Julie Clow is a co-founder of The Work Revolution project and author of The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence for All. Julie earned her Ph.D. in Psychology, and started her career as an instructional designer producing custom training solutions for large-scale clients. Julie joined Google in 2006 and spent five years focusing on team effectiveness, leadership and management, and organizational culture, primarily for engineers. During her tenure, she discovered the power of freedom and autonomy for creating a thriving workplace. Julie has been featured on CNBC, USA Today, and other business publications.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
If we compare the kind of work we are doing now to that of 100 years ago, it is vastly different. Then: highly manual unskilled labor. Now: highly innovative knowledge-based work. However, we are still following the same management practices of top-down, rules-based work environments, which only serves to stifle the very innovation we are striving for. We need to hit reset and question the way in which we lead.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
Rather than creating formal committees to address organizational issues, we form voluntary, grassroots working groups around specific challenges employees want to tackle. For example, one working group formed to think about our company culture and worked together to release a mashup that empowered employees to form micro-community groups around areas of interest. Within a month, the application had full adoption in the organization and is now part of our vernacular. Working groups can form (and disband as needed) based on the energy and passion around various challenges, which is a pragmatic method of cross-group collaboration.
Why do you do what you do?
I love seeing how people can bring talents to their jobs and thrive in ways that surpass everyone’s expectations. My goal is to cultivate excellence in individuals and in organizations by drawing out strengths and making connections in the system to amplify what is working and change what is not. The best place for me to be is embedded in an organization so I can do all of this with focused insight on the company culture and how we can continue to honor and improve it over time.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
Music is my favorite kind of art. My favorite musicians are those who have honed their craft and treat each song as a potential masterpiece. I tend towards alternative rock. Though little known, my favorite musicians and bands are Ben Folds, Built to Spill, Gomez, and Menomena.
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
We take pride in the rich, varied academic backgrounds of individuals across the company. We embrace this by hosting events that reinforce our rather geeky culture, such as puzzle nights, 3d printing classes, and tech meetups. We encourage everyone across the company to teach classes in their areas of expertise, and it’s pretty common for us to have multiple employee-led offerings in a single week.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
I have recently become obsessed with CrossFit, which is an exercise methodology based around functional, high intensity, varied movements, including as Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics. CrossFit has often been labeled as a “cult,” which I think owes more to the fact that followers become highly addicted to the format. The methodology is completely open-sourced, affiliates are easy to open (i.e., democratic and grassroots), and everything is measurable. The focus is on results, but this is accomplished through a rich community of individuals who are passionate about becoming excellent in their own way. All of these things are worth replicating in the work environment.
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Spend time really defining the salient and differentiating points about your organizational culture, and then get serious about interviewing people to make sure they will thrive in that environment. You want to find people who resonate with your culture and can actively shape it for the future. Don’t be lured by individuals who bring the right skill set if they might clash with the people and values of your organization. Opt to wait for the right people, and your community will become tight-knit, vibrant, and active.
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
My SiriusXM radio – it’s my number one source for new music and nearly always on in my apartment.
What do you do for fun?
CrossFit is my favorite activity, but I love anything active — surfing, cycling, snowboarding, hiking, yoga, running, swimming.
What time of the day do you do your best work?
I am emphatically not a morning person, and I advertise this widely, both as a disclaimer for my dysfunction in the morning and as a gentle reminder to avoid scheduling meetings with me before noon. I do my best work in the afternoon, early evening, and even late at night.