2 Top Human First Leadership Strategies To Improve Team Performance With Noah Glass

16 min read
Headshots of Noah Glass and Patrick Ewers on a green background for an interview on human first leadership strategies to improve team performance


Leaders Achieve True Greatness With Others

Mindmaven’s definition of human first leadership stems from the belief that people don’t achieve true greatness without help from others.

In the video above, Patrick Ewers, Mindmaven CEO, talks with Noah Glass, Olo CEO, about their top human-first leadership strategies that have made the most significant difference. “Drive sales, do more with less, and make every guest feel like a regular” is how Olo sets out to “Enable hospitality with modern solutions.”

The Olo website also states: “Our employees and the culture we have created are the backbone of our success.” This human-first leadership approach has proven successful for Olo. Recently recognized as one of the most innovative companies in the world in the dining category, Olo enables 600+ brands to reach 85 million guests across 76,000 locations, processing an average of two million orders a day.

Patrick has worked with Noah for nearly three years and has seen first hand how Noah has grown his company with authentic people-centric leadership. Watch the video above for top tips on how compassionate leadership strategies can inspire positive workplace culture, personal growth and development, and increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

The article below captures the highlights of the discussion.

Discover what you can achieve with this free leadership user manual: How I Work customizable template.

Human First Leadership Is About Human Experiences

Noah: “Before answering directly about human first leadership, I want to reflect a little bit on what we do at Olo, which I think is misunderstood by some. Yes, we’re the platform that is helping restaurants to become more digital, but I think that sometimes people hear “digital” and “digital transformation” and “more automation” and think, “Oh, that feels cold and like something that becomes very transactional.

I go to restaurants to be human and to have a very human experience of fueling myself with food and enjoying different flavors and tastes. I love the human interactions I have with a server and a maitre d.”

“I think a lot of what our platform is about is a human first experience in restaurants.”

“It’s how you use data, and how you use this digital transformation happening in restaurants, to make restaurants more human. I use the word ‘hospitable’ a lot. Hospitality is the industry that we serve, and we talk about Olo as the Engine of Hospitality. We want to make things more hospitable in restaurants, not less hospitable, but we use the tools of digital transformation to do that.

Olo is a second family to us. As a small startup still working on product fit, “this group of 12 stayed together for the first eight years and just really got to know one another, our strengths and weaknesses and our families, celebrating milestones and also mourning together when bad things happen. When we hit product-market fit and knew that we were going to be scaling up, the most important thing to me was that we preserve that kind of special atmosphere and culture.

Our mission draws people to Olo, and when I’m interviewing executives or when I’m speaking with people who’ve just joined the team, I want to make sure that resonates with them … that they care about it and want to help restaurants and all the stakeholders of restaurants. I hope that people would say that I’ve remained the same “human first leader” I was in the first eight years and about ten years that have happened since.”

Human First Leadership in Day-to-Day Life

Patrick: “When you say that you hope to stay a human first leader, what are you doing in your day-to-day life that makes you somewhat confident that you are?”

Noah: “The first thing that I’ve done with a lot of help from you individually and Mindmaven is to create a How I Work document. In the first eight years, it was easy for the small team to understand how I work. Creating the How I Work document “was a big piece of effort – we spent many weeks, many revisions and iterations writing that, but the ROI on it has been massive – it’s paid off in droves.”

Patrick: “I’m really happy you brought it up because it’s actually something that is so small and overlooked yet is often very powerful.

Servant Leadership Strategies and the How I Work Document

The How I Work document is a very simple concept – it’s the idea of you writing a user manual about yourself. The form and format can vary from lengthy and extremely specific to a brief “conversation guide” type of presentation.

This document has elements including your values, your expectations of the people working with you, and what they can expect from you. Ideally, it will also show vulnerability, such as a section titled “How You Can Help Me Improve.”

The power of a How I Work document is that when you have it in place, you can basically shortcut the process that it takes for somebody you’ve hired to learn how to best operate with you – you’re cutting out all that trial and error.

For example, my How I Work document includes a “Pet Peeves” section that includes the word “should.” It sets me off when people write, “We should do XYZ.” Therefore, including this pet peeve in my How I Work document enables my team to avoid this word without having to trigger my pet peeve to learn about it.

Can you explain why you’re saying that your How I Work document paid off in terms of ROI?”

Noah: “Since writing it, I have distributed it to all of my direct reports … [and] we’ve hired people who’ve become direct reports since writing that document. It’s like shorthand for here’s how I think; here’s what’s important to me; here’s how I’m going to approach big decisions that we have; here’s how I think about things that are important and things that are urgent and the fact that those aren’t the same thing and how I draw the distinction between the two.

It’s enabled people that when they have an idea, and they’re trying to persuade me of something, put it into a form that resonates with me. I understand the kind of decision they’re looking for me to make. Whether it’s a one-time decision, one-way decision, or much more often a two-way decision … something we can easily reverse if we need to and can therefore make a much faster decision. I’ve picked up this classification of decisions from Jeff Bezos, “but if that’s something you didn’t know about me, you wouldn’t be able to make an argument and just use the phrase ‘I think this is a type two decision'”

Patrick: “Now we need to connect why the How I Work document is a fundamental approach to being a human first leader. I would love to hear your thoughts on this aspect of servitude as a leader.

“I see the How I Work document as a tool that a leader gives when they see themselves as here to empower the team to do their best work.”

That’s because achieving that goal requires the team to understand how their leader operates.”

Noah: “One hundred percent. I don’t want to be a roadblock for my team. I want to be the opposite of that. 

“I want to be an accelerant. I want to help them break down barriers and do what they’re trying to do faster and go further than they could on their own.”

I think that is part of the definition of being a human first or a sort of “servant leader,” or a “hospitable leader,” to use my term. The How I Work document is like the ultimate set of shortcuts for how to work with Noah to serve you in that way and be an accelerant for what you’re trying to do.”

Patrick: “One last thing before we move on – I remember when you created your How I Work document and shared it with a direct report. Their response was, “Even though I’ve worked with you for eight years, I’ve still learned a ton from reading this, and now I understand better why you’re doing certain things the way you’re doing them.

This brought a smile to my face because it is fundamental evidence that this document is exceptionally powerful. If somebody who’s worked with you for eight years still comes back grateful for having had access to this document, then anybody who’s new to the game would just love it.”

Get your FREE leadership user manual: How I Work customizable template.

HUman first leadership and the How I work template

Human First Leadership Strategies: Gratitude, Praise & Recognition

Patrick: “If I remember correctly, you are very disciplined about writing in your journal, and try to write down at least one thing each day that you’re grateful for. I would recommend a solid gratitude practice to anyone interested in keeping burnout and stress at bay. You found ways to translate this idea of gratitude into your leadership style.”

Noah: “I’ve been journaling for over 12 years. It’s a habit. It’s a huge part of maintaining my equanimity … my goal is to be a stoic thinker with equanimity as the ideal state.”

The journal is a template I fill out each morning. In the last three years, I’ve added a section at the end to remind me to write three things that I’m grateful for, people that I love, and then set my intention for the day by saying what is the one thing that you and only you can do today? It just makes me feel good to write those things down, remember all the things I’m grateful for, and take a moment to pause and sort of let that soak in.

The connection with human first leadership is that often the people I’m grateful for are the people on my team, and I want them to know.

“With [Mindmaven’s] help, we’ve implemented a program around Praise & Recognition.”

Patrick: “Praise & Recognition is a very simple concept – it’s basically just finding ways to praise and recognize your team. Very few people will doubt that it is one of the best ways to reinforce or strengthen the culture you’re trying to build in the organization. The issue is that many leaders are biased toward the “praise” side of Praise & Recognition.

At times, they may even make the mistake of praising for the sake of praise, sometimes even when that praise isn’t truly earned. The Praise & Recognition program is the idea of taking it a notch down and focusing more on the recognition part of praise and recognition – just basically recognizing people for doing their job.

This level of recognition tends to be what people actually want. For example, a certain percentage of any team consists of people who self-categorize as introverts. Introverts don’t enjoy being the center of attention, as is common when receiving praise. For some introverts, putting them on a pedestal in a public forum like an All Hands meeting might categorize the experience as a “nightmare.”

A gentle gesture of recognition contains positivity without making the person the center of attention. To some extent, the notion of Praise & Recognition is to sensitize the organization around you to listen for things that are worth recognizing.

Praise and Recognition Examples

For example, your assistant can be trained to review your tools, such as Culture Amp or Namely, and identify what a team member did that was “north of neutral,” something that exemplifies the culture you’re building or the value you’re trying to implement. The assistant can then create opportunities for you to interact with this team member, for example, by drafting an email recognizing them for their effort.

A classic “Recognition” opportunity resides in departments like IT or Accounting – the types of departments where if you never hear about them, it means they’re doing their job. While “Praise” is guaranteed for the salesperson who brings in a $2 million deal, these departments are also doing work that is vital to helping the company succeed and will appreciate being recognized.

A CEO can send a message to recognize these departments for doing the job that enables the rest of the company to thrive.

For example:

Hey, I was thinking today that I never hear from your department, and what that means to me is that you are absolutely doing your job in the way you’re supposed to! You have no idea how big of a gift that is for me as a CEO to be able to rely on your department day in and day out. Thank you!

Using this approach, you can extend the idea of gratitude journaling to share the gratitude you feel as a leader. I’m curious what’s your reaction – what happened when you started doing this regularly?”

Noah: “First, I want to reflect on what you just said a little bit. One thing I wanted to mention is that I think I’ve learned a lot about being Human First and putting my team first across all stakeholders.

One of my mentors began as a hero, and then a mentor, and then in an unbelievable stroke of luck, became an investor and a board member, so I got to work with him even more closely. This is Danny Meyer, and Danny has this philosophy called Enlightened Hospitality, about taking care of your team and making sure that, number one, you’re hiring the right people, but then that you’re taking care of those people and growing those people. If you do that, if you make your team feel good, they’re going to take care of the customers and the partners and the community, and then ultimately, your investors benefit from that.

In his book Setting the Table, Danny Meyer talks about the notion of hospitality. Every guest who walks in, you should imagine them wearing a sign around their neck that says make me feel important. I think that’s what Praise & Recognition is, although it’s less about important necessarily – just make me feel “seen.”

“People hate when they feel unimportant, and people hate when they feel like ‘I’m working so hard and nobody sees it. What a terrible way to go through your week or your year.”

“These little touchpoints of Praise & Recognition tell someone I see you, and here’s what I saw. Thank you, I’m grateful because it ties back to what we’re doing here and this value that we celebrate. It lifts people up in a very major way. Until recently, I did Praise & Recognition through email. I managed it programmatically, in that I would do it every week, maybe five of these a week, to make sure I was exercising that discipline.

Recently, you recommended that I try using the tool Loom, which lets you record video messages. I record brief videos – no more than 25 or 30 seconds long, but I’ll send them to people and the reactions I’ve gotten back have just been off the charts. The video makes an impact – the reaction is 10x what I saw in response to the written word.

Seeing their CEO take time out of his day to send them a video drives home the message that they are valued. These videos give team members something to cherish and something to share – with a spouse, a child, or a coworker.

Real-Life Examples In Action

As an example, I recently sent a video recognizing an Olo employee for her 16th anniversary with Olo. Since we’ve worked together for so long, including back when Olo was very small, I know her well. I know the name of her husband, her son, and their pet rabbit and I was able to include all of that. Plus, I know she still enjoys Natural Light beer, which has been a running joke because I think it is one of the worst beverages ever created.

So, I included a wish “that you’ll be able to have a Natty Light to celebrate 16 years together.” She wrote back immediately. “Oh my God, you know me so well, and that’s exactly how I’m going to celebrate this event!”

That little insight was just the difference between something that felt very cold and something that felt very personal. Her response continued in a very positive way, but it starts with that human connection.”

Get Your Free Leadership User Manual: How I Work.

Patrick: “Isn’t that the job of the CEO, to basically create this human connectedness? You have somebody who’s been with you for 16 years – that is the dream of zero regrettable attrition! This is happening in large part because of these human connections.

What I want to point out is that this is a 20 to 30-second video that you do four to five times a week, so we’re talking about an investment of what, 15 minutes of your time? That’s one reason why this is so powerful. The second thing is that when you create these interactions, they represent stories to the people you share them with.

“What do we humans do with stories? We repeat them. We share them, right?”

This is extremely powerful because our spouse or family is who we turn to when we are in doubt. Now those people at home will remind you about how rare and unique it is to have such a leader. We share them with our coworkers over and over. When a story gets repeated and shared over and over again, stories turn into legends.

To us at Mindmaven, that’s how you can become a legendary leader. To me, that is the quintessential Human First Leadership approach.”

Thank you, Noah and Patrick, for sharing these incredible insights and empathetic leadership strategies with us. If you’d like more, check out this human first leadership interview with Gainsight CEO, Nick Mehta

Your Free Gift: Get instant access to your very own leadership user manual: How I Work customizable template from Mindmaven now — and see how valuable it can be to your business.   [gravityform id=”1″ title=”true” description=”true”]

Share this article
Reclaim 12+ Hours a Week & 10x Your Productivity

Get Your Free Advance Reader Copy of Radical Delegation

Receive exclusive updates to help unleash your superpowers on your journey to True Greatness.