Episode: How to Take Care of Your Team Right Now

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. We want to talk about, as we go into 2021, taking care of your team. This is more important now than ever, because your team is the means by which you as a leader get things done. It’s not totally up to you. You have to employ, motivate, and get pointed in the right direction a team that can make that happen.

These are special times, though. We’re still kind of in the thick of the COVID winter. We don’t know how this is going to all turn out. Most of us have had to pivot once, twice, three, or four times, and certainly our teammates have been affected by this. I think it was back on April 1 (April Fools‘ Day, as it were) that we decided we had been into the pandemic for about two weeks. Our team was dragging, and we saw exhaustion on their faces. Why don’t you just take it from there and talk about what we did? “

Megan: Yeah. Well, we did a number of things. I think, probably like a lot of business owners. We did look into the faces of our team and realized not only had their jobs changed because now we were 100 percent remote… We’ve always been somewhat remote at greater or lesser percentages over time, but we were now 100 percent remote.

People had their children home with no warning and with no real plan. If you remember, it took quite a while to figure out how that was all going to work. They were scared because there was not very much science yet. We didn’t really understand the virus. We didn’t know what was safe or not. Not long after that, we went into a lockdown, so the stress people were under outside of work, not to mention inside of work with the need for pivoting and so forth, was just exponentially greater than anything any of us had ever gone through before.

What we realized was that all of a sudden the lines between personal and professional had disappeared completely, and the well-being personally of our team members was also now our responsibility. If the business was going to come through this crisis successfully, we had to care not only for our employees from a professional perspective but we had to see them from a holistic perspective, because if we didn’t address the personal stuff we weren’t going to be able to get the professional contribution we needed.

Michael: This actually would have been true before the pandemic. You look at the challenge modern parents face in trying to hold down jobs for two working parents typically with kids, having to pay for daycare or try to figure all of that out, and there is just a lot to figure out. I can remember back in my day when we were raising you girls and your mom was a stay-at-home mom, and it still felt enormously difficult. If she would have had a career outside of the home, I don’t know how we would have fared. Add on to that COVID, the economy, and everything else, and it just seemed like an impossible task.

Megan: Of course, people are dealing with incredible uncertainty. Not only are all of these stressors out there, but the main stressor is the uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen. It feels like the bottom is going to drop out, and what you see in humans is we don’t do really well with uncertainty for extended periods of time, so the mounting stress day after day with all of the demands on top of it was just a lot.

Michael: So we decided we were going to move to a six-hour workday instead of an eight-hour workday, as an experiment, to just see if that would give people a little more time to tend to the little people who were under their feet and all of the challenges that the pandemic was presenting to them. We said, “Let’s just try this for a week,” and, of course, we’re the people who teach in Free to Focus how to achieve more by doing less.

Megan: That’s right.

Michael: We said, “Could we keep our productivity up and work six hours a day rather than eight hours a day?” By the way, we didn’t dock people for the pay. We were still paying them for a full day. Nothing was changing about their compensation whatsoever, nor were we going to let up on the goals and the promotions we had planned. We wanted to say, “Could we maybe be smart enough to figure out how we can achieve more by doing less?” We tried it as a one-week experiment.

Megan: Yeah. So we decided to keep it after that week. In fact, ultimately we decided to keep it permanently, although we’re still in the beta phase of implementation, because it does take some time to figure out how to do all of the optimization and innovation that is necessary to make that work, but overall it has been a great thing for our team and something everybody was really excited about us keeping, and the reason is, while the initial stress of the pandemic has waned somewhat…

I mean the uncertainty is somewhat less, the understanding of the situation is better, and those kinds of things, but what people have come to appreciate now more than ever is that their personal lives are demanding and they also want to have a life outside of work. That’s part of what makes this possible for them, to really care for their health, their most important relationships, and their outside priorities in a way that, if they were working 40 hours a week or 50 or 60 or 70 hours a week like happens in a lot of companies, those things would be really compromised.

Regardless of whether that sounds like something you want to consider (that may sound really unrealistic to you depending on what your circumstances are), the point is not so much the six hours; the point is we have to address the ongoing stress people are experiencing and help to compensate for it in some way. How as a business can we adjust to make room for people’s humanity? Because I think that’s really what is happening right now.

Michael: I think we need to talk about what the business benefit is of taking care of your team, because certainly everybody can understand the sort of altruistic motivation to take care of other people. You know, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but beyond that there is actually a business case for this. If you had to kind of throw onto the table a couple of reasons, and I have a couple I’m thinking of, too, where would you start? What’s a big benefit of taking care of your team, particularly during times like these?

Megan: Well, I think the most obvious one is avoiding burnout. I think the mental demands people are experiencing personally plus the constant need to innovate and pivot… We’re still in that. Right? So many of us have made ongoing pivots in our businesses, and those are probably not done yet. They’re probably going to continue well into this new year.

We need people’s best thinking. We can’t have people mentally fried, physically exhausted, and emotionally tapped. That really is not a winning battle. It certainly is not a long game. I think all of us at the very beginning in the first couple of weeks or maybe in the first couple of months of the pandemic just hit the gas hard, but unfortunately, you get to the end of that pretty fast.

The adrenaline burns out. People get to the end of themselves, and it’s just not a long-term strategy. Then, the question is…What does it look like to play this game as a long game? I think avoiding burnout is a big business case for looking for ways to incorporate more margin into your company culture. I think the other is around contribution.

Now more than ever we need people’s best contribution. We need their best thinking. We need their greatest creativity. We need their out-of-the-box solutions, and the only way people can contribute at that level in the midst of unfathomable stress is if they are rested. You’re not going to get people’s best thinking…

Again, outside of that initial burst of adrenaline, you’re just not going to get that when people are tired, so to me, my reason for wanting to do this with our employees is because I want their best contribution. That’s why we’re going to do it on an ongoing basis. Why this is not just going to be a triage strategy and this is going to become part of our company culture is because I’m always interested in contribution. That’s always my top priority.

Michael: I think one of the things we realized is, as leaders, we have to go first, and if we initiate taking care of other people…if you take care of the people working for you…they will take care of you from a business perspective. I think we’ve seen that in spades. We have a very aggressive benefits program in our culture. Not only working six hours a day but we give people a paid 30-day sabbatical every three years. We pay for 100 percent of their healthcare. We have unlimited PTO (paid time off). All that has done is create an engaged culture.

In fact, we recently…not to brag, but the proof is in the pudding…were named to Inc 5000 Best Workplaces in the US, and we had a 97 percent engagement rate, which is phenomenal. Engagement is kind of the holy grail of people in corporate America. They want an engaged workforce. I can’t remember what the average was. Somebody can correct me on this if I’m wrong, but it’s like 29 percent of employees are engaged…

Megan: Right. It’s awful.

Michael: …which means you have people who are showing up and just going through the motions who are not really engaged in the mission, the vision, or the work of the company and trying to make it better. For us to have 97 percent is just extraordinary, but, again, I think if you want that kind of result and if you want that kind of engagement, as a leader, you have to go first, and you have to take care of the people you depend upon to bring about your goals and to accomplish the work to do what you do.

Megan: A few other things we’ve done that are maybe less glamorous and are not going to show up on our Careers page, for example, is we have subsidized counseling services for people. When employees come to us and they need some help in that area and we want to really encourage people to take charge of their mental health, we are willing to help people with that.

We have sent meals to people who have been sick with COVID. We have organized culture connection events virtually for our team, which is a real challenge to try to figure out how you keep people connected when they can’t be together in person. The reason we’re doing those things is, again, because we’re looking at the whole person.

We want them to feel like we care, that we don’t just care about their productive output but we care about them as people and we’re invested in them, and what we get in return for that is retention. We get the ability to recruit almost anybody we want. It’s amazing. We have new positions posted, and we get hundreds and hundreds of applications. It’s actually kind of a problem to go through those, but that’s because our culture is extraordinary.

It’s easy to kind of skimp on these things. It’s easy to think, “Well, nobody really cares if the company sends them a meal from Taziki’s when they’re home with COVID,” but they do, because we all care when people care about us. I think this is well worth our time and effort to prioritize in ways big and small in our companies always, but especially right now.

Michael: People say all of the time, “Hey! Our company is a family,” but what does that really mean? If you’re going to say that, you have to back it up with your actions, and that means taking care of one another. I don’t think that’s actually a helpful metaphor, but I’m saying, if you’re going to use it, I think you have to back it up with your actions.

I want to say to people listening to this that we’re not bragging about our culture. What we’re trying to do is to show what is possible, because any of you can do this, but I have to ask a question. I’m going to be the Devil’s advocate. Megan, here’s what I want to ask. What if somebody says, “I don’t have the time or the resources to be providing extra time off, social time, company retreats, and all of this stuff you guys are talking about. I need my people working”? What would you say?

Megan: First of all, I would say we all need our people working, so there’s no scenario in which if you have a successful business or you’re trying to have a successful business that you can have people not working. I think this can look a lot of different ways depending on your context. You may not be in a position to provide unlimited PTO or to provide sabbaticals or things like that.

Those could be goals you could work up to potentially, but I’ll tell you this. The only reason we’re able to continue doing these things is because they make sense financially and from a business perspective. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to do it. Obviously, our business has to continue. We have found the return on investment on these things is huge.

I also would say you don’t have time not to attend to the well-being of your team. That would be shortsighted. You may be able to ignore those things for a period of time, but you can’t ignore them for very long, and while you may not be able to do some of the things we’re doing…those may just be aspirations for you right now…caring costs nothing.

I think people know when you care. They know when you call them up and you ask them how they’re doing. You take the time to just check in. You’re not always in a hurry. You don’t let your relationships become transactional, because you remember who somebody’s kids are. You ask about the kids. You ask about their spouse. You ask about what’s going on in their lives.

I think that doesn’t cost anything, and it will go a long way to developing that kind of trust and that kind of culture we’re talking about. The benefits are an added bonus. They’re a way of kind of further stamping your culture with these moments of trust and investment in them, but you don’t have to do that, but you do have to lead with heart.

I think one of the things we have seen…this has been reported in all of the major publications that cover leadership…is that leading with heart right now with a level of transparency and with care are absolutely mission critical for coming through what we’ve been through for the last year or so successfully.

Michael: So good! Well, I’m thinking of something like unlimited PTO. For somebody to say, “Well, I couldn’t possibly afford that,” honestly it hasn’t cost us a thing. It’s just a reframing of what people were already doing. I had a friend and former client of ours, David DeWolf, who was practicing unlimited PTO in his company, and he had, I think, over 700 employees.

We thought that would be a good idea, because you and I got together and said, “How can we create a menu of benefits that would make our company so attractive that the best people in the world would be begging to come work for us?” You and I thought of that as how to design a Careers page that is so attractive that it works like a sales page. It pre-sells people before they ever get to us and apply for a job. One of the things we said was unlimited PTO. Then, we scared ourselves. We said, “What if people take advantage of that?”

I called David. I said, “Hey! Has anybody ever abused this?” He said, “No. Not once.” I reported that back to you. We decided we were going to go for it, and we did it. Now, we’ve been doing unlimited PTO now for about four years. I can say with full transparency we’ve never had a single person abuse it.

In fact, we still have to beg people (some people) to take time off. Right? On average, people take about three weeks off which was kind of what it was before when we had a three-week vacation policy, so it’s about the same as it was before, but here’s the difference. It treats people as grownups, and it gives them a sense of autonomy, which is incredibly important for people to feel fulfilled and for you to retain your top talent.

They can’t feel like they’re in some rigid, overregulated environment where there is all of this red tape and they don’t have any freedom. That’s what causes people to want to leave. Just build that freedom into your system. It’s a practical way to take care of people that doesn’t really cost you. A lot of the things we’re talking about here don’t really have a cost.

I would say going from an eight-hour workday to a six-hour workday cost us nothing. Do you know why? Because we measure productivity based on output not on the time spent in the seat. This is one of the worst mistakes inexperienced or old-school, unproductive managers do. They try to measure productivity by how much time people are checked in.

I get that if you’re paying people by the hour there are time clocks and all of that kind of stuff. I don’t think it’s a very effective way to work. I would rather just pay people for the output I hired them to produce, and I don’t care how long it takes them. If it takes them two hours, or if it takes them six hours, I just want the output.

Megan: I think that’s absolutely right. I think when you focus on output that is where you get the kind of innovation you need to do something like a six-hour workday. We just had a whole day team training last week on this all about how we can continue to make progress toward the six-hour workday for every single person our team, because there were a couple of teams who it is a little bit counterintuitive for.

Our sales team and our finance team have struggled with it a little more than others, so we’re really working together to figure out what the solutions are for those folks. I think a lot of it comes down to thinking about what the outcomes are and how we can achieve those outcomes by different means or more efficient means so that it can become a reality for everybody.

What I love about what I’m seeing happening on our team is that everybody is working together to figure this out, and the solutions that are working, for example, for our product team or for our marketing team can inform what we can help the sales team and the finance team with. Everybody gets to help everybody, which I love.

Dad, what do you think are some good questions for leaders to ask themselves as they try to become leaders who are really focused on taking care of their teams during this time?

Michael: Great! Again, I just want to state our goals. We want a mechanism that enables us to recruit the best people and that enables us to retain those people and to see those people grow and flourish and be fully engaged in our companies during the time they are with us. Here are some of the questions you could ask as you think about how to care for your team. First of all, “What is my team worried about?”

Megan: Yeah. This is a big one.

Michael: It is. It requires empathy, and it requires paying attention, and it requires awareness of how other people are feeling. Here’s another one. “How am I providing opportunities to feel connected?” This is really important in the pandemic, because people feel disconnected. I feel disconnected. Zoom is about all we have, but there are creative ways you can do it if you just give yourself an opportunity to think about it.

Here’s another one. “What am I doing as the leader to prevent burnout? Do I realize that’s a real possibility? Do I recognize the signs of it?” And, “How am I protecting my team’s physical safety?” In the world of pandemics, that’s a very practical and important question. Here’s another one. “What are questions people are wondering but not asking?” I think that’s a really important one.

Megan: I think that’s a really important one, too, because so often there is kind of a whole narrative or a whole conversation in the background that, as leaders, we are unaware of, and we really need to take control of that narrative. We need to answer people’s questions so they can stay focused on their most important work.

A great way to do this is just to ask your direct reports to help you get some intelligence, to have candid conversations with their teams and report back to you what they are hearing. This was particularly true in the early days of the pandemic around whether or not there were going to be layoffs.

I’m sure many companies are still facing that, and if people are scared, they cannot be focused and effective. If there is anything in your culture or your company where there is an element of fear people may have, you really need to address that head-on and be as honest as you can so that people can kind of have the relief of certainty and get back to work.

Michael: Well, I think even if you don’t know, you certainly don’t want to box yourself in or paint yourself into a corner, but just be honest with that, because the version in their head is far worse than probably the reality. One of the things we said at the beginning of the pandemic was, “Based on what we know right now, we don’t anticipate layoffs. We can’t promise that because we’re in uncharted territory. We’re just trying to be honest with you, but right now, we have not had any conversation among the executive team about layoffs.” We told them what we knew when we knew it, and I think what that did was create trust.

Could we give them absolute assurance? No, and we’d have been crazy to do that, because if for some reason things had taken a further downturn and we had to do layoffs, then we would be judged not by the fact that we did them but against the commitment we had made not to do them. It would have been an integrity thing, so we didn’t do that.

Here’s another question. “What do my people need to feel like they’re succeeding at their jobs?” And, “In what areas is encouragement in short supply?” You can never go wrong by encouraging people, by appreciating people, and by noticing what they are doing. People soak that up in times like these more than ever because they need to feel like they’re making a contribution.

Megan: That’s right. Do you know what? Encouragement is absolutely free. Whether that’s writing a note, whether that’s leaving someone a text message or a voicemail or publicly praising them in Slack or something like that, this is totally free, and people need to feel like they’re winning, especially if there is a fair amount of losing kind of going around.

Michael: We’ve been talking about the importance of caring for your team, and I hope that what we’ve shared with you today will inspire you and give you some new ideas. I hope we’ve convinced you that it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It really requires you to just have the intention and then start taking action against it. Megan, do you have any final thoughts?

Megan: Yeah. I just want to encourage you guys to take this bull by the horns. Lean into your heart as a leader. Don’t be afraid to share that with people. Remember that your employees or your team members or your direct reports are human. They have a life outside of work with all kinds of challenges and stressors and problems.

They have all of the same things inside of work, and when you express your care, whether that’s through big things or small things, it goes such a long way in terms of building trust and developing a culture where not only are you doing that with your team but they are doing that with each other. That’s when you really have something special.

Michael: Thank you, Megan, for joining me here today. Thank you, guys, for listening. Until next time, lead to win.