One of Levels’ core values is Treat People Like Adults. It’s a broad concept that can have many interpretations in day-to-day operations. In this episode, Levels co-founders Sam Corcos and Josh Clemente and Mike Haney, Editorial Director, discuss treating people like adults. They talk about what it actually means, why they use it internally, and how it applies to transparency and the sharing of information.
04:06 – Assume best intent
Mike said that instead of worst-case scenarios, work within the idea of best intent and trust that people are doing their best.
It’s interesting. The first place I go is the trust part of what comes up with that. That so much of management I think in organizing people, managing people within an organization is built around worst-case scenarios. You have an expense policy because you’re afraid somebody’s going to abuse the expense policy. And I have always thought of the treat people like adults as flipping that on its head. And let’s assume that — another phrase we use a lot, assume best intent. And assume that everybody is going to act like an adult and act responsibly and create policy around that or center your policy on that, not the edge cases.
15:46 – Be open to other people’s ideas
Josh said that being open to other people’s opinions is a core cultural principle.
I think that process of being open-minded to discovering the opinions, which I believe is assigning best intent. This to me is maybe the core, my opinion, cultural principle, which is, are you able to plan to find the best in the other person’s argument in advance, no matter how crazy it might sound on day one or how they’re framing it? And so I think that’s part of acting like an adult maybe.I’m not trying to say I’m a model person here. I’ve definitely misinterpreted opinions. But just in this example, I think it is trying to find the rationale for the argument rather than just putting up a blocker.
20:50 – Address negative feedback immediately
Sam said that negative feedback on new hires should be revealed so that any reservations can be dealt with.
The one thing that it really reinforces very early on is that direct negative feedback is acceptable. In fact, it’s acceptable and it’s normal. And you see that on day one. You will see people’s concerns. And I would expect the conversation with John will go something like, “Hey, I saw that you have some concerns about this. How can we make sure that you understand my abilities in this regard?” Or you might even say like, “Yeah, honestly, you’re totally right. I’m actually not really a back-end person. And most of my skill is focused on front end.” Just being able to resolve those tensions very early on instead of having them linger. The reality is that if people have very strong negative opinions about people, we probably wouldn’t hire them to begin with. But if we did, one of the things that we, I think, need to get better at as a culture is continually surfacing these pieces of feedback is something that we haven’t had too many instances where people’s performance was really suffering and we haven’t given them feedback.
29:53 – Make feedback transparent, but appropriate
Josh said feedback on new hires should be put into the context of a performance a few months out so it doesn’t breed tension.
I think we need to bias towards a robust hiring process with security for the people involved. And that’s why I’m leaning in this direction is that it’s, again, if it’s a quantitative concern, like this person is not good at this thing and self-described or based on the technical challenge and therefore I’m a no hire, well, it’s on the hiring manager, I think, to make the assumption on whether or not they can get there. Then I think that’s a valuable piece of information that can’t be lost in the hiring process. It should be presented to that candidate coming in the door. Look, we’re excited to have you start and here are the areas of improvement that we’re going to touch on in six months from now. And that I think is taking the value there of helping somebody improve from the negative feedback and tying it to performance, as opposed to just dumping it on them and potentially creating, again, I want to assume that we won’t create interpersonal strife, but I also want people to be able to ask the questions like, hey, great technical leader, does their personality really fit here? I got this weird vibe from them.
33:44 – Test for usefulness
Mike said that before adding extra transparency, make sure it’s useful and backs up the company culture.
I think where you started with this was that perhaps this is a useful signaling mechanism to new hires about the seriousness with which we take some of these principles like treating you like an adult and transparency. I guess one way to maybe test that is, do we need more signaling in that direction? Because there are things that right now, to your point about the salary thing, there are things we hide, like our transparency memo says, look, you don’t get access to everything. There’s a leadership forum, there are conversations that happen only between you two, there is certain things that we do hide. So this doesn’t feel like it’s the one thing that’s wildly out of line with everything else. And I feel like we do have a lot of other signaling mechanisms about how seriously we take transparency. So maybe that’s just one test to put this against is not only does it potentially help somebody or hurt them, but is it necessary? Is it useful?
46:02 – Cultural alignment includes communication styles
Mike said that a good cultural fit will be able to see themselves adapting to new communication styles even if it’s hard at first.
Sam, you and I have talked about was me unlearning what it means to get feedback from a CEO. And in most companies, a Loom from the CEO, not just a Loom from a coworker, but a Loom from the CEO means a certain thing and has a certain weight to it. And that was my assumption coming in. But I was committed to the idea that I was assuming best intent that you meant what you said when you said, look, I’m going to throw ideas over the fence. This doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and do it, but it took me six months to get comfortable with that idea and to be able to not have that visceral reaction when I see it of what does Sam want me to do now? So it’s a personality thing and a culture thing, but I think it’s willingness to commitment to grow into the culture despite maybe a slight personality misalignment. If I didn’t feel I could ever be okay with that, then I shouldn’t work here.
50:26 – Hiring is an exclusive process
Sam said a company culture is not for everyone and it’s good to make culture expectations clear in the hiring process.
When I do the culture fit conversations with candidates, I’m going out of my way to explain all of the reasons why people would not want to work here. And we had somebody two days ago send an email after we had our conversation. And they said like, “Hey, I’m going to step out of the process. I think some of the things around remote and async are not really for me. I really need daily casual social interactions with my coworkers and being remote and async is just not my cup of tea.” Cool. That makes sense. It’s probably not possible to have that kind of lifestyle when you’re fully remote. She would do a lot better in a co-located team and there’s nothing wrong with that. The culture that we build, and this comes into the tying back into the diversity question of what are the similar characteristics that we want without becoming too similar? What are those concepts? And maybe this just is the values that we keep talking about.
57:31 – Be intent on self-improvement
Josh said that part of that assumption of best intent is coming into conversations and feedback with an openness to improvement.
I think this is one area where a person whose intent on improvement, on self-improvement for not just for themselves, but like Haney was saying, this is something the universe is giving me. They treat feedback literally as a gift and there’s no intention of reposturing and positioning oneself to leave this person with a better impression or change their opinion on the spot. And that’s something I think is actually really important. It’s hard to exactly describe, but it’s something along the lines of being able to just strictly receive the feedback and that’s it. And then at some point process and respond to it, as opposed to trying to immediately throw up a response, a block or a retaliation. Not even a retaliation. It doesn’t have to be negative or spiteful. It just simply the process of not being willing to process over time what you’re hearing and instead feeling like you have to instantly push back is something that I think we need to filter for or somehow create process for.
1:00:07 – Get rid of gossip
Josh said that gossip gets in the way of useful feedback because the person who needs to hear it isn’t the one receiving it.
I think it’s also gossip and intentions are so aligned. It’s like, there’s a very obvious difference between gossip and feedback and it’s that the person who needs it isn’t getting it. So you could probably extrapolate that in a bunch of ways. If somebody who comes into the company is indirect in their, is not taking direct action or providing direct feedback, whether this is gossiping or deflecting or go down the line, but there’s just a ton of different ways in which the person is not shortening the distance between potentially helpful feedback and the person who needs it, then that’s a problem. Especially in a culture like ours, where people are essentially autonomous, they’re on their own, we don’t micromanage, it’s not going to happen automatically. It’s actually we rely on the individual to be implementing these things day in and day out and really reflecting that culture.
1:05:06 – Give people agency
Sam said that treating people like adults comes down to giving people agency over how they work and manage their time.
I think one of the other principles around treating people like adults that’s come up for me is the principle of agency. Adults have agency. I was talking to an engineer at a big tech company, I think last week. And she’s really excited about our culture, especially this idea of treat people like adults. And one of the things that she said that is so frustrating about her current job is that they organize these employee play dates that are all optional, but she doesn’t go to them. And it shows up on her performance review that she didn’t go. They’re like, “Well, we just don’t think that you’re a team player because you didn’t go to the team happy hour.” She’s like, “Oh, so this is actually mandatory.” Like, oh, no, no, it’s optional. Okay. And if you’re an adult, you have agency over what you go to. If you don’t to go to these events, you don’t have to.
Sam Corcos (00:00:04):
I was talking to an engineer at a big tech company, I think last week. And she’s really excited about our culture, especially this idea of treat people like adults. And one of the things that she said that is so frustrating about her current job is that they organize these employee play dates that are all optional, but she doesn’t go to them. And it shows up on a performance review that you didn’t go. They’re like, “Well, we just don’t think that you’re a team player because you didn’t go to the team happy hour.” She’s like, “Oh, so this is actually mandatory.” Like, oh no, no, it’s optional. Okay. And if you’re an adult, you have agency over what you go to. If you don’t want to go to these events, you don’t have to. You can prioritize your family. You can prioritize whatever you want. You don’t have to be forced into these company-led events that are not specifically related to your job.
Ben Grynol (00:01:04):
I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health. And this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is A Whole New Level. When Netflix was about to go public, there was a lot of chatter, a lot of talk within the company about how they should treat information. Well, what it came down to is Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, author of the book No Rules Rules, he brings it up in the book, but it was one of these points of contention internally, should we be transparent with everybody we have been to date something that they anchored on deeply? And it’s something that we’ve taken into account as one of our cultural values at Levels, treat people like adults. That was a sentiment. What should they do about sharing information, private, confidential information as a publicly traded company?
Ben Grynol (00:02:12):
When you’re private, you can share anything you want. There’s no consequences to it. But when you are a publicly traded company or you’re dealing with situations that are highly regulated, there’s a lot of confidentiality, lot of privacy considerations, the outlook is to treat people like adults. That’s what Netflix did and that’s what we do internally, we treat everyone like adults. It’s one of the takeaways, one of the ways that we think about how do we build a strong culture of trust, autonomy, openness, honesty, so that people feel that they can always have direct conversations when need be.
Ben Grynol (00:02:47):
So Sam Corcos and Josh Clemente, two of the co-founders, and Mike Haney, Editorial Director at Levels, the three of them sat down and they discussed this concept of treating people like adults, what does it actually mean? Why do we use it internally? And why is it really important for us to use this as a concept and scale it internally within our team? It was a really interesting conversation and it’s something that there’s a lot to learn. We’re continuing to learn from it ourselves internally. We’re continuing to iterate on this concept, but it is something that is very important. And so here’s where they kick things off.
Sam Corcos (00:03:20):
One of our most important cultural values is treat people like adults. And I guess I would open in the broadest way possible. I have some opinions on this, I have a whole bunch of notes, but I wanted to open it to you two first. What do you think we mean when we say that? What does that phrase mean to you?
Mike Haney (00:03:47):
Josh, do you want to go ahead?
Josh Clemente (00:03:48):
Sure. So in my opinion, it means don’t try and sugarcoat, treat people like they have the same intellectual capability that you do. And in general, be respectful. I think inherent in treating people like adults also is act like an adult, which is a bidirectional responsibility.
Mike Haney (00:04:06):
Yeah. It’s interesting. The first place I go is the trust part of what comes up with that that so much of management I think in organizing people, managing people within an organization is sort of built around worst case scenarios. You have an expense policy because you’re afraid somebody’s going to abuse the expense policy. And I have always thought of the treat people like adults as flipping that on its head. And let’s assume that another phrase we use a lot assume best intent, right? And assume that everybody is going to act like an adult and act responsibly and create policy around that or center your policy on that, not the edge cases.
Sam Corcos (00:04:42):
Yeah. That’s exactly. So something that I’ve been reflecting on this concept a lot more, and I think that a lot of this comes down to assumptions and specifically what assumptions can you safely make about everyone else at the company? I’ll give you a specific example. A little while ago, I wrote a document on measuring development velocity for the engineering team. And this is a notoriously difficult thing. And a lot of especially non-technical leaders who want to understand how well their engineering teams are performing will try to create these quantitative metrics with like lines of code shipped times number of story points. They come up with some algorithm for understanding the relative quality and velocity of different teams. And it ends up suffering from this issue where, what is it? Goodhart’s Law, where whatever metric you start to optimize for, it ends up just getting gamed and it stops having meaning.
Sam Corcos (00:05:44):
And something that came out of that exploration that became really obvious to me is that if you start with the assumption that you have good engineers and that your engineers want to do good work, then you don’t really need to do any of those things. All of this quantifying of like trying to compare people to each other and understanding output doesn’t really matter as much if you can make that assumption. And if you can’t make the assumption, you probably should just solve the upstream problem, which is higher people who you know want to do good work who are good engineers, solve that. And then you don’t have to worry about.
Sam Corcos (00:06:23):
It reminds me of if you’re developing a constitution for a country, you have to create rules that factor in the reality that there will be bad actors who will try to subvert the system. You don’t get to choose who will be in your country, but you do get to choose who will be in your company. So whereas in constitutional law, when you have to come up with checks and balances, you’re balancing the fact that there will be people you can’t make the assumption that everyone will act with good intent if you’re designing the government, you have to create the systems that account of the fact that there will be many, many bad actors, but it seems like there’s a principle in here around what are the assumptions that you want to be able to make about the people that you work with? Does that sound like a fair statement?
Josh Clemente (00:07:13):
I think so. There’s a lot there. However, there’s the alignment with cultural values and then there’s the realities of personality and emotion and the fact that I think as Haney put it quite aptly not everyone is a fully actualized person who can just deal with all of the stresses of all of the most brutal realities at one time. I think just jumping at a little bit to where I think the conversation’s heading, yes, you can make distinctions about the culture and principles and foundation that you’re building and the people who you know or feel will respect and want to proliferate them. But there’s still a whole bunch of variability within the people who might fit those principles.
Mike Haney (00:07:54):
Yeah. That was what I was thinking about as well as trying to steel man that argument a bit and going back to assume good intent. So even with the developer example, you can hire people who are really good developers and who you trust have the best interest of the company in mind.
Mike Haney (00:08:11):
But I would imagine even within developers, there’s just a range of individual velocity, right? Some people are just going to be more thinkers are going to be better at moving faster or slower. When there’s four people on a team, that’s probably a lot easier to manage around and to put all that together to then create an organizational velocity that you can think about when there’s a 100 developers, it probably gets a lot more tricky if somebody at a product head level is trying to figure out the velocity of the product for the company to meet milestones or to get to a certain place. You have to assume the car’s going to travel at a certain speed and accounting for that individual variance isn’t about treating people like adults or not. It’s just the reality that people behave differently.
Mike Haney (00:08:53):
And I think on the other side, again assuming best intent, I think it’s possible for maybe particularly employees early in their career or people even later in their career who have maybe come from very different organizations that had different incentive structures or different political structures that inspired them to behave in other ways that maybe totally bought into the culture that we are trying to create, but will for completely innocent reasons find themselves acting in ways that we would look at and say like, well, you’re not acting like an adult. And so that’s where I think this gets really interesting around what do we do from a policy perspective to account for that. So I think this speaks to your point, Sam, about you can’t pick who’s in your country, you can pick who’s in your company. It’s like, yes with an asterisk, like, still accounting for those variances and how do you create policies that necessarily manage around that, but I don’t know, just account for that.
Sam Corcos (00:09:42):
Yeah. And it ties into one of your other questions and I’ve been thinking about the answer and I haven’t come up with one, the question of we’re all on the same page that diversity of thought is extremely important for the resilience of an organization. But an extreme example of this is for the sake of diversity, we don’t want to bring jerks into the company just because we have an underrepresenation of jerks, right? That seems like an obvious example. So diversity for diversity’s sake is not the goal, but I don’t have an answer for the question of what are the boundaries of culture as it relates to if you end up with a group of people who all share the same characteristics across the board, that’s probably bad, but there are some characteristics that you want everyone to have in common. So I don’t know what the boundaries of that might be.
Josh Clemente (00:10:40):
Yeah. I think this is an interesting one and I think it goes to you want principle alignment. It’s the case that having misaligned principles, if we disagree about the way we see the world and the important factors, like for example, disagree and commit or transparency culture, we’re going to create unnecessary and prolific friction and problems. However, like again, inside of an individual, you have not just the way that they think about the world, the mental models they share, but also who they are as a person and their background experiences, where they come from, where what they value in life. In the long term, I think you have a lot of person variety and diversity and who the person is.
Josh Clemente (00:11:20):
That’s I think what we’re talking about here is do you want replicas of the same individual across their personality traits who might have really great communication, like they might be able to work flawlessly together, but you’re not going to have a lot of out of the box thinking potentially? Or do you want a range of individuals who are all working playing the same rules or playing the game by the same rules, but still are individuals and still bring a variety of diverse experience to the table? I don’t have an answer in terms of like what we’re selecting for, but I suppose we want similar shared principle, but diverse personality.
Mike Haney (00:11:53):
Yeah. And I think distilling down to those, what are those core principles, the bare minimum at a higher phase, right? You want intellectual alignment with where the company’s headed, you want buy into the mission, but the example you just mentioned, transparency is interesting because I know one of the examples that you guys have both talked about around like disagree and commit for instance, was Josh, your reticence around some of the transparency ideas early on when Sam suggested them.
Mike Haney (00:12:17):
So you can imagine a world in which, let’s say Josh, you’re interviewing for this job two years in and this gets brought up and you for completely legitimate reasons of your past just have a real challenge with that idea. And you might say in the interview, look, boy, this really doesn’t resonate with me. I guess I trust you guys if you think it’s a good idea. But you could imagine an internal conversation, a sort of bar raiser conversation where we go, “Look, man, I just don’t know if Josh is a cultural fit, he’s really opposed to this transparency idea.” And that would remove your ability to grow into that learning, right? Or it could turn out that like you were right, like Sam could have been wrong about the transparency thing. And we decided a year earlier, Sam had this crazy idea early on. Fortunately Josh got him to pause on it. And boy, it turned out it was a really good idea that we did that, right?
Sam Corcos (00:13:01):
That’s happened before too.
Mike Haney (00:13:04):
Good. Good. So one of the things that somebody mentioned, I think in the Friday Forum this week in talking about some of the new hires was kindness as a thing that we select on. And I feel like in some ways it’s really hard to suss out in an interview. Most people are pretty kind in an interview and I don’t know how you suss for that, but so much of what we talk about in terms of making a good leader and a good teammate and that I think relates back to each one of these concepts around trust and transparency that I’ll go to this treating people like adults comes back to that assume good intent, which necessitates kindness, openness, low ego. And I feel like there are probably others, but I’m increasingly arriving at like that is just a really core thing that I’ll be honest, I haven’t always hired for.
Mike Haney (00:13:47):
I’ve hired people who I thought, this person’s probably going to create some friction, but boy, they’re really smart, or God, they just really know the space, they have the experience. We’ll figure out the other thing, we’ll teach them how to get along. I hired a product manager once in that camp where when I told the team that I had hired this individual that they were starting, there was a collective gasp around the room, because people had some familiarity with them and it’s like, all right. But you know, look, he’s really committed to get along off there, but he’s going to figure it out, he’s going to come in. It’s all going to be fine. Any year later, he was gone. We had six months of drama that he had to leave and everybody hated each other.
Mike Haney (00:14:19):
I don’t think it’s a given that you hire for that. And I think it’s hard to do, but I think that’s probably one of the core principles and there are probably others that would feed back into those higher level principles or those more practical principles of trust, transparency, behaving like and being treated like an adult, et cetera.
Sam Corcos (00:14:35):
Yeah. This ties into one of the things that Marc Randolph said in the conversation I had with him that cultural misalignment is infinitely destructive. It doesn’t matter how good they are if they are not culturally aligned, wait that at infinity. So that was a useful data point.
Josh Clemente (00:14:52):
I love Haney’s example, though, just now of you and I disagreeing on the transparency thing initially. Now I think if you abstract a layer up to why do you, like we were aligned in our long conversation about transparency in the goals, we don’t want to create the opposite scenario where everything’s confidential. In fact, we want people inside the company to be able to access the information they need to do their jobs. So we were aligned there and it was working through the process of understanding, why do you feel that your framework would be better than my framework? And I think we compromise on a few key things where we got on the same page.
Josh Clemente (00:15:24):
And so I think that process of being able to not be offended outright by someone else’s opinions and to instead find out okay, is not possible that Sam wants us to be pursued for violating laws because of oversharing information. So that can’t be right. And I also don’t want to deny other people in the company access to information for no reason. So clearly there’s some overlap here, let’s figure out where that is.
Josh Clemente (00:15:46):
I think that process of being open-minded to discovering the opinions, which I believe is assigning best intent, that this to me is like maybe the core, my opinion, cultural principle, which is, are you able to plan to find the best in the other person’s argument in advance, no matter how crazy it might sound on day one or how they’re framing it? And so I think that’s part of acting like an adult maybe is I’m not trying to say I’m a model person here. I’ve definitely misinterpreted opinions. But just in this example, I think it is trying to find the rationale for the argument rather than just putting up a blocker.
Sam Corcos (00:16:19):
If we frame this in the context of assumptions, what assumptions do we want to be able to make about every person working at Levels? Like somebody you’ve never interacted without the company and you’re going to send them their first message for a project you’re going to work with them on, what assumptions do you want to be able to make about that person?
Josh Clemente (00:16:43):
I would say a few things off the top of my head would be that they are good faith actors who share the same goals and probably that they assign best intent to the other people inside the organization.
Mike Haney (00:16:57):
I was going to say I think similar along those lines, I’m trying to think about this when I think about the new people who are being hired, what are the assumptions I make when I see that a new person has been hired just by the fact that they have been hired here? I think interesting background, which means they’re just bringing something unique to the table, speaking back to your point of diversity. I’m always struck by the really interesting backgrounds we seem to find in all levels of employees, kindness does strike me over and over again.
Mike Haney (00:17:24):
And I think similar to what you’re saying, Josh, commitment to no politics. Somebody just asked me recently about somebody externally about us doing something and said, “Oh, but we just want to be careful about that because we know there’s sometimes politics.” And I literally laughed. And I was like, “Oh no, we don’t do that here.” And it was like about you Sam. It was like, I don’t know if this Sam might be offended. I was like, “No, no, no. We don’t do politics.” And I think that’s just, again, rare. That’s not common at places. And I think we have to be vigilant to keep that up as the team grows, but that would be a core assumption I would make, which I think both those things, kindness and no politics, speaks back to that assume good intent that at least people will make a good faith effort to assume good intent even if it is sometimes hard.
Sam Corcos (00:18:03):
It’s one of the interesting things. I’ll actually frame this in the specifics of one of the out of left field proposals that I’ve had that we probably won’t end up implementing, but I’m going to throw it out as a straw man, which is in applicant tracking systems when you’re hiring people, the default functionality of every applicant tracking system at every company is as soon as you hire somebody, all of the interviews and assessments all get hidden so that that person can’t see what other people thought about them. That’s normal.
Sam Corcos (00:18:36):
What I would propose is that on day one, we give those people all of the assessments, including the people who said no hire for certain reasons, which is really unusual and will probably make some people uncomfortable. But there’s this concern that I would foresee that people will say, well, if that’s the case, then some people will withhold negative criticism or negative feedback or people will hedge in what they say. And they’ll only say positive things. But if you ask those people on our team, like, would you do that? They would say, “No.” In many ways, they’re hedging for this worst case scenario of like, well, what happens if we have a bunch of very political people who don’t operate under our principles in the company, how will they react?
Sam Corcos (00:19:25):
And maybe if we can make the assumption that everyone at the company, a hypothetical would be, we hire an engineer. And I don’t know, John says, “I don’t think we should hire this person because I don’t think that they have enough backend skill to do the role.” Just hypothetically. It would be really useful for that new hire to know that John has this concern instead of John in the back of his mind always having this lingering concern that this person isn’t qualified. They can just immediately address that in an early conversation. So this maybe ties into the earlier question of like, can we assume that everyone is a self-actualized adult? Should we assume that? Maybe we can.
Mike Haney (00:20:08):
Can I just ask a question to play that idea out? What do you imagine happens with that particular example? John has that concern, the person starts, they see that, does John initiate a call with them? Does the candidate initiate a call? Does the manager suggest like, hey, as you will see in the feedback, John had concerns about this? And what do you see as the substance of that conversation, the person saying, I’m sorry, you feel that way, I do, or boy, I look forward to showing you, I do have the concern, or that John gets more specific about, well, I just haven’t seen that in your roles? What happens in that conversation? And what is the takeaway value for both John and the candidate coming out of that conversation?
Sam Corcos (00:20:50):
The one thing that it really reinforces very early on is that direct negative feedback is acceptable. In fact, it’s acceptable and it’s normal. And you see that on day one. You will see people’s concerns. And I would expect the conversation with John will go something like, “Hey, I saw that you have some concerns about this. How can we make sure that you understand my abilities in this regard?” Or you might even say like, “Yeah, honestly, you’re totally right. I’m actually not really a backend person. And most of my skill is focused on front end.” Just being able to resolve those tensions very early on instead of having them linger.
Sam Corcos (00:21:32):
The reality is that if people have very strong negative opinions about people, we probably wouldn’t hire them to begin with. But if we did, one of the things that we I think need to get better at as a culture is continually surfacing these pieces of feedback is something that we haven’t had too many instances where people’s performance was really suffering and we haven’t given them feedback, but just as a culture, we are pretty isolated. And this is something where I think because we are fully remote and you don’t interact with people on the team just casually that we need to be much more intentional about building this in as a piece of culture.
Sam Corcos (00:22:12):
So I would imagine that it’s more like a culture reinforcement. So sort of like how for every new hire, we have them directly edit the onboarding template for the next hire. If you see something that could be improved in onboarding, you improve it yourself, don’t complain to somebody. You are an active contributor building this culture. And so by having that as something on day one, reinforcing, we are open with our feedback and our criticism, here were all of the evaluations and we recommend talking to each person about this. This is how we operate. It feels more culturally aligned. Now whether it’s worth whatever cost there is, there’s a different question. I just, I wonder if that is a thing that makes sense in the context of treat people like adults.
Mike Haney (00:23:00):
I think where I come in on the feedback point is that’s feedback on an impression, or it’s either feedback on who that person perceives you to be like who you are, or their impression of your past experience as opposed to I think the feedback we want to encourage, which is either that directional feedback about from an individual employee to the company or the feedback on performance, right? So six months in, if John says, “I think your backend development could be cleaner, could be sharper, could be faster.” That feels like a more substantive conversation that you could point to as opposed to, I’m thinking about the notes that I’m putting in to candidates I’m interviewing now. And sometimes the notes I’m putting in are about the vibe I get, because that has to be important. I’m going to work with this person a lot. And it could be, I don’t know what the utility is of them seeing what the first impression of my vibe was on that first conversation.
Josh Clemente (00:23:55):
Yeah. This is where my mind goes. If there’s a quantitative rationale, we can explicitly say, this person is not good at something that they have to be good at, well, we probably won’t hire them if they have to be good at it, or something like, well, they’re not sharp on this thing, but they’re fast learners. We think they can prove.
Josh Clemente (00:24:12):
Most of the feedback, I think like a good deal of the feedback is actually something along the qualitative lines where it’s, I don’t vibe with this person, there’s something off. It could feel pedantic, frankly. It could feel like I’m nitpicking on something in a distasteful feeling way if you were to just do it about somebody on the street, you went, well, I had this conversation with this person and honestly, just the way that they continue to repeat the same things over and over again and it was just a bit frustrating and I just didn’t get along with them. And I don’t think I’d be able to have that conversation again. Those sorts of things in an interviewing environment are actually important because you have to be able to have interpersonal connections, even though we’re not synchronous in the way we work. It is one of the only things that we have to judge whether or not this person will fit into the culture effectively.
Josh Clemente (00:24:52):
So the reason I raise that as well is that I agree with Haney that just being able to read my stream of consciousness, semi-pedantic response to an interview actually doesn’t mean this person can’t perform in their role. And I don’t think it’s helpful for them if we have chosen due to like a bar raiser strategy to bring them in because they can’t execute effectively, it’s not going to make them better at their job to hear that from me. In fact, I don’t want them to hear it from me because it’s not something that they may be able to improve upon. Maybe this person just has a different personality type than I do. And that’s okay.
Josh Clemente (00:25:23):
So I guess my point is that that information is, I think, important for the team to know for me, but I don’t think it’s important for the person if they’ve been brought in to start on day one feeling like, well, there’s this indelible part of my personality that this person just dislikes. And now I feel attacked. I don’t know that it’s inside of human nature to be able to completely ignore that and in a self-actualized way, be like, I am like water, this is okay. I think at some point, it’s going to hurt.
Sam Corcos (00:25:48):
I think a lot about points of cultural reinforcement. And one thing that I propose and actually, Haney, this is one specific example where I propose something that did not end up getting implemented was some companies, I think Basecamp is one of these companies that they open source the compensation data for everyone on the team. And they do it really as a lightning rod for culture, which is if you are the kind of person who is willing to have your compensation data published publicly on a spreadsheet, you’re probably on board with a lot of the other transparency things. And I propose that because I personally don’t care. And I was the only person at the company who thought this was a good idea. And I also don’t really care. So we decided not to do it. So the specifics of whether we give somebody their feedback, whether we give someone their assessments before they even start isn’t as important. But I would wonder how we culturally reinforce.
Mike Haney (00:26:48):
I mean, maybe there’s a sort of compromise strategy, which I think is what was being done before. I mentioned in the memo where we were [inaudible 00:26:56] discussing this that I found at some point the conversation about my hire, like it was somewhere in notion and I just stumbled on it and I didn’t read it. I just didn’t really care at that point. But you could imagine a world where it wasn’t hidden. There’s a difference maybe between actively hiding it and actively serving it up to the person and forcing them to consume it on day one. So if a person wants to go back and read the thoughts, then cool, but they’re then assuming, maybe this comes back to treating people like adults, right? You’re like, “All right, dude, that’s your choice.” You were now assuming the emotional baggage of that and that you can handle it. The danger, I guess, is that people do that and then freak out and it has a very negative response. And at that point, you’ve hired them and I’m not sure what you do at that point.
Josh Clemente (00:27:37):
Or you end up in a situation where there’s underlying tensions building. And this is like, you know what? I bet this person just doesn’t like me. I’m going to go dig through notion. Oh look, surprise, surprise. They did negatively. And it just creates an accelerating trust issue between people, which again, we want to assume the best in people and hopefully we would not run into these problems, but what I think the compromise solution might be is what’s our goal? Our goal is that people can receive constructive negative feedback in order to do better in their role. That’s my opinion. That negative feedback, the reason we want it to exist is because we have to help people course correct in their positions.
Sam Corcos (00:28:11):
I’ll bring up an earlier point related to that. So what do we want? Do we want to be able to assume that the people at the company will use their judgment and will not silently breed anger towards their colleagues if they decide to go through notion and see assessments? Adults know that people make assessments on candidates because this can’t be new information for people. So it feels like we’re hedging for the scenario that we brought somebody into the company who is culturally misaligned and now we’re making exceptions for that type of person in the company. The answer for a lot of these things is we’re asking the question of like, what if somebody X? And the answer, like if X is not culturally aligned, then we don’t have those people at the company, right? That seems like the correct answer to me.
Josh Clemente (00:29:01):
Well, I think in this specific case, if we were talking about most other types of information, including mid-cycle performance reviews and things of that nature where there’s performance on the line, then I would agree. But the problem is that a lot of this is assumption. A lot of hiring is soft skill, it’s in really, I think in order to preserve an excellent culture, you need to have almost an over the top aggressive interviewing process where people are free to explore the limits of interviewing a candidate and figure out is this someone who is going to fit across a huge number of dimensions based on Zoom calls? It’s challenging. You want people to be free to raise no matter how small and inkling in the back of their mind it might be, raise a concern and put it out there without fear that this is at some point, maybe this person’s being hired above them that at some point, this information can be used against them. This is human nature. There is some self-preservation involved.
Josh Clemente (00:29:53):
And I think we need to bias towards a robust hiring process with security for the people involved. And that’s why I’m leaning in this direction is that it’s again, if it’s a quantitative concern, like this person is not good at this thing and self-described or based on the technical challenge and therefore I’m a no hire, well, it’s on the hiring manager, I think, to make the assumption on whether or not they can get there. Then I think that’s a valuable piece of information that can’t be lost in the hiring process. It should be presented to that candidate coming in the door, look, we’re excited to have you start and here are the areas of improvement that we’re going to touch on in six months from now.
Josh Clemente (00:30:27):
And that I think is taking the value there of helping somebody improve from the negative feedback and tying it to performance, as opposed to just dumping it on them and potentially creating, again, I want to assume that we won’t create interpersonal strife, but I also want people to be able to ask the questions like, hey, great technical leader, does their personality really fit here? I got this weird vibe from them.
Mike Haney (00:30:48):
Yeah. The other thing that somebody brought up, I think, in the conversation about this is that I think this natural inferiority complex or imposter complex that sometimes goes with starting a new job, particularly if you’re taking on a somewhat new role or you’re taking on a higher role than you’ve had before, I think most people have some insecurity around hoping they can do it well.
Mike Haney (00:31:08):
And one of the things I think we do really well through the onboarding process, everything from like the video we create for people to how deeply the hiring manager is involved in onboarding and helping them is I feel like we put a rocket ship under people. The level of support is really incredible. And I think it really helps people just fire into the job and do as great a job as they can and just vibe into the culture with that really positive attitude. You just see this in Friday Forums. The first month of somebody’s Friday Forums is usually so joyful. I guess I would also just be a little worried about anything might poke at that, anything that might deflate people a little bit, starting out again, maybe I’m assuming worst case scenario, but I think that’s a unique thing we do and we shouldn’t lose sight of how important that is.
Sam Corcos (00:31:54):
If we were to use the base case, most of the people that we hire will be people who have a lot of very positive reasons for bringing them on. I wonder if the compromise here is, I’ll pose this as a concept would be, we have an onboarding card that even says something specifically, like, by the way, unlike most companies, we haven’t hidden all of your interviews and people’s assessments. You can look at them if you want. This is part of our culture is we’re not going to go out of our way to hide information from you. It’s up to you on whether you want to look at them or not instead of confronting you with it. I don’t know what the right reinforcement mechanism would be there.
Josh Clemente (00:32:35):
Yeah. To me again, I think it’s a question of what’s the goal? Is the goal to help this person improve in their job? Because if so, I think there’s a better framing than this person stumbling across their notion document with fairly raw unfiltered thoughts in place. Again, with the treating people like adults, there’s also the acting like adults and people are typically going to be more direct, shorter, maybe a little bit more concise in their assessments in an interview than they would be with the person if they were delivering that feedback. And so allowing the person who feels this way to be quick with their interview assessments, but if necessary go in depth with a synchronous call without having to concern themselves with framing it in such a way that it will feel okay to the person who might eventually see it, because yes, if I am working with this person and I know they’re going to read this, I’m probably going to phrase it differently. And that’s just my nature. It won’t change.
Josh Clemente (00:33:24):
If I know this person will find this, especially if they might find it, they might stumble upon it as opposed to me being confident one way or the other, I’m going to bias towards the safe direction, which is that they will come across and it will feel like feedback as opposed to feel like a more of an attack, which some it can feel that way if you’re reading raw thoughts from somebody.
Mike Haney (00:33:44):
To your point, Sam, about what are we getting out of this? I think where you started with this was that perhaps this is a useful signaling mechanism to new hires about the seriousness with which we take some of these principles like treating you like an adult and transparency. I guess one way to maybe test that is, do we need more signaling in that direction? Because there are things that right now, to your point about the salary thing, there are things we hide, like our transparency memo says, look, you don’t get access to everything. There’s a leadership forum, there are conversations that happen only between two, there is certain things that we do hide. So this doesn’t feel like it’s the one thing that’s wildly out of line with everything else.
Mike Haney (00:34:22):
And I feel like we do have a lot of other signaling mechanisms about how seriously we take transparency. So maybe that’s just one test to put this against is is it not only does it potentially help somebody or hurt them, but is it necessary? Is it useful? Are we adding? I mean, I guess your point was, are we going out the way to create bureaucratic administration to do something that is culturally misaligned in the sense of is it hard to go through and hide all this stuff? I guess if the practical answer is no, that happens by default, this isn’t an hour of Mrs. Time to do this for every hire that we have, then I don’t know.
Josh Clemente (00:34:56):
Yeah. I think there’s a couple examples as well that are interesting where we’ve had people join the team and there’s been some early personality, I think call it friction that over time resolved itself through the process of working with the individual and seeing their real performance.
Josh Clemente (00:35:12):
And there are a couple really important examples that I think go to the direction of if that trust had been eroded on day one or if there had been a harm to the relationship, which again, we want people to be able to process information in a very non-egocentric way, but I don’t think we can expect that of people 24/7, especially when you’re stepping into an unfamiliar environment, a new work environment, a new team and are trying to find your way. It would not be helpful, I would argue, to start off on at an even lower point with an individual. So it’s not clear to me that those few examples would end up the way that they are, which is that they are in great shape now due to seeing each other and working together if there had been an early trust erosion from reading a frank comment about how you perceive the other person.
Sam Corcos (00:35:56):
Well, maybe the counter point to that is would it be trust eroding to know that there’s a possibility that people had negative things to say about you and you don’t get to know about that? And we actually went out of our way to hide that information from you. How would that make you feel as a new hire as a counterpoint?
Mike Haney (00:36:15):
I assume that is the case because of this default. I was surprised, frankly, when I was coming on and I interviewed with each of the five founders and I don’t know, it was mentioned at some point or maybe I came across this later that there was a unanimous consent idea here that all five people had to agree to bring somebody on. And I thought, oh, well, that made me feel good because it took away what I assumed would be the case, which is at least one of these five people went like, I don’t know about that guy, but the other four liked him. And so we hired. For me, it wouldn’t counter any assumptions I have or make me feel bad. I would just assume that’s the case. But assuming best intent, I would go, well, whoever had that feeling, now they’re just going to judge me on performance. They’re assuming best intent for me or best idea and now it is on me to just show everybody this company that they made a good choice.
Josh Clemente (00:37:02):
Yeah. I don’t have much to add there. I think it is interesting to think about because everyone I have to assume assumes that there’s not going to be unanimity and there’s going to be some detractors, but when it comes to interpersonal dynamics, like specifically knowing who the detractor is and the nature of their detraction on the day that you’re stepping into the role feels like you’re starting off at a deficit. It’s one thing to have a list of areas for optimization or improvement from your manager saying, “Hey, this is the feedback that we got during the hiring process. We’d like to sharpen on these six points.” That feels very motivating in my opinion. It’s like knowing where you stand and knowing what your objectives are by the next performance review, but simply having attributed negative responses to how you act or how you interview doesn’t feel as useful. I think it literally is the nature of the feedback and how it’s delivered just doesn’t feel that useful to me.
Sam Corcos (00:37:52):
Building off of what Haney said, I believe every hire that we’ve made to date. So we’re a little over 40 people. I believe every hire to date has been unanimous. I don’t think that we’ve hired anyone that had significant detractors. There were some that were passive yes or they said, “I didn’t really get a very strong signal, but I’m not going to say no to this one because I don’t have a strong enough opinion on it.” That I think is the strongest negative that we’ve had for somebody that we still hired. So I don’t know if that factors into it.
Josh Clemente (00:38:26):
I don’t think that the first handful where everyone was intimately involved necessarily represents the way the process will go going forward. And also there have been a few examples where I’ve had some pushback on candidates, which had to be resolved through actually, we took the approach of having follow up conversations to specifically address this, which is good, but may not always be the case either. And so I just think that the process is evolving in real time and won’t reflect these early executive high involvement founding team type members. It’s not going to be that way when we hit a 100 people.
Sam Corcos (00:39:00):
But maybe it should. This is one of the interesting things that I’ve noticed with other companies is that as time goes on, they spend less as a percentage of their time interviewing. And I think it should probably be the opposite. Each incremental person becomes more and more important that those people are aligned and you can solve a long of this content, which is good that you can’t do in the early days before you fully understand it, but maybe we can make that assumption internally.
Josh Clemente (00:39:29):
Yeah, it’s possible. I certainly wouldn’t argue for spending less time on it, but I also can’t say that unanimity is the way to solve problems like hiring. I think that it’s actually perfectly fine to have detraction and to disagree and commit. We’ve embedded that. So I think we would end up hitting gridlock if we keep that.
Mike Haney (00:39:48):
I think at the very least it is an interesting point to think about to maybe play out from an operational standpoint what would the implications of this kind of a policy, whether it is the maximal policy if we serve this to the person intentionally or whether the passive policy of we allow them to see it if they so choose, what are the implications for the hiring process from the beginning? What I would certainly want to think about how I was writing my note, not to be less honest or candid, but to make sure that when somebody saw them later, they were productive and helpful in the same way that to carry that to the extreme, I wouldn’t say like, this person sucked. I would never say that in an interview or in a note, but I wouldn’t even say things that I might be saying now, like, how the vibe was just off. It would really make me stop and be much more specific about where I was uncertain, I would probably hedge and say, but probably they can grow into this or I would do something else.
Mike Haney (00:40:45):
But I think we could sit down and think about, I could see a memo about how to give good interview feedback that just took this into account, people are going to see this someday and it should be productive or positive in the way it leans or avoid these particular phrases or at the very least take time and care in how you write these interview notes. It’s probably a good thing for all of us to learn and get better at anyway. But I think that would be a necessary component of this policy.
Josh Clemente (00:41:13):
Yeah. I think that’s one of my main concerns is I actually think that the purpose of the information is not, it’s like orthogonal where it’s not opposed, but it’s not aligned where my goal in hiring is making sure that this person is going to raise the bar and I want to find the cracks and I’m going to be over the top looking for small potential threads that we should pull on. Whereas if I’m giving feedback to somebody, I want to be specific, I want to be complete, I want to have data to back it up. So I would not say something like the vibe was off just explicitly, I wouldn’t, because there’s nothing to back that up.
Josh Clemente (00:41:46):
If I was giving someone feedback in a performance review, I need to give them specifics to help them grow and do something about it. It’s not helpful to just throw up a blocker and not be solutions-oriented with it. So that’s why I think, again, to preserve the “sanctity” of bar raising interview process, you want people to be able to raise blockers that are just blockers, like, hey, I don’t like this thing. This is bothering me.
Sam Corcos (00:42:09):
The purpose is orthogonal. So it’s not, that’s what you mean by that.
Josh Clemente (00:42:14):
Which is why I think if the points of distraction that can be groomed into a specific, I think, okay, the vibe was off, but that’s okay. I’m not going to be working with them specifically. So you chose to hire, that’s fine. But I still don’t think their backend work is good or it could be improved, something like that. Then that’s a piece that I think can be improved on, which is why I think if we can have it on the hiring managers to compile feedback from the interview notes and provide that as a starting point, then it still I believe provides some “negative feedback” on day one to show that we’re serious about this, hiring managers have to start off on the right foot. And it gives you a milestone for checking feedback six months down the road. And it’s possible that you even assign as a buddy the person who had the detraction to work on this with the person throughout their time. I’m not sure, but my point is just that take the constructive feedback that is aligned with feedback and don’t just dump the whole orthogonal discussion on them.
Sam Corcos (00:43:13):
So circling back on the topic of what assumptions do we want to be able to make? This is the thing that has become the idea of culture are the unspoken ways in which people interact with each other at a company. And an assumption that I would want to make about somebody on the team is that if I send them a Calendly link, they’re not going to get upset that I didn’t pay them the respect of organizing it manually. There’s some people who have these weird things about Calendly links or if I send them an async Loom instead of having a meeting that they’re not going to get offended that I didn’t spend the time with them and that I just did it as a Loom. So there are some assumptions that I would want to make around communication patterns specifically. Is that the same thing as culture?
Josh Clemente (00:44:04):
I’d be curious to hear your thought, Haney. This feels like personality to me to an extent. I’m not sure. It’s a good question. I would actually think about this a little bit more because I certainly know people who see the world, we agree largely on things I’m thinking outside of the professional environment here, but they’re a much more emotionally charged person than I am. And so they tend to go with gut instinct over maybe objective data sometimes. And I actually think that’s okay. They are quite helpful for me in figuring out problems that I’m having a hard time getting my arms around because they have just slightly different mental models, but it’s not that we disagree on core principles.
Josh Clemente (00:44:39):
And I think that person would certainly be more prone to reacting at least in the moment or having a negative reaction to a very short, abrupt, unexpected, negative interaction with somebody at the company. And it would take them a little bit longer to figure out how to solve that. It might require a synchronous call or something like that. It’s maybe less compatible. I don’t want to say it’s not compatible with our culture because I think we should have some sort of environment where we can adapt to a range of personalities. Again, we don’t want just one type of personality, but it doesn’t feel like a cultural misalignment to me.
Mike Haney (00:45:12):
It’s interesting, I had the opposite thought, I was thinking, yeah, that feels squarely within culture to me, maybe not the qualifier use there was a negative comment. So maybe how you deal if the nature of the Loom is negative feedback, I think that maybe puts it in a slightly different camp, but if it’s just a Loom, to your point, Sam, and it’s like, why did Sam deliver this via Loom as opposed to emailing me or calling me directly or having a conversation? That to me feels like just a practical way we do comms here. It is part of the remote async culture that we have. And that’s a thing I would try to filter out in the interview process. If you are going to be offended by that, if you’re really not on board with that kind of communication, then yeah, you probably just don’t fit here. And I think it’s up to the person then to decide, I’m uncomfortable with that, but I see the point of it and I’m committed to growing into being okay with that.
Mike Haney (00:46:02):
One of the examples, Sam, you and I have talked about was me unlearning what it means to get feedback from a CEO. And in most companies, a Loom from the CEO, not just a Loom from a coworker, but a Loom from the CEO means a certain thing and has a certain weight to it. And that was my assumption coming in. But I was committed to the idea that I was assuming best intent that you meant what you said when you say, look, I’m going to throw ideas over the fence. This doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and do it, but it took me six months to get comfortable with that idea and to be able to not have that visceral reaction when I see it of what Sam want me to do now, right? So it’s a personality thing and a culture thing, but I think it’s willingness to commitment to grow into the culture despite maybe a personality, a slight personality misalignment. If I didn’t feel I could ever be okay with that, then I shouldn’t work here.
Josh Clemente (00:46:54):
Yeah, I think that’s a great point and it’s a good heuristic because if someone is set in their ways as opposed to a one time reaction of, oh, this is unexpected and maybe something bordering on offended versus, okay, I didn’t realize this is how people operate here. I want to learn more, I’m willing to lean in and frankly change how I respond to these sorts of scenarios. That’s the culture alignment. I think, Sam, you pick some examples, which yes, that would be a problem, it would be a roadblock to us being able to work effectively if somebody gets upset when they get a Calendly link.
Sam Corcos (00:47:27):
Yeah, it’s interesting, like using the word culture feels strange to me, but some of the candidates that when we talk to them will shortly after an interview follow up with like a 20 minute Loom of something, an async conversation of follow up thoughts and questions that they had. The immediate thought that goes through my mind is like, this person’s a great culture fit, they get what we’re doing and they’re on board with us.
Sam Corcos (00:47:54):
And similarly, I bring up the Calendly link example when we were doing our seed realm process, there were actually multiple investors where I would say, yeah, happy to chat. Here’s my Calendly link. And one of them back-channeled to a mutual friend and said that it was incredibly disrespectful that I sent them a Calendly link to schedule. And I was like, “I’m offering to have a phone call with you. Why are you getting upset? You think it’s better to loop in an EA. My EA talks to your EA. Somehow that’s better than just you just picking time. I don’t understand.” So the immediate thought that went through my mind is like, I could not work with this investor. They don’t get it, they’re not a culture fit. It feels weird to use that word, but there’s something deeper about it.
Josh Clemente (00:48:38):
No, I think that’s dead on. I also think that that person’s making some sort of argument in favor of a code of ethics that feels unnecessary. It’s like some sort of honor code that really isn’t grounded in honor. It’s more so like a hierarchy of respect where they feel slighted because they’re supposed to be higher on the hierarchy of respect than you. And so they have to be asked when their times are. And so I don’t know, there’s something there which is just extremely misaligned. And I do think it lands in culture, but also probably a degree of personal issues that are not self-actualized.
Mike Haney (00:49:15):
I take your point about the word culture, because as I’m talking to candidates about this and I’ll say we have a unique culture, it can start to feel like the cult side of things, right? Culture taken to its extreme becomes a cult. It’s like, it’s the same root word. It’s like, we operate in a very particular way and this is how you have to do things. But I think, again, it comes back to framing because what I always end up saying to people is the culture is born of best intentions. It grows out of a very conscious and ongoing effort to make this a good place to work and to treat people well. And it’s born of kindness. That’s where the culture comes from. It’s not culture for cultures sake. It’s not Sam trying to get on the cover of Fast Company as this crazy new leader. This really is born from everybody’s here is committed to like, let’s make this a nice place to work, work doesn’t have to suck.
Sam Corcos (00:50:04):
Well, an interesting point to that actually might be a rephrasing of that is that it’s really good place for some people to work, right? Hiring is necessarily exclusive. It’s not inclusive. You are not letting everyone in. You’re picking the people who you think will be the best fit. And it works in both directions. They are also being exclusive on what company they join, which I think it makes sense.
Sam Corcos (00:50:26):
And when I do the culture fit conversations with candidates, I’m going out of my way to explain all of the reasons why people would not want to work here. And we had somebody two days ago send an email after we had our conversation. And they said like, “Hey, I’m going to step out of the process. I think some of the things around remote and async are not really for me. I really need daily casual social interactions with my coworkers and being remote and async is just not my cup of tea.” Cool. That makes sense. It’s probably not possible to have that kind of lifestyle when you’re fully remote. She would do a lot better in a co-located team and there’s nothing wrong with that. The culture that we build, and this comes into the tying back into the diversity question of what are the similar characteristics that we want without becoming too similar? What are those concepts? And maybe this just is the values that we keep talking about.
Josh Clemente (00:51:25):
All good thoughts. I think that at the end of the day, we should have assume best intent as one of the guiding principles of our interactions as a company and as individuals. And then backing out from there, yes, hiring is an exclusive process and most candidates that apply and that we seek actually won’t end up working here for one reason or another. But there’s an orthogonalness again to the reasons for certain information.
Josh Clemente (00:51:54):
And I think what we want and what we started this conversation around is that we want to lean in on negative feedback, constructive negative feedback is a tool that we use at this company. And we need to reinforce that from day one. So we should find a way to do that effectively, but I’m not entirely sure that cross pollinating those processes is the right way to find people who fit the culture, but also give them that first taste of feedback, because it’s actually not representative of the way we want to use feedback inside the company, I think. We want the feedback giver and receiver to both be intentional about that process.
Josh Clemente (00:52:28):
And so that’s why I still think is a little bit orthogonal, but at the same time, I agree with you that we need people who engage in good faith and are able to steel man the other side’s feedback, even to the extent that maybe we implement something like that along the lines of when you receive negative feedback, as opposed to taking a combative, argumentative stance and trying to rationalize like, oh, well, this is why you’re wrong. It’s possible that maybe we implement something where your goal, your responsibility is to steel man that and actually double down and Haney started off the conversation with you actually not very strong on backend and I’ve noticed this and I’ve actually been, here’s my reading list where I’ve personally been planning over my next think week to brush up, find ways to explain why you agree and what you’re going to do about it.
Josh Clemente (00:53:08):
Those are the qualities that I think will make us a self-reinforcing entity as opposed to just having, say, strictly thick skin and an ability to let personal comments glance off you like nothing. That’s probably to some extent important, but I don’t think that having extremely thick skin makes you great at getting better at things and executing well.
Mike Haney (00:53:29):
Yeah, it relates to one of the principles in the book we’re reading right now, 15 Steps of Conscious Leaders or 15 Principles of Conscious Leaders.
Sam Corcos (00:53:37):
Mike Haney (00:53:38):
15 Commitments. Thank you. And one is see everybody as an ally. And that I think speaks to what you’re talking, Josh, it’s the equivalent of steel-manning. It’s see every piece of feedback, whether it is intended to be positive or not. The example they give is maybe somebody in the company is out to get you, but you don’t have to treat it like that. You can take whatever they’re doing as an opportunity for you to learn, for you to grow, for you to see what the universe is giving you in that feedback. As with many of the commitments in that book, I listen to them and thought, I’m on board, but boy, I’ve got some work to do.
Mike Haney (00:54:09):
And I think this goes back to the hiring and personality question is we want people who are interested in and committed to this style of work and particularly in leadership roles, the style of leadership. And I think who we feel have that commitment and the potential to continue to grow. But it’s unrealistic to hire for people who have achieved all of those who are already conscious leaders, because just most people aren’t. It’s not what our education system or our work system creates. You have to become that in opposition to most of the systems that you live in.
Sam Corcos (00:54:43):
It’s one of the things that this was in the book, the score takes care of itself just by famous football coach, Joe Walsh, something Bill Walsh, guy was 49ers, somebody who knows sports will know the answer for that. I think it was Bill Walsh. He says the thing that he filters for more than anything else is a willingness to adapt to our system and our way of doing things. And so that’s a really important one I think is it’s okay if you’re not already a fully conscious leader, but we need to know that you’re on board with continuing to develop and adapt to the way that we do things because it is quite different. And I think most people are used to.
Josh Clemente (00:55:25):
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s a really good one. I think that implies a whole bunch of things, assuming best intent and a willingness to change and adapt and be flexible with the, it’s a disagree and commit sort of philosophy where I might build a company differently, but in this instance, I’m going to build the company that we’ve agreed upon.
Mike Haney (00:55:44):
Part of that is helping us make it better that we say and I think we’re great about this, we’re transparent from day one. This is where the feedback exercise of improve our onboarding I think is a really helpful signal of, look, you’ve been listening through all these interviews to all these intentional ways in which we run the company, but we also want to enforce that we’re learning, it’s still an experiment, we don’t have all the answers and we brought you on to help us improve. You are now part of this effort to create this place to work.
Sam Corcos (00:56:10):
Yeah. So I wonder back to the original, one of the original questions of what assumptions do we want to make about every person at the company? So we want to be able to assume good intent, that if I send something that is maybe poorly worded, they’re not going to freak out and get angry. They might ask for clarification and we can have a reasonable conversation about it. I don’t want to feel like I have to walk on eggshells in every conversation. We want to assume that they’re on board with the focus and priority on deep work and respecting my time where they will try to default to asynchronicity and not schedule a bunch of recurring meetings. What are some other assumptions that you would want to make about a new hire, like if a new hire started doing thing X, you would not be thrilled about?
Josh Clemente (00:57:01):
There’s a lot there, but assuming that we’ve selected for someone who’s culturally aligned initially so we can ignore all the things that are outside the box. I think that generally the process of trying to workshop feedback immediately in a way that is taking on a receptive role when receiving feedback I think is really important. And this is something I’ve been thinking more about is that a lot of times it’s important for people to separate out the process of receiving feedback, processing it, and then following up on it.
Josh Clemente (00:57:31):
And I think this is one area where a person whose intent on improvement, on self-improvement for not just for themselves, but like Haney was saying, this is something the universe is giving me. They treat feedback literally as a gift and there’s no intention of reposturing and positioning oneself to leave this person with a better impression or change their opinion on the spot. And that’s something I think is actually really important. It’s hard to exactly describe, but it’s something along the lines of being able to just strictly receive the feedback and that’s it. And then at some point process and respond to it, as opposed to trying to immediately throw up a response, a block or a retaliation. Not even a retaliation. It doesn’t have to be negative or spiteful. It just simply the process of not being willing to process over time what you’re hearing and instead feeling like you have to instantly push back is something that I think we need to filter for or somehow create process for.
Mike Haney (00:58:28):
Yeah. And to your point about assumption, Sam, I was just thinking like, is that assumption that we should make about somebody coming in? I come back to like, I think we should assume that people are committed to moving in that direction or that they’re committed to that as a principle. And then I think we need to, we talked about this a little bit in a previous conversation about feedback, I think we need to continually look at how we help people get there, how do we train people to give feedback, to receive feedback, all of those kinds of things.
Mike Haney (00:58:57):
The other assumption that came to mind, and I think this fits maybe in what you said, Josh, of like, assuming you’ve already hired for culture fit is when you said, what would strike you if you saw somebody doing it? Gossip is one of the things that came to mind. It’s again talked about in the Conscious Leadership book. There’s a whole chapter about gossip and I fast forwarded through it because I’m like, “Not a problem here. Got it.” If you’re doing all these other things, that shouldn’t happen. I don’t know what other principles that grows out of, but that feels like a thing that if we saw people starting to do it, you’d immediately go like, “Hang on. It’s not what we do.”
Sam Corcos (00:59:32):
Yeah. I like that certain cultures, there are certain automated corrective mechanisms that some cultures have in the book on Netflix culture that we read the automated response that people give. Well, what did they say when you told them that directly? Training people to say that, it’s just like a corrective mechanism where you can’t even get to the first stage of starting gossip because you are forced to talk to that person before you can continue. So I think baking in those corrective mechanisms are a really smart thing for us to think about.
Josh Clemente (01:00:07):
Yeah. I think it’s also gossip and intentions are so aligned. It’s like, there’s a very obvious difference between gossip and feedback and it’s that the person who needs it isn’t getting it. So you could probably extrapolate that in a bunch of ways. Like if somebody who comes into the company is indirect in their, is not taking direct action or providing direct feedback, whether this is gossiping or deflecting or go down the line, but there’s just a ton of different ways in which the person is not shortening the distance between potentially helpful feedback and the person who needs it, then that’s a problem, especially in a culture like ours, where people are essentially autonomous, they’re on their own, we don’t micromanage, it’s not going to happen automatically. It’s actually we rely on the individual to be implementing these things day in and day out and really reflecting that culture.
Sam Corcos (01:01:00):
Well, that’s helpful. So tying back to the proposal, it sounds like given that the intent of the interview process is not to give constructive feedback, it probably doesn’t make sense to surface this. Is it culturally aligned? It is the industry default. So it’s not going to be controversial if we choose to go either way, but is it culturally aligned to go out of our way to hide the information as is the industry norm and probably close to 100% of companies?
Mike Haney (01:01:30):
I guess I would come back to I think it is because we are not a 100% transparent organization today. I think if we want to make that commitment, then there’s some other things we have to unwind and there’s some implications to that. But I think this can fall in the bucket of, we are transparent where there is utility or there is at least no risk of harm.
Sam Corcos (01:01:50):
Well, let’s role-play this. So I’ll ask, I’ll pretend like I’m a new hire. And I will ask Josh this question. It’s like, hey, I know that I was hired. I imagine there was an, I did all these interviews and I was hoping to be able to see that. I’m an adult. Why is all of this information hidden from me? It’s not like I’m going to get upset about it. Why is it all hidden?
Josh Clemente (01:02:11):
I would share a few things probably. One would be, well, firstly, we as a team, we came to the conclusion that we were going to hire. And so despite some detracting opinions, which I’m sure you can assume will be the case with any interview process, we decided to start off with having you on the team and we’ll move forward from there. It’s a disagree and commit philosophy. And we want to make all of our feedback feedbacked and thus going forward, anything you hear from the team will be direct, it will be performance-oriented and will be based on real experience as opposed to interview process, which is more about sussing out areas for opportunity.
Josh Clemente (01:02:50):
And then two, it’s directly related, a lot of the conversation is related to compensation and leveling. And we’ve made a decision as a team to when deciding where someone lands on the leveling that that is not publicly shared. And so it’s part of our information, primarily transparent, but not entirely transparent information management. And I would probably just say, and I think this is probably what we should end up with after this conversation, we should take the pieces of constructive feedback and give them to people. There’s no reason to hide that information. And so I would likely say, and also we already delivered to you all of the pieces of constructive feedback that which is part of our next month’s performance review process. So I don’t think we should lose the valuable areas for opportunity.
Sam Corcos (01:03:31):
Well, I don’t have strong enough opinions on one way or the other. What would be a good mechanism for us to reinforce very early that we take this concept seriously? What would be something in the onboarding material that we can have? Because the interesting example of compensation data, why we don’t make that public is that you can make it public if you want, it’s your information, it’s up to you, you can do whatever you want with it. You already have access to this information as opposed to we’re not even going to tell you how much money you make, because we don’t think you can handle that information. That would be obviously pretty absurd. But if you want to share that information with the team, you can post it on threads if you want. People will probably ask why you did that, but nobody’s stopping you. The question of withholding information, I think, is different. So what would be a good way of reinforcing this cultural value of treat people like adults as early as possible in the process so a lot people know that we take it very seriously?
Mike Haney (01:04:30):
Well, this may circle back to the question I think you started with, which is what does it mean to treat people like adults? Is that about trust? Because in that case, I would say we communicate that by saying we trust you to improve our onboarding process, we trust you to take this corporate card and not abuse it, we trust you to take vacation when you want to, we trust you to manage your own day. Those are all signs that we treat you like an adult.
Mike Haney (01:04:52):
If treat you like an adult means we assume that you have a level of consciousness and emotional maturity and we’re going to test that, that’s a little different. I don’t know what the, I’m playing that a little bit too far, but maybe that’s where Josh’s point of the negative feedback or the constructive feedback that arose, servicing the constructive feedback that arose during the interview process from the beginning, these are some areas that we’ve identified through the interview process that we believe you can grow into and we’re super committed to helping you do that. Like six months from now, these are going to be super powers that you don’t currently have.
Sam Corcos (01:05:26):
Yeah. I think one of the other principles around treating people like adults that’s come up for me is the principle of agency. Adults have agency. I was talking to an engineer at a big tech company, I think last week. And she’s really excited about our culture, especially this idea of treat people like adults. And one of the things that she said that is so frustrating about her current job is that they organize these employee play dates that are all optional, but she doesn’t go to them. And it shows up on our performance review that you didn’t go. They’re like, “Well, we just don’t think that you’re a team player because you didn’t go to the team happy hour.” She’s like, “Oh, so this is actually mandatory.” Like, oh, no, no, it’s optional. Okay.
Sam Corcos (01:06:13):
And if you’re an adult, you have agency over what you go to. If you don’t to go to these events, you don’t have to. You can prioritize your family. You can prioritize whatever you want. You don’t have to be forced into these company-led events that are not specifically related to your job. So that’s one of the other principles that’s I think come up for me.
Josh Clemente (01:06:34):
Yeah. I think that’s an important one. I agree with Haney. We reinforce treating like an adult throughout the entire interview process. I think directly handing over investor updates and all-hands meetings and basically giving you the entire playbook of the company is something that I think shocks most people because they’re not used to being treated like an adult in that way. I think when it comes to hiding, or wouldn’t call it hiding, I think it is archiving information that actually isn’t relevant from the point that you’re hired because we’re transitioning to a performance based process going forward is to me, it’s grounded in respect, which is that, again, I don’t think if we’re going to create information that should be used as feedback, it should be created in that way. We should be really good at the things that we do because we are adults, we want to treat people like adults, which means if I’m going to give you feedback, I’m going to give you feedback. It’s not going to be top of mind stream of consciousness, unfiltered thoughts.
Josh Clemente (01:07:26):
So I don’t think I’m disagreeing with anything to the extent that we should just make sure that the information is being used as it’s intended. And that actually goes to a respect paradigm for the individual creating it as well, is that we just like with the Friday Forums, we allow people to, or actually with all of the information we produce, you decide what happens with it. If you’re the creator of a memo, you decide what the transparency ranking is. If you are saying something at the Friday Forum, you can decide if you want it removed.
Josh Clemente (01:07:55):
In general, we give people autonomy over the information they’re producing and you have a job to do, which is do this to the best of your ability. If your job is to interview someone, it shouldn’t be enforced on you that that information’s going to be given to that person. Maybe you’re not comfortable with that, you would frame it differently if you were giving it to them. It falls within the treating people like adults paradigm to also be respectful of the process that you’re trying to accomplish.
Mike Haney (01:08:19):
I mean, maybe one analog here going back to your salary question, when you were saying doing that role play, my first thought was like, it almost feels like somebody who came in and asked that right away feels like not quite a culture fit. That feels a little aggressive, like, hey, I want to see this stuff. It would be the equivalent of somebody coming in and saying, “Hey, you just hired me as an engineer. I’d like to know how much Jeremy makes.” And I think your response to that would be, “Well, go ask Jeremy.” And Jeremy can decide whether or not he wants to tell you that. And I think you could say the same thing if somebody said, I’m really curious what came up during my interview process that maybe you didn’t surface here. You know everybody you talked to. I could reach out to Andrew and go like, “Hey, I’m just curious, what were your reservations?”
Josh Clemente (01:08:57):
Yeah, that’s a great point.
Sam Corcos (01:08:58):
That’s a good point. Yeah. I wonder something that is maybe crystallizing for me is it’s almost like the definition of company culture is the set of assumptions you can make about somebody having never interacted with them before. That might be just a concise definition of what a company culture is, where somebody from a different department that you’ve never talked to, what can you assume about that person for having interact with them at all?
Josh Clemente (01:09:26):
Interesting. There are a lot of companies who make their way into the mainstream press because they have a certain type of culture. And using that framework, I personally know people at those companies that don’t fit with that “public culture” at all. There maybe even like the opposite on paper. So I wonder how far you can extrapolate that?
Sam Corcos (01:09:47):
Well, like specific examples would be, if I were to talk to somebody who works at GitLab, I can make a whole bunch of assumptions about how they work because GitLab has a very specific culture. If I met somebody who works at Bridgewater, they’re also a company that has a very specific culture and you can make a lot of assumptions about how you can interact with that person. So that might be a way of thinking about culture. What are the assumptions that we would want people to make about people who operate at Levels?
Mike Haney (01:10:19):
I think it’s at least a useful exercise to play out and to ask across a broader group of people. I think to Josh’s point about what are the limits? The example I come back to a lot is the book we read about Amazon. And there was a story in there of a person who was screaming and yelling at people in meetings. And I thought, but wait, I thought you guys were super careful not to hire people who did that. So clearly at some point, the process cracks at the very least. They have 100,000 people. So you would expect that it would, but at what point do you get to the point where you accidentally hire somebody who screams at people?
Josh Clemente (01:10:55):
Yeah. Yeah, I think that there’s the concept and the reality and there’s going to be some white space there, but for Sam, I think when you’re talking about as a heuristic for what does culture actually mean, it’s something that you would theoretically you would if someone was a perfect culture fit, these are the things that you could assume about them. And the reality is going to be somewhere in between due to personality, for example. We’re just not having an ideal cultural vetting process. Like one of the things we don’t have today is no two interviews are going to be the same, no two interview processes are going to be the same. It’s somewhat soft and squishy.
Sam Corcos (01:11:29):
Yeah. This was a really helpful conversation for me thinking through some of these things. Yeah. I think it’ll be a useful exercise maybe to talk to the team about. This maybe even ties into The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, where those are things that you commit to, therefore you can assume those things about people, right? These are the things that we have committed to when we follow through on them.
Josh Clemente (01:11:55):
Yeah, I really like the exploration of what should you or what would you want to be able to assume about the people you work with? That’s actually something I haven’t really sat down and thought through. It might be a fun exercise for us to try and outsource a little bit more to a wider audiences. We might hear some interesting stuff that is emergent almost. But one of the cool things is as you keep using the term culture and what does it mean? It’s interesting because I can’t, there’s no examples because I don’t know of other companies that actually are working on building a culture. It’s almost like something they’re at the mercy of. It’s like, what are the mainstream news outlets going to say as our culture? That’s when you find out what it is almost. And so being very upfront and specific about it, I think should be a group effort. And yeah, so if we’re going to define culture as the things you should want to be able to assume about people coming in, that’s a decent heuristic, we should see what other people feel.
Mike Haney (01:12:41):
And I think the point of, to your point about what would mainstream press say about me or about our culture, why we have that culture I think is an important thing to keep coming back to, because I do think it feels like in a lot of places that culture becomes an interesting defining characteristic and there’s a commitment to the culture without maybe enough underlying, we’re doing this because we believe this will produce more happiness and productivity in our employees or because we think this will make the world a better place to work.