Author: Gabriella Anesio
Nicolai Vittrup, founder and CEO of Webamp, shared in this interview his approach to being a leader, an entrepreneur, and the shaper of a company culture premised on trust and having fun.
In the journey of creating something truly amazing out of the company you’ve put years of hard work into making, dedicated personal resources to, and sacrificed a social life for, it can become tricky to keep a balanced perspective. It can become tempting to want to “beat the rest” playing the same game, namely your competitors. But remaining humble and reminding yourself of why you entered the game in the first place is so important with regard to keeping the integrity of your company intact.
Being top dog is an instinctive desire, but that kind of mentality could potentially fall into the trap of putting too much focus on forces outside of the company, when the majority of attention should be paid to what’s happening within. As Nicolai says,
“Here it’s all about challenging ourselves, not our competitors. We don’t strive to be the best, we strive to be better than we were yesterday.”
Striving to be the best is about the external vs. the internal, namely competitors vs. yourself. Striving to be better than you were yesterday is about the internal vs. the internal, namely pushing yourself to keep getting better, finding new methods, redefining approaches, and making work more fun.
Naturally, comparison to other companies is not only a natural instinct, it’s also necessary to become better yourself, as you learn more, challenge previous perceptions, and rethink approaches implemented. However, the issue arises when you premise the success of your company entirely on how it ranks in relation to others - as Nicolai hints at, you’re successful when the company has improved in itself, not necessarily overtaken a competitor in the market.
When your mission is to be better every single day than you were before, the “training” never stops. That’s not to say you have to work round the clock and get a crappy three hours of sleep per night, but rather it’s about always making sure to utilise the time you have in a working day and dedicate that time to creating outstanding work.
“As we are in the super league, we have a responsibility to train as much as we possibly can, which I expect from everyone. You have to look at it like a training ground: if you train less one week, you are either under-performing or you need to make up for lost time in the coming weeks. There is always work to be done and there is always the responsibility to be better, so, theoretically, you can’t ever “be done with all tasks”. There is always more to be done.”
In essence, if you say you have “nothing else to do”, you’re saying that there’s no room for improvement - which there always is. However, even though Nicolai expects his employees to “train” hard, he also expects people to have fun along the way.
After all, a clear indication of whether you’re in the right job role is if you’re not just doing work for the sake of doing it, but doing it because you love it and get a rewarding feeling from doing it. Essentially, “training” should be fun and fuel you to constantly want to improve on your individual work and the work output of the company.
Having fun along the way is clearly of utmost importance for Nicolai, as this was his response when asking him to summarise the company ethos:
“Webamp is a playground where we develop talent.”
Helping his employees thrive in their positions and learn more every day has nothing to do with beating others, it’s a personal journey which will help Webamp keep its humility and moral roots - this is also a large part of the company identity which clients can see and instantly fall in love with. Good companies, at the end of the day, are made up of people who love their job, not a bunch of shallow statistics.
To say you trust your employees is easier said than done, but keeping employees on a tight leash has the repercussion of prohibiting innovation and freedom to experiment. That’s why Nicolai has always made it his goal to give as much trust as he can. The reward = a thriving company culture where people are simultaneously working hard and having fun in the process.
“I have full trust in my employees to be responsible for themselves, and it’s up to them to prove me wrong, not for me to prove them wrong. We have an unspoken deal and if you go against your word, it’s on you and there will be repercussions if not dealt with. I believe in second and third chances, but if it becomes a pattern in behaviour I can’t carry on being lenient.”
So crucial in this is that it’s never a boss’s job to prove their employees wrong. By giving trust, all you can do is hope employees will prove you right by showing how hard they work and the successful results with it. On occasion, however, people can prove you wrong by turning mistakes and lack of work ethic into a trait, as opposed to a fleeting mistake - and it’s in moments like this that Nicolai has to tighten the leash.
However, the majority of the time, everyone at Webamp proves Nicolai right with their relentless efforts in improving themselves as well as the company as a whole. That’s what fuels Nicolai to continue trusting his employees.
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