Tuesday night’s class focused on People & Culture, the most important part of any organization (in my opinion). Our guest speaker was Josh Pokempner, serial entrepreneur & founder of several successful companies. Below are some of my raw notes for that night’s discussion with Josh:
- Business is trying to control circumstances so intended results happen. my response: life is trying to control circumstances to intended results happen.
- we can’t control how well a product does, but we can control our corporate culture.
- how to create that great culture?
- servant leadership
- rich person = someone so in love with what they do, so much they can’t wait to get out of bed to do it. can’t wait for alarm to go off so you can get out of bed. my response: what is it that i can’t wait for? what is it that makes me wish my alarm will go off?!
- create & practice a shared mission, vision & values
- “5 ways of being”
- servant leadership
- book recommendation: “Man’s Search for Meaning” – achieve happiness by dedicating yourself to someone or something.
- “there’s a soul to a company” – JP
- “In this business you have to be comfortable with bumpy flights” – JP on the life of an entrepreneur
After Josh shared his stories & wisdom, students asked some thought provoking questions. Some that were especially thought provoking for me include:
- How do you balance sharing information with your company & sharing information that scares people? (for instance, the company is low on cash, & you don’t want to scare people into thinking they’ll be cut)
- Josh recommended “Just tell them”
- In my own experiences an open book culture is a powerful way to get the team to take ownership & better know how they can impact the success of the business. People cannot act in the best interests of the company when they don’t know what those interests are. Being honest & open beats little to no transparency. Be authentic. Don’t unpleasantly surprise your team & they won’t unpleasantly surprise you
- For companies early on, low on resources, how do you build a fun team environment?
- My thoughts: So you don’t have cash to take your entire team to Cedar Point, how do you still incorporate fun team activities (if that’s part of your culture)…do it within your means. You don’t have to spend a ton of money (or any at all) to build culture through activities. Going to a park & playing frisbee will cost you the price of the frisbee. At Iorio’s we do team bonding activities when times are flush & when times are less cash rich. It doesn’t matter. Be creative & find a way to make it work.
- How did you find the people you hired?
- Josh brought in people he had worked with before.
- If you don’t have that luxury & you’re starting for the first time, or you need to hire more people than you have previous colleagues, remember this – building your culture starts with your job posting & application. What do I mean by this? The language of your job posting & application sets a tone. If you are a fun & creative company, make your job description & application fun & creative. This is the best way to attract talent aligned with your culture & give you a great pool of candidates to hire from.
After Josh finished speaking, the discussion about culture & people continued. A few nuggets of wisdom to share:
- “Culture is based on 99% of what the CEO does & 1% on what he says” – Fry
- “Culture is the single most important factor in recruiting & retaining key employees” – Fry
- “Employee behavior consistent with the culture should be recognized” – Fry
- CEO plans culture, lives it, reinforces it, manages it, tracks & measures it, modifies as needed
- “Personnel selection is decisive. People are our most valuable capital” – Joseph Stalin
- “as leadership changes, the effectiveness of people may also change”
And some questions that were asked:
- Should vision statement be about 1 product (if company only has 1 product) or something bigger?
- Tony thinks it should be bigger
- I think a vision is big. Your core vision for your company is that north star…what are you reaching for. For instance, Disney’s vision is to “make people happy”. At Iorio’s our vision is to “deliver sweetness”. These visions are big & broad. I have found it helpful to also write “vision statements” that may reflect more tangible, shorter & longer term visions for specific aspects of the company. A vision statement that is written out could be short term focused & looking out at 1 year from now & that may only include 1 product. I recommend writing vision statements when launching a new product, taking on a new initiative, starting a new company etc…answer questions like “what does this product/company look like?” “how do our customers respond?” “what are the challenges we are overcoming?” paint a picture of the future. Put yourself in the future. A vision statement should be written as if you are in the future. For more visioning tips I recommend reading some of Ari Weinzweig’s tips on visioning. I, and many others, have learned from him.
- What do you think comes first, the culture or the people?
- Tom mentioned that half the people he meets that start companies don’t think about the culture, even if, as an investor, he hints at its importance.
- I think culture is an iterative process, especially early on. Like product iteration. Create culture consciously. Bring on people that align with that culture, learn from them & team dynamics, iterate culture consciously, bring on more people. Rinse & repeat.
Bottom line: Create culture consciously & continually. All this talk about culture in class has me enthused about learning more & sharing more about what I’ve learned about culture. What questions do you have? What would you like to learn about culture & people?
MEL aka Venture Gal