Investing in people with Shane Metcalf

Remote companies know that culture is important. But few companies spend as much time investing in culture as 15Five. Shane Metcalf, the company’s Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer, believes that personal development and professional development are the same things. In today’s episode, we talked to Shane about building a culture that values individuals and how 15Five retreats are nearly as fun as Burning Man.

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Professional development v. self-development: what’s the difference?

Traditionally, professional development and self-development have been treated as separate processes. Shane says those two fields are starting to come together. “While there are important distinctions between development personally and professionally, it’s not as useful a distinction as it used to be,” he told MBM.

Today’s successful companies create space for their workers to learn, grow, and achieve extraordinary performance. Therefore, Shane says, we need to think about development as a larger category. Personal development impacts your work performance and vice versa.

Carol Dweck’s research into growth and fixed mindsets is particularly relevant. Dweck’s work shows us that the more we learn anything, the easier it is to learn everything. Companies that support meaningful personal development see positive professional results.

“Start thinking about baking development into the daily flow of work,” says Shane. Don’t outsource development to a career coach. Instead, use manager/employee meetings for coaching. “Every one-on-one is an opportunity for development. Feedback can lead to improved performance, engagement, and ultimately, business results.”

What does this mean in practice? Read the social science research about what makes humans thrive. For instance, Shane cites Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Humans need belonging. How can you create a culture that generates a strong sense of belonging? Belonging is foundational to building esteem. “Building organizations that create a sense of belonging is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve people’s personal and professional development,” says Shane.

Belonging is more than free bagels

Shane says that people often confuse perks with culture. “The perks are not the culture. The culture is the perk.”

How do you create a sense of belonging? Shane says he starts by being interested in each individual inside the company. Recognize that each person comes to work with a complex, dynamic story. We all live a full life. If we come into an organization and focus exclusively on what the company wants and needs, we don’t get the best result. Flip the script. Instead of focusing on the company, learn about the employee. What’s their mission? Do they feel a calling? What is on their bucket list? What is their passion?

Shane says he seeks to co-create culture with every single one of his employees. Culture is a real-time phenomenon. It’s constantly being destroyed and it’s constantly being created. By asking each new employee to create the culture they want, the employee becomes highly engaged. They suddenly have a stake in the result of the business.

What about culture fit?

Culture fit is a bit of a misnomer, says Shane. To him, it’s more about culture contribution and value alignment.

“I want people to come in and mutate the culture. I want people to come in and add their own flavor to the culture,” says Shane. His approach at 15Five is to avoid a homogenous culture that can lead to intolerance and exclusivity.

Belonging starts at the management level. Shane is adamant that this is where most companies are falling short of building a great culture. “You need to train your managers. They should be one of the highest regarded, hardest to achieve positions in an organization,” he argues.

Research by Gallup says that 9 out of 10 managers are not fit to be managers. They don’t have the right skills or mindset to be performing as a manager. Be deliberate about who gets to be a manager. Provide the training, follow up, and resources to support managers. Shane argues that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Data shows that 70% of people who left jobs said their manager was the reason they were leaving.

This perspective is what inspired 15Five, a software platform designed to give managers superpowers. The platform uses insight from the best managers in the world to improve employee development. The philosophy is that if you can influence the manager-employee relationship, and make your managers more effective and skilled at coaching their people, rather than commanding their people, that is how you will level the playing field.

Changing the management mindset

Shane says that at 15Five, they start with management mindset. “Many people believe that as a people leader, my job is to command other people and tell them what to do. There are a lot of assumptions and beliefs we’ve inherited about what it means to manage and lead people,” he notes.

“Challenge that thinking. Ask yourself, what is my role as a manager? What is my role in this company? If you believe your job as a manager is to help people achieve high performance by becoming a better version of themselves, that’s going to produce very different outcomes that if you think your role is to drive performance through fear and intimidation.”

Shane’s advice is to think deeply about the outcome you want from your people. Consider the impact you want to have on your employees. Today’s research offers more insight into what motivates someone to give their best work. “It’s not money. It’s not emotional pressure. When you have those epiphanies, it’s a natural conclusion to start thinking about how you can align the interests of the company with the interests of human beings. How can you use the company as a vehicle for the development and self-realization of the employees? That’s when the magic starts to happen.”

Next-level company retreats

Shane is currently planning a retreat for 200 15Fivers to gather for a week of business strategy, epic parties, workshops, deep connections, and more. This is a much bigger scale than last year’s retreat with 70 people. Nevertheless, the goal is the same. “We want to create a strong sense of unity between all of us. We want to foster that feeling of belonging. We want to be clear on what the mission is to accomplish. I think retreats are remarkable for this,” Shane says.

15Five is a remote, distribute team with three main headquarters in the US and a dozen other locations in Europe. Once a year, the team comes together to meet in person. Shane and his planning team consider the “transformational business retreats”. He’s designed an experience that mimics a small version of Burning Man.

“I want to design experiences that allow people to have peak emotional experiences. Someone from my last retreat said it was one of the top five experiences of their life. That’s the kind of feedback I’m looking for,” says Shane.

How does he prepare his team for a week of activity? “We do give a little homework, but we keep it a little mysterious as well. All I’ll say is to expect is a great time. It’s an incredible experience and chance for us to come together and bond as a team. We celebrate what we’ve accomplished and make sure our minds are properly tuned to the challenges that lie ahead. That’s all we do to get ready.”

Shane makes it very employee-centered. Members of 15Five lead yoga classes, meditation, or workouts. Some people DJ, others host workshops. Shane gets a lot of his inspiration from Burning Man. He looks to the festival’s ability to create a great, positive community, and tries to replicate that feeling.

All this investment in 15Five employees has paid dividends for the company. In the last eight years, Shane reports, they’ve had extremely low turnover. Only five people have left in eight years. “It’s enormously profitable to make these investments when you consider that it costs between two to four times the annual salary of a person to replace them. Even when people leave, they leave on good terms, referring customers and future employees.

For more from Shane, check out his podcast, the Best-Self Management Podcast. Catch more stories on remote work, retreats, and company culture on the next episode of "More Beach Meetings." Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

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