We are working on an internal document at work, a sort of Love Wins 101 for new hires, and I thought I would share some it with you over the coming weeks. Keep in mind this is first draft, so expect tense errors, etc.
When people come to work at Love Wins, it can be a bit confusing at first. For one thing, we don’t hand you a lot of rules – instead, we talk about roles and responsibilities and community expectations. After all, we are pretty clear we are less an organization and more of a community, and while an organization aspires to efficiency, we operate on the basis of affection.
One example of that is our very conscious decision to encourage you to make mistakes. In fact, you are more likely to be fired because you did not make enough mistakes than because you made one.
As an organization, we tackle homelessness by assuming people who are experiencing homelessness have agency – that people prefer to choose what they do with their life, and that the thing that keeps us from doing what we want with our life is often the resources and relationships available to us. So, we see our role to provide those relationships and resources. We don’t think you are any different.
The thing is, most of the places I have worked in my lifetime, I did not feel like I had agency. I had to dress a certain way, clock in at a certain time, do the forms a certain way, request permission to do the most inane things, file a form to request permission to spend money that I would then have to file another form to request to be reimbursed for… it is soul killing. Or, it was for me.
So when I began assembling the team at Love Wins, I was certain that respecting people’s agency was going to be important. So, instead of investing time on the front end, creating a soul-killing list of procedures and structures designed to remove the element of choice (and the possibility of magic), we instead expect and anticipate mistakes, and spend the time on the back end, discussing the mistake and learning from them as a community.*
In my twenties, I was a salesman. Early on, I bid a job that should have been over seven thousand dollars at two thousand. The client, far savvier than I was, jumped on it. And we had to honor it, and lost our shirts. I went to my boss, the founder of the company, and told him about the mistake. I then handed him my letter of resignation, because I fully expected to be fired. He laughed, and said he could not afford for me to leave, since he had just spent five thousand dollars educating me on how to bid a job.
That stuck with me. And I never lost money on a bid ever again.
But it is more than just good for the employee and their agency – it is good for the organization as well. When you have freedom to make choices and exercise your agency, miracles can happen. There are now many different possible paths to the goal, whereas if I hand you a prescribed procedure, there is only one, and it is one we had developed without your input. You now bring your creativity, your experience, your genius, in the old sense of the word, to bear.
But don’t think we are encouraging chaos, however. Instead, we are committed to the end-state – or, as Stephen Covey says, we begin with the end in mind. Practically, that means we tell you what the desired goal is, and then we make sure you understand the goal, and then we agree on the things we have committed to – end dates, resources, etc. And then we leave you alone.
It is your responsibility to state your needs – and ours to provide resources and relationships to enable you to keep your commitments. And, so, you will make mistakes. And that is ok. In fact, you had better make mistakes, or else you are not trying hard enough.
*Most mistakes are not fatal. Some, however, are, or could be. So for those very few situations, we do have strict rules – sexual harassment policies, employee safety procedures, etc. But they are few and far between. Generally, we agree with Thoreau, who said “that governs best which governs least.”