Two web artists. One amazing company.

Running Your Agency/Tech Company like a Factory is Destroying Humanity: Part 2

from Sarah Prasuhn on May 11, 2015 12:45pm


In case you missed it Part 1

Very carefully I cut the letters out of the magazines that are strewn across my table. My fingers covered in glue, I lay them out one at a time on a piece of heavy duty paper, a message for the CEO of my friend's company. A message to save humanity:

"Your company is following the startup lemmings off the cliff, do you care?"

-- Anonymous

Every year your agency or startup is throwing away thousands of dollars, because you follow some very bad habits that reward mediocrity and egos. I know because as a CEO of even a tiny company, I've watched you bleed and wanted to hand you the bandage.

At Shomeya I am the CEO and the Project manager, when I fuck up and put my programmer in a bad position I see how it effects his work AND his home life. I feel every late night, and regret every poor choice when I said yes to the client, because I deal with the results.

So I learned to adjust Shomeya to make better choices. And the good news is these choices can scale because they are based on something we all deal with no matter what the size of our payroll; human brains.

Who do you listen to?

As a consultant who works with lots of companies, I've made suggestions, only to be told "no no, we got this we KNOW" and the way you treat your employees is even worse than your consultants.

Every day your employees grow more and more dissatisfied as they realize their voices aren't being heard. So why keep doing it?

Because a wise guy with gray hair said this how business is done? How does he know? Oh, he's invested in businesses for a long

Here's the sickening truth. Most people who run businesses never worked in them. They only have a general overview to go off of. And even worse they often only know what people tell them.

Their jobs depend largely on impressing others and elevating their status. So the people who actually do the building, they see holes all over the workflow, but with only myopic managers to report to, who's very livelihoods depend on keeping the CEO complacent, those holes never get filled.

Until one day those little holes turn into sinkholes and swallow the whole company, and everyone looks around and goes, gee, I wonder why we didn't see that coming. There were NO SIGNS at all.

And that's when all the lower level employees go, fuck yeah, it was written on every fuckin' wall, but I didn't want to file a formal complaint and you MBAs all talked over me in meetings so yup it's on you.

Do you really want to end your life's work like this? Is it really worth keeping the illusion of success alive, to just leave a pile of shit?

Here are three things to paradigm shift into a reality that makes sense for everyone.

This is a long one, but if you actually start implementing even a fraction of these things, it will have huge impacts down the road. At Shomeya we doubled our income by working LESS, and being able to charge more because we accepted our humanity.

1. Listen to really you aren't listening or your company would not be leaving so much money on the table

Listening is something you have to do actively. It's not just an "open door policy" where you nod your head a lot, and CHANGE NOTHING. Study up on good management techniques, NO ONE is born with this.

Be wise in what you choose to study, though, your workers are human creative entities what works for a lot of businesses won't happen for yours without rested employees. Don't forget to look outside of the startup circle-jerk, good positive parenting books are brilliant at teaching how to work through difficult communication exchanges.

Use listening techniques to level the playing field at every level, rules that only apply/acted upon to the lower levels are worthless. Because no one believes that they matter, and they just turn into ways to control the peasants.

Try these first.

Every meeting everyone gets the same amount of time to talk, regardless of gender, age, or rank.

Ban interruptions.

In our culture interruptions are used as power plays and position all the time, to silence those based on their relative "status" in society. Have gender balance issues? Ban interruptions, time box, and see what happens. The best part about these solutions is no one is punished or singled out, it simply levels the playing field.

If more than one person is presenting, say a team, make a point that questions should be asked of each person. Make politics work to even input instead of skewing it to the favor of those who like talk.

Often the people most eager to talk in meetings, struggle to know how to execute things effectively because so much mental energy is spent on status seeking, and meetings give them a way to feel productive. Unfortunately there are very few roles where meetings are actually more productive, especially when it comes to software.

2. You are losing money because you still pretend humans are machines

During the average day a human does 40% of their actions out of habit. It's a survival technique to avoid burning too much energy. This means that your body is doing one thing, but your brain is somewhere else. Like why you have so many ideas while in the shower, it's a low brain-drain task.

This means that if your job requires you to think, build, or create you are pretty much toast after about 4-5hrs of of actual work. Essentially you use up your daily allotment of thinking about halfway through an 8hr day. Some things like pushing to git go on auto pilot after some practicing, but things that require problem solving like meetings and coding require a lot of focus and more time, and no one ever leaves enough time for these.

As a CEO and/or Project manager this is a tough call, because if you are planning for 6-7hrs a day of billable programming, your workers are always going to be burnt.

Which means they are making choices out of pure habit that are going to cost you and your company headaches and money for years to come, and they WILL rage quit and leave you to clean up that mess.

Signs of burn out: their estimates get progressively worse, and your over-promising to the client begins to become an impossible problem that causes you to lose out big $$$, all because you think you can just turn on the pressure and your programmer will output faster. Until you lose the client entirely.

Turning up the pressure can get more work done for a day or even a month, or if you are one of my crazy friends two years, but at what cost? Could my crazy friend have done better work, or built you a multi-million dollar app with that wasted energy? You'll never know because you're too busy smiling and nodding while doing nothing.

Aren't you tired of missing out?

There are even greater consequences to not understanding how our brains work, like when parents tragically leave their kids in the car after a doctors appointment. Their brains are on autopilot going to work, and the change of habit doesn't register with tragic consequences. Everyone tries to blame the parents, and find out WHY, but it's obvious to me that it's just a lack of knowing how our brains shut down.

We can't keep going like this. People are literally dying because we can't accept that our entire society still tries to operate like humans should be more like endlessly to get a badge...maybe a raise..maybe a promotion to manage other machines er humans. When we lose this creative energy we lose all of the solutions, art, and hope that it holds. We get tired we get cranky, we make costly mistakes. It's ridiculous to keep running this way.

To fix this we need to create more energy with breaks, realistically it takes the average person 14 days of distance from work to relax, which with emails and cellphones almost never happens these days.

So build those breaks in the regular work week. Do a 4dy 8hr work week, give as much vacation as you can possibly afford, and give it time.

Read up on where the tipping points of productivity are if you are unsure. Some say 3dy weeks are best, I say ask your team and give them a few weeks to mull it over, BUT don't let them talk you out of it. Especially if they are used to giving you more than they should.

It will take awhile for them to believe you that you are actually going to follow through on this whole rest thing, and not go back to your talk big but do nothing pattern. Plus it feels so weird to stop being perpetually in motion when that's all you've ever known.

Detoxing from years of checking out at school and work takes time. But humanity will win out if you let it. And the results will be amazing, I've seen it happen in my freelancer friends lives, but with the resources your startup has it could be on a much greater scale.

3. Have informal ways to resolve conflicts, and no just having an HR department does not count as informal

When a co-worker steals my slides, because I'm a woman and he's a man and thinks he's worth more what can I do? Call HR, start a formal complaint, get blackballed by you and all your buddies later??? What are my choices? If quit and go make your competitors more money is my only choice, you're doing it wrong.

There need to be ways to actually be heard, by people in the company who can't fire you, who can just hear what's going on and find ways to resolve inevitable communication and workload issues. People who are chosen for their effectiveness not status in the company.

An example would be something similar to having a safety committee, just a group of employees who are trained on how to listen and know what to escalate and what to do to help.

Most HR departments are there to keep the companies bank accounts full and busy VPs from having to listen to the complaints of workers.

This only makes the problems your company faces worse, you will fail because you will never hear the problem, or your employees never know how to deal with situations when they start to see the canaries dying.

Because your managers bury problems they can't solve in a weekly "report," because that's how they get paid. If no one in your company can display humility, because it's not rewarded, how can you fix things? You are losing money every minute all because of pride. Is it really worth it?

For you my friends "the Programmer"

You are hard to replace, trust me, your boss may talk shit, but you can always remind them that it will take them literally 6mos and thousands of dollars to replace you, but not everyone else has that. Stand up for yourself and your co-workers.

If a co-worker is constantly interrupting in meetings, gently say "I'd like to hear what Jane has to say." When people keep bringing it back around to themselves, ask to time-box meetings because you need to focus on coding. You have some powerful leverage, and everyone can be a part of the solution, will it save your entire self-indulgent company, no, but it can make a day-to-day difference for your co-creators.

If your CEO says she cares and has an Open Door policy, show up a lot, and make a point of being an ally in the great sea of a changing industry. She has a lot of people saying they know better, but remind her gently on occasion that scale doesn't change values, it only makes them more important. And good luck, because humanity needs this.

Tell me how do you work with your humanity? Hit me up @sarah__p!

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Photo credit: Nelly Volkovich on Unsplash.

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