The call came in the middle of the day, and our COO was panic-stricken.  Her husband had just fallen off a ladder and shattered his leg.  Months of surgery and recovery lay ahead.  Could she possibly be on a very flexible schedule for the next few months?

It took only a moment to realize that of course we trusted her to maintain her work duties, or delegate them appropriately, as she dealt with this family crisis.  And the more we discussed it, the more we realized that we felt the same level of trust and respect for all of our employees. 

We had very carefully hired over the years, ensuring that our team was committed, self-directed, and focused.  So why not put our money where our hiring was? The next Monday we announced that, effective immediately, we were offering unlimited paid leave to all employees at the company.

It was a bombshell to our staff. But it felt completely in line with our philosophy of respect and trust. If you bake in integrity and respect with regard to both employees and customers, you’ll be free to spend your time and energy delivering outstanding products.

We realized there were three important building blocks that had allowed us to end up with this type of company:

1. Do you hire people, or resumes? MBAs are great, but put a bigger priority on hiring people with the right attitude and outstanding communication skills. How can you evaluate these during a job interview? We ask each candidate to write (with a pen, on paper) a one-page essay in 15 minutes.  You’d be surprised to see what you can find out about someone using this simple technique.  Asking a fairly senior person to do this task will either result in semi-offended compliance, or a smile of surprise.  Hire the one who smiles and is still busy writing when you come back into the room.

2. How open are you to feedback? The respectful organization is constantly accepting and giving feedback within the team.  There’s a collegial atmosphere in which systems are flexible, rather than set in stone.  If everyone agrees on the destination, then it’s easy for everyone to move toward it without micro-management.  Our regular supervisor-employee check-ins are designed to measure contributions to corporate goals, not hours worked.  If deadlines are being met, products are being shipped, and customers are happy, then I don’t care if half the staff is surfing on Friday afternoon.

3. Do your employees create fiefdoms?  Every employee should have well-defined goals, and the freedom to accomplish them.  That means that the marketing and the technology folks should know what’s coming up for each other. When we once had a repetitive, simple coding task that had to be done on a schedule, we cross-trained a couple of non-geeks and got it done in short order.  You need to create a business in which colleagues can support each other without getting wrapped up in job descriptions and titles.

Building an atmosphere of respect goes far beyond implementing a single policy or perk.  It is a pervasive corporate value, built from the ground up.