What it takes to win

In case you haven’t noticed, the scales have tipped.

Individuals in today’s workplace carry more weight than ever before in labor history.

Even before the global pandemic, the emerging trends were clear: employees were increasingly valuing meaning, integrity and autonomy — wanting to be seen as human beings, not human resources.

Now, if they’re not satisfied, they have more options than ever.

Expand your leadership range.

To align the demands of talent with the demands of business growth, leaders will need an expanded repertoire of leadership skills – to switch between radically different modes of being: knowing when to be decisive and given, on the one hand, or empathetic and comfortable with ambiguity, on the other, for example.

This type of leadership versatility will be especially critical for companies looking to innovate and disrupt.

It is the space in which HOPR is playing. Co-founded by Sebastian Bürgel and Rik Krieger in 2020, HOPR uses blockchain technology to increase data privacy with a token-incentive solution that lays the foundation for a more sovereign and secure Internet. It has grown to 19 employees over the past 15 months, with 12 team members based in Switzerland and the rest overseas.

I spoke with Rik about being a multi-faceted leader, and in particular the communication challenges created by flexible and remote working arrangements.

Rick: Leadership is increasingly becoming a 4D chess game. People expect you to be an approachable team leader, but also a badass who makes tough decisions. They want freedom, to be heard and understood, but they also want safeguards. At the end of the day, they still expect you to step in and say, “No, that’s too much. Stop.”

Renita: Ah, like a good parent.

It’s not just the money.

Rick: Yes, and they really care about values ​​and transparency. For example, during an interview with a developer, I explained that we have an open salary policy and showed him the range for the IT team, including my salary.

He did the math on his calculator and said, “Yeah, my other offer is 1.5 times more.

“Well, I can go to the edge of that range,” I said, “but we have an open pay policy, so if I pay you a lot more than the others, you’ll have to deliver a lot more and it won’t work. at all .”

He smiled and said, “I would have been very surprised and told you that I wouldn’t come if you had offered me much more now.

So people appreciate that we stick to our values. If we say, “Yeah, but for you, we make an exception…”

Renita: How can you trust this person? !

Rick: Exactly. So, as a leader, you have to be a chameleon, adapt to the situation, but also stay true to yourself.

It’s hard because when you work with smart people and they challenge you daily. You have to show these various facets – strong and flexible, masculine and feminine, etc. – 4D chess game is still active. It’s impossible if you don’t have high self-esteem.

Renita: It takes self-awareness and energy to manage this constant pushback.

Rick: Yes, but when you see on a daily basis that it works, it restores energy. It also shows that you have found the right team. If your team members are not demanding at all, then something is wrong. At least in a startup where you have to learn really fast.

Renita: We are therefore talking about a different type of leader. Someone whose ego isn’t so fragile, who accepts being challenged and doesn’t have to know all the answers.

The power of “coffee communication”.

Rick: Absoutely. And in-person connection is crucial, especially in our set of circumstances: technical work is often remote, cryptography favors decentralization and the constraints of the pandemic on top of all that.

Here in Zurich, we are putting things in place so that everyone is in the office at least two days a week. It’s to facilitate what I call “café communication,” where we can meet in the kitchen or stand in line for the printer, to create opportunities to talk about personal things that help us understand each other.

Because if you’re chatting online about a computer problem, you’re not saying my newborn has been crying for three days, I’m not feeling very well.

Renita: Okay, we all miss the personal asides, the body language.

Rick: One of our employees – someone we really like – was exhibiting unproductive behaviors, complaining to other team members, but not Sebastian or me.

It was in the middle of the pandemic, so he was working offsite. Originally we said we would meet in person once a week, but he resisted and I let it go.

Eventually, I said to him, ‘We need to talk, and not on Zoom. Bring a list of things you’re not happy with and we’ll sit in the same fucking office and talk.

And for four and a half hours we talked. Without even a bathroom break.

I changed costumes 100 times during this conversation, Renita, going between “I understand you, I hear you, I like you” and “If you want to threaten us, you can leave the company”. We would regret it, of course, but we will find someone else.

The next day, he emailed, saying, “That was a really good conversation. No, I don’t need more pay. No, I don’t need to work less. At the end of the account, I’m super happy here. And Rik was right that we have to meet once a week to talk personally.

Renita: Wow, this just goes to show how face-to-face conversations can release the buildup of tension. You know how you get upset when you’re mad at someone and when you see them in person you’re like, “Oh, that’s not the devil.

Rick: Exactly. We act differently in person. That’s why we need these human interactions, where we’re not just talking about business.

Give them the opportunity to shine.

Renita: So how do you find those people who have a growth mindset, who want to challenge and be challenged?

Rick: When people apply for a position with us, we give them a questionnaire of 20 to 25 questions. They range from “How do you like to be supervised? and “What bothers you the most about other people and how do you deal with it?” to “Tell us something you think is missing in the world.”

Their answers give us valuable information about them as a person and if there is a cultural match. Even with a simple question like “What’s your favorite color?” One guy said, “The light golden yellow on a buttery croissant when you take it out of the oven. »

Exceptional people don’t just want to do what is expected. They want to take your ideas and develop them further, which is exactly what you need to be an innovative and disruptive company. As leaders, our job is to give them that opportunity to shine and be creative.

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