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4 Tools for Self-Correcting Organizations

Want to diagnose your problems before they grow too large? Give your employees the means -- and autonomy -- to vent. Daily.
COLLABORATORS Joris Luijke
4 tools for self-correcting organizations that allow employees to vent
illustration by Todd Detwiler

“Traditional management style may help organizations run efficiently, but it won’t help to unleash the best gifts of every single person in your organization,” asserts Joris Luijke on the Management Innovation eXchange (the MIX).

Luijke is VP of Talent for Atlassian, a $102-million software company based in Sydney, Australia. In his post on the MIX, he cites four methods Atlassian uses to encourage employee expression and autonomy. Sure, there are the typical perks (creativity, risk-taking, healthy conflict) that come with empowered employees. But an atmosphere where employees express themselves helps in other ways, too: On a daily basis, Atlassian execs have the means to assess — and even quantify — how the rank and file feel about senior management and the company’s overall direction. Here’s how:

1. Bottom-up Reviews

The method: Employees go online and review their managers by placing a single dot along the two axes, depicted below. Luijke defines leadership skills as “vision and ability to inspire, engage and motivate” and management skills as the “ability to manage time and resources, plan and provide you with role clarity.”

At Atlassian, employees get to grade their managers in two key categories.

2. Finger On the Pulse

The method: Using an “Mood-App” developed in-house (see below), employees answer one question a day as they walk out of the office. (There are iPads at all exits.) “We are able to measure the swings in moods, engagement and opinions over time and publish this online for everyone in the company to see,” observes Luijke. “The Mood-App allows Atlassian to continuously course-correct if engagement levels drop, or if people disagree with certain strategic or tactical decisions, rather then waiting for an annual review.”

How was your day? At Atlassian, management wants to know.

3. FedEx Days

The method: One day each quarter, employees can work on anything related to Atlassian products. The rub? You have to ship whatever you’re working on within 24 hours. Employees then get to present their projects to the entire company.

If you had 24 hours to do anything at your company, what would you do?

4. Giving Kudos

The method: Through an internal social network, any employee can send kudos to another. There are no maximums, no restrictions. Recognized employees receive a handwritten ‘Kudos-card’ and a small gift from human resources (see below). Notes Luijke: This method “constantly reinforces great work and awesome behaviors without needing explicit direction or acknowledgement from the top.”

At Atlassian, there are no limits to the praise employees can heap upon one another.

THE PLUS

"Atlassian’s 2011 revenues were $102 million with no salespeople.” That’s the headline from an article by Erick Schonfeld on TechCrunch.com, accompanied by a video in which Atlassian CEO Scott Farquhar explains how the 450-employee company -- profitable for 40 consecutive quarters -- went its first eight years (2002-10) without venture capital.

Farquhar is highly engaged on the subject of salespeople. To wit: A TechCrunch commenter named Seth Besmertnik wrote, “The other way to look at it is what would their revenues be IF they hired salespeople...” To this, Farquhar rejoined, “Seth, We aren’t going to rule out sales people, at some time in the future. Never say never. But here’s the way we think about it: You can be a sales-led company, or an engineering-led company. The money we save on salespeople can instead be put back into making our products incredible, with more features, improving ease of use (a never-ending challenge), and making a moat between us and our competitors.”

He went on to cite a video in which Dharmesh Shah, cofounder and CTO of HubSpot, espouses a similar philosophy.... To learn the details of Atlassian’s Fed Ex days, just visit the company web site, which contains an FAQ all about them.

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