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Growth Hacking Humans

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By Jason Herndon, Director of Technology Innovation, RAIN.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.

Here at RAIN, we work on some cutting-edge technology. We are helping to define what voice interactions look like on platforms like Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana. We are pioneering new frontiers in UX. We build some of the coolest stacks for the largest companies in the world, and for fun, we dabble in AR, VR and robotics. We’re restless for a living. And yet — as emerging tech-focused as we are, some of the problems we face aren’t technical.

From the outside looking in, giant companies like Amazon, Apple or Facebook sometimes appear to be well-oiled machines, working in perfect synchronization. But the best companies haven’t growth hacked their company — they’ve growth hacked their people.****Human problems can’t be solved by understanding your market, your technology or your organization any better. To solve them, you have to learn to “hack humans.”

Understand your team, and yourself.

When we think about how a project or company might fail, we’re likely to blame tight deadlines, limited resources and misunderstood objectives. And while those are all real, so are the expectations and mindsets of the people who operate in those deadlines, resources and objectives.

We generally don’t stop and ask ourselves: “In what ways is this project or product likely to cause us stress, and how can I mitigate that now?” But we absolutely should. We’re real human beings. We have hopes and fears, and are allowed to be overwhelmed, frustrated or stressed. And guess what? So is everyone else on your team.

If you’re a team leader, ask yourself, do you know what makes everyone on your team stressed? Don’t just say something like “deadlines” … some people thrive in deadlines! Take a look at each member of your team and spend a few minutes thinking about what makes them tick. What projects do they love? When are they most excited? When are they most likely to rip their hair out? And if you don’t know those answers, grab a bite to eat with them and find out. Ask questions and dig deep until you understand yourself and your team. There’s zero substitute for knowing how you and those around you will operate under both normal and stressful conditions.

Handle conflict well.

When it comes to conflict or trouble within a company, it’s not “if”, but “when”. The best thing you can do when a conflict or problem arises on a project is to meet it, head on. Even for conflict that goes beyond things like “design was late” to something more specific like “John is being unreasonable,” then the best thing to do is have a conversation with John.

Ignoring issues never makes them go away. Never. Of course, neither does being a bully and confronting people with aggression or treating them as wholly other just because they don’t think or act like you.

There’s a now-famous meditation exercise taught within Google by employee number 107, Chade-Meng Tan, called “Just Like Me.” It essentially says that when faced with a particularly tough conversation or conflict, you stop and pause to take a moment to visualize the person you’re about to meet as a person just like you. One with their own desires to be happy and free from stress, just like you. It doesn’t change the situation, but it can relieve a bit of your stress or anger and allow you to manage the conversation better.

Tell your partner that you care about the relationship and you won’t let anything jeopardize it and watch them blush. Tell your employee that, and show them that through your actions, and watch them commit. It’s human nature.

Remember, failure is always an option.

Ask Amazon how it’s Fire Phone is doing, Facebook how is AI project is moving along, or Uber how any of 2017 went…

When it comes to allowing your company to reach its absolute full potential, failure is always an option. This implies that everyone in the company is entitled to take risks. This does a lot of things organizationally — it brings people to the table in a way that it wouldn’t if nothing was on the line, and fosters a culture where new ideas and markets are discoverable. But on a human level, one of the biggest things that it does is create a safety net.

A culture of risk-taking allows everyone to know that they don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, and they don’t have to have all the answers. One of the reasons people don’t fully commit to a company isn’t always that they lack motivation or opportunity. Often, the problem is they don’t trust you keep them safe. And when it comes to a new projects or products, everyone having their guard up because they’re not securely attached to your team doesn’t make for good outcomes.

If you want 2018 to be the year that your company reaches new levels, invest in understanding your team, not just your industry. Don’t hack growth — learn to hack humans.