Remembering Alex King

Last night Alex King passed away. While very sad, his legacy will outreach what we're feeling today.

The Name Alex King

The name Alex King was the first one I learned in the WordPress community. To be clear, I didn't even know a community existed. It was 2005 and Google routed me to his website and a theme designing contest.

Over the next few years I would see his name on tons of code and plugins. It's safe to say I learned of him by reputation and that reputation was all about code.

But if you spent a lot of time with Alex, you learned that his passion wasn't just for code. The thing we connected on was culture and high performing employees.

Several years ago we met at Pressnomics in person—just minutes after I had delivered a presentation on high performing cultures.

We spent an hour talking about how closely my comments reflected on his beliefs and what he'd been working on at Crowd Favorite. In essence, I had shared with him a vocabulary that we could use to talk about performance and corporate culture.

Buying Crowd Favorite

Those of you that know I work for Crowd Favorite, may not know that we purchased the company from Alex a little bit after that meeting in person. Let me be clear: I had nothing to do with it—I was only an advisor to the deal. My friend Karim and he connected and navigated the details of the deal.

But what I looked forward to, post purchase, was the ability to keep having those conversations about culture and performance. Unfortunately, those conversations were far too few, as Alex soon had to focus on his health, clinical trials and family.

But we did get an afternoon walk in Redondo Beach, followed up by an email exchange that I treasure.

Keeping his legacy going inside the company

Inside Crowd Favorite, I manage the majority of our revenue-producing staff. Developers, team leads, and project managers. Of course, that's not just the old team in Denver, but also the folks we have across the globe.

So as Alex was stepping out of day-to-day business with Crowd Favorite, I asked him to tell me about his early days starting the culture in the company he'd started.

These were his words.

Early on, when it was just a few people, it was very much a team, a collaborative atmosphere. I tried to keep that as we grew. I told them that they had autonomy. I told them that I wanted to hear from them if they thought that things could be improved. I hammered that.

In every meeting, every monthly meeting, I would ask for feedback. I would ask for suggestions of things we could do better. Very rarely did I'd actually get any. The process of asking for it consistently, I think, was important. It let people know that their voice is valued.

When people did come to me, I tried to make sure that even if we weren't going to do what they asked, that they saw some sort of visible change based on what they'd asked for. Even if it was just me following up in another week or two weeks after that to talk to them about some aspect of it, just to let them know that their voice was heard and what they'd risen wasn't forgotten.

Another aspect of this manifests itself in the Intranet as a note on process. It says, “If you ever find yourself doing something you don't understand or think it's stupid, it is your job to stop and ask somebody why.”

Two things come from this. One, sometimes processes get out-of-date and we end up just doing things because we've always done it that way. That's no reason to do things.

The second, more likely, is that there is a good reason and that this person may not know it. When they ask, somebody can tell them and they could understand the value of what they're doing.

All of these things come together to create an environment where people feel empowered, people feel like the work they're doing is interesting and important. Of course, that's dependent somewhat on client projects as well. The way that we go about doing things is efficient, it's not a waste of time, and they have input into the process and that their input has value.

While I am sure that I will do things differently than Alex did, and while I'm sure that no one can replace Alex, what I do know is that we hoped for the same things:

  • High engagement
  • High performance
  • Limited processes
  • Personal connection

And I hope to keep that going inside the company whose name he chose.

Oh and I never want things to get boring.

Alex's last email to me about corporate culture was to send me an article/warning on boredom that he liked, which I really dig as well.