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“I think the most successful people understand what a good investment is, and I think investing in alignment between values and action is one of the best investments one can make.”

In this episode of the Mindspace podcast, Dr. Joe welcomes Adrian Schauer, CEO of Alayacare, serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and philanthropist.

Alayacare is Adrian’s third startup. It provides software for home health care agencies with the mission “to enable the type of care we would want our loved ones to receive at home.” They now have 130 employees and their software enables hundreds of thousands home healthcare visits every month around the world. Last year, they raised over $13 million.

Adrian is also active as an angel investor and sits on the board of several companies. He is also the co-founder of the Madiro Fund, a non-profit that seeks “to invest in sustainable local projects promoting the health of communities in sub-Saharan Africa.” 

In this conversation, Joe and Adrian explore the theme of creating and sustaining meaning at work, both for individuals and leaders in organizations. They cover: 

  • Adrian’s purpose as an entrepreneur
  • How he approaches keeping his employees and stakeholders engaged and inspired
  • How mindfulness has impacted the culture at Alayacare
  • The importance of aligning actions with clearly articulated values – both personally and professionally 
  • What practices he relies on to stay healthy, balanced, motivated, and energized

One final note: Mindspace has an increasingly robust offering to organizations interested in improving engagement, culture, and well-being. Our team brings expertise in mindfulness and 30+ years experience in management consulting to the table. So if this is something your organization is considering, please visit mindspacewellbeing.com or reach out at info@mindspacewellbeing.com.

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Here are some highlights of Dr. Joe’s conversation with Adrian:

 

Achieving alignment in organizations

“Our purpose is to enable the type of care we would want our loved ones to receive at home.”

You have to make this vision really come alive for the stakeholders that you mentioned. I’d like you to talk about, if you can, how you keep the stakeholders aligned with that vision?

Let’s start with what’s on top of a lot of business owners’ minds. A lot of ink has been spilled over the challenge of keeping millennials engaged. I don’t mean that in an insulting way to millennials. It’s just a way to identify a demographic that is taking up more and more space in the labour force.

So how do you approach the problem of keeping people motivated to work hard towards this vision?

That’s the classic question. The why. And until we were 40 to 50 people, I didn’t need to be that explicit about it. That’s because at that size, everybody was in fairly direct contact with the why. Even a developer writing code would get out to a client. They would meet the nurse delivering care in the home. They would be at most one jump away from the end result of their work.

As we get bigger, that becomes harder. And so for the last couple of years, I’ve been very explicit about it. Our purpose as an organization is to enable the type of care we would want our loved ones to receive at home.

I have a slide on that. I have a picture of my father in law which helps me maintain that personal connection to the why. And I put that up at every town hall followed by the vision, the mission, and our values.

I put up the why explicitly and ask anyone to think about what their personal connection is to the why.

Any other tactics?

I’m a bit resistant to the term tactic. I said it’s more explicit now than it used to be. But I don’t consider it a tactic. I think I know at the front end of my career when I was working a job for somebody else, what made it meaningful was understanding the big picture. And seeing how my efforts contributed to the whole.

So I consider this not a tactic, but a core part of what I do. It’s also a precondition for success in a startup… I think.

One point I want to make about millennials is that they get a lot of credit for forcing employers to bring meaning and purpose into their job. But they didn’t invent that concept. Great companies always had purpose. Great leaders always connected people to meaning. Millennials, for reasons we could discuss, just have that as an expectation. They didn’t invent the concept.

So I’m guessing the word ‘tactic’ invokes manipulation or some kind of opaque intention. And you’re resisting that because in your case it is authentic and aligned. Right?

And yet there are tons of engagement enhancing tactics out there. So why not the word tactic? It is something that you’re doing–okay, it’s not something manipulative–but let’s say you’re an HR person or a learning development person in a large organization, they have to figure out strategies and tactics to keep people engaged.

I think you nailed it. It’s the sense that it’s not authentic. If that association isn’t there, I have no problem with the word.

But I think there is nothing worse than an explicit attempt to create engagement that is inauthentic. If it’s inauthentic, you’re better off not doing it or going back and searching it into what you can authentically put forward as a purpose.

And if I can use that statement as a lead in to how I would have had to answer this question earlier in my career, I’ve been thinking a lot about it. So being in the health tech industry, this is very easy because the result of our work, if we do it right, is better care. It’s pretty easy.

The first business I was involved with was a mobile marketing company. When we did well, Pepsi sold more sodas or Nike sold more shoes. What was meaningful work in that context was much harder. We were younger. This wasn’t topical. But we had the same challenge as to why are people going to pour an exorbitant amount of their mental and emotional energy into this project that we had together.

And at the time, it was very much about the community we had within the startup. There was the classic growth, success, so on and so forth. But at the end of the day, the meaning for people came from the fact that they were in a project together with people they cared about, who cared about them, and we were all trying to realize something together.

But if you just start in quality assurance at Alayacare, you are now six hops from the impact of the work you do. If you’re a QA on the team of developers, and that team of developers reports to an engineering manager, who reports up to a VP of engineering, who build what product management specs for you, who have people who work for our client success team who are out there talking to the people that are using the software.

So how tight can that connection really be whether I put up a slide at the beginning of every town hall or not?

I’m preoccupied by this. And I think more tactics are needed to go beyond the slide, and even to go beyond the authenticity of the message behind the slide.

So we’ve done initiatives over the years trying to get developers out to clients and meet the caregivers. For our Christmas party this year, before we got into the party, party event, we picked our 30 favourite clients and we broke into teams. Many of the teams had people new to Alayacare. And we tried to either build a little feature, deliver a dashboard, something that was going to be meaningful to our clients. And on every team was someone who spent a lot of time with that client. So I think initiatives like that are required.

 

Mindfulness at Alayacare

So that’s really about connecting people—your people—to the end result of what they’re doing. But I know you take other initiatives that are more about creating community or even creating wellness in the organization.

I know, for example, that you’ve been dabbling in the mindfulness space a little bit. Can you tell us how you see mindfulness fitting into this overall strategy? And again, I hesitate to use the word strategy because it implies manipulation, but again in this case, assuming it’s authentic.

I think that’s another thing you have to be explicit about whether you call it strategy or tactics or not. The nature of our work is as if it were written for the need for mindfulness, particularly on the product side of the business.

It’s deep concentrated work, done in an environment of continuous distraction. And the difference in productivity between being able to stay engaged with a problem you’re trying to solve for half an hour at a time, an hour at a time, rather than in the 12 seconds in between the instant messages coming in on Slack. It’s probably a 10x multiple on productivity one state of being versus the other.

So we are very aware of what increased mindfulness can do for our people. I don’t think we’ve yet fully figured out how to bring that into the workplace. But we recognize its importance.

And one of the really interesting things that happened after our last engagement with Mindspace was how the vocabulary of mindfulness entered into how people talked about what they were doing. ‘I’m being mindful’ became a substitute for, ‘I’m not multitasking during this meeting.’

And I think often just establishing the right way to think about attention has a huge impact in and of itself.

I feel we’re back into this kind of tactic question because there’s been so much criticism from more let’s say the meditation community that are more preoccupied with ethics. I’m sure people are shuttering hearing you say that. It’s like, ‘Oh my God. You want to deploy a practice that was developed and refined in Buddhism among other traditions to help people become more compassionate, more insightful about suffering in the world, and to make the world a better place, and achieve a deep state of well-being. And you’re talking about improving productivity by a factor of 10?’

And yet, this has to be potential to be helpful, not only for your organization, but for the individuals because they’re going to feel better and feel healthier, if they’re practicing mindfulness.

One of the concerns is that you care about mindfulness to the extent that it helps productivity, not to the extent that it helps people reduce suffering. And it might even help pacify them to just sort of accept and deal with inequities or conditions in the workplace that are fundamentally unhealthy.

I think it’s an alignment question, and an easy one because the goals of the company are not misaligned with the goals of the individual at the company.

I’m going to focus on the software developer role. We have lots of other roles, but generally people who have chosen this as a profession like solving problems. They like losing themselves in the problem that they’re trying to solve.

When you try and promote a great developer into a management position, it is not always a reward. We face that constantly. So if we are going to create an environment for people to spend their days the way they want to spend their days, often this mindfulness tactic is more about removing the obstacles to them being able to direct attention and spend their time in a way that makes them most fulfilled.

So I don’t really see an opposition here, even though it is a tactic and the goals of the company, although they aren’t totally selfish, could be largely selfish.

What do you mean, ‘they could be largely selfish’?

So if all we cared about was maximizing productivity per dollar spent in salary, we could still deploy mindfulness as a tactic. The fact that we also care about the well being of our people is important, but it’s incidental to the fact that we think mindfulness is worthwhile focusing on within our company.

 

What is Success?

“These ‘I love you man’ moments are really how I measure my impact, and what gives me the most pride in what I do.”

We’ve talked a lot about Alayacare and what it would mean for the organization to be successful.

What about for you personally? What does success look like for you?

It’s interesting. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit lately. I used to get a much better dopamine rush from the material milestones.

In my first startup it was my first million of revenue, closing a hundred thousand dollar deal. Those things really worked. It really got me going. And I was still in a phase of my life where to the extent that it represented personal wealth, I thought I could somehow translate that into some kind of incremental happiness. That’s not so true anymore.

So the things that give me the most pride, the things I’m most connected to emotionally are very tilted towards the people at Alayacare having great experiences.

We had our holiday party a couple of weeks ago. It always comes with a few drinks, but these ‘I love you man’ moments are really how I measure my impact, and what gives me the most pride in what I do. There were a lot of them, and they were all mutual.

That’s the other thing: people who expressed their appreciation for Alayacare creating an environment where they can grow and be successful, in every single case, I was able to say, ‘Why are you thanking me? We should be thanking you.’ And that was a great feeling.

Achieving alignment within oneself

Is there anything else that you want to say that we haven’t covered?

I think one of the ways you get alignment in your life is to try and telescope between the long range, the short range, the medium range, and all of the various contexts you’re in, and try to see if you can tell yourself the same story through all of those.

And as soon as you can’t go to work figuring out how you can, either by changing the story or by changing what your goals are in any of those contexts.

I said at the outset that the only things that have to happen for Alayacare to be successful is that old people have to receive great care at home and people have to find Alayacare as a place to build a meaningful career. That’s the longest term, and it’s also a perspective in decisions I make every day of my life.

So I think consistency, spending the mental energy to get consistency will bring you alignment. That’s something I recommend to everyone.

What do you tell yourself? What’s the same story in different contexts?

It’s a way of saying world view. It’s a way of making sense of what you’re doing and where you’re directing your energies. An example of an inconsistency would be to say, ‘Today I’m going to deploy the tactic of making people feel connected to their work, so that 5 years from now I can fly a private jet after having sold the business.’ That would be an example of dissonance. That would be a lack of alignment. And I wouldn’t want to exist in that state.

Because?

Because then you’re inauthentic. You have to maintain different ways of thinking. You have to figure out where those rub up against themselves. You have to make hard decisions all of the time. Where if you have a consistent view, even hard decisions are not about the battle of your values. They’re about how to realize them in the world.

And my mind stays happily in that state, whereas it stays very unhappily in a state where I’m trying to pick priorities and make one perspective overlap with another perspective that are fundamentally not overlapping.

So, mechanically, how do you develop that consistency? 

I think everyone all of the time, myself included, has the experience of two incoherent perspectives rubbing up against themselves.

Example?

Let’s say I need to get to the office now, and I have a call to sort through an acquisition that we want to make where there are people who are going to come into the Alayacare family. And the right business idea is to figure out how quickly we can not need those people.

So I can go into that trying to maximize the profitability in this negotiation. I could focus on that, and then I’m going to be taken a sip of water and have to tell myself why those people are less deserving of my care than people we hired, rather than acquired.

Everyone has those experiences. It’s very tempting to just dismiss those thoughts. But I find it very rewarding to not move past those thoughts. But to force myself to make sense of it.

Why are those who I didn’t choose, but who we’ve acquired into the team—are those people fundamentally different in terms of how I should care about them because of how they came into the family? Yes or no.

If the answer is yes, that’s okay. But I need to keep that perspective. I need to understand what it is. And why it’s different, and act on that consistently. If it’s not, if the answer is no, I need to figure out—I need to spend the energy to figure out how these people who are joining Alayacare, under a different circumstance, are going be a part of the family.

This sounds like being very aware of what thoughts and emotions are motivating your decisions. And always checking in with, I guess there’s that word alignment.

How does this decision fit in with the bigger picture and the bigger model of what I’m doing? And if it doesn’t, how do I correct that misalignment?

So self-awareness is key. And it’s harder work than just moving past it. It sounds like that requires a high level of discipline.

Yeah. I guess so.

What about people who either don’t care or don’t have the discipline or who are too tired? This is a pretty high standard you are appealing to.

There is an alternative: Don’t do it.

But it’s an investment. Spend energy now to save energy later. And not everybody makes good investments. But I think the most successful people understand what a good investment is. And in terms of how to live one’s life, investing in alignment is one of the best investments one can make.