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How To Build A Better World Of Work Through Storytelling

We’re passionate about the world of work, and how we can make it better. To help satisfy our curiosity, we’ve launched an interview series where we pick the brains of experienced leaders, business owners, managers, and individual contributors to get their thoughts on how we can collectively build better workplaces.

Join us in our next installment below as John Duisberg—Co-Founder at Cooleaf—shares his insights with us.

We’d love to get to know you a bit better, tell us a bit about your backstory.

I started my career working in startups—I think there’s something so exciting and fulfilling about creating something totally new! It’s also incredibly challenging. At my first startup role, I was tasked with creating a shipping department for our company, which was something that I had zero background or experience doing. But somehow I managed to pull it off, and I think that’s where a lot of my passion for entrepreneurship comes from.

I’ve also worked for larger companies as well. After a few years in the startup industry, I was recruited to work for a healthcare technology company, which is where I learned about software development and how to build a product. This experience led me to meeting Sarwar Bhuiyan and Prem Bhatia, who became close friends. The three of us decided to build something together, which eventually led to us launching Cooleaf. Having experienced both the corporate world and the startup environment, I knew what type of work experience I wanted for myself, and what type of company I wanted to build for future employees.

If we were to ask a friend to describe your personality to us, what would they say?

They’d probably say that I’m pretty intense! I’m an intensely passionate and driven person. I try to bring that passion to everything that I do, whether that’s playing sports, starting a business, or helping people. Helping people is a big part of who I am.

photo of john duisberg

Thinking back to your career journey, what’s an interesting story that stands out? 

When Prem, Sarwar, and I decided to start Cooleaf, I left my job, sold all my belongings, and moved from Florida to a one-bedroom apartment in Atlanta. The other Cooleaf co-founders, Prem and Sarwar, even helped me move!

That first night, I remember sitting in my new apartment and asking myself, “What am I doing?” It was a huge risk, and I was terrified. But ultimately, I’m so grateful I took the leap. If I’d opted to take the easier route, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

What’s the most impactful lesson you've learned over your career thus far?

No matter how far you get in your career, there’s always another milestone to achieve, and another hill to climb. You have to learn to find joy in the journey and understand the higher purpose behind your work and your daily life. Having a clear purpose is what it’s all about.

Thanks for giving us some insight into who you are! Let’s jump into things. When you hear the phrase “build a better world of work”, what comes to mind?

I believe that a better world of work means work that is purpose-driven.

When you know that you’re making a difference at work, you feel happier, more motivated, and more fulfilled.

Successful leaders know how to communicate purpose and convey a sense of ownership to their teams.

In my mind, this is where the future of work is headed. Work should be a positive influence in our lives, and it should be connected to our personal values in a meaningful way.

For you, what’s the main blocker you see as standing in the way of building a better world of work?

Personal experience drives action, and many leaders have never experienced the things that are happening now: remote work, unprecedented turnover, and everything in between. They don’t know how to handle these things.

It’s becoming more and more clear that the way we used to lead doesn’t work, and companies need to find new ways to engage their teams.

More inclusion, greater trust in our team members, and a stronger purpose—this is where the future workplace is going, and as leaders, we need to keep up and not be afraid to help make that happen.

What’s one thing within our control that we can practically do to build a better world of work today? And, how do you recommend going about it?

Talking about company purpose is one thing, but how do you actually create a more impactful experience for your employees? At Cooleaf, we believe that it’s about telling stories.

People remember stories, and they change our perception of the world. In the workplace, sharing stories and examples of how your people are demonstrating your values is the most practical way to keep your workforce aligned. How else can you share experiences of the people on your team and connect them to a larger purpose? When you come together to celebrate those stories, that’s incredibly powerful.

The concept of employee recognition is often misunderstood and overlooked.

how to build a better world of work through storytelling with john duisberg quote graphic

It helps build trust and makes work more meaningful.

Can you share one thing you’ve experienced, seen, or read about that is leading us towards a better world of work?

Generation Z is increasingly entering the workforce, and they have a totally different perspective on work. Recent research shows that half of Gen Z-ers won’t work for a company if they don’t align with their mission, vision, and values.

If you want to attract talent, you have to figure out how to articulate your company’s “why.” Otherwise, you’ll lose out on some of the best people.

We recently launched The Great Retention, a movement focused on helping companies to build that purpose-driven workplace culture. It’s been really inspiring to hear from leaders who understand how focusing on your people can improve your business from the inside out. If you’re looking for ways to drive meaning and purpose at work, I’d recommend checking it out.

I’m curious, thinking about building a better world of work, is there a company and/or leader who stands out to you as someone we should follow? If so, what are they up to?

On a recent episode of The Great Retention, we interviewed Sangram Vajre, co-founder of Terminus, who talks about defining a winning culture. He says that a winning culture isn’t all about sales numbers—it’s about finding the right people and putting them in the right roles where they can succeed. How do you match your goals with your team’s needs? And then, how do you keep those people connected in a hybrid or remote environment? He’s an incredibly insightful leader, and I’d highly recommend following his work on LinkedIn and listening to the episode.

How can our readers follow your work?

I’d love for leaders to subscribe to The Great Retention and join us in our mission of creating human-first workplaces. We’re also always looking for new voices to feature on our show! You can also follow Cooleaf on LinkedIn to follow our team’s insights on employee experience.

Thank you for adding your voice to People Managing People’s interview series on How to Build a Better World of Work! 

Add Your Voice To The Conversation

Join our interview series and share your ideas for how we can build a better world of work!

By Tim Reitsma

Tim is the co-founder and General Manager of People Managing People, an online publication focused on building a better world of work. He is experienced with people & culture, leadership, business strategy and operations with a focus on building great teams who are excited about their craft and their organization. With over 15 years of leadership experience, Tim has always been guided by his core values: faith, family, curiosity, and fun. He is a coach, mentor, speaker, advisor, and an active volunteer in his community. Tim loves spending time outdoors with his wife and two kids as well as mountain biking in the north shore mountains.

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