How to create a fantastic work culture: “Find people with big ambitions and small egos.” with Mynul Khan and Chaya Weiner

Find people with big ambitions and small egos: Humility is the openness to listen and learn from others. It can also mean the courage to reflect and critique oneself for the sake of self-improvement. Talented, humble people create great team dynamics. Similarly, be aware of arrogant fools. They display confidence but are insecure and closed-minded […]

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Find people with big ambitions and small egos: Humility is the openness to listen and learn from others. It can also mean the courage to reflect and critique oneself for the sake of self-improvement. Talented, humble people create great team dynamics. Similarly, be aware of arrogant fools. They display confidence but are insecure and closed-minded in reality. These types of people can be toxic to a team.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mynul Khan. Mynul founded Field Nation in 2008 when he identified a need for a contingent workforce platform. With a background in programming and data analysis, as well as an affinity for growth hacking, Mynul’s experience drives Field Nation’s growth strategy and motivates him to grow the Field Nation team. Mynul has a B.S. in Computer Science and is actively involved in technology decisions as well as strategy direction. Today, Mynul focuses on aggressive company growth and expanding opportunities around the world through regional partnerships and local incubators.

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

Born and raised in Bangladesh, I grew up in an environment where entrepreneurship was not a “thing.” My parents had one job their entire lives, and they certainly didn’t encourage me to become an entrepreneur. So I never grew up thinking that I would be an entrepreneur. I was always encouraged to think about getting a good education, and then getting a good job with a good company.

In my junior year at St. Cloud State University, I took an internship at a startup called eBureau. I was one of the very few early employees. That internship taught me to the ins and outs of building a product, pushing it to market, the selling process and how it impacted the market. That was really inspiring for me. From there, I thought “what can I do?” That’s when I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Fast forward to 2008, I identified a need for contingent labor marketplace, and Field Nation was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In 2018, 10 years after starting the company, Field Nation completed more than 1,000,000 work orders in one year. That was a huge milestone. When we started, I wouldn’t have dreamed we would have so many work orders in a single year. I remember at the very end of 2008 there was a month when we completed 40 work orders. Although that was also a big accomplishment, as it helped us realized we could do this. We built a platform from the ground up, we recruited the technicians, and people paid for work to get done through the Field Nation Marketplace. We had been going month after month without seeing much progress up until that point. Those 40 work orders that month gave us hope.

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

There are always big and exciting projects happening at Field Nation, but there’s one I’m particularly excited about. More than 20 team members are going through a course in Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a solutions-based approach to solving problems that begins with empathy. This might sound boring, but for a customer-centric company like ours, it’s very exciting. At Field Nation, we think of ourselves as a small company that solves big problems. By empathizing with our clients and users, we’re starting a new chapter of building an even better platform. We’re starting projects that range from improved user experience to brand new features based on customer feedback.

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?

I think there are a couple of reasons for that. First off, many companies are unable to give meaning to their work. Personally, I just couldn’t work for a company if the work didn’t have any meaning or if the company didn’t have a purpose. I meet executives from different companies, entrepreneurs, and I think many leaders fail to articulate the mission of their company clearly. If you can’t give meaning, then when people come to work, they’re just a small cog in a big machine. They’re just doing a task. It’s meaningless. That, I think, is the biggest reason people are unhappy at work.

I also believe it’s equally important to connect the company purpose to an individual level. You need to tell people how their role is impacting the company and moving it forward. The line between the individual and their job, and the purpose of the company needs to be very clear.

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?

Think about this: we are not a factory. Think about a factory where we all would go, stand in a line, and assemble something. Even if I’m unhappy, it doesn’t really matter. I’m sort of like a robot. That’s not us, not Field Nation. I think about our employees, every single individual, as co-creators. Every single individual is co-creator and an executive, because we are all making decisions. Every single individual is empowered to make an impact on the business. If these co-creators come to the office unhappy, they can influence the business very negatively. It’s that simple. If you’re happy, and you’re excited about what you’re doing, then you’re going to be productive, and you’re going to be impactful. If you’re unhappy, you’re punching in and out. The bigger danger with an unhappy employee isn’t just that they’re punching in and out, they could really create a powerful negative impact.

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. Have a purpose: Has anyone ever asked you why you want to start a business? Having purpose gives meaning to work, attracts talented people, and keeps them engaged. It’s critical to communicate the future to your organization so they see what the “finish line” looks like. The more vivid the vision is, the better. Purposeful, precise visions bring clarity to strategy and execution.
  2. Find people with big ambitions and small egos: Humility is the openness to listen and learn from others. It can also mean the courage to reflect and critique oneself for the sake of self-improvement. Talented, humble people create great team dynamics. Similarly, be aware of arrogant fools. They display confidence but are insecure and closed-minded in reality. These types of people can be toxic to a team.
  3. Best ideas must win: Ideas drive innovation. Innovation pushes organizations forward. If we agree on this simple fact, then we must create a culture where the best ideas are valued and supported. Teams should be driven by positive outcomes, not emotional attachments to ideas. Be careful with people whose ideas need to win. They often don’t care about the ultimate win, they care only about their personal glory.
  4. Be relentless and push boundaries: Constantly raise standards and relentlessly push yourself and your team to achieve them. A constant push and a relentless drive enable high potential team members to thrive, and those who are not motivated will leave. Driven employees with high potential must demand coaches and managers who are willing to push them. Driven managers should constantly hire, train, and evaluate employees to achieve remarkable results.
  5. Create a safe environment to fail: The formula for success has inevitable failure…maybe more failure that leads to success. If the company cannot create a safe environment to take risks then there will be no big success. It is the job of a leader to encourage people to take risks, and help the team get back up when they fall. You can try ten things, and if nine of them fail, you still had one success, and that’s still success.

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 have a philosophy on this that many people may not agree with, and that philosophy is that you shouldn’t have to keep your work life and your personal life separate. You hear about work life balance, which many people believe requires keeping your work life separate from your personal life. I actually don’t buy that. I think you should integrate. For example: bring the knowledge from your work back to your home. When you’re having dinner, share the excitement from your job with your kids, with your family. Then they feel part of it, part of that journey. When things are hard, maybe you’re working long hours, they understand why. It also teaches children the value of hard work, the value of pursuing a mission, and the value of serving customers. That’s super important. A majority of our waking hours will be spent working. If we try so hard to keep our work and personal lives separate, we’re missing it. I think it’s important to teach your kids the value of hard work, so that when they grow up, they can be good citizens. It influences how they view work and their personal lives. This way work doesn’t become a burden, a place you have to go to earn a paycheck. It becomes something you do because you’re excited about it, and you can bring that joy back to your family.

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

As a leader, I’m very customer focused. I tend to believe that if you’re not focusing on customers as an executive, you’re missing the opportunity to make a real impact. What problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for? What’s the impact of your work? These questions are why I’m so focused on our customers.

I’m also a very resourceful leader and manager. I find ways to do things differently. A traditional path might be “you have to spend a million dollars to do this. This is the best practice.” I have a tendency to not take the traditional path or the “best practice,” and I challenge the people I work with to do the same.

Finally, I truly value peoples’ opinions, whether they come from an executive or a new team member. I like to consider all of the stakeholders before I make any decisions, and I believe a business should not operate like an authoritarian regime.

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?

I always reflect back on how I got here. Every step of the way I relied on other people to help me become successful. I couldn’t have come here without a lot of people supporting me. It wouldn’t be fair to call out one story.

If you look back at how we started the company, it was what I’d call a bootstrap company. Those early employees put a lot of faith in me, and really had a lot of conviction in the mission. I always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t met those people. They’re kind of unique individuals, not your typical employees. The company couldn’t pay a typical salary, and there weren’t really any benefits, but for whatever reason they decided to believe and do this extraordinary hard work to build a company. I’m forever grateful for that.

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

I’m very passionate about education, so I’ve made it a priority to give back to powerful organizations in the communities we operate. In Minneapolis, Field Nation sponsors Girls Who Code — a non-profit that teaches 6th-12th grade girls web development skills. In Bangladesh, where I’m from, we sponsor a program called Dream for Tomorrow. This organization goes to remote Bangladeshi villages to set up digital classrooms with TVs, computers, and even internet. Those classrooms are designed for teachers from the capital city, Dhaka, to teach children in remote parts of Bangladesh.

We’re building a great company, making money, all that. But how are we helping the next generation? I keep thinking we need to do more for the younger generation. Right now it’s a very small scale. But imagine if we could do it at scale. These kids are going to change the world. That’s what gets me excited. A child in rural Bangladesh who gets a good education through Dream for Tomorrow might go on to become a doctor, or a teacher, and that same child might return to his original remote community to help the people there. It all comes full-circle.

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

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Someone showed this quote to me when I started Field Nation. This is my second company, the first one kind of failed. Okay, it did fail. People told me I was wasting time. People told me I wasn’t going to make it, I didn’t have the money or the experience. It was a long list of “you don’t have-”.

This quote made me very emotional. I kept coming back to this and I think the reason I was able to connect to this quote is that for me at the time, it didn’t matter what people thought of me. I felt like I was the person in the arena. I would keep trying, and falling, and trying. It connected me in a very emotional mental way at that time. I still love this quote. I’m not a big “quote guy,” but this quote stuck with me.

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. 🙂

I’m really passionate about investing in education, be it the education of your own team members or children from the other side of the globe. I think more company leaders should invest in their team, give them the opportunity to learn something powerful. I think as a society, we should invest more in the education of our children. Investing in childhood education doesn’t just help children, it helps ensure a better future for all people.

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

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