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The team at CLEVER (opens in new tab), the influencer marketing agency behind the social media success of #Batkid (opens in new tab), doesn't hold anything back. Aside from private information, such as salary and SSNs, the team's philosophy is pretty clear-cut: Get to know one another, well beyond "hope you're doing well!" work emails.
"We believe in giving open and immediate feedback directly to the individual, not waiting to talk to her manager or for a scheduled review," says CLEVER founder and CEO Cat Lincoln. "Keep it respectful, but just say it—if it's already true, then saying it out loud doesn't change anything except making it easier to address."
That need for open and positive communication is what led to the marketing agency's unusual management focus: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (opens in new tab) and astrology. While still asking for traditional résumés and cover letters, after the interview process, office interactions are almost totally held together by the 16 types in the MBTI, which the team combines with traditional astrology to form what Lincoln calls "Office Astrology."
"Having the shared language of 'Office Astrology' gives us a shorthand to clarify things," she says. "For example, if someone is a MBI Extrovert, we all understand that she may need to get on the phone and talk things out. Conversely, someone who is a MBI Introvert isn't bored or uninterested, he just needs time to process and come back with ideas. It helps us avoid all kinds of time-consuming misunderstandings."
New hires spend their first week learning the language, which includes identifying their Myers-Briggs type, Strengthsfinder (opens in new tab) strengths, and, for fun, different identities in their regular astrology, like which Disney princess is associated with their sign. The idea is to interpret how your personality traits affect your communication style, with the goal of creating the most efficient and positive workplace environment possible. At the end of every year, each employee's Office Astrology is reviewed to find differences and similarities in types, and how they've affected performance.
Being upfront about strengths, which naturally leads to honesty about weaknesses, has helped eliminate smaller office quibbles, which Lincoln has found to be a major plus to their unorthodox system.
"When you start with the premise that everyone will hear everything, you eliminate a lot of opportunities for gossip or politics," she says. "And if things start to get political or gossipy, someone will point it out in a very public way. It's very self-policing. Secrets aren't currency, they don't have any value."
The result is a relentlessly positive and, according to Lincoln, protective team, who are all equally committed to bringing the best of the best on board, and fully invested in them once they're on board. The sense of working with a real community, instead of just a group of coworkers, means that anyone in the company might be involved with the interview process. Whenever possible, they like to involve a person in a junior role in the hiring, since prospective candidates' attitudes towards those both above and below them in rank matter here.
"Everyone feels tangible ownership of what we do, and how we work, and they hold candidates to a very high standard," Lincoln says. "I'm constantly impressed by how tough their questions are. If you want a seat at our A-Players table, you have to prove to the team that you can keep up. To get an offer, the team has to agree that you are a F*CK YES hire—if it's not F*CK YES, then it's a no. We don't do maybe or lukewarm."
It's certainly not for everyone, but Lincoln maintains that the company presents itself for what it really is early on, and candidates usually opt in or opt out on their own. So far, they've applied the Office Astrology program to about 30 new hires (the employee count totals 46), and the staff, which works virtually without a real office, seems to love it.
"Everyone on the team participating in the interviews makes a point of describing our 'over-sharing' and very transparent style of communication, " she says. "[Candidates are] either relieved to finally be able to talk to everyone like we're all human, or horrified by our lack of formality and chain of command."
Ultimately, the self-proclaimed informal company seems to have only one unbreakable rule: Be honest about who you are, to an almost extreme degree, and use that honesty to help grow the team. It feels, in a way, like a direct response to the decidedly male office environment in which sharing personal traits, particularly of the astrological persuasion, is cast as weak or frivolous. And while CLEVER, which began as Clever Girls, does actually hire clever *boys* when they meet the mark, the emphasis on communication and honesty is unabashedly feminine. Even the types assigned at the start are always open for discussion, and those wishing to grow strengths not typically found within their profile are encouraged to find their own take on new tasks, relying on the shared language of Office Astrology to help them through.
Lincoln, who describes the communication of her team as "a symphony, filled with virtuoso performers," sees this language as not only the key to the company's success, but the factor behind their fearlessness in general, which always allows for mistakes—as long as people are willing to move on from them.
"As long as you have constant, candid, and compassionate feedback, it's safe for people to try, succeed, or fail, and keep moving."
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