Connecting & Retaining People Trumps Protecting Information

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  • 19 May 2016
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Contributed by, Tim Bowman

In an Agile Everything world, a new axiom is emerging: connecting and retaining people trumps protecting information. In this piece, we will explore the origins, implications and benefits of embracing this brave new world.

Market leaders in the Age of Information thrived on their ability to extract a competitive advantage due to the asymmetrical distribution of and access to data. The maturation and proliferation of the internet, initially the cause of this data asymmetry, has flipped this paradigm on its head. We now find ourselves awash in data, never more than a few clicks away from learning just about anything.

This new reality is governed by a revolutionary idea, as pointed out by Jon Katz in Wired Magazine way back in 1997.

“The single dominant ethic in this community is that information wants to be free.”

Almost 20 years later, we have become so used to this ethic in our personal lives that we increasingly expect it in our professional lives too.

Embracing this philosophy marks the tipping point between the Age of Information and the Age of Experience. When everyone has access to the same information, the imperative shifts from protecting, it to creating systems that use it to unlock human creative potential. In this new age, to be agile enough to move at the speed of customer expectations, organizations must make information “free” to all of its people in terms of accessibility and flow. As Thomas Jefferson said,

“Wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

Put another way, when we make information free, we democratize the workplace and enable holacracy.

But, there is a very important corollary to this approach: By valuing the flow of information over the information itself, the accumulated intelligence of the organization now resides within its people. Tenured talent acts as the organization’s wise elders, whose wisdom and stories help the next generation of employees navigate the system and understand cultural norms. Without them, the all-important context necessary to understand the accumulated intelligence of the organization is lost. Simply put, the battle of the future won’t be documenting and sharing IP, but rather, connecting and retaining the best and brightest.

How do we act on this insight?

Two and half years ago, Revel asked ourselves this question. The introspective process led to a complete reevaluation of our core strategy. We landed on three pillars to win in this new paradigm: Disrupt the Status Quo, Deliver Unparalleled Experiences, and Maximize Happiness. Each builds upon the next, with Maximize Happiness at the core. After all, when people are happy, they are more engaged. When they’re more engaged, they feel a greater sense of purpose. And when they feel a greater sense of purpose, they will deliver above and beyond what they thought possible. So, by focusing on happiness, we can accomplish both our core mission of Eliminating Barriers between Great Minds and Great Opportunities (specifically addressing the internal barriers of a lack of confidence, resilience and optimism) and position Revel to win in the Age of Experience.

Although this sounds ambitious, modern psychology has shown it’s relatively straightforward: Happiness is driven by expectations, not outcomes. If you expect something to go wrong, and it goes wrong, you can still be happy. But when expectations and reality diverge, happiness evaporates.

This effect can be seen from the micro level of an individual to the macro level of a country. At the macro level, the concept in question is known as the J-curve. This theory states that revolutions happen not when people face terrible conditions (there are billions of people living in squalor and not rising up against their government), but rather when the future people believe they will have fails to come to fruition—when a generation fails to have a better life than their parents, for example. It applies to our organization at the micro level, in terms of how the Revel experience aligns with the expectations of our people.

How might we better understand our people’s expectations?

For Revel to maximize happiness for its associates, we first needed to discover their expectations. We began by interviewing a cross section of our people to identify common themes around what they feared, what motivated them, what support they wanted, and how they see the world. After a few rounds, three personas began to emerge: Purists, Climbers, and Dreamers.


Constantly seek mastery/depth within a specific area or level within an existing paradigm. They love to be seen as the expert/hired gun that provides thought leadership on topics in their comfort zone define their success through flawless execution are at a stage where the fulcrum of work/life balance leans toward family/personal pursuits want to go on project, deliver value and go home.


Constantly move with purpose as they progress upward within an existing paradigm. They love to be seen as an accelerant that provides raw horsepower define their success through learning and personal growth in areas outside their comfort zone are at a stage where the fulcrum of work/life balance leans toward work/professional pursuits want a constant stream of new opportunities to explore, learn, test, and go above and beyond for their clients and teams.


Constantly seek autonomy/control as they try to disrupt an existing paradigm. They love to be seen as a source of optimism and creativity in all areas, regardless of comfort zones define their success through solving big, challenging problems others may think impossible are at a stage where they don’t distinguish between work and life and instead live in harmony with their values want to help others realize their dreams and make the world a better place.

Once we understood our people at this granular level, we needed to develop custom engagement programs that would resonate uniquely for each persona, allowing Revel to meet, if not exceed, their expectations.

For purists, we created a self-directed $2,000 Education/Exploration fund Revelers could use to invest in themselves however they saw fit. For climbers, we launched the Foundry, a program consisting of workshops, panels and other spaces that created safe environments to learn new skills and connect with fellow climbers. For dreamers, we launched the Revel Entrepreneurial Challenge an annual business case competition complete with a boot camp that gives Dreamers a chance to bring their idea to life and pitch it to local VCs (think Shark Tank).

After implementing our new strategy, we saw turnover plummet by half and tenure at attrition double within two years. In short, it worked! By taking a human-centered approach to building our associate engagement platform, we were able to retain, connect, and empower our most valuable asset: our people. And, in doing so, we were also able to create an ecosystem of spaces to foster idea flow and serve as an engine of continual innovation for our people and our clients.

That said, the process is never done. We’re continually checking in to make sure these platforms remain relevant, learn how we can better understand and exceed expectations, and discover how the model needs to evolve over time.

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