Matej Novota: “To create a fantastic work culture give and accept feedback; It doesn’t matter if positive or negative, feedback always moves you forward”
Give and accept feedback. It doesn’t matter if positive or negative, feedback always moves you forward. People should not be afraid to leave negative feedback if they feel like something should be done better. I always tell everyone to let me know when I am doing something wrong. Nobody is perfect, but feedback allows us to get closer to being ‘perfect’.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Matej Novota. He leads a 15+ person team within Casino Guru, an independent online casino review website, source of information about casino games, community, as well as a place for players to voice their complaints after being mistreated by a casino website. Matej and his team are responsible for collecting information about online casinos, and helping players get complaints resolved. He has been part of the Casino Guru team from the project’s early days, has helped shape many of the processes that are now part of their data-focused methodology, and is now the head of the Data and Complaints teams.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Before I started working at Casino Guru, I worked at an IT Telco company, where I had enough of all the characteristics and stereotypes big companies are known for. The Casino Guru project was an excellent opportunity for me right from the start, completely breaking the old ways of doing things. Suddenly, nothing was impossible, and it was a fantastic feeling to work in such an environment. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, with an abundance of new things to learn and figure out. But I like challenges, and I am always happy when I can learn something new. So, I did not hesitate and joined the team.
Everything was in the early stages back then, and many of the fine-tuned processes we have today had not been established yet. We kept improving everything, and over time we realized that a separate data team was needed. Knowing the most about online casinos and our processes, I became the head of this team, which now has more than 15 members. My team has always been working with player complaints, so when Casino Guru launched a complaint resolution center, it also became our responsibility to help players in their battles against unscrupulous casinos. And that’s basically where I am nowadays.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, I am not leading the entire company, just one of the teams — the one that focuses on data and complaints, as I already mentioned. However, I like telling stories, so I will share an interesting one, a story that showed me that there are many smart people with good intentions in the gambling industry, despite its relatively bad reputation overall.
Back when I was relatively new in the industry, I had the opportunity to speak with a few legends of the gambling world at the London Affiliate Conference. Back then, I didn’t have the experience I have today, so I was used to asking my colleagues about anything that I wasn’t sure about. If they didn’t know, I would ask our partners. But then I started receiving questions which I wasn’t able to find answers for, not even using any of our established connections. When talking to the ‘industry legends’ in London, I discovered that they are always happy to talk about global complex business problems and issues. They were willing to share their hard-earned experience and listen to new ideas. That was a great sign for me, as I realized that the industry is full of smart and friendly people willing to offer help to less-experienced colleagues. Now that I have the experience, I am trying to do the same for newcomers, too.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As for my team and I, there is no single big thing we are working on right now — just overall improvements and adjustments to our already-established processes. However, we did launch our own Complaint Resolution Center in August 2019, which allowed us to help players with their complaints in a much better and more effective way. I consider this center to be something like my child, I am very proud of it and how it helps us help others. Now, we are working on improving the entire complaint resolution process, as there is still space for improvements.
Speaking for Casino Guru as a whole, we are also refining our educational content, which we find to be extremely important in this segment, as it can help prevent the negative effects of gambling on people’s lives, including gambling addiction.
But one big thing we are working on right now is our initiative to work towards a global self-exclusion system, which would allow players struggling with problem gambling to block themselves from playing in all casinos worldwide. This is something that will take a lot of time and we can’t achieve this goal alone, but if we do make it happen, it will help a lot of people in the future.
OK, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
If I had to guess, I’d probably say that it’s because many people don’t like their job. I love my job. Although I didn’t think I would be doing something like this when I was younger, when I tried it, I felt comfortable in this position. And I still do. I enjoy the work I do, and I hope the members of my team do as well. I also think that working with someone who enjoys what they do makes the entire experience more enjoyable for everyone.
Unfortunately, I think that many people are not so lucky. Many people go to work only because they have to, as they can’t pay their bills without doing so. Additionally, following the COVID-19 crisis, people started to fear for their jobs and livelihoods even more than they usually do.
People often think that they need money to be happy, so they work harder, but it doesn’t work this way for many of them. I know a person who works in top management but lives in a small rented apartment with a minimum of personal belongings, despite his most likely excellent salary. He was experimenting with Zen Buddhism and didn’t look unhappy.
So, the short answer would be that people are stuck in a job they don’t want to do and keep grinding just because they think that more money will make them happier. Money does make your life easier in many ways, but I think it doesn’t necessarily make you happier.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Well, I know that an unhappy workforce will impact all of them negatively. Workforce happiness is extremely important.
We don’t need to go far for a great example. The founder of Baťa, a famous Czech shoe brand, believed that happy employees are the key to success. He built housing for his employees, as well as kindergartens for their children because he knew that people will work better knowing that their needs will be taken care of. His company was very successful back when he implemented this strategy, and we can see that the brand is still alive today. Speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
In the long run, an unhappy workforce can become a big problem for a company. Dissatisfied employees definitely won’t be as productive as satisfied ones (a), which will most likely decrease the overall profitability of the entire company (b). And it goes without saying that a job that makes a person unhappy will decrease their overall quality of life, including their health and wellbeing ©.
That’s why I am always trying to do my best to create a working environment in which people enjoy working. And hiring the right people helps a lot, too.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Always be friendly and don’t transfer bad moods to employees. Everybody should know that they can come to their supervisor or to anyone else in the company, and they will be listened to and their ideas will be considered. They should know that you will be doing your best to help them. The best example of this is our COO, Joseph. I swear that I have never seen him in a bad mood. He is always smiling, always friendly and eager to help anyone and everyone. Of course, his good mood and friendliness gets transferred to everybody that meets him. In my team, this shapes my role, and I can only hope that I become as good at this as he is.
2. Build trust. In my team, we are like a small family. I trust my colleagues and they trust me — it’s important that the trust is mutual. It definitely helps the work culture in the company, which, in turn, yields better results.
3. Give and accept feedback. It doesn’t matter if positive or negative, feedback always moves you forward. People should not be afraid to leave negative feedback if they feel like something should be done better. I always tell everyone to let me know when I am doing something wrong. Nobody is perfect, but feedback allows us to get closer to being ‘perfect’.
4. Think twice before saying something or making a decision, even if it doesn’t seem to be important. People look at you as a leader, and you should act like one. It happened to me many times that I did something and later realized that it could have been done in a much better way. Now, I think more about my decisions and try not to rush them.
5. Healthy work-life balance for every employee. Employees need to know that it’s OK to ask for a holiday or anything else when needed. It’s the worst when people are overworked, and their backlog of tasks keeps growing faster than they are able to complete them. The solution is not to force people to work more, but to come up with a way to do things more effectively and efficiently. For example, with our complaint resolution process, we reached a point at which we could not process the number of complaints we were receiving. We thought about moving more resources towards complaint resolution, but we realized that it’s a bad way to solve this issue. We needed to make the process more efficient. By altering it, we shortened the average response time and became almost 30% more efficient than before.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I think we should highlight companies who are already successful in this endeavor and show people and other companies how it can help both employees and companies. Make work culture a commonly discussed topic, and people will soon realize that many things could be done better. If people in top positions see good use-cases of better work culture in other companies, they will realize that the same principles could be applied to their company, too.
I have a big advantage of being part of a young team, and even our founders are young and open-minded people. When we were opening an office for my team, they told me that they have been treated well in their last job, and that they would like to do the same for their employees. They experienced first-hand how important it is to be treated well by a boss, and realized that it’s a good idea to do the same, and implemented similar principles in their own company. Now, people are happy, so we are happy, too.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I would describe it as friendly as transparent.
Friendly because, as I already mentioned, we are like a family in my team. We have a young singer in the team, and we go support him and his band when he has a performance. We all saved organic waste for a lady who lives in a village nearby and breeds hens. And it’s the same with almost everything. If somebody needs help, we help them. And we always support each other.
When it comes to transparency, not everything can be completely transparent, but we try to make as much information as possible transparent. For example, everybody can check the results of all other team members, as they are publicly available to everybody in the company. This means that everybody knows how they are performing, but also how everyone else is. Our offices are open-space, which supports exchanging information. And that’s important for us. All of this helps us keep people informed and motivated.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Definitely the founders of Casino Guru, Jan and Lukas. They helped me overcome something that I brought with me from my previous job. Suddenly, I felt like I could fly, and it was amazing. They gave me the opportunity to prove my strengths, and I am very grateful for that.
But I am also thankful to my good old friend Peter. I’ve known him since middle school, and his life had many ups and downs. I witnessed him going through all of this and remaining calm. Regardless of how many bad things happened to him, it always just made him stronger. Now, he is a very successful IT professional. Peter taught me a lesson, too, and I am trying to look at things from a broader perspective instead of focusing on small good or bad events. It helps me a lot.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think that Casino Guru is an excellent project that helps people in many ways. Specifically for my team, the data we collect about all casinos in our database helps players to find out if a casino is fair, and to avoid playing in it if it isn’t. But the most direct way we help players is in our Complaint Resolution Center. I can only imagine how a player must feel after being scammed or mistreated by a casino. And if we can help this player, we see it as a major win. And we’ve also managed to get some casinos to drop their unfair practices and start treating players better, improving the entire industry at least a little bit.
I do my best to teach people to be friendly to the environment, especially in lower economically-developed countries where most people don’t care too much about waste or recycling. Most developing countries don’t have communal waste, which results in a lot of trash ending up in nature and destroying it. When I have visited, people from such countries wanted to know why I was picking up trash when they saw me doing it, and I always explained how trash affects the country, as well as the entire planet, in the long run.
A good example of this can be found in Switzerland, where most trash is recycled and there are also very high fines for not recycling or throwing the trash into nature. No wonder it’s a beautiful country with an amazing clean nature that welcomes a lot of visitors each year. Giving people both negative and positive examples makes them think twice and might help them change the way they treat garbage and their nature.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You make the world a better place by making daily improvements to become the best version of yourself.”
I believe that everybody has a big potential to become better and there is always space for improvement. If everybody made even a small improvement every day, the world would end up being a better place. As this is a broad concept and something like a life philosophy to me, let’s leave it at that.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think we should look at things from a global perspective. There are around 200 nations and many religions and races in the world. We should forget about all the differences between us and work together on global issues and goals, improving the entire world. Let’s focus on poverty, diseases, and everything that surrounds us.
Just imagine a world in which all nations act together and cooperate on global issues. If it worked like that from the beginning, we could be colonizing the Moon and Mars, or making deep-space missions with a human crew. We should forget about our egos, unite ourselves as humankind and work together. Let’s not focus on issues and crimes from the past, stuff that happened decades or even longer ago. Let’s find compassion, focus on the future, and improve it for everybody.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!