Remove the Fear, and Other HR Advice from Josh Linkner

July 21, 2016 Sarah Payne

Josh LinknerWhen we talk about defying tradition in the business world, how often are we referring to HR? What opportunities are there to elevate the role of HR and encourage more entrepreneurial thinking?

These are topics close to Josh Linkner’s heart. As the founder and CEO of four tech companies (and author of bestsellers The Road to Reinvention and Disciplined Dreaming), Josh Linkner has extensive experience in adapting quickly and taking risks. At the same time, he’s a firm believer in putting people first. In a recent blog post on empathy, he echoes a very #WorkHuman sentiment when he writes:

The best business leaders carefully manage the emotional state of those around them. They realize that people perform at their very best while feeling supported and appreciated. In our competitive world, you’ll only seize your full potential by supporting the imagination, confidence, and sense of purpose of others.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Josh about what it really takes to create a thriving culture and how HR can take a leading role in defying tradition in the workplace.

Read the full Q&A below.


You are the founder and CEO of four tech companies. What has that taught you about creating a thriving company culture?

To fully leverage the creativity of your team, you need to first of all do something important. There has to be a rallying cry that is bigger than a paycheck or making money. If the team feels like they are doing work that matters, that’s critical to solid culture. Next, people need to feel like they have a voice, like they can leave their fingerprints on the organization.

“Doing work that matters, that’s critical to solid culture.” @joshlinkner
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Once those two are established, it’s all about creating a safe culture that celebrates new ideas instead of punishes them. People won’t bring their creativity to the surface if it feels risky. Instead, people thrive when they feel they can express their ideas freely, with no fear of retribution.  So combine a) work that matters, b) a platform for people to leave a direct impact, and c) a safe environment. Those three added up equals a thriving culture.


In your Total Rewards keynote, you stressed the importance of defying tradition. What might that look like for HR leaders? Can you share an example?

One company I interviewed in my research issues every team member two “corporate get of jail free” cards each year. They tell the team to take responsible risks, be creative, and try new things. And if they screw something up, they use a card and that team member is off the hook, no questions asked. On the annual reviews, leaders will be disappointed if team members haven’t used both of them. Feels risky, right? But what’s the risk of not doing something like this? Mediocrity? Irrelevance? So many companies try to avoid risk and play it safe, but ironically that can be the riskiest move of all.


What’s one fun fact most people don’t know about you?

I started my career as a jazz guitarist and still perform live in jazz clubs when I have the time. I truly love the art form. It is spontaneous creativity.  It’s risky. There are few rules. You have to make things up as you go. Sounds a lot like the modern world of business, no?


What advice do you give leaders who want to encourage more entrepreneurial thinking in their organizations?

Remove the fear. Fear is the single biggest blocker of creativity, not natural talent. As human beings, we all have enormous creative capacity. Leaders need to create a safe environment if they want fresh, creative, entrepreneurial ideas to flow freely.

“Leaders need to create a safe environment if they want…ideas to flow freely.” @joshlinkner
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At Total Rewards, you also challenged HR leaders to adapt fast. Can you think of a company or leader who has done this well?

Many! Amazon is doing incredible things, pushing the boundaries of technology, talent, and human interaction. There’s a smaller company in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Menlo Innovations. The founder/CEO, Rich Sherridan, is doing some really progressive things around culture and even wrote a book about it: Joy, Inc. I highly recommend it. He’s pioneering a new model for a highly engaged workforce.


What role do you see recognition playing in creating a more creative and innovative work environment?

Big time! This is especially true for millennials. Old school thinking is that compensation is what matters most, but recognition (in all forms) can be a major driver in innovative thinking. Companies that celebrate the wins, demonstrate transparency, take the challenges head-on as a team, and recognize those who not only deliver results but live the cultural values, are the ones who will enjoy a disproportionate share of victory in the future.

“Recognition (in all forms) can be a major driver in innovative thinking.” @joshlinkner
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What does a more human workplace mean to you?  

Too often, we hire people who are whip smart and have terrific judgment but then never let them use it. We need to stop breeding compliance and start fostering creativity. A more human workplace isn’t about cool chairs or bright colors… it is about a culture that allows people to express themselves, discover meaning, and drive impact. It’s about autonomy and the pursuit of mastery. It’s about serving rather than taking. Idea-centric over rules-centric.

Remove the Fear, and Other HR Advice from @joshlinkner #workhuman
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WorkHuman is the Future: Andy Swann Q+A (Part 2)

On Purpose and Thriving: Andy Swann Q+A (Part 1)

On Work, Love & Play: An Interview with Brigid Schulte

Hacking the Management Model: Q+A with Dr. Gary Hamel (Part 2)

The End of Management as We Know It: Q+A with Dr. Gary Hamel (Part 1)

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