A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of welcoming Daniel Johnson, Growth Mentor at Google Launchpad, to Staff Treats HQ for an interview. We spoke to him about how to engage and get the best out of your employees through structured learning and open communication.
How would you describe yourself, Daniel?
That's a difficult question to answer: I do a variety of things focusing on startups. So primarily, I work with startups to solve problems related to their growth and customer acquisition. There are other areas - for example, I run a mental health company called Equoo and I also mentor for Google's accelerator programme, Launchpad.
What is one thing you would advise small to medium businesses to do in order to help the productivity of their workforce?
There are two things that I would highly recommend: one is empathy and the other is communication. Empathy is a difficult one because it takes time to develop if you don't already have strong empathy. By empathy, I mean understanding the core motivations of people and how other people think.
And then communication is not just talking: it's really understanding the fundamentals of what someone means when they say something. There's a great book about this called 'Non-Violent Communication', which I'd highly recommend. If you haven't read it, read it. It talks all about how to communicate empathetically and I would say the majority of the success I've had with my teams is through being able to communicate with them empathetically; understand what they're trying to say and what they mean by it.
What do you think that small businesses and startups do wrong at the moment that discourages their staff and causes them to be unproductive in their workplace?
What I've found is that a lot of startup founders create a business because it's their mission. The problem that they're trying to solve with their business is something really dear or close to them, and when they've achieved a certain level of growth they realise that they're going to need to hire, so they hire whoever they can. They don't take time to understand - is this person right for the job, not in terms of just skill match but also culture fit?
When that person does come on board, the founders or the CEO is very focused on growing the business and treats employees as an asset. The biggest issue I see is just not treating people like people.
And that sounds very generic and it sounds very cliché, but it is so important to understand that there's a human being sitting there and even if you find it frustrating or boring to motivate, develop and improve these new employees, taking the time to do that can actually have really great business productivity results.
I would highly recommend anyone to actually take time and think to themselves: how can I improve my relationship with and improve the performance of this employee? What can I do to help them? That's a question you should always be asking.
What would you say is your secret weapon in order to encourage and motivate people?
I think a lot of it comes down to empathy. When I first start having team members, I would push the stuff that I wanted them to do on them, and what I've since realised, actually, is that you've got to ask them. And it's that simple. How many times have we been asked by our bosses, by senior people: what is it that you're trying to achieve? What do you want to do?
Because I don't know about you, but that's a very rare question for me. They don't ask me, they tell me. And I find that simply by asking people: what is it that you're trying to achieve, like, in the big picture? And then break it down: how can we get there? How can we help you to get to that point? Ask people and support them on that process and you'll find that they're loyal, motivated, and good.
What is a practical thing that new startups and small to medium businesses can do to help their employees become better at their jobs?
I would advise to create a learning plan. The way that I do this with my team is I provide them with a marketing-based learning plan with a bunch of free courses focusing on five or six different topics like social media, paid acquisition, data science, that kind of thing. I expect employees to work through this at their own pace, and I expect that once someone completes the course, we then execute that in the company and try to see what the person has learned. Sometimes we actually do talks every week or two and we say, okay, so this person has done this, how do we explain that to the rest of the team?
How do you maintain open and honest communication with your employees and push them to improve?
I try to have one-on-ones with each member of my team, and I try to make them informal. We might go for a walk, we might go to a coffee shop. I've done one at mini-golf once. And this is the time for someone to be truly open and honest: how are they finding the work, what's going on, what are their major challenges, what are they enjoying?
The more formal aspect is that I try to get them to produce three items that they can improve, so for example, increase the speed at which they work, or be more organised or something like that, but I try to get KPIs, so we can measure the changes. In turn, I also try to get them to provide feedback on me - what three things can I do to make their life easier, or more effective, or better? I find that really interesting. In the beginning I used to say, oh just tell me, whenever you have an idea and they said, 'oh we can't think of anything, can't think of a way for you to improve'. And I know that there's always, always a way. So if I tell an employee, as part of your job, give me three things, they'll find stuff. And actually once you start that process, it becomes a lot easier.
As an employer, how do you feel about offering employees benefits like working from home?
I am really flexible as an employer. If someone wants to work from home at any point - sure, that's fine. If they want to take the day off because that hungover, that's fine. I don't actually mind because we're human beings, and actually, as long as I trust them to get the work done, that's cool. I know that they will get it done, and they know that I know. People appreciate that kind of relationship that allows them to feel comfortable being really open, authentic and genuine. And when you get the genuine person sitting next to you at work, that's fantastic, because you can go so far with that.