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Ankur Gupta
Jan 10, 2020

1–1s and the SAFE Joy framework

Ankur Gupta
Jan 10, 2020
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As a founder of Clarisights with 30+ employees, I have to do lot of 1–1s. There is enough literature on why 1–1s are important and I will only say one thing that 1–1s are employee centric and, as a manager, my job is to understand whats bothering the person and how I can be a good mentor and solve employees' problems.

1–1s if done properly have the power to turn around even the worst or lowest performing employees.

I don't think we messed up our hiring, and I will tell you exactly why in an upcoming blogpost. So it is not a capability issue — yet getting the best out of a person is hard and many founders and managers feel frustrated that their employees are not giving their best. I have come to realise that it is almost always a mindset issue and can be fixed by doing regular 1–1s using a structured framework. I call it the SAFE Joy framework. The inspiration for this came from the book, The Great CEO Within, and is highly recommended for everyone — regardless of whether you are a founder or not.

SAFE Joy is a shorthand for the five primary feelings that any person feels — Sadness, Anger, Fear, Excitement, and Joy. Sadness is about something bad that happened in past and is bothering us. Anger is something we are angry about in the present. Fear is our worry about the future. Excitement is what excites us about the future. Joy is what is making us happy in the present (and even past).

Each of these feelings are important — the negative feelings must be addressed and the positive feelings must be present. If negative feelings are allowed to linger, it can have a dramatic impact on the employee, her productivity as well as whether the employee continues to be with the company. It is also the perfect recipe for toxicity and can easily spread to others. Likewise, without Joy and Excitement, there is no reason for employee to continue working at your company. As a result, manager’s job is to make sure all these feelings are properly addressed. Each person must have the good feelings (Joy and Excitement) and if for whatever reason they have the negative feelings (Sadness, Anger, & Fear), they must get addressed.

Sadness can be addressed by acknowledging something bad happened, if really something bad happened, and making up for it is often a good course of action. Sadness is self-inflicted in most other cases when something bad didn’t necessarily happen. By making employee realise that reality and interpretation of reality are two distinct concepts, a person can have lot of peace in their life (even outside of work too!). For example, one person (the victim) in my team was unhappy because some other team (the aggressor) said that this person is not taking responsibility. I told the victim that she needs to do the right thing and not worry too much about the emotions with which the other person said things. Instead focus on the message they are trying to deliver.

Go by the reason behind the emotions and not the emotions themselves of the person.

As long as the victim is clear that she is responsible and the aggressor is simply being angry because she perceives the victim to be irresponsible, the victim does not need to worry too much. If however, aggressor is right in her claim, then the victim simply needs to own it up and work hard to not let the aggressor down next time.

Anger can likewise be addressed by having a conversation and being objective about where the problem is and addressing.

Fear is an important emotion and often has the most action associated with it. Here the person is worried about the future — either her own future or her team or of the company. Now it is her own future, managers job is to understand whats causing that fear — perhaps the employee doesn’t want to continue working on what she is currently working on and want to change her work. Manager’s job in such case is to create new opportunities and assure the employee that in a reasonable time new opportunities will be created within the company for her. If this is not possible at all in the agreed time frame then manager should help find job outside of the company.

Fear could also be about the team or the company. This can be a learning experience too for the manager. May be the manager was not aware of the issue or manager didn’t realise the gravity of the situation. In either case, the manager may need to prioritise the issue and make sure corrective action is decided and acted upon in a reasonable time.

Joy is the feeling that delivers happiness to the employee today and the past. If employee is only doing boring stuff and getting no joy then there is a good chance that job will not be done properly anyway. Hence, by asking this simple question, managers can make sure that their employees are happy and in the process get good quality work done from employees for free.

Excitement is about the future and unless the employee sees a bright future for herself, her team and her company, she is not gonna be excited about working. This again can be addressed by having a dialogue and finding something that excites the employee. If she does not feel excited about company’s future then it is good to know why and if the why makes sense then it is good feedback to act on by the upper management.

By addressing Sadness, Anger, and, Fear and by talking about Joy and Excitement, one can compound the effect of joy and excitement and get the most out of a person and also make the person more happier.

I have started using the SAFE Joy framework both for 1–1s as well talking to my leads to figure out what feelings they have when it come’s to the company goals and company future (and even what feelings leads have for each others’ team). In fact, we do it every single week in our meetings and every time we find something insightful and we act upon on our findings. This framework helps employees feel like they are heard and gives manager access to information which otherwise would never bubble up (or bubble up when it is too late). I see SAFE Joy framework as a win-win for everyone in the company. A word of caution: to be able to do SAFE Joy framework properly, one needs to have a good culture. In particular, people should be comfortable talking about anything and everything in a constructive way.

Happy 1–1s and would love to hear if you found this useful!

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