to life.
Psychological safety at work. It creates a ton of value and should be in the playbook of every people leader.
Walking the talk
At this point in our conversation, we were about to get too philosophical about the issue. So, we decided to go over ways to implement that near-utopic workspace ethos. Of course, all of the “hard” tools need to be in place. Can we provide training to our teams on the subject? Can we make sure it is a field in the evaluation templates? Should we interview for that? All of those ideas are valid. My favorite approach, though, is role modeling.
The tricky thing about role modeling, though, is that when teams grow bigger you need a lot of role models! In order to allow our natural people leaders to role model more effectively, we try to give them some common language that can be evolved through their own voice into messages that spread out in the organization. One of those seed messages is simple, yet tirelessly repeated in our office: “Great team players try to make someone else’s work environment great.”
Think about that idea as a chain reaction. If everyone is trying to make someone else more confident at work, the result are waves of positive energy constantly flowing through the building. And it is contagious, trust me. I’ve been bitten and never recovered from it.
Okay, but what does a typical Red Ventures employee look like?
We spend a lot of time as individuals and as a company reflecting on ways to constantly improve our culture. As one of the veterans in the place, I can affirm that by embracing each other as whole individuals and relentlessly pursuing a supportive workplace, we keep making long strides towards the levels of performance displayed by the world’s top sports teams.
In that sense, our typical Red Ventures employee is that athlete. Diverse as they individually come. Great team players as we grow up together.