Creating a safe working place for Employees

I read about the recent Julie Horvath issue which is out there on the internet, and thought that I might share some of my experiences on this topic.

In case if you are not familiar with the Julie Horvath issue, Google it, or simply head over to TechCrunch who gave Julie’s side of the story.

tl;dr – Julie was an employee at GitHub who quit after feeling threatened at work

GitHub have tried to clean things up with a sincere and apologetic reply to Julie. They have taken some prompt action and that’s what matters.

So what went wrong?

In the entire episode, Julie must have felt threatened at work. Imagine having to battle out on multiple fronts with multiple people … and apart from that handle work as well. The nausea an employee might feel with so much politicking going on is natural. Who would not quit?

One of the most basic requirements of an employee (keep this term in mind folks) implicitly wants, is to feel secure. Be it financially, physically and mentally. These are the very basic requirements, if these are threatened, then the employee is bound to quit. If I were to use Maslow’s hierarchy as a model, then these would be the hygiene factors.

In letting a non-employee (the founder’s wife) sit within the working premises next to Julie, the physical security was in question. The mental security was being questioned by the love lost colleague and the founder in question. Add to it the way the organization reacted with radio silence and hushed tones, the financial security was also put in question. The next move should have been obvious, perhaps the reaction of the organization might have been to incite this move. The GitHub blog update suggests other wise, but we will never know that shall we?

Personal Catharsis

The reason I chose to write about this matter, is because recently we had a similar situation at work. One of our earlier employees went through this insecurity … thanks to my behaviour. It took some time for me to reflect and talk to a few other founders to understand what drove this employee in question to leave … leave at such a short notice. Do I regret this, yes. Did we lose a good player, perhaps. Can this be avoided in the future, definitely.

It’s a lesson learned for me that employees are not to be treated as co-founders. You can cross certain boundaries with co-founders … those boundaries are a strict no-no with employees … even if these are the people who help you grow your organization.

Sometimes, the founder can go to extraneous lengths to retain employees … not because the organization cannot survive without them, but because of the achievements that individual can do if properly channelled. In doing so, lines are crossed … sometimes it helps in bonding the individual closer to the organization … almost like a trial by fire. Sometimes, it backfires … and even worse spreads like wildfire on social media.

In Julie’s own words, what the founder did was to retain her at the organization … however things escalated to such an extent that the very opposite happened. This is what would happen when you mix professional relationships with personal ones. In trying to build a personal relationship with your team, you sometimes cross the boundary. Most of the times it pays off.

So what should a founder do?

A start-up would always face this issue. In order to do greater things, the team has to work outside its zone of comfort … constantly. How then do you build this sense of security within the team?

One simple approach would be to not fraternize with the team. I have seen many a good start-up founders do that … and to good effect. Reduce the fraternization only during moments of celebration.

One of my clear learning from the past episode is work towards fostering a sense of security for the employees … so that means take all conflict discussions offline. Conflicts which endanger the sense of security should not be openly discussed.

What I am saying is to clearly have two separate levels of information parity. What are the things that you have tried at work and it has paid off?

PS – I don’t have all the answers, however I am learning as I journey on.

Earth Day 2013

April 22nd, is Earth Day and you can see that in a beautiful interactive Weather Control Doodle on Google’s home page.

On Earth Day, I would expect people on different social media channels to do multiple idiotic things … such as switching off their electronic devices for an hour. Yes, and that would make a difference when the very social network you are posting on creates more pollution in an hour than what you would in a year!!

I consider myself as a capitalist, someone who loves to see the wheels of industry working and creating things from scratch. When these wheels end up destroying and defiling mother nature, I fall in a conflict of interest. To stop industry all together and work in restoring the world … or to keep destroying the environment and fuel the industry. It’s easy to give the politically correct answer – we need to save the planet, save the earth.

My question is why cannot they co-exist? It’s a foolish notion, but I think this can be done by Going Green. I don’t mean the Going Green which tech companies talk about … but more pragmatic and grass root level things. So apart from shutting down your computer and goofing off for one hour, what green activity are you going to do on Earth Day 2013?

About going Green

Going Green

When I was a toddler I spent my days in Parel (or Lower Parel as some of you now would know this are), my grandfather (god bless his soul) who was the dean of the only veterinary college in Mumbai was given a huge facility for his family to stay in. This included a research lab, a bungalow, a sprawling estate and staff to support.

Life was good, the estate boasted of many trees and plants … as a kid I used to think that there was a jungle in my grandfather’s complex. I had my favorite tree in that jungle, it was one huge neem tree, with its branch grown like a low overhang. My sister and I used to hang out (literally and figuratively) on that tree. To me that tree was the epitome of strength.

We grew up, I  became “healthy”. When I was ten, my grandfather was set to retire from his post … Arati and me decided to bid our last farewell to our tree. We sat on the heavy trunk … and started jumping up and down on that tree … the trunk was swaying!! That added to our excitement and we jumped some more … the poor tree could not take that much strain, and the trunk eventually broke!! Both of us were aghast … to see our ideal in such a shape, and we being the cause of it; all that was too much to bear for us. I think that was the first time I took a life (I am not counting all the chickens and goats I had eaten before that, since I had not cut off their necks – I just ate – so gimme a break, I was a kid ok?).

We moved to Vile Parle, where we had bought our own place – a small 1BHK. My mother LOVES plants, so our entire window grill was filled with different flowering plants. I remember my childhood specifically for this nurturing atmosphere. Soon, we moved into a larger place, which had a terrace – we promptly decided to make a terrace garden. I adopted my first plant – I used to water it, and care for it, enjoy the flowers that came … I saw the seed grow into a full blown vine. We also planted saplings around our building and watered them. Now almost two decades later, the peepal and the jambhun tree that we had planted are giving shade to the entire area within that colony.

If we get so much happiness out of taking care of plants and if it benefits us so, then why do we indiscriminately keep on cutting trees down?

This is not an epiphany that I had. It’s not a structured plan that I have been working towards for the past 20 years of my life either. It’s a thought that I have chosen to take up.

Tsunamika and Small steps

image Remember I was ranting about Co-ordinate geometry and changing communities? Well, in case you have’nt, here is the link. Well here’s a nice example that is changing the society. And it is being done bit by bit, vector by vector :-)

Today we had gone to my Maami’s place. She gave us this cute little bag which comes nicely packed in a small pouch. The pouch can be attached to a purse or your belt through a metal hook. Pretty nifty, huh!?! The cost, Rs. 100. Nice product, good value as well. The idea of this bag is that it folds out to become a very big shopping bag, eliminating the need for those pesky plastic bags. Its so small that you dont even realize that you are carrying one!! Imagine, slowly but steadily eliminating those plastic bags that vendors give to you to carry subzi. Its a fresh idea, and economical at that. Plus a nice idea for gifts as well!!

And the best part is that these bags are made by women who live in tsunami afflicted regions! The bags come with those cute Tsunamika dolls.

Imagine – the word about these spreading around slowly but surely. Sounds realistic no? Slowly because of a few determined souls, the social norm of using plastic bags has changed to not using them. Thats social transformation through the power of an idea :-)

They are only going to make 10 million of these bags, get yours today!!

Do you really need that?

That is the question you should be asking yourself whenever you are about to buy something.

If you are not clear then, check out this site. The content is presented by Anne Leonard, who manages to deliver the message so clearly and logically; it’s a shame that we did not notice it earlier. We Indians are copying the western culture to the hilt, so much so that we are trying to adopt the same practices at work, at home, at how we treat things, becoming more of consumers and less of contributors.

Half of the stuff that we buy, do we really need that? A new phone, a brand new gaming desktop (I was thinking of getting this one), a flat screen tv, a dishwasher, an A/C, the list goes on. And once we buy that, we dont stop … we keep on buying newer versions of that. Our perceived obsolescence drives us to trash our already existing goods for the sake of the newer and better. Such a waste.

Please go through the site – And try to make a difference.