To create a fantastic work culture spread positive energy, with Lawdan Shojaee and Phil Laboon

Negative energy is a black cloud over an organization. And worst of all, it’s like a virus; it spreads. Luckily, the same can happen with positive energy. There are countless studies that show the crippling effects negativity — even saying a negative word — can have on a variety of situations. In contrast there are similar studies that suggest […]

Negative energy is a black cloud over an organization. And worst of all, it’s like a virus; it spreads. Luckily, the same can happen with positive energy. There are countless studies that show the crippling effects negativity — even saying a negative word — can have on a variety of situations. In contrast there are similar studies that suggest smiling or laughing can instantly improve your mood. Research also shows how stress can affect physical health, causing heart disease, weight loss and gain, and more.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lawdan Shojaee. Lawdan is the CEO of Axosoft, a software company in Scottsdale, Arizona that creates tools for computer programmers. Axosoft was founded in 2002 and has since established a powerful, Scrum project management tool–also called Axosoft–used by more than 11,000 software development teams across the globe. The company’s newest creation is GitKraken, the downright luxurious Git GUI client for Windows, Mac and Linux. GitKraken makes Git commands and processes easy, fast, and intuitive. Lawdan owns the company with her husband, Hamid, and the couple has two children, a boy, and a girl. In their most recent endeavor, Lawdan and Hamid have opened up coworking space, AZ Cowork in North Scottsdale.

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 met my husband at a wedding in L.A. in December 1998 and we wed less than a year later. Hamid already had a long history of tech entrepreneurship when we met, but it wasn’t until a few years later that he founded Axosoft. I was still in school at the time, completing my undergraduate studies at A.S.U.

As Axosoft began to quickly grow, I took on many roles to assist with daily operations. Throughout the next several years, Axosoft continued to experience rapid growth and change, and my role consequently adjusted as needs arose. It wasn’t until 2014, after I had completed my doctorate and raised two children, that it was determined I would lead the organization as CEO while Hamid took a step back to focus on our sister company, Pure Chat.

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

We try and do at least one company adventure each year, which usually involves some physical activity. A few years ago, we got a group of about 20 team members and spouses to hike down to Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon and camped for two nights.

We went with a guide who was responsible for providing our group with two evening dinner meals (our team was responsible for breakfast and lunch). At the end of the first night’s dinner, as we began to settle into relaxation, the organizer casually reminded us we were on dish duty. Say what?! We have to clean the dishes?!

But we quickly organized into a well-oiled machine of dish cleaners, making an assembly line. It was very systematic; everyone understood who was doing what and in what order. We ended up finishing in record-breaking time.

I remember the moment very clearly; looking over at my team and seeing how incredible they are. I know it sounds silly, but I stood there thinking “We can even do dishes well!” I felt that it was a manifestation of the culture and environment we’ve been able to foster and that our system of collaboration and support can be translated into almost anything.

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

We’re always working on exciting projects!! But two of our most exciting involve our GitKraken product and our #ItWasNeverADress diversity-in-tech initiative.

We released GitKraken into the world back in 2014 and have been in somewhat of a sprint since. We are aggressively releasing updates, including one of our largest and most exciting yet, v5.0, at a rapid pace and don’t anticipate slowing down anytime soon. Our team is thrilled by the engagement and love our product and brand (championed by our mascot, Keif the Kraken) have received from a global audience. This tool ultimately helps developers across the world be more productive and collaborate easier, leading to less time spent working and more efficient communication.

I’m also very excited about expanding the reach and impact of our #ItWasNeverADress initiative, which supports women from underserved communities seeking to start careers in tech. While I can’t reveal too much at this time, I can tell you we expect to help many more women reach their goals in technology in the coming years.

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 far too often, companies hire for the wrong traits, and similarly, workers take jobs for the wrong reasons. At Axosoft, we pride ourselves on hiring for happiness. Literally, it’s the most important trait we look for. We believe that happiness is an intrinsic value that can’t be easily taught, but that most skills can. Negative energy can plague an organization and cause severe effects.

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?

As I mentioned, negative energy is a black cloud over an organization. And worst of all, it’s like a virus; it spreads. Luckily, the same can happen with positive energy.

There are countless studies that show the crippling effects negativity—even saying a negative word—can have on a variety of situations. In contrast there are similar studies that suggest smiling or laughing can instantly improve your mood. Research also shows how stress can affect physical health, causing heart disease, weight loss and gain, and more.

Back to thinking of negativity as an illness—think about yourself when you’re not feeling well. You’re far less productive, creative, innovative, almost everything about your work suffers. If you have a company of sick employees, you can believe your profitability will suffer.

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. Improve employee physical health.
  2. Axosoft offers daily on-site fitness classes our employees can take advantage of (that count as part of their work hours).
  3. Offer convenience.
  4. We want to minimize as many external stressors as possible for our staff, so we offer catered lunches, on-site fitness classes, and on-site financial trainings and other education. These are all benefits our team can take advantage of during work hours without having to leave the office.
  5. Increase perspective.
  6. Being exposed to different people and cultures gives humans a valuable perspective that allows them to create more innovative, inclusive work. At Axosoft, we offer employees one- and five-year anniversary trips to expand culture and perspective. For one year, employees can go anywhere in the country; and for five years, anywhere in the world!
  7. Focus on what matters.
  8. We focus on providing our employees experience and exposure to things that matter and don’t focus on things like titles or awards. As the CEO, I sit in an open seating area with everyone else, and my husband does the same on the other side of the building. There is no place for corner offices at Axosoft.
  9. Provide transparency.
  10. We offer our entire team complete transparency over the company’s financials and goals. We want our team to feel safe and to understand the role they play in the long-term goals and success of the organization.

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, as a society, we need to stop thinking about work as a means to an end. But we also need to understand the reality that people need to work to survive, and not everyone can absolutely love what they do every single day. And that’s OK.

Work-Life-Balance has developed into such a buzzword that it’s become almost unattainable. It’s more about integrating the two–enjoy the people you work with, bring your dog to the office, work from home once a month.

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

My leadership style is very maternal. I truly care deeply about my staff as individual people and want to see them succeed, both while at Axosoft and when they eventually spread their wings to do other amazing things.

When Hamid and I were looking for someone to step in as CEO, we just couldn’t find anyone who we felt cared about the staff as much as they cared about the company, and that was critical for us. In the end, we felt that I was the only one who could truly love both equally and give both the attention they deserve.

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 husband and my father. I have been so fortunate to have been raised and supported by people who always say, “Why NOT you?” The thinking that I’m not good enough has never been pervasive for me because of the people in my life who lift me up. And they continue to push me to reach for higher goals.

It pains me when I hear women, especially women in tech, who have had opposite experiences, and people in their life who instead say, “Why you?” It’s something I can’t relate to, though I can sympathize.

Now, when I see ignorance in boardrooms, when I can sense someone doubting my abilities, I think “What family did you come from?” I’m constantly and will forever be grateful for the people in my life who have both believed in and challenged me.

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

I have used my leadership to positively impact each and every person who steps through our doors and dedicates their time and energy to this company. If I can create and provide an environment that makes my team happy for nine hours a day, I feel successful.

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

“All the things, all the time.”

This is truly my life. Between balancing my responsibilities as an entrepreneur, mother, wife, daughter, board member, the list goes on…and it never stops growing. I tell the women I work with frequently, especially young women at the start of their careers who are preparing for families for their own, that things in life never get easier. It’s like you have a ball that contains everything important in your life, and you just keep adding more things into the ball, and you are consistently learning how to stretch the ball a little more.

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 would love to inspire a movement, in the technology industry specifically, where revenue wasn’t the #1 driving factor for making decisions. Diversity, and lack thereof, in tech, has become a focal point in recent years. And while strides have certainly been made, tech giants remain who refuse to give diversity the attention it deserves because, well, they’re still raking in millions upon millions of dollars in revenue.

But mark my words, the organizations who prioritize diversity now will be those that outlast the rest. Diversity helps us to adapt faster, communicate better, understand and relate to more users, the list goes on.

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

About the Author:

Phil Laboon wants to live in a world where actions speak louder than words, people shout their stories from roof tops, and where following one’s passion is the norm. As a serial entrepreneur and investor, his personal and professional life has spotlighted in hundreds of publications such as People Magazine, Rueters, Forbes, Inc, HuffingtonPost, and CBS This Morning. Phil also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column on the subject of how great leaders build great companies. When he’s not building memorable brands or launching exciting startups, you can find him backpacking exotic countries looking for new inspiration and challenges. If you would like to book Phil for an entertaining speaking engagement about inbound marketing or growing a business, he can be contacted HERE.

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