Charlie Kim is an unusual guy. One of those standouts who starts something in their college dorm and grows it quickly and exponentially. That dorm-room startup was Next Jump, the New York based mentoring platform that is dedicated to ‘changing workplace culture’. Not just his own workplace culture, you note. Yours and mine too. Everybody’s.
As CEO of Next Jump he leads his company in exceptional ways. Crazily, his 200-some employees are offered a Lifetime Employment Policy – they will stay with Next Jump for life. Performance related issues related issues are countered with coaching and skills training, and termination for under-performance is unheard of.
“Think about when you adopt a child,” says Charlie. “You don’t give the child away when she turns truant or has problems. You work with her to fix them. We treat each hire the same way.”
By taking away the threat of termination, he says, we create a safety net of openness and trust - a platform in which misgivings and inexperience can be owned and faced up to. Employees in this environment are more likely to challenge themselves and take risks, ask for help and be authentic.
Protocol like this can’t exist without an exceptionally considered and well-thought-out recruitment process, as well as innovative follow-through in all the company’s policies. It’s a game-changing commitment – but according to Charlie Kim it brings results. The profitable kind.
Simon Sinek, author, speaker, and leadership consultant, supports this kind of innovation. When an employee feels safe and has a deep sense of trust for an organisation, he says, they are more likely to be collaborative – joining their talents and strengths with colleagues, and working tirelessly to face external dangers together.
This form of behaviour can be traced back 50,000 years to the Paleolithic era, Sinek believes, when the world was full of danger – literally. When things were out to kill us. ‘Nothing personal,’ he says, ‘whether it was the weather, lack of resources, maybe a sabre-toothed tiger, all of these things working to reduce our lifespan. And so we evolved into social animals, where we lived together and worked together in what I call a circle of safety, inside the tribe, where we felt like we belonged.’
That sense of belonging was built on inherent trust and safety. Inside the circle was a tribe of social creatures collaborating for survival – pitching in with all their skills and instincts to keep the cohort thriving.
Modern day is no different, Sinek says. ‘The world is filled with danger, things that are trying to frustrate our lives or reduce our success… It could be the ups and downs in the economy, the uncertainty of the stock market. It could be a new technology that renders your business model obsolete overnight. Or it could be your competition that is sometimes trying to kill you.’
The passage of time has not changed our inherent need to feel safe, to collaborate for survival, to belong to a tribe that works together to protect every individual from danger. The only difference is that when you work in an organisation, it’s the leader who matters the most. It’s the leader who defines the culture, who drives those strong systems of engagement, safety and trust.
Just as Charlie Kim is doing at Next Jump.
Kim’s exceptional approach works because his employees feel safe. The elimination of a very real danger – that of termination - allows his staff to feel secure and protected. There’s an atmosphere of trust. When things are going not well, the support is there to guide employees through – not weed them out.
To Sinek, great leadership is about looking out for the person to your left while supporting the person to your right, and not forgetting about the people above and below. These are the leaders that stand-out. Those who make you feel safe, who are aware of the instinct for a circle of safety. We trust them inherently because they give us no reason to feel otherwise.
They’re the ones who understand that we’re a tribe, and we want to belong.