The sad saga of the Basecamp employee walkout is one of those business stories I find endlessly interesting.
It frustrates me when people use expressions like, “It’s just business,” because business problems are pretty much all “human being problems.” (Business being made up of people, and all.)
Which might be why Basecamp’s employee exodus has stayed on my mind.
Well-meaning founder with giant blind spots encounters a tricky problem, makes a bad call, doubles down on the bad call, and 20 out of 57 good people walk out the door.
When that founder is mainly known for publishing multiple bestselling books on company culture, the drama takes on an extra twist.
(If you aren’t familiar with the details, here’s a good rundown: How Basecamp blew up (Platformer)
Like any good Greek tragedy, we can use this story to learn from someone else’s mistakes.
(Pro tip: Any time you can learn from someone’s else’s mistakes instead of your own, go with that.)
My friend (and truly genius leadership consultant) Annie Hyman Pratt, showed me the value of psychological safety many years ago.
In a conversation on Twitter, I summed up what Annie had taught me this way:
Success comes from clarity which comes from team honesty which comes from emotional safety.
That applies to internal conversations (you and the folks you work with), as well as external ones (you and the folks you might sell something to).
If you’re considering which values should drive your business, focusing on values that promote psychological safety would be a smart bet.
This is a topic you could explore endlessly, but for today, let me present a few bits of food for thought.
Safety and customers
I’ll start with the one that’s probably the simplest — when you prioritize the emotional safety of potential customers, you make it easier for them to move forward with you.
(I invite you to scroll down to see Seth Godin’s comment. Ahem.)
Safety and leadership
Heading back to Basecamp, CMO of Overit Lisa Barone wrote a strong post about the leadership value of making room for difficult opinions and conversations.
“Whole people make better employees.
“Diversity of experience creates better companies.” – Lisa Barone, Overit
While it’s easy to think that “tricky” conversations (like the ones around race, gender inequality, and all of those other tough social issues) could derail a business, there’s plenty of evidence that avoiding or trying to bury hard conversations is actually far more dangerous.
And if you want to dive deeper into how to implement those conversations, or if you want to convince someone who only listens to white guys published by Harvard Business Review, here’s a great conversation. Consultant Michael Beer talks about how strategy paired with values and delivered through effective communication is what drives smart organizations — big or small.
“Of course, honest conversations can be uncomfortable for the CEO, the board, and people in lower levels. But the stakes are too high not to do it.” – Michael Beer, Fit to Compete
I’ll wrap today up with Desiree Adaway’s take. (Jason Fried would have done well to know when his blind spots were too great, and hired a DEI facilitator like Desiree to help him navigate the waters.)
“It is NOT a failure when an organization has difficult conversations and they are messy, complicated and emotional. …
“It’s a failure of leadership when they don’t create a culture that allows this type of conversation to happen, when they deny folks the growth and skill building that these conversations engender.” – Desiree Adaway, It’s Always Political. Lessons from the Basecamp fiasco.
That’s The Fierce for today! I’m continuing with my #SummerOfStrategy, sending out a daily email around some element of content marketing strategy every day.
See you there!