As chief product officer at web domain leader GoDaddy, Steven Aldrich thinks a lot about how to keep the company's more than 6,000 employees engaged and connected to the company's mission: shifting the global economy towards small businesses by empowering people to start and run their own ventures.
He recently spoke about how being authentic at work helps build better businesses.
You gave a TedX talk recently and mentioned a stunning statistic from a 2013 Gallup survey: Worldwide, only 13 percent of employees are engaged at work. What's going on there?
Emotionally, it's just a terrible waste of potential, and it's a terrible indictment for how most companies think about their workers. You have two things that are colliding. People have a dream that they want to pursue but they have to make a living, so they take a job that's going to pay them what they need. But the jobs are not designed around the theory of motivation and what gets people excited. So these employees are missing the autonomy, mastery and purpose that create motivation. That's a bit of the company's fault and a bit of the employee's fault.
What are the consequences of that for businesses? For employees?
For the employee, there's an impending sense of dread. You wake up in the morning and you're not excited to come into work, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a loop of doom. Once you go down that negative path it's hard to pull yourself back. You're not in a mental framework to invest in something that makes your own job better or to start your own venture.
From the business perspective, you have employees coming into work who are not excited to be there. So you're not going to see innovation happen, customers are going to understand that the employee isn't empathetic or energetic, and you're not going to have happy customers. So the effects are really dramatic.
What can businesses do to better engage and retain their employees?
Step one for a business is to get feedback from employees and give them the ability to take action. Empowering employees—that's a great idea. Give them the resources they need, whether that's a few other employees to help them, or money, to make that impact and make the workplace a little better. Then other people will speak up. You take a negative style of disengagement and turn it into a positive style.
It's a very simple but powerful rule: Listen and act by empowering those people who care enough to give you that feedback, and then that becomes a positive cycle. That to me is the most simple and effective way to turn around engagement.
If you start on this path of listen and invest, you'll get a whole list of ideas that are unique and relevant for your business.
How do you do that at GoDaddy?
It starts with hiring the right people. Our interviews are balanced between the hard skills required for a particular job and the values or type of person you are and the cultural fit. If you're an engineer, we want to make sure you can write good, clean code, but we also want to know you can work on a team and that you hold your work to a high standard.
Then we make sure we have a clear line of sight. We want every person at the company to see how their daily work connects back to the broader mission. We ask for feedback on a regular basis. We do something called the GoDaddy Voice Survey that collects feedback from every employee in the company. We share that out with teams and use it as a company to make decisions on how to improve our workplace.
—Steven Aldrich, chief product officer, GoDaddy
For example, we got feedback that some of our engineering tools were not very efficient. So we spent a year with a team doing nothing but testing tools. It improved how we were enabling our engineers to do their jobs. We empower employees to make those changes and keep the team connected to the mission.
I also like to walk around and ask people how they're doing. There was a movement many years ago called "managing by wandering around." I think that's still really important. There's nothing you can learn sitting in your office.
Bringing your whole self to work—what does that mean to you? When and how did you realize the importance of doing so?
For me, that means being authentic and really having no barriers between what your colleagues see from you at work and what they would see from you if they were your friend outside of work. It's a really important concept, because if you're trying to project an image that isn't your authentic self, you're spending a lot of energy putting on an act, and there's just too much going on to have to spend energy putting on a face. So for me, it's being comfortable with what I'm good at and not good at, it's talking about things that I'm passionate about, and it's being clear that I'm going to make decisions at work and outside of work with the same set of values in a very consistent way.
I started to be aware of this dichotomy or split personality of folks at work and out of work when I was in grad school. I was on the West Coast and my fiancée (now wife) was in Washington, D.C. and I really wanted to come back there for the summer to be with her. I got a terrific summer job at a consulting firm. Every week, my consulting team would have a basketball game with my client and would go out for drinks afterwards. I told my team, 'I'll play basketball, but I'm not going out for drinks because I want to spend time with my fiancée, that's really important to me.' I was super transparent.
I heard later on that folks thought I was really brave not to have drinks with the client. That was a really valuable lesson, and led me to the decision that I should always be clear at my goals and priorities. The energy I saved by being transparent allowed me to have a tremendous life outside of work that gave me the energy to give back to work.
How do you personally bring your whole self to work?
One of my big passions is glass collecting. There's a nonprofit glass studio in San Jose where I have served on the board for almost 15 years called Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI). I use my marketing services at BAGI, I've had teams volunteer with me, we've had corporate team building there. I find that to be a really important and long-lasting connection between my life at work and out of work.
Here's another example. We have a 15-year-old son, Jackson. I realized a few years ago, I guess everyone goes through this, but when he's driving and eventually when he's in college, the time I have with him now and the ability to go see him in a performance or a soccer game or cross country meet... I'll never get that time back.
So I'm incredibly clear with my calendar, my team, my peers, my CEO. When I leave work early for a track meet or soccer match, I let people know—this is really important to me. I still get my work done, I'll take part in a conference call on the way and after, but during this time I'm not going to be available. It's important to be explicit about it because it gives other people the permission to do the same thing.
What can employees and executives do to combat mental fatigue on days where they don't feel like bringing their whole selves to work?
One of the approaches I've taken to be proactive and keep the energy level up is to be really explicit that this is a long-term mission that we're on—a marathon, not a sprint. We need to run fast every day, but if I burn out in three weeks or a year or even a couple of years, I'm not going to do as well as I could in helping the company reach its goal. So I build into my calendar every week chunks of time to think, to read, to get my own work done, because it just gets too easy for your day to fill up with meeting requests and reactive issues that come up.
I also build in time to meet with people—people that you work with, people that you admire, people who reach out with ideas they want to share. Good ideas come from those serendipitous meetings with someone who's thinking about a problem differently then you are. So I schedule lunch dates a couple of times a week. It's like oxygen that I build into my calendar.
But there are still days when you're tired or grumpy or things aren't going your way. When I need to reset, I take a walk. We have a track at our office here in Sunnyvale, so I'll grab a colleague and we'll walk and talk. Exercise can help do wonders for idea flow and for energy, so get up and walk. Or, take a short nap if you can. I've been known from time to time to lay down and take a nap.
Another thing you can do is turn off all of the notifications on your computer and your phone. We get so buried with notifications and that creates fatigue. Turn all that stuff off and get focused in the moment.
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