I used to think employee turnover was a sign of a flawed company. It’s a metric people use to signify culture or leadership issues. It’s something no one wants to talk about when it happens, and people speak loudly about when it is low. In the past, I always strived for the glorious goal of zero turnover. If you build a company where people love their work, hire correctly, respect your team, and you make yourself accountable for the problems that arise, you should never have turnover. Many companies brag about low turnover or even write books on the subject. I've come to realize that for a small company this mentality is flawed.
If a person on the team is not aligned with our values it can turn our culture in the wrong direction, or worse, become a toxic environment.
In the last two years, we have grown the team more than we’re used to in the past. With it came many lessons on hiring and growing a team, along with both intentional and unexpected turnover. If I think back to people who have left, whether on their own or not, they were all emotional experiences. When you have a small team, these situations are personal - at some point very personal involving quite a few tears. Turnover is something Natalie and I dread. We work hard to avoid it by dealing with issues up front, and by understanding each team member and their personality. If something does come up, we work on it extensively to solve the problem.
There are times when even after our best effort we can’t fix it. In all of the reflection and learning, I’ve realized that turnover is a critical part of maintaining a great culture. This isn’t about a mono-culture or ping pong tables. It’s about how we support each other as a team. We have a set of strong values at Wildbit, and we have to work hard to uphold them. If a person on the team is not aligned with our values it can turn our culture in the wrong direction, or worse, become a toxic environment. It's clear when someone is not fully invested in their work, disrespecting team members, or just not aligned with how we want to grow our products. It's the job of Natalie and myself to make those difficult, emotional decisions to help maintain the environment we’ve created. We owe it to the team, and by not acting in these situations, we are letting them down.
This level of scrutiny may not exist or may not be needed on larger teams. Natalie and I have committed to keeping our team size small to help us maintain our family culture. We’ve said many times that we see Wildbit as product agnostic. Our products exist for our team, not the other way around. At the point where we can’t name a team member’s kids, we’ve lost touch, and this can’t happen. We’ve been warned by friends and other founders against having an emotional attachment to your team or hiring friends. In each case, we always pushed back, not because we think we are better than anyone else, but because we would not enjoy running a company any other way. In order to maintain this culture and provide the best environment possible for our team, we’ve had to shift our mindset on turnover.
Instead, we've come to accept turnover as a natural process - guided by our team and the values we created. Whether it is someone being asked to leave or someone choosing to leave, we rely on the values we’ve set to dictate the outcome. In most cases it’s clear, expected, and amicable. There is one value we live by that is affected most by this:
As a team, we support each other to do the work of our lives.
A single person on the team who is not fully invested, fully interested, and fully aligned can disable our ability to support each other. It lowers the bar to what we are capable of and reduces the expectations on how we enable each other to do the work of our lives.
It's up to Natalie and me to identify who might be misaligned. When this happens, we put significant work into figuring it out. We attempt to find a solution, and if we can't, it's important for this person to move on. They should find a place that aligns with their goals, and we need to find someone who aligns with ours. This is our commitment to the people who have joined the team and share our vision, and how we will continue to do the work of our lives together.