I brought up a suggestion that was voted in just a couple of months ago in our internal leadership committee meeting. There were around 13 people in the room. The thing is, we wanted to increase productivity, reduce distractions and the illusion of ‘de-stressing’ via Facebook and mobile games by implementing a no smartphone policy during working hours.
Warning: This is a very transparent post about uncomfortable, but much-needed changes within our team. The lessons here are critical but I may come off as more brazen. For that, you would have to forgive me as this is a matter close to my heart because it deals with how we serve our valued clientele.
I never thought that culture building would be so critical during scaling up. SEO Hacker is experiencing unprecedented growth this year and we need to solidify how we do things. I’m intentionally shaping the company culture by changing a couple of things that we have in the way we work.
However I also never thought that these things would face difficult, stubborn and senseless opposition. Culture building is about being intentional in shaping how people think in the workplace, NOT teaching them how to be decent, professional human beings – which became the case during and after that leadership committee meeting.
I used to run SEO Hacker like a democracy where policies and changes are voted in by a select group of people. That was chaotic and I learned from that experience. When things went wrong, even if they voted for it and I was against it, my previous employees never hesitated to throw me under the bus and blame me when things go wrong because of that decision they voted in.
I never ran SEO Hacker like a democracy again. If I was to make a mistake with a decision, it has to be MY decision and not a majority vote so that I can find it to be more acceptable and fix the consequences better when my neck is on the line.
The problem that the change I was proposing is trying to solve is that some people in the team were stealing. They would take out their phones and use them for 5, 10, 20, maybe even 30 minutes and would simply move their mouse or type something on their keyboard to keep the activity on Hubstaff, our time tracker going.
We are paid for our time and effort – two things that must go hand in hand. Both time and effort were being stolen whenever people use their smartphone for their personal purposes during work hours. People were stealing.
Management couldn’t keep track of what was happening on the phone. They would argue that it was work, or some argued that it was an emergency, and then some would argue that it was just stress-relief. The arguments went on and on and all of them got debunked. In hindsight, I would bet half my shares in SEO Hacker that they were lying and just trying to keep the status-quo. Which was, quite honestly expected.
No one likes change. Even if it’s for ultimately making things way better.
The first suggestion that got a lot of people saying ‘woah, that could work’ is something that I couldn’t quite understand. It’s to still keep the phones as-is, in their pockets and desks and just call off people who are using their mobile phones.
In short, just keep the status quo and just have a heightened sense of alertness to call people off when they’re using their phones.
There were tons of problems about this solution that immediately sent alarm bells in my head: Some people lie – as they did when arguing with me during that leadership committee:
- What if you call them off and they said it was for work?
- Or was an emergency?
- Or was a stress buster?
- What would you tell them?
- Will you really start a conflict?
- What if it was not a person directly reporting to you?
I had to shut that down as I cannot imagine that to work. Theft would still occur and occur often.
And please don’t misunderstand, I am a very trusting person. Too trusting, in fact, that only after 9 years has this policy been introduced – because we are having too much time stolen from the company and are already feeling the lost productivity day after day.
And it’s stupendously ironic, we recently implemented the 15-30 pay day which I strongly advised against. This is because the underlying reason the leadership committee and ultimately the rest of the team wanted it was because they wanted to outsource their personal finance management.
In short, they found it hard to budget so they want to ‘force’ their own personal budgeting plan by outsourcing it to the management. Through paying them twice a month (50% of their salary every 15th and the other 50% on every 30th) instead of once a month (100% every 15th).
The irony there is that they wanted to outsource their personal finance management, which is a life skill and discipline, and they could not accept the fact that management needed to keep the thieves out by having the mobile phones in the locker.
They could not accept the fact that they sorely NEEDED to outsource the discipline to management because they were utterly failing at it and obviously the people who do not steal time do not confront, correct, or rebuke the others who do either.
Only in the time of uncomfortable change did they suggest for the confrontations to happen against those people who keep on stealing time using their smartphones on working hours. But the most interesting thing is that rebuking others who are stealing time using their smartphones on working hours is already the clear-as-day, must-do thing as a professional and a part of a team – so why don’t you already do this and why suggest it now that the management is taking over this professional discipline?
So why am I writing something as transparent as this?
Well there was a leadership breakdown that happened in between then and now – when I expected the leaders in our leadership committee to explain to the rest of the team why this was necessary. You see, before we begin, during, and after each session we all agree to be mature enough to keep some of the things in the circle and to commit on the changes even if they do not agree with it.
The thing is, this was dishonored by some members in the leadership committee. Some went ahead and shared it with their team in the form of slander, some simply did not comment – which is also as bad as slandering the management about the decision. There was disagreement alright, but there was no commitment.
It’s easy to lose heart when something like this happens. I could fold up the leadership committee, sure. But it is important for me to have a conversation between management and the rest of the team. This is why grit is so important – because weak people quit during the apex. And that makes leaders who are gritty stand out so much more and take their success to even greater heights.
There are some people leaving the team due to this change. It hurts when team members leave – much like how it hurts when a family member leaves.
But if they are leaving just because of one change, it is for the best – as the supposed grit of those people has all but disappeared. More importantly, it shows the lack of integrity. Because logically speaking, only people who steal time using their smartphones for personal purposes will see this change in a negative light.
On another note, there are some super awesome people who have showed tremendous grit, respect for work, empathy and integrity in all of this. Their lights have shone brighter throughout this change. I personally applaud them for living out our core values even in the face of discomfort. These are the people who do not have a problem with the change because they have not practiced stealing time from the company anyway.
I’m writing this for the purpose of transparency not just to my readers but I guess, to the rest of the SEO Hacker team. I hope this makes it clearer where I am coming from with this specific change – and it releases the clouds of mystery, doubt and slander that some people in the team have built from then.
Update: It’s been almost a month since the change has been implemented and we have seen some of the activity rates increase as much as by 100%. Some may see this as stunning and awesome. Personally, I see it as the obvious consequential effect. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy about it. It just stupefies me how this could have been missed all along by some people strongly resisting this change.