Derrick Morton: “Give them room to breathe”

Give them room to breathe. Nobody wants to be micromanaged. From the very start of our company, my co-founder and I have encouraged employee autonomy in the workplace. We trust our people to deliver, and because of that, they are more motivated to go the extra mile. As a part of my series about how leaders […]

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Give them room to breathe. Nobody wants to be micromanaged. From the very start of our company, my co-founder and I have encouraged employee autonomy in the workplace. We trust our people to deliver, and because of that, they are more motivated to go the extra mile.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derrick Morton, co-founder and CEO of FlowPlay.

Derrick has been an entrepreneur, leader and innovator in the digital entertainment industry for more than 20 years. At the helm of FlowPlay for the last decade, he has established the company as the creator of the industry’s most powerful immersive gaming platform. He has identified new opportunities in untapped markets and spearheaded the development of more than 200 digital entertainment projects.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started in the “entertainment” business as a musician for a punk rock band. I was also getting asked to do film projects, which allowed me to exercise my creative side and develop an interest and skill set in technology. I fell in love with the two combined elements in the early 1990s and soon after started pursuing an MBA at UCLA to become a more well-rounded leader. From there I began working in creative and content executive roles at online game companies, including RealNetworks, which is where I met my FlowPlay co-founder Doug Pearson. Eventually in 2006 we decided to start our own company together.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our company is uniquely suited to weather the storm of the pandemic, and do some good along the way. We’ve taken this as an opportunity to innovate on new products that will help people find the type of social connection they need during difficult times. Our most recent exciting project is Live Game Night, which provides invite-only social gaming with live video chat. The first title in the Live Game Night collection, Live Poker Night, allows up to five of a host’s friends and family to play together in a real, face-to-face virtual poker matchup.

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?

Most people don’t see how their work is making a contribution to the organization’s success. The typical hierarchy in most companies today leaves people feeling like they don’t have ownership over their work. I think it is important for companies to maintain a management structure that is as flat as possible, so teams are empowered to make decisions, and can feel like their work has value and impact.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

If employees are not engaged and supported, they can’t bring their unique talents and passions to the table. The result is a trickle down impact on productivity, profitability and wellness. Nothing is more important than ensuring employees are passionate about what they do, and given the freedom to exercise that passion in their own way.

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. Give them room to breathe. Nobody wants to be micromanaged. From the very start of our company, my co-founder and I have encouraged employee autonomy in the workplace. We trust our people to deliver, and because of that, they are more motivated to go the extra mile.
  2. Rally around shared causes. As a company, we volunteer and give back to our community. We do this individually, collectively and with our customers, which nurtures a strong sense of culture and belonging.
  3. Be generous. Employees should feel directly responsible for and benefited by the success of the company. Every year, we give generous bonuses and profit sharing, in addition to competitive pay, professional development opportunities, flexibility, strong benefits and other perks.
  4. Have fun. Our office space has room for lounging, playing games and working out together. Several years ago, we started offering employee workouts three days per week, where a group of us would do intense workouts or yoga together. Having fun in a relaxed setting and reaching fitness goals as a group has been a great way to build camaraderie among the team.
  5. Hire for passion. At FlowPlay, passion is essential to our culture. When we’re interviewing, we focus on understanding what makes a person tick, and how that aligns with the job role. This intentional hiring of people who are truly passionate about what they do is energizing for our people and the company culture.

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?

I think the coronavirus pandemic has forced companies to rethink their values and acknowledge the lives their employees lead outside of the workplace. Everyone is working remotely, and largely proving it can be done well. People have been isolated and alone at home, and may be relying on their colleagues in new ways. Working parents are spread impossibly thin and need extra flexibility. These are challenges for company leaders right now, but they offer the opportunity for a broader shift in how work is accomplished and how employees are valued.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

At FlowPlay, we practice a flat management system. My co-founder and I believe that employees need autonomy to engage and be successful. This means employees have freedom to get their work done without someone looking over their shoulder all the time. We focus on the end result, not on how they get there. Our culture is agile and innovative, and promotes shared responsibility for the success of any given product and the organization as a whole. This collaborative approach has resulted in virtually zero turnover alongside significant employee growth, and repeated recognition as a local and national best place to work.

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?

Michael Schutzler, who is currently the CEO at the Washington Technology Industry Association has been a huge influence throughout my career. He was my boss at RealNetworks, and the first person to teach me how to meditate. When I told him I wanted to start my own company, he didn’t laugh. He said it was a great idea. He helped Doug and I get the company going and still serves as a member of our board. He’s my executive coach and we continue to work together in various capacities.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Philanthropy is another integral part of the company culture at FlowPlay, and for me personally.Over the last several years, our company has supported organizations and causes locally, nationally and internationally, including relief for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the Butterfly Project, Homes for our Troops, GirlStart and most recently the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. We’ve also maintained a deep, yearslong partnership with the American Cancer Society since 2016. Through numerous in-game fundraising campaigns FlowPlay has raised and gifted more than 400,000 dollars to charity to-date. In early 2020, I also accepted the position of board Chair for the Washington chapter of the American Cancer Society CEOs Against Cancer organization.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Just one word: empathy. I strive to treat my employees like I always wanted to be treated as an employee. The core of my leadership style is to put myself in the shoes of the people I meet along the way in their careers.

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. 🙂

For everyone to lift each other up and give generously. Those of us with privilege need to pay it forward to those who are marginalized. Anyone with the means to give generously should do so, consistently and with grace. Every single company should have a philanthropic giving program that aligns with the values and priorities of its employees.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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