Create an environment of learning. To encourage innovation, managers should support the professional development of their employees in an active, not passive way. Instead of forcing mandatory trainings, employees should be given flexibility. Employees should be trusted to choose what works best for their professional development and career growth. We offer a program, where each employee is allotted “tuition”, $500 employee per year, to complete certification courses towards skill mastery. It’s part of our mission to equip our team with the tools that they need to learn, grow, excel, and obtain transferable skills.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Mechlinski. Joe is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and social entrepreneur who believes that an engaged workforce is the key to unlocking human potential. Driven by his deep-rooted passion for building mission-driven cultures, Joe founded SHIFT, a collective of businesses spanning consulting, executive membership, and venture capital united by their common mission to revolutionize workforce engagement and transform the world. SHIFT has been recognized by the Baltimore Business Journal as one of the “Best Places to Work” for five consecutive years and by Inc. Magazine, nationally, as an “Inc. Best Workplace” for two consecutive years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up, I learned my most significant business lessons from my father. He was a diligent, hard worker who was loyal to his company and maintained great relationships with his coworkers. At one point, his company conducted major layoffs, but he was fortunate enough to be kept on board.
Although we felt lucky, he had a difficult time seeing his former coworkers experience the hardships of unemployment. While tirelessly searching for jobs, they often had to settle for unfulfilling work to simply pay the bills.
This unhappiness led to them to disengage from their families, community and personal development. Without seeing a purpose towards their work besides making ends meet, their relationships suffered.
Through his experiences and perspective, I recognized that our relationship with work has the power to transform our quality of life, for better or worse.
Shortly after graduating from Johns Hopkins University, I founded SHIFT, a management consulting company, to help organizations connect with their passions and purpose, improve work culture, and boost employee engagement and performance.
Eighteen years later, we’ve added two businesses to create a collective that encompasses our belief that business has a direct impact on our communities. In 2014 we launched SHIFT Society, an exclusive membership group that brings together business leaders and entrepreneurs of purpose-driven companies. Then, in 2017, we established SHIFT Ventures, a venture capital company to invest in entrepreneurs with innovative businesses serving societal needs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Several years ago, we received a call from a new client that wanted us to help them essentially ‘clone’ their high performers. It was a great idea to increase profits, but there was a major flaw. They were trying to accomplish this in the middle of a merger.
Instead of pushing employees to focus on performance, we switched gears.
We started with culture. We surveyed their team to understand any frustrations or challenges from an employee perspective. Their honest feedback revealed that we needed to help leadership create a climate of trust, fairness and accountability. Once this foundation was established, employees felt more comfortable and confident to reach their target sales goals.
The merger closed the following year, and our second round of employee surveys revealed that engagement increased by 20 percent. The organization surpassed its initial profit goals, netting $300 billion dollars.
These outstanding results were rewarding for our entire team at SHIFT. It became clear to us that in any organization, it’s about creating a culture that keeps everyone moving and motivated towards the same goal.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, we are obsessed with digital transformation. It’s no secret that technology is catching up quicker than most of us can adjust. To help our clients remain on the cutting-edge of every trend, we help them walk through this three-step process:
Another project we are focused on is our internal evolution, which is why we launched our System of Innovation.
We use this process to analyze how our team designs and evolves our services. If any project fails or produces unfavorable results, the team meets to share insights, discuss how various factors influenced the end goal, reveal what was learned, and identify the modifications that will be made next time.
This method connects all of the work we’ve done with change management and cultural transformation. It provides us with a clear sequence of steps and has helped us maintain an agile culture that’s resilient against disruptions.
We also completed our first year of an internal gaming system called the SHIFT Beat. Each quarter, we split our company up into teams to complete mini-challenges in their personal and professional lives. Throughout the game period, we share our accomplishments through photos and videos — encouraging each other to spend more time with loved ones, try out new experiences, or conquer limiting beliefs.
This process has helped us stay connected and learn a little bit more about what keeps us motivated inside and outside of work. I hope that this can serve as a model to help and inspire other companies to build stronger work relationships.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
This number isn’t surprising, but it should be shocking to everyone.
Last year, I released my second bestselling book, “Shift the Work” to explain why this is our reality.
People don’t feel like their work is worth it, especially if their organization doesn’t invest in their well-being.
To solve this problem, we need to pay closer attention to our biology. After studying neuroscience, I realized that everyone should be focused on improving the health of all three brains in the body, located in the head, heart and gut.
If companies were more invested in the health of its employees, successful profits will follow.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact
a) company productivity
When people become disengaged with their work, more of their time is likely spent procrastinating, complaining, or searching for new work. At SHIFT, we studied what makes organizations high-performing — it’s when people are focused on their priorities, leadership understands what motivates their employees, and the organization’s mission is clearly connected with culture.
b) company profitability
Organizations need to be value creators — not rent seekers. A rent seeker grabs land but doesn’t invest in what’s on it. They extract value as opposed to creating it. Those who invest in their people, and the value they bring to work every day will establish sustainable, long-term profit.
c) employee health and wellbeing?
Our first value is ‘live by design’ — because we recognize that individuals can’t pour from an empty cup. This value for our company means giving our employees the right support to take care of their mental, emotional, and physical health — otherwise, overall performance will suffer.
To support our employee’s health and well-being, we’ve implemented mandatory benefits like healthcare, 401Ks, substantial paid maternity and paternity leave, yearly bonuses and perks. We also schedule weekly check-ins with each employee to make sure they feel fulfilled and prepared to tackle their goals each week.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Establish a clarity of vision. At SHIFT, we host two All-Hands meetings each year where we bring together our employees across our four locations to refocus and reframe our goals for the year. This realigns everyone and allows them to be active participants in our mission as we make progress towards our goals.
To keep our team focused throughout the year, I share a three-minute video daily to share business updates, communicate news and announcements, and congratulate/recognize team members on significant accomplishments.
2. Maintain adult-to-adult relationships. If you treat someone like a child, they will act like a child. This reflects my belief that management should always speak to their employees as equals, and trust that they can handle any project without micromanaging.
As part of this, I recommend organizations conduct weekly check-ins. Each week, my employees fill out a report to share their top priorities, progress towards their goals, and any needs they have for additional support or guidance from management. The results are discussed on a weekly basis to keep an open, honest and respectful flow of communication.
3. Set a rhythm for the business. To me, getting everyone on the same rhythm is incredibly important to our success. I believe an organization should function like an orchestra — each section has to come in at the right moment for the music to sound it’s best. To maintain a healthy rhythm, organizations need to establish and communicate clear goals to departments and employees. They need to ask the right team members to contribute to appropriate projects for the best results, and maintain a consistent cadence for communication and ongoing alignment.
4. Create an environment of learning. To encourage innovation, managers should support the professional development of their employees in an active, not passive way. Instead of forcing mandatory trainings, employees should be given flexibility. Employees should be trusted to choose what works best for their professional development and career growth.
At SHIFT, we offer our Skill Stacks program, where each employee is allotted “tuition”, $500 employee per year, to complete certification courses towards skill mastery. It’s part of our mission to equip our team with the tools that they need to learn, grow, excel, and obtain transferable skills.
5. Model the way. I would never ask my team to complete a task that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do myself. Every leader should be an exact representation mentally, physically, emotionally of what their business stands for.
After 3pm on Friday, every employee at SHIFT marks their calendar with ‘better you’ time. We established this practice to give our employees the freedom to accomplish their personal or professional goals without any client interruption. This is one of our most popular employee benefits and has helped everyone return on Monday feeling refreshed and ready to complete a new week of work.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
We need to change the incentive structure for businesses. We should reward companies for the value they add to society, meaning if they pay their taxes and how they choose to give back to their communities. We need to commend companies for valuing purpose over profit.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Every day, I lead from my energy. In daily videos to my team, I remind them that they have the right skills to serve our clients to the best of their ability. I’m transparent and do my best to model the way — acting from a place of trust, fairness, and principle over politics. I would rather be compassionate towards my employees than obsessed with growth.
Our management team has been trained to be compassionate — not intimidating. We act as a family at work, and the first question we ask in meetings is “How are you doing?”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad is my hero. He holds the highest moral code and integrity of anybody I’ve ever met.
In the face of adversity, he is a rock. He spent 41 years working for the same company, starting from sweeping the floors and making his way up to executive. I’ve always admired his work ethic, and hope that I’ve matched it in my career thus far.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In 2017, we partnered with the Conscious Venture Lab to form SHIFT Ventures to invest in dozens of entrepreneurs who are introducing new technologies and business models that are serving societal needs and underserved populations.
Each year, we host a four-month accelerator program to help these entrepreneurs develop their business plans alongside elite mentors. The program concludes with a pitch demonstration in front of local and national investors to provide them with strategic feedback and valuable connections. Upon graduating, our participants have reached major milestones including opening new store fronts, attracting new investors, receiving national press attention, and one even secured a deal on Shark Tank.
I plan to continue this momentum at SHIFT with each new project or client we take on. We are constantly evolving, but I believe our success stems from the positive changes we are constantly adding to the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”
At SHIFT, we believe work and life are intertwined. The amount and quality of effort you put towards each task is constant. That’s why it’s so important to do work that fulfills you — it extends to every other aspect of your life.
I practice this at home and work by switching around one word: Instead of saying, “I have to…,” I’ve changed it to “I GET to…” This has completely changed my perspective, and increased my gratitude towards every single task.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Shift the work — shifting our workforce to 70% engaged.