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THE DAY WE ALMOST DIDN’T CHANGE

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Change is inevitable. In a small growing company, it’s our lifeblood and can be exhausting. The change itself is not the most exhausting part – it’s deciding whether to change or not that can wear you out.

As the company grows and adds people – the great thing is — you get a plethora of ideas and opinions. The hard thing is — you get a plethora of ideas and opinions. Before this shift, there were a handful of us who could easily talk and adjust as necessary. The bigger you get the more “great ideas” you get.

Because we are about freedom for auto lenders (our customers) and our employees, my early attitude was one of “do whatever you want”. And that works well in small groups – let each group function how they need to function to be productive. But when the change impacts the entire company, it turns out I need to be a little more involved.

Being involved means evaluating whether the change is a good change, a change for the sake of change, or a bad change. When we hire new people they are especially opinionated about what would be the next best step for us. And we need these opinions because we often get caught in the weeds of how things are. No matter how progressive a team is, it’s very hard to see something that a new person comes in and sees clearly. But a new person could also have a limited view of the actual problem they are trying to solve. So where is the Magic 8 Ball that reveals the answer?

Here is a quick post-mortem evaluation of The Day We Almost Didn’t Change.

An employee survey told us that the team wanted us to communicate more, get people on the same page. So we did.

Our next survey complained of too much distraction – i.e. too much communication. It turns out everyone wanted communication, but they wanted it on their own terms. They were constantly being bombarded with emails and skype messages and taps on the shoulder and they didn’t know which messages were important and which were not. Our employees were constantly having to stop work and look, decide whether to respond and then start work again. The constant starting and stopping was making people frustrated and less productive.

So, of course we set out to solve it. We tried lights on our computers that could be set to red or green to indicate a person’s availability. We thought of “get back to me tokens”. We asked people to only put a message on an email chain that needed to be on that chain based on the subject of the message. Nothing wrong with any of the ideas or attempts, they were all good. But none solved our problem.

Then a new guy started, and he suggested we stop Skype and try Slack. An overwhelming number of us rolled our eyes and thanked him for the suggestion. We were all thinking, “Hey New Guy, we have already tried everything – no one tool is going to solve our problem”. But New Guy kept insisting we try. I was open to trying, but here is the thing. We had had so much change that I felt if I agreed to another change I would have a mutiny on my hands or a bunch of people walking around asking what the flavor of the day was.

Ultimately I decided, even though I did not believe it would work, nothing we were doing was solving the problem. If it did work the upside was great, the downside was, we tried. We are a culture of continuous improvement, which means there have to be failures along the way and we can’t fear them.

So with a bit of hesitation I agreed. And I can’t tell you enough about what a positive impact it has had on our company.

Our email “traffic” has gone down 80%. Our Skype beeping and constantly having to look to see if it’s important is almost non-existent. Slack allows us to set up “channels” and each person can subscribe or not subscribe to that channel. Furthermore you can go back and read the chains when it’s convenient to you versus every time it beeps. If you really need someone you “call them out” in the channel and they will be sent a message (so they know when they get the message to pay attention, otherwise it’s at their leisure). You can set private groups. You can view what’s going on in a group and decide whether to join.

Here is a great example. Our database administrator makes the best BBQ and often cooks lunch for the team. BS (before slack) he would send an email out saying “making steaks tomorrow, are you in and what sides do you want?”..that was email #1. Email #2-#20 was people responding to email #1. So I was never going to say yes to a steak, but I had to read 20 emails about those who did say yes and what sides they preferred, not the best use of my time. Now we have a BBQ Channel! For those who want to subscribe and get the messages about the menu, great. For those who don’t, they never see a single message. And if I want to join next week because I have decided they are having fun without me, with one click I can join. This is just one of many examples.

In addition to cutting back on distraction, it helps keep us connected. We have channels for specific teams, projects and company-wide notifications. We have channels for ideas, random thoughts and special interests such as poker, healthy foods and farm fresh eggs. The women of defi have a channel called “defiant women”. We even have an Appreciation Channel. So if someone does something great, instead of keeping it between the handful that know about it, you can tell everyone what a rock star that person is. So instead of being forced to have daily company meetings and remember everything to cover, this keeps us connected real time and in a non-intrusive way.

My takeaways:

People, jobs, circumstances all have an impact on our life. Make and leave a mark. Apple didn’t get to be Apple overnight. They, and all companies are a culmination of all of us, making our mark. Whether it is an indentation or a crater. New Guy is no longer with us but he made a lasting impact on our company.
Don’t be scared to try. If you have failed over and over again it just means you have eliminated options that won’t work and are closer to one that will. You create the culture – whether for your company or your team or your family. If people are scared to try something, negative or defeated, giving into them because you don’t want them to be upset about changing will further instill the behavior of not trying new things. I wish everyone agreed with every change we made but I have resolved myself to the fact that that is not reality. If I want others to try, if trying is the most important thing, then that’s exactly what I have to model.

So there was a day. The Day We Almost Didn’t Change. A day we almost gave into laziness and fear of change. And because we listened and tried something new, that day has positively impacted our company.

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