Making Your Job Obsolete Is Great For The Culture -- Part 3 of our conversation with Travis Johnson,
A lot of companies talk about having a recipe for a winning culture but foodjunky.com Co-Founder and CEO Travis Johnson has a cookbook for it in his environment. In the third post of our 3-part Leading With Courage℠ conversation, Johnson speaks to scaling a culture successfully, including why making your job obsolete is nothing to be afraid of – in fact, at foodjunky.com, it could be the best thing that ever happened to you.
Leading With Courage℠ Academy:
Travis, one of the big things you frequently talk about beyond your managerial style is the organizational culture you’re building at foodjunky.com. Can you elaborate on that?
Travis Johnson: We actually have a cookbook filled with our recipes for success. It's our culture book. Every new employee gets it. It's filled with such concepts as “underpromise, overdeliver” and more.
We are very much attuned to building a culture here and then maintaining that culture. We started the cookbook when we had just five people – and to be truthful, it’s easy to maintain a culture with five people. You're all in the same room or suite of offices.
When you get to nine people, it's still relatively easy. I think when you're at twenty people, there are some new challenges and difficulties that emerge. That's what the cookbook is designed for -- to cement what it is we're trying to do. It's a living document so we can make changes to it, but it gives candidates and new people coming in with an idea of what they're getting into.
What's good about it that I like – and it’s part of the workshop we do – is the way you talk about these concepts. Rather than a throwaway line like, “We believe in collaboration” that nobody knows what to do with, you’ve got "Do the right thing" with a short descriptor of what that actually means in your environment, which I think is the way to do it. It’s easier to talk about, absorb, and share with others.
One of the recipes that I like is: Making your job obsolete is the best job security you can get.
Explain that one more.
If you look at so many large corporations, they’re often doing things backwards and slow. They’re not telling anyone about how they operate or how it works because they feel like that's part of their job security, saying essentially, “I'm the only one that can do it." Sure, it takes me all day to do this one thing and all I ever get done is this one thing, but it's my job security.
That doesn't build a good culture and it doesn't build a good team. It definitely doesn't build a successful and lean operating machine.
What we say is the best job security is to make your job obsolete. If you can take a $50,000 job and you can automate it to the point of where we don't have to pay you $50,000 to do that, that's awesome. We'll stop paying you $50,000 to do that, we'll automate it and then we'll start paying you $75,000 to do something else.
Most people can't take an entire job position to make it obsolete, but they can at least take individual tasks that they're doing, automate them and get them off their plate. The more they do that, the more valuable they are to their company, their organization and their team.
And I’m sure they feel more motivated that they're making a difference and can see an impact too.
Yes. Instead of just coming in every day and pounding out that widget repeatedly, let's automate pounding out that widget and do something more creative.
Interesting. Okay, Anything else? You'll find that's one of my favorite questions: ‘Anything else?’
Certainly. In a strict startup sense, I always give this advice to people and it doesn't just work for startups. It works for any new thing that you want to do, whether it's marketing, designing a service or selling a new product. The big phrase these days is “Minimum Viable Product.” You need to build your minimum viable product, whatever that may be. Then once you build your minimum viable product, what's you've just done is you've saved money, capital and time over building an entirely finished product. You can get it out to the marketplace faster, too, so you can test your hypothesis.
Then after you test your hypothesis, you can go back and you can make changes to your overall design, flush out a complete product, and deliver it to your customer. Which is good and I'm not saying don't do that. But there's a stage that comes before MVP, and that is NVP - No viable product.
No Viable Product? What’s that?
No Viable Product is a sales pitch. Whatever it is that you want to do, create the sales pitch behind it and go sell it. Service, product, whatever it may be. Go and sell it. I'm not saying you should take actual money for a product that you don't have, but you should have the conversations with those potential customers selling them. You’re not asking them if they would buy, but literally selling them the product.
Then, when they say, "NO," you know you need to make some changes to your sales pitch and to your NVP.
If you get a close, then that’s great! You've got a success story. Now you can go and make changes to see if you can't do that faster the next time. But whenever you do make a close, say, "Thank you very much for the sale. I’m sorry but I can't take your money because the product doesn't exist yet, but I've got your information now. Once the product's available, I will let you know and you'll be my first customer.”
Doing that before your MVP means that you've just tested an entire business model, new product or service line without making or selling or doing anything. And without spending any money.
What's been the reaction of prospects or customers at that stage between NVP and MVP when you say, "I'd love to sell it to you but it doesn't exist yet?" After you've sold them on it, what’s their response to not immediately receiving it?
Their reaction is great. They see themselves as being at the forefront of helping design this product and the very first person to get it. Exclusivity is a very keen thing and people like to be in on the ground floor on things.
So they don't feel like they've been misled or you misrepresented what you're doing.
Oh, if I were to take money from them without actually having a product, then yes, for sure. But you just sell it and say, "Thank you so much. I don't have the product available yet, but you just proved my hypothesis that this is a viable product. I can't wait to get it in your hands. And for that, I'm going to give you a huge discount." The feedback is immeasurable.
Could you go out there and do a focus group to achieve the same effect, asking people, "Would you do this?" or "How much would you pay?"
I'm not going to say that a focus group isn’t valuable, but it is almost infinitely less valuable than actually selling the product. There’s a difference between asking someone if you have a good idea and then asking them to go into their pocketbook to give you money for it.
Besides testing a model, product or service, how do you test your more promising people? That’s something that most companies haven’t planned for but certainly should if they want to nurture and grow their emerging leaders. Where do you even start? That’s the easy part. A Leading With Courage℠ Academy workshop will give you the structure you need to help the next generation of potential leadership capitalize on the opportunities before them. And that has wonderful implications for the long-term in many ways.