Benefits of a remote workforce and virtual communication with Arthur Woods

Arthur Woods, is the the Co-Founder of Mathison, a talent marketplace focusing purely on connecting underrepresented population to employers all over the world. Being a serial entrepreneur, and having built his business virtually, he sustain the remote workforce.

He formally led operations for YouTube’s Education division, was named to Forbes 30 Under 30, is a three-times TEDx speaker, World Economic Forum Global Shaper and a New York Venture Fellow.

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Luis: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast, the podcast that’s all about building and leading incredible remote teams. I am your host, as usual, Luis, and today with me I have Arthur Woods. Arthur is the cofounder at Mathison, a talent marketplace that connects underrepresented communities and populations to the most competitive job opportunities globally. He is also a social entrepreneur and investor, formerly head of YouTube’s Education division, named to Forbes 30 Under 30, has done like three TEDx talks, and an advisor to leading brands like Disney, MetLife, or the Smithsonian. So, that was a mouthful. I hope I haven’t messed it up too badly, Arthur.

Arthur Woods: Not at all, Luis. That was great.

Luis: Good to have you on the show.

Arthur Woods: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Luis: Yeah. So, I really want to kick off with what is, I guess, the most generic question ever, but it feels especially apropos talking to you because we were just talking off about how you believe that remote work is really key to driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Let’s kick off right with that. Why does remote work excite you right now when it comes to that?

Arthur Woods: Well, it’s a great question, Luis. When you think today about the fact that the workforce is not representative of all of the various populations around the world. Today work is not accessible for many. Think about the stay-at-home mother who’s a single-parent mom who can’t leave home because of her obligation for her kids. Think about the person who is struggling because of challenging socioeconomic issues and can’t physically get to work, or the person who may be from a community that isn’t connected into a ton of the opportunities in an urban setting. All of these factors really influence the accessibility of work and the extent to which an employer can cast the widest net possible to build representation in their workforce.

Arthur Woods: So, the power of remote work is it really absolutely transforms the extent to which work is accessible for everyone in a world when we know that we need to build representation. That’s really where I think it’s exciting. We work with a number of employers in what we do with Mathison. We’ve built a talent marketplace that is focused purely on connecting underrepresented populations to employers. A lot of what we find ourselves doing is influencing the policies of employers to help them become mindful of the ways that they can extend access to work to people they’re not currently reaching.

Luis: Nice.

Arthur Woods: One of those tactics is to consider, first of all, virtual interviews. A candidate should not have to come on site to interview. That may be a real barrier for a number of reasons, from a cost, from a logistics point of view, that may truly be a hindrance in their process. Second is considering extending virtual work opportunities to folks who may not physically be able to move to the location of that job. Especially with technology there’s a real bright spot in the workforce with engineering and technology where you have engineers around the world in many companies, like Stack Overflow, where they have a completely remote workforce. In fact, even in their HQ they have people calling in to video conferencing, even when they’re sitting next to each other, to really sustain this remote workforce, and empower folks of all locations to be treated equally. So, we’re seeing some really exciting tactics to supporting this virtual workforce that we really believe is ensuring accessibility.

Luis: Awesome. So, I want to go back a bit. When you said that you were changing policies, and then you gave examples of policies that really make a difference. I was wondering if you can give me, obviously protecting the innocent, no names need to be mentioned, …

Arthur Woods: Of course.

Luis: … but can you actually tell me a story about the case where your intervention led to those change of policies?

Arthur Woods: It’s a great question. I’ll start by saying that we in our work building this marketplace that is all about helping employers improve diversity in their hiring. We had a number of employers ask us, more fundamentally what are the ways that we can ensure we’re treating every candidate fairly, and we’re casting the widest net, and ensuring that no candidate is subject to bias. We created a new tool called our Equal Hiring Index and it’s the very first assessment to help employers assess fundamentally from every single part of the hiring process what are the potential barriers to candidates being treated equally and being treated fairly. We identified 15 different areas, in fact, that are prone to bias from the way that the upfront job description is read, to the accommodations that are made available to candidates, to even the relocation, or lack thereof, or virtual work options.

Arthur Woods: What we’ve done is we’ve made this a mandatory onboarding to our client engagements. So, we run our employers through this assessment and we identify these areas. I can tell you without naming names we’ve influenced media companies, and advertising organizations, and technology organizations to start reconsidering some of their policies. For this position let’s make it a remote position. Let’s make it something that, while it was going to be in the HQ, we’ll enable this candidate to be remote, so that that job is accessible, and let’s ensure that we’re reimbursing candidates of all levels and functions, or we’re enabling virtual interview options for candidates of all levels and functions even if they can’t come and be there in person for that interview. So, we’re really trying to show the sort of leading examples of virtual and remote work to really help influence all the employers that haven’t considered these as their policies.

Luis: Nice. Nice. That’s so true. Actually we were talking before I started this recording about my own … You asked me about how I joined this DistantJob and how I started DistantJob, and I did tell you that story. I didn’t really tell you the reason. I had a pretty successful career as a dentist. I know, nothing to do with writing or marketing, but my girlfriend at the time had a movement impairment disability. She has multiple sclerosis. The brother, her brother, actually was involved in a motorcycle accident and became a paraplegic. I was really, really aware of sometimes how people with really good talent find just arbitrary blockers to developing their careers, because sometimes it can be something …

Luis: Even if I have an office that is appropriate for disabled people, that has the commodities, it still requires a lot of mental, and the [bandwidth 00:08:00], and willpower just to get to work. Even if the facilities are there, they’re not seamless, they don’t make it as easy as working from home. So, for these people having the possibility to work from home can be so much more pleasant and productive that I find it really is a game changer.

Arthur Woods: Without a doubt. It absolutely not only signals that you’re included, and that we’re aware of maybe some of the barriers to you coming in, but you’re absolutely right, it’s also what ensures that there’s a culture of inclusion. That’s really the most important thing is that … We oftentimes are not aware of the barriers that don’t affect us. That’s really why, I think, part of the foundation of all of this work is asking people their stories, and building awareness, and finding out what may have hindered one population, or one individual, from engaging in work that we might not have just appreciated or been aware of. I think that mindfulness is really what enables us to change the rules, change policies, and as we are thinking about all of the ways that our organizations continue to grow the areas where we can just be way more mindful in the future.

Luis: Awesome. Awesome. So, how long have you been running Mathison?

Arthur Woods: So, we actually kicked Mathison off officially, brought it to market, only about six months ago, so in the summer. It’s been a really exciting ride. Our model, just to explain it a little bit more, is that we partner with nonprofits and professional associations that serve underrepresented communities, and we give them a software that surfaces the individuals they serve as job seekers. We then bridge that community and that marketplace to employers and help them source and vet amazing candidates from all communities.

Luis: Nice.

Arthur Woods: We’re serving the LGBTQ community, the disability community, communities of color, refugees, formerly incarcerated individuals, a widespread group, even folks that face ageism. What we do is every time an employer hires someone from our platform we donate half of our net profits back to the organization and nonprofit that the candidate came from. So our goal is really to reinvest in these communities, but what really has been an incredible experience for all of us has been to sit down with these amazing communities, the nonprofits deeply entrenched in communities of underrepresented job seekers, to really find out from them what are the challenges their communities face. In many ways we feel like we have this kind of cross section of powerful insights. We feel a responsibility to share with employers, because employers, as you know, are so busy. They have the best of intentions, but oftentimes they’re isn’t a ton of awareness as to what hinders candidates from engaging with them. We see ourselves as really that bridge between these amazing communities and employers that do want to make meaningful change.

Luis: Awesome. Awesome. So what have you … I am sure that has been a wild ride those past six months, though I am quite sure that you were working on it way before the launch. So, ever since you started working on Mathison what have you changed your mind the most about? I mean, tell me a story that really made you change your mind about what could really be expected from remote work or from this model?

Arthur Woods: It’s a good question. I would say what has changed my mind the most is how there is a major gap between what we intend to do and what we actually do. I say that first by sharing a couple of examples of employers that we’ve worked with who have certainly said, “Everyone matters,” but have established a bit of a pecking order of the diverse communities that they prioritize versus others. That’s been sort of surprising to see oftentimes that we have almost created a ranking order of communities that we do want to emphasize versus others, versus really building the most kind of inclusive, representative approach that does sort of equally serve everyone.

Arthur Woods: When it comes to remote work I think there are a lot of phobias and almost misconceptions that we have to overcome. One of the major ones is that if we have a remote workforce that we can’t have a strong culture. If we have people that don’t actually sit next to each other there’s no way they can build rapport, or there’s no way they can support each other and connect. I think that … Of course, as you’ve really emphasized in your podcasts, we don’t believe that’s at all the case. We think that the power of a remote workforce is in having a lot of intentionality and building systems that reinforce strong culture, and being really intentional about that. I think that there’s this, I think, sort of misconception, in many ways, there’s a trade off of having a remote workforce that you sort of have to give up the health of the organization, or the wellbeing of the organization, in order to accommodate people. I think it’s what I’ve learned and I think what you’ve, of course, reinforced is that indeed it’s not an either/or it’s a both/and. It really has to do with your strategy.

Luis: So tell me what it is about that strategy. What is your strategy for making sure that the people at Mathison really have that strong engagement, that strong culture?

Arthur Woods: Well, I’ll start by saying, my cofounder and I, Dave Walsh, have a remote work relationship. Dave sits in L.A., I sit with our team in New York. We utilize Slack for all of our communication. We have, basically, every two days a standup call that’s extremely structured. If you miss that something has to absolutely be on fire. We religiously have those calls. We rely on regular touch ins and calls, and we don’t report anything out locally without it being made first sort of announced virtually. So, our virtual communication is prioritized above local conversation in the office.

Arthur Woods: In past organizations I’ve worked with the major breakdown has been that the local community is where there’s a lot of information sharing and it isn’t extended virtually. So we rely, first and foremost, on using Slack, and using these calls for major communication, major decisions. Without that the entire integrity of the organization breaks down. I have to say it’s been really powerful, Dave and I really built our cofounding partnership virtually completely. We didn’t spend a ton of time in person together. We had a couple trips. I flew out to Ireland when we first launched the company, or when I first joined Mathison to launch it with him. What’s really powerful is I feel like we’ve been able to build a relationship remotely.

Arthur Woods: In fact, I’ve heard this from many founding teams who have actually never met each other in person. They’ve built their entire sort of rapport, and connection, and friendship, virtually. I think it really just comes down to the manner with which you communicate and, I think again, that strategy. It’s been really a powerful story in support of remote work to see that not only can we launch a company through virtual means, but we can build a partnership, and really friendship, in this remote way.

Luis: So, I want to go back a bit to get some more specifics on some things. You talked about a standup every two days that is very structured. Of course, I understand if you don’t want to give the secret sauce, but …

Arthur Woods: Oh yeah.

Luis: … I would like more details on that. What do you mean by very structured? How is that different from your regular standup that-

Arthur Woods: From a regular standup?

Luis: Yeah.

Arthur Woods: Well, the first is that we’ve disciplined ourselves to have an agenda for every meeting. We use a Google spreadsheet, and there’s literally a column for every day. So, every two days there’s a date, it’s highlighted for that day. There’s an agenda of what we actually need to cover, and then there’s a section around what were the key decisions that were made? So, everything lives in that spreadsheet. It’s our brain, essentially, what we need to cover, what decisions we’ve made.

Arthur Woods: We have a department update for every one of our individual groups, so our business development, partnerships, recruiting, and product sort of streamlines, each have their own section of that spreadsheet. It’s where they update their metrics. It’s where they indicate their talking points for the call. So, it’s an extremely structured call. It’s not just an open ended, “Hey, how’s everyone doing? Great, let’s … Okay, I guess that’s it.” We really try to keep this organized.

Luis: So, does everyone get their five minutes of fame, or is the whole team there but each team has a spokesperson?

Arthur Woods: On Mondays, we actually go around to the whole team, because we’re still fairly small. We’re only about eight people currently. On the other two days, on Wednesday and Friday, we actually have a deep dive in a certain area. It does give a single group a chance to expand a bit, because we did realize just the round robin every day it felt a bit repetitive, and it didn’t give us enough chance to get inside sort of a deeper dive of a specific area.

Arthur Woods: We are trying to use these meetings to make strategic decisions, not just provide updates. I think that is an art, as well as a science. I think what’s really important to note is these meetings, are not only our chance to see each other, but they’re our chance to make decisions, and that’s really important. We’re not making decisions offline locally. We’re trying to keep these every two days as the unifying moments where we make progress together. I think that is part of what accommodates that remote person. We could just as easily have someone in Alaska call in and be part of that decision making, sharing updates, as we could Dave, and the future L.A. team, that sit across the country.

Luis: All right. That’s awesome. I guess, how long on average do these meetings take?

Arthur Woods: These are 30 minutes.

Luis: Okay. So 30 minutes. Eight people decision making. That’s a tall order, right?

Arthur Woods: Yes.

Luis: This is a tall order. How do you … I’m sure there’s a lot of disagreement. You certainly need to have a structure. I’m assuming that either you or your cofounder eventually say, “Okay, I’ve heard everyone’s opinion now I am making a decision,” right? How do you usually keep these to 30 minutes, and still get a decent idea that you heard all the feedback that you needed to hear in order to make an educated decision?

Arthur Woods: Yeah. We have a facilitator, so it’s always a point person, and we’re not usually making huge sweeping decisions, it’s more tactical, the next two days, the next week, what needs to be done, and what do we give up? A lot of it is determining things we don’t need to do more than it is the things we do need to do, because as you know in a startup one of the things that can easily happen is we go in 10 different directions and we don’t realize that the few things we really need to get done that perhaps indicate the rest is noise.

Arthur Woods: So, a lot of the decisions are saying things like, “I can do that for you. I can take that off your plate. Let’s get more resources behind this because it’s really a priority that it gets done today.” It’s really more of that sort of status check and kind of tactical next step that we’re trying to land on in these decisions.

Luis: Got it. Got it. You told me that apart from that you try to get to touch in with everyone in the team across the week. I’ve talked to a lot of people that are fans of this. How do you do it in a way that doesn’t tend to disrupt people’s work? I mean, we’re all familiar with what they call poke management, where the manager every now and then comes by your desk and pokes you, or something like that. That kind of disrupts your work. At the same time, it is important to keep in touch with everyone. Not only how do you do it without disrupting other people’s work day, how do you do it while still keeping your schedule free for the important things, for the brainstorms, for the decision making, for those important conversations, or just for deep thinking in general? How do you schedule this?

Arthur Woods: It is really important to note that Slack, and some of these virtual communications, can be disruptive. What we’ve certainly learned is that Slack has minimized email, which is great. We’re not sending all these internal team emails, but the sort of instantaneous pinging can be disruptive. The way that we handle that is, first and foremost, we try to utilize the “I’m away, I’m working on something.” There are these new sort of status indicators that you can use. I’m either away from my desk, I’m on a call, I’m in a meeting, so I’ll be delayed. Don’t necessarily ping me right now. I will oftentimes when it’s something really important, I will actually just close out of Slack. If it’s something that I really need to not be interrupted by, and especially when it comes to client meetings, I just turn Slack off. I don’t use desktop notifications, so I’m only getting the little red indicator on the tab itself.

Arthur Woods: What we really do for the strategic meetings that need to be uninterrupted in terms of multitasking is we schedule them. What we do is we utilize our advisory board. We have a really strong group of advisors that have been highly, highly important for Mathison and it’s growth and we schedule time with them. So, what this actually enables us to do, and we do this virtually, by the way, so virtual folks are always able to be included. We always have Zoom up and live for these meetings.

Arthur Woods: We use these external advisors to kind of help us change scenery a little bit, or change the chemistry of the actual group talking, and we lean on them to help us make kind of these big strategic decisions outside of these every-other-day meetings. That just enables us to go from kind of in the weeds to 30,000 feet. It gives us a sounding board. It does enable us to kind of change the context of our meetings. It also forces us to schedule things usually longer than 30 minutes, so these meetings tend to be an hour.

Luis: Of course.

Arthur Woods: We try to lead those meetings with strategic decisions made, or insights we can present to the broader team that the team can react to.

Luis: So that’s actually one thing that I think that is awesome about Mathison is that when I go to Mathison’s page, there are almost as many advisors as team members, which definitely means that you’ve got the mentoring part right. In my experience, one of the toughest things about leading remote teams, and especially fully remote companies, is having too many chefs in the kitchen, too many cooks in the kitchen. At the end of the day, how do you juggle all these different points of data, all the advice that you get from your mentors and advisors and, again, still manage to get to an actual complete action plan at the end of one hour?

Arthur Woods: The answer is, the more structured and specific we are in the problem we’re trying to solve going into the meeting, we can have the most open-ended conversations that go in so many different directions. But if we’re not clear on the problem we’re trying to solve, it can just become wrapping around the axle. I think that takes a lot of discipline to say we’re going into this meeting to answer this question and here’s kind of the structure with which we want to do this.

Arthur Woods: I’ll give you an example. Today we’re meeting with an advisor and it’s in part to help determine the features that will be the highest impact for our community on the platform. We did a user survey, and tests, to kind of identify what their most demanding, and now we need to put it through a framework of knowing, if we’re trying to solve the problem of providing the best mentorship what are the different ways we could do that? What would that mean in terms of cost, time, and impact? So, we’re trying to be really, really sort of structured in the way that we approach that problem. I think that’s …

Arthur Woods: Again, that takes a lot of discipline and it takes a lot of planning ahead of time to have an effective meeting. One of our philosophies that we’re trying to really live by is, if we’re going into meetings in an unstructured way those meetings are going to sort of be a waste of time. It’s nice to see everyone, but we need to make sure that we’re being as strategic, and as structured, as possible as we go into meetings. Part of that is knowing who owns the meeting? Who’s responsible for the agenda? If there isn’t an agenda we’ve actually instituted the note that you can veto the meeting. If we are going into a meeting and it’s unstructured, it’s without an owner, then you have every right to say, “I’m not … This meeting isn’t worth my time,” because we’re not really going to have a structured endpoint and decision.

Luis: Got it. Got it. That makes absolute sense. I bet that after vetoing meetings a couple of times people start coming up with agendas when they are responsible for it, right?

Arthur Woods: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. What I’ve seen happen time and time again, especially when we talk about remote meetings, is we go into a meeting and we end up having actually not only an unproductive conversation but one that is distracting, and it takes us off of what we really need to focus on. I think that’s the case, I would say, for 80% of meetings, to be honest. It’s very seldom that I see a really well structured, thoughtful meeting with a clear understanding at the very beginning of, here’s what we hope to achieve in this meeting.

Luis: So, actually, I’m a big fan of questions. That’s why I have a podcast where I interview people after all. I’m wondering, when planning these meetings and, again, you might not be the responsible person, but if you are what kind of questions do you use to set up the meeting agenda? How do you … What are some questions that you formulated that you believe really bring out the thing that people should be talking about in that specific meeting.

Arthur Woods: So the first is who owns this meeting? Who’s actually responsible for it? The second is, what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? What would success look like? What is the actual agenda for what we need to discuss to get to that problem, or to solve that problem? Then, what are the concrete actions and next steps that we’ve landed on as a result of this meeting?

Luis: Awesome.

Arthur Woods: If we can’t answer those questions then we don’t believe the meeting is worth it. Again, it could potentially be more detrimental than constructive.

Luis: That’s some very strict criteria, but it definitely seems worthwhile. So I want to shift gears a bit, and I want to talk a bit about the content of some of your articles and Ted talks where you talk about purpose, about how to bring purpose to the workforce. Obviously, this conversation that we’re having right now does not exhaust the need to actually watch your videos. I recommend people watch them and I will include links in the show notes. Specifically on a remote setting when part of your business is on the other side of the country, or across a couple of oceans, how do you help your employees have that sense of purpose?

Arthur Woods: That is a great question. I think this is another really important point in remote work, it’s that everyone has a clear understanding, first and foremost, of what motivates them and inspires them in their work. Most people show up every day without a really clear sense of what their why is, what truly motivates them and wakes them up. They tend to kind of come to work unhappy and they don’t really know why. They think they need to maybe change roles, or change jobs, or industries. It’s because oftentimes they haven’t had that introspective opportunity to know, Oh, the things that really motivate me are making organizational impact, or by bringing people together and building community. So, first and foremost, we really encourage organizations to spend the time helping their people answer that really important question. What motivates me? What matters to me?

Arthur Woods: As managers one of the things that can easily happen with, especially, remote workforce is we have people who feel like they’re literally just cogs in a wheel. They’re getting assigned virtual personal assistant-type work. They’re these orders that come down through virtual means and it’s like, “Hey, go and do this.” It’s very easy, especially with folks you can’t necessarily physically sit down with every day for them to see how their work contributes to the greater mission of the organization.

Arthur Woods: We have a huge opportunity, especially with our remote workforce, to help them understand how their contribution actually feeds into the overarching goals and mission of the organization. That is really the role of a great leader, is to help everyone feel appreciated and see how their work matters, and how it contributes to the greater work. I think we have to be, again, super intentional about that. It’s not just something that folks figure out on their own oftentimes. It takes the intentional conversation to help our people connect those dots.

Luis: So, how does this conversation go like? Take me through it.

Arthur Woods: Well, the first is, and I can just do it with you, Luis.

Luis: Sure.

Arthur Woods: When you feel like you’ve been most inspired and sort of enriched and alive in your work, what are the types of things that you’re really doing every day?

Luis: Well that’s, I really feel inspired when I am … Well number one, talking with people like yourself. When I am producing this kind of content, just being able to pick the brains of people that really have achieved something in this space, that’s one. I’m also feel really inspired when I see that I’ve come up with the plan, often with collaboration of the team, and I can have that battle plan laid out in front of the team, and I see that each and every person has their part to play, and then seeing the pieces start to move, including myself. That really is an awesome, it’s an awesome feeling.

Luis: I often connected to my experience as a teenager and young adult playing World of Warcraft where you have to coordinate 40 people fighting those huge boss battles where some people have to stand here, some people have to stand there, some people have to move like that, some people were responsible for a certain phase of the fight, and like that. Just being at the helm of that and knowing that the people are depending on you for guidance and then at the same time you are dependent on the people doing, each person doing their role. That’s very exciting and very rewarding for me.

Arthur Woods: See, so what I take from that is first you’re a connector. You like building relationships with other folks and, especially, thought leaders with great ideas. You are an ideas person and you like translating those ideas into strategy. That sort of comes to this planning and kind of structured approach. Already from that super short conversation, and answer, I have a lot of hints, and clues, as to what motivates you. If I were connecting you to work, first of all the type of work that might be most interesting for you, I would say, “Hey, what’s a role where you can be in that connecting fashion, but also where you can be translating ideas into the strategies that matter?” That to me is very much a relational, and strategic, function and that would be the type of work I would want to connect you to.

Arthur Woods: What it also tells me is, as I’m helping you see your contribution I need to be putting it through the lens of how your work affecting our longer-term strategy, and helping us also impact our community because strategy and community are two things that matter to you.

Arthur Woods: So already just that short answer to me is helping me understand how I’m supporting you, and how I’m framing your work in the way that it matters. That’s the kind of, I think, opportunity each of us has as we connect with our team members to ask them that important question, what matters to you? By the way, what better way for us to build rapport with someone working remotely than asking them that important question, “What really matters to you?” Not just where’d you go to school, what are your hobbies? That’s all important work, but when we can get to the heart of what really motivates someone, we’re making the best, and most authentic, connection to them. Whether it’s in person or through remote means.

Luis: Certainly I understand the process, and thank you very much for doing the live example. I think it will be rather powerful for the listener. There’s another piece of this which is, when you have several people working in the company what do you do if you find that their purposes are either at odds or not a fit? Again, going back to the Warcraft example, we have 40 people. In 40 people we have, let’s say, we have like eight groups of five. There’s a room for, let’s say, five class leaders. That used to be the distribution on my old Warcraft skill. Five class leaders that manage each of the classes, or roles, in the raid. Then, there’s the room for one guild leader that keeps everyone together, and one raid leader that directs the overall strategy off the group on a five per five basis.

Luis: Now, let’s say that my role is as a good class leader. Well, what if there are 10 people like that, 10 people that need that thing, need to be doing the class leader role in order to feel purpose, but you don’t need 10, you only need five, right? This is what I’ve put … I mean, a couple of my colleagues have put in a less glamorous slide, but I have been told, not at DistantJob, but at the previous work that, “You know, it’s nice to want to everyone learn leadership, but eventually you need someone to take out the trash.”

Arthur Woods: Right. I would actually sort of reframe your question a little bit, or I would push back a little bit on the premise. What I would say is, if we think of purpose as this mutually exclusive, you know sort of I can only, … My purpose is to be a leader, I would say we’re sort of framing it the wrong way. What we instead did in my last organization Imperative, which became a really powerful assessment, was create a vocabulary for not like what is your purpose? And it’s this one thing like, “I have to be a leader of an organization.” Instead asking the question, “What gives you purpose? If leading gives you purpose, basically there’s an opportunity to then ask, “Well, what kind of impact do you want to make as a leader?” You could say, “Well, I want to actually impact individuals. I want to have that direct impact.” You might say, “As a leader I want to have an organizational impact,” and you might also say that, “I want to have a societal impact.” That reframes sort of why you’re leading as to who your leadership serves in a way that’s not mutually exclusive.

Arthur Woods: You can have some leaders who want to have that overarching impact and others who want to have a more direct impact, and it doesn’t mean that the only way you achieve your purpose is by being the CEO of an organization. So, what we did at Imperative, and Imperative continues to do really great work around this, is to build a common language around the different ways that you experience purpose, and meaning, in a way that isn’t only some can do this and others cannot, because we did find if you had this kind of one true love approach to purpose, which was that I can only do it if I do the following functions, it is going to be very exclusive, and there will only be some who can experience it. So we sort of turned the entire approach on its head to be something that everyone could sort of relate to. Does that make sense?

Luis: Yeah, yeah, but can you give me some examples?

Arthur Woods: Sure.

Arthur Woods: Instead of saying, “My purpose is to build wells in Africa,” or “My purpose is to one day lead a huge organization,” it’s like if you don’t do those specific things you won’t achieve purpose. Instead we said, “Well your purpose comes down to three things.” The first is what scale of impact do you want to have? That’s either direct, organizational, or it’s societal. What are the values you stand for? These really speak to your worldview and sort of what matters to you. That could be creating a quality, or it could be something like creating progress. The third is, “What are the unique ways you lead and approach your work that most fulfill you?” That could be bringing people together. It could be creating structure, unearthing insights and knowledge, or it could be leading with empathy. All of a sudden what you find in this is by answering these questions you have three very different insights about the individual. One is, what kind of impact do they want to make, what’s the way that they lead to achieve that impact, and then what matters to them in terms of the values they stand for?

Arthur Woods: That gets purpose out of this, “I only can achieve it if I build wells in Africa.” If you really ask someone, “Why were you building wells in Africa?” It might have been so they could help people, and you would know from that that, “Wow, okay, so I understand you want to help individuals?” You could do that actually in different ways than just building wells in Africa, right?

Luis: Yeah. That actually goes to a tool that some of my guests have pointed out, which is the 5 Whys tool, which is that when someone tells you, “What do you want to do?” “I want do this,” then you ask why. That’s how you get to wells in Africa, to helping people to, ultimately, being happy. You usually get … If you ask why enough times you can usually laser focus a bit on what kind of feeling that person is really looking for. Then, once you know the feeling that the person is looking for you can find a way to get them to them in other ways.

Arthur Woods: That’s exactly right. I think it’s important that we have that framing so that folks aren’t hindered by the question itself. I think if we do ask sort of what is your purpose in a way that is just this limiting fashion we can get people somewhat stuck.

Luis: Exactly. My purpose is to have five private jets and two islands, et cetera.

Arthur Woods: Right, exactly.

Luis: That really is not the point. So, we are nearing one hour. I want to be respectful of your time, so I want to finish with some rapid fire questions.

Arthur Woods: Sure.

Luis: You don’t have to answer them in rapid-fire. I’m just, they are just charging the point questions that I try to ask when I feel it makes sense. For starters, if you had $100 to spend with each person working for you, what would you give them? There are some rules that come with this. You can’t give them the money, and you need to give the same thing to everyone. You can’t just choose a different thing for each person.

Arthur Woods: That’s a great question. If I had $100 I could give to everyone working for me I would focus it on … So, Imperative came up with a great framework called RIG, and it’s the three things that really generate fulfillment for you, relationships, impact, and growth. Building connection to community, making a difference, or growing. I would say this is your RIG that’s the acronym, your RIG fund. So do this, use this hundred dollars to either meaningfully invest in a relationship, make an impact or make a difference, or invest in your growth.

Luis: Okay. So, what about yourself? What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?

Arthur Woods: A purchase that’s made my work life easier has certainly been … I actually just recently invested in a tablet which has enabled me to take notes and not lose my Moleskine every time. So, having virtual ways of capturing notes has been really game changing for me.

Luis: What kind of tablet, if I may ask?

Arthur Woods: It’s an iPad.

Luis: Pro or normal?

Arthur Woods: An iPad mini actually.

Luis: Oh, how nice. Nice. It’s little.

Arthur Woods: Yeah, very small. Yeah, yeah, but it’s been great.

Luis: I love it. By the way, there is an overexpansive Moleskine that you can scan directly into Evernote.

Arthur Woods: Is that right? Wow.

Luis: I’ve never tried it but …

Arthur Woods: That’s really cool.

Luis: … it looks cool.

Arthur Woods: That’s cool. I haven’t seen that.

Luis: What book or books have you gifted the most, to your employees, or partners, or whatever?

Arthur Woods: So, one of my favorites is Essentialism. This is one that really speaks to the 80/20 rule and how you have to … There’s so much noise and if you can get a clear focus on what you’re doing it is absolutely what makes or breaks organizations. So, it’s one that I’ve given, it’s one that I’ve internalized, it’s one that I reference regularly.

Luis: Awesome. Okay, so final question. Let’s say that you are having, that you are hosting a dinner in a Chinese restaurant where there’s going to be a round table about the future of work and remote work, and you know you have attendees that are some real decision makers in big tech companies, and even small or medium tech companies. As the host you get to pick the message that goes inside the fortune cookie. Of course, it can’t be commercial or promotional, it needs to be advice because that’s what Chinese fortune cookies do. What is the message inside the Chinese fortune cookie?

Arthur Woods: I would say land on your why statement or your purpose statement, and continue to check yourself against it and monitor the extent to which you’re leading with that on a regular basis. The biggest mistake I see leaders make is they don’t ask that question of themselves, “What is my why?” early enough, and they don’t continue to get a pulse on how well they’re leading against that, or living it in their work. They’re straying away from it and realizing it kind of way late. So, the earlier we can answer that question, and the sooner we can continue to check ourselves against it, I think the more we’re going to be on track in leading in a way that’s most authentic.

Luis: Okay. That sounds like some sound advice. That is surprisingly sound and articulate advice for a Chinese fortune cookie. So, thanks for that. So, Arthur, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. When our listeners want to continue the conversation with you where should they go? Where can they reach you? Where can they learn more about Mathison?

Arthur Woods: Absolutely. So I’m on Twitter at Arthur Woods, and you can also find us at Mathison.io, M-A-T-H-I-S-O-N.io. Please join our platform. It’s, free for everyone to sign up as job seekers. We have a lot of great resources and opportunities there.

Luis: Awesome. Hey, this was a pleasure. Thank you so much for being part of the DistantJob Podcast.

Arthur Woods: Thanks, Luis. I really appreciate you having me.

Luis: Yeah, same here. See you around. Same here.

Luis: So, we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to, as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.

Luis: Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on the Your Favorite Episode, any episodes really, and subscribe. By subscribing you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up, and whenever we get the transcripts off the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

Luis: And, of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country, look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. To help you with that, again, instantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of Distant Job Podcast.

More ways to listen:

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Remote work is really the key to drive diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And to get workplace diversity and inclusion right, you need to build a culture. On this episode, Arthur Woods is sharing his strategy on how to ensure a culture inclusion on a remote setting.

He believes the power of a remote workforce is in having a lot of intentionality and building systems that reinforce strong culture.

Recommended books

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

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