How to treat employees like adults

Rob Stokes, founder of Quirk (now Mirum Africa) and current Chairman of Red & Yellow Creative School of Business shares his recipe for success.

Episode 8 of Working better, together features Rob Stokes who chats to us about growing a company by treating people like adults.

Rob Stokes is an investor, entrepreneur & speaker who is passionate about business and education. He sits as a non-exec Director on the boards of BrandsEye, Openbox, Happy Flats and

Rob founded the digital agency Quirk in 1999, one of South Africa’s earliest, most award-winning and now largest digital agencies, with five offices across Africa and in London. The company was acquired by WPP in 2014 and then became Mirum Africa in 2016. Nowadays Rob heads up Red & Yellow, the Creative School of Business (they are also the new co-organisers of DisruptHR Cape Town).

“Sure, we’re a little crazy, a little nerdy, a little mad scientist and a lot obsessed with cats… but it sure does make for an interesting ‘day at the office.’” — Quirk / Mirum Africa

Inspired by books such as Maverick by Ricardo Semler and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, Rob grew his successful startup Quirk on the principles of treating employees like adults; giving them the freedom to work flexible hours & measuring their productivity through performance and output rather than ‘face time’ in the office.

“The world has changed a lot and keeping those outdated mindsets is a disadvantage.”

Rob believes that we’ve never seen such a cultural mismatch in the workplace as we do today between management and staff. Currently, most established companies are being managed by senior members from previous generations.

“When millennials hit senior management, things are going to change pretty quickly.”

When it comes to building a team, Rob argues that it’s better to build a small, tight team (“the best people win”) over a longer period of time than to hire the first person you meet in the street because you’re too busy.

“People are the № 1 source of both pain and pleasure in an organisation.”

It’s also important to give people a well-thought out & well-documented career path, which does two things:

  • It shows employees that you actually care about their futures.
  • It gives them something to work towards.

This not only leads to their personal growth, but also makes them more valuable as employees.

Enjoy! Hit play ▶️ above to watch the interview video.
Search and add us on your favourite podcast app: Anchor // iTunes // Pocket Casts // Overcast // RSS and more…

Timestamp notes:

0.25 — Rob chats about his concept of Juniors & Giants, as well as the parallels with Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick.

6.50 — Input vs Outcomes when it comes to work & attracting talent.

9.50 — Rob’s learnings through managing people over the past 10 years.

15.37 — Rob’s recipe for success: Skills + Motivation + Expectation = Success (guaranteed!)

18.35 — More books that have inspired Rob: Mindset by Carol Dweck

23.00 — Podcasts Rob listens to: The Knowledge Project, Tim Ferriss.

24.11 — Reach Rob on the interwebs: Twitter, LinkedIN, Facebook or visit

If you have any feedback, comments, ideas or suggestions, please get in contact with us on twitter @giveahi5 or email us on

Get the podcast

Don't miss these episodes

Moments of genius: how to sell your company culture

Our first podcast featuring David Donde, CEO and Founder of Minimalist Chocolate and award-winning Truth Coffee.
Check it out

A time of amazing reinvention: remote work during COVID-19

Our first pandemic podcast featuring Carin-Isabel Knoop, Executive Director of the Global Research Group at Harvard Business School.
Check it out

Being a culture change insider

We chat to Siobhan McHale (EGM People, Culture & Change at Dulux Group & author of The Insider's Guide to Culture Change) on what it means to be a culture change insider.
Check it out