HR Lessons from Driver’s Ed

I was zipping around in my sweet little hatchback today, thinking about work while picking up my favorite Mexican food. My dad’s lectures on driving ran through my head and I was struck by how some of his one-liners fit the situations I was thinking through.

  • Watch the rearview. You need to be aware of what’s behind you and what’s coming up around you. For me, I like to understand the past of an organization to try to avoid landmines or historical issues sneaking up on me. I also like to keep an eye out for competition coming for us. If I keep an eye on my surroundings, I can avoid some issues and stay ahead of things without having to be reactionary at the last minute.
  • Some times you have to speed up to avoid the accident. I didn’t totally buy this as a teenager – it seemed scary. Sure enough, there have been a number of times where I saw things playing out next to me on the road, floored it and was able to get around an accident before it happened. Slamming the brakes would have put me in the middle of it all. If you are in a situation at work where you sense things are sneaking up on you, it’s time to floor it to get around the chaos. That may mean expediting some changes, rolling out a system, or addressing an issue head on. Slowing things down isn’t the right play in some situations.
  • Signal your intent. This one’s pretty obvious and I imagine we all heard it from our parents. If the people around you know what you are going to do, it makes it much easier for them to react appropriately. I struggled a bit with this in People Ops earlier in my career. I liked to just get things done and out there fast without communicating the big picture and giving people around me a chance to process and react. Now I try to be more transparent, run pilots for feedback and to start to signal my intent earlier and earlier where I can.
  • Find a rabbit. My dad likes to drive fast and not get caught. “If you are going to speed, make sure there is a car going faster than you so the cops get them first.” I’m not sure my mom knew about that advice, but it stuck. In People Ops, sometimes that means drafting behind a faster car and following a company that’s doing exactly what you want to do, and learning from it as they go so you aren’t the one learning lessons the hard way. If they slow down or switch lanes, you do so well before you are in a trouble zone.

So thank you, dad. Your advice has allowed me to avoid accidents and the police for two decades. Okay, there was the one speeding ticket I got out of … and the collision in the high school parking lot that wasn’t totally my fault. As a bonus, though, your advice has actually helped me get better at my career.

Do you have any dumb driving lessons applicable to your career?

Glassdoor Giveth … and Glassdoor Taketh Away

I’m a big believer in transparency. I think it’s a good thing that people (myself included) get a chance to look behind the curtains before joining a company and come into a situation educated. And it’s really great when you have a sparkling reputation online that’ll get you a chance with candidates you’d otherwise have a hard time recruiting. It’s definitively less pleasant when you get rocked by a bad or inaccurate review.

Dealing with it from the other side has been a learning experience. When your reviews are rougher than deserved, inaccurate, or take pot shots at executives for making decisions for the business … what do you do without exacerbating the situation by coming off defensive online? Here are some tips:

  • Be reflective. Take it in and realize that there is likely something you can learn from the review. Look for trends in the response – even if you think they are inaccurate. What opportunities for improvement do you see? Are there echoes of things you are hearing in exit interviews or internal engagement checks? Start asking your culture ambassadors their thoughts on what’s coming up on Glassdoor and if there are things you can do to address them.
  • Be honest. If there are nuggets of truth in there, don’t run from them. Acknowledge that you can see where the perception is coming from and talk about what you are doing to address them. You don’t need to dignify the exaggerations with acknowledgements, but if you want to address them, do so carefully. Instead of stating their review is inaccurate, consider talking about what your intent was behind the policy or action they are contesting. If you’ve had other people receive it the way it was intended, or have seen a positive impact from it, it’s ok to say so.
  • Have others review your response. Be aware that neutral candidates – and even your current employees – aren’t going to be reading with full context and will read their own tone into your response. Channel your inner diplomat and remove emotions from your response. You don’t want to come across as defensive, rigid, aggressive, irritated, etc. Pick people you know have the guts to give you honest feedback on tone and content. If you can’t remove the emotion, consider skipping out on a response or waiting until it clears before responding.
  • Do something about it. Put yourself in the driver’s seat. There is one really, really good way to change the tone on Glassdoor and improve your chances at recruiting the best talent: be a great place to work. It takes an openness to hear about the warts and start to address them. Then it takes a consistent and good faith effort to fix the things that are driving people away. It’s not easy, but it’s doable to turn the tide. Commit to and deliver a great experience.

There are some definitive don’ts as well. Don’t pressure others to write inaccurate or glowing reviews. It’s going to backfire. Don’t get into the specifics surrounding the presumed poster’s departure. Perhaps they were fired for cause and a terrible culture fit, but there is really no upside to bringing that up online. Most readers take highly negative reviews with a grain of salt and are more curious to see how companies address it. Plus, you don’t want to open yourself up to any liability.

All in all, I’m still learning and would love any helpful tips you have, but I think if you are open, honest and try to take the high road, you are in a good position.

 

JTAB

Mentoring and Subtle Bias

A while back, I was speaking to an executive about mentoring opportunities for less experienced managers. This executive felt passionate about creating more opportunities for people to learn and grow, particularly women who want to move up in their careers and tend to get less organic coaching. He spoke about a successful program he had seen at has past workplace.

Monthly, executives would pull employee names out of a jar and take that person out to chat. This paired strong performers with access to a diverse set of executives (and potential mentors). People across the organization really looked forwards to the program. Sounds great, right?! As I dug deeper into how it worked from there, this executive casually commented that he’d take male coworkers out for a beer after work and women out for a coffee to talk career and development.

I wasn’t sure why initially it felt a little bit off to me, but later I understood: the difference between the experience based on gender. I imagine this bias can play out in other ways, too. Let’s get real – I like going for beers after work just as much as my male coworkers. Plus there’s a level of candor, access, and bonding that can happen over a drink that rarely happens over a coffee (in my experience). It’s the same with hitting the golf course or catching a game.

Listen, I’m not judging. It comes from a good place of wanting to make sure nobody feels uncomfortable – a female employee, significant others, whatever. As a gay woman in a people-related function, I can totally relate. I am hyper aware of how my friendliness, teasing, and sarcasm are interpreted by both my male and female coworkers. My intent is to be accessible and open; I never want to make someone uncomfortable or wonder if it’s coming from the wrong place.

Having this conversation made me wonder if I’m exerting the same bias and not affording people the same opportunities based on my sensitivity to others’ perceptions. The truth is, I’m not sure but I want to make sure I’m not in the future. So how can we get better? I think it comes down to asking yourself two questions:

  • What are you comfortable doing for everyone?
  • What could other people (regardless of circumstance) be uncomfortable with?

Once you know that, consider offering the same “safe” option to everyone – for example, coffee across the board. Alternatively, offer an option for people to choose between – something you are comfortable with and something you think everyone would be comfortable doing. For example, I could offer to take a less experienced coworker out for a beer or lunch – their choice. Then give of yourself as best you can.

Just remember to be cognizant that you are offering the same opportunities across the board to new potential mentees. As time passes, you’ll likely develop closer relationships with certain people and give more of yourself to them. I’d only encourage you to be vigilant about starting from the same place for all.

 

Being good when you aren’t doing well.

“You cannot consistently hit your ‘A’ game if the whole you isn’t on point.” My executive coach preaches this, but to be honest, I probably didn’t buy it until recently. There were plenty of times where I leaned into work to cover for other things going on in my “real” life. And it worked. In fact, one of my biggest professional accomplishments ever occurred while I was in the process of ending a relationship. I gave every bit of my energy to that project as a way to keep my head above water, and I did a damned good job. That project saved me, in many ways. That version of me cannot believe what I’m saying now.

Here’s the difference … that example was a three-month sprint. You can put almost anything aside for a short period of time. Two years later, I realize performance (for me) isn’t sustainable if my “real” life isn’t in order and balanced. And hasn’t been for a while. The last eighteen months have been a rollercoaster, with the last six months tapping me out completely because of a number of things in my personal life. It sucks. Not sleeping, eating or being happy severely limits the energy and creativity I can bring to work, which normally energizes me and adds a lot of satisfaction to my life.

Part of what makes me really good at my job is that I generally am a happy optimist who cares and feels really hard. When I tap into that energy, I can be very perceptive, patient, diplomatic, empathetic, anticipatory and create an awesome experience. When I propose something, I’m able to sell it because of my passion. At my best, my workplace gets the whole ‘me’ that my friends get. When I lose that part of me and my energy is tapped, I am not able to bring my best. I can be productive, but not awesome.

So People Opsers out there, what advice do I have for you?

  • Be aware of your non-work energy. If it’s dipping, know it’s eventually going to catch up with you at work. Our job can be more emotionally draining than many roles in the workforce, so we need to be even more diligent about minding to our own needs. When HR people burn out, they burn out hard and become caricatures (see: the angry HR person).
  • Figure out the main drain on your non-work energy and try to take it on. I didn’t. Many of us get into this field because we like giving of ourself to others, so it’s easier said than done. I refused to address or process some of what life threw at me and tried to cover it up with work. Unproductive behaviors popped out in work and life and I really wasn’t great at anything. Sometimes you really need to just put your oxygen mask on first before focusing on others.
  • Say “no” to things. You need to focus on restoring balance in your life, and you’ll need time to commit to that. That means making choices about the most important things, and cutting out items and people that aren’t adding to your life. For me, it’s hard to let people down. Learning that it was ok to choose myself sometimes was a hard but invaluable lesson. It took me a while to start to grasp it because it’s a really hard lesson for givers to learn, and super hard to teach others.
  • Think about what you enjoy most. It may seem counterintuitive, but make time for those things. I found myself working first thing in the morning, all day, then all night. It didn’t help get me back to normal. I quit doing the things I loved. My dog started shooting me dirty looks. In hindsight, I should have been actively spending my free time with friends, my dog and in nature, versus holding out for things to get better on their own. I should have allowed myself moments of silence and joy. I’ve tried doing more of that lately.
  • Exercise. The movement is good for you all around. Also, I tend to have some of my more productive and creative thinking moments when I’m tuned out from work. Whether it’s walking, boxing, biking, or boot camp, do something that turns your brain off entirely for an hour and gets your juices flowing. The endorphins aren’t half bad, either. When the fog clears, things get a little easier.

Two years ago, I didn’t appreciate the value of balance in my life. I didn’t realize that sometimes I needed to put life before work to be better in my job, in my relationships, and in my friendships. I think I’ve learned that lesson and know that to have any chance of delivering the value I want to bring to my job, it’s time to focus on getting the whole me back to a really great place again.

If I can save some others learning this the hard way, I’d love to. Trust me … putting your happiness first and focusing on yourself sometimes will help you bring your best self to the job, your relationships and your friendships! I mean, you are reading this on the internet; it must be true!

Picking a tool or vendor

Over the years, I’ve realized just how much my views on the ideal workplace impact how I select the vendors I work with. I remember selecting one of my first vendors at my last job and the CEO (a hugely-influential mentor of mine) suggesting I add a few questions to my vetting process. They stick with me today.

How big is the company? How quickly are they growing? There’s something to be said for selecting a vendor who is facing the same challenges you are as a business. For us, it was being a budget-conscious start-up trying to scale our team and culture quickly. I always felt just a bit better when working with a company our size or a little larger who had been through some of the challenges. It meant that any employee I spoke to – from sales-to-success-to-support had likely faced the same challenges our sales, success and support teams did. Their managers had the same demands. I just felt some level of comfort knowing my vendor knew my pain points really well.

How many customers do you have? What’s your target market? I tend to like start-ups with a solid base of customers, but not so many that I worry that once the sale is closed, they’ll vanish into the abyss and we’ll be up a creek for implementation and support. I also like to know that we’re in the market they are targeting or aiming towards – I don’t want to enter a relationship with a company if they are looking to move upstream from where I see my company in the near-future. If they are looking to really crush the market I’m in, I’m more likely to get service and see features related to my challenges.

Talk to me about your culture? What types of companies choose you? This is concert with me doing some research on my own about a company’s culture and values. I want to work with companies that care about creating a great experience for their employees, because I think it’ll mean better service for me and a product built to help me support an amazing culture. It cuts again to: “How can you serve me well if we’re trying to solve different problems or don’t align philosophically?”

I still look at tablestakes things like pricing and features, but with so many amazing HR Tech solutions on the market, I try to focus in on those supporting a similar purpose. I’m in the midst of selecting a performance management tool. There are dozens of solid options out there – each solving the problem a little bit differently and all potentially presenting a ton of value to my organization. The leading candidate, though, has about 150 clients and their content is really focused on culture more than performance management. Their tool does really neat things on its own, but it sure is reassuring to know that they are thinking about it as a solution not just to help with comp reviews or exiting people, but as a key component to building a high-performing culture.

 

Saying goodbye … to a company

I’ve been talking to a number of people lately about the emotions that come along with a job transition, and I can’t help but compare it to a break up. No, they aren’t always bad and painful things. And they can be necessary to grow yourself and your career. But even on amicable terms, they can often hurt. Here are some of the ways they are similar:

Stay together for the kids. Ok, not literally. But it seems that most people I’ve spoken to were trying to hang in there for something. Maybe it’s vesting options. Or a co-worker or team they really adored. Or clinging to hopes that the good ole days would return, or that horrible boss would be fired. If you get to a point where the work isn’t getting you out of bed in the morning and exciting you – it’s probably time to consider moving on or figuring out if there’s a way to reinvigorate things before your partner (aka your employer) ends the relationship for you.

Sometimes it hurts so much to lose the one you love. Boom. I worked in a 90’s reference. Bonus points if anyone recognizes it. I’ve talked to very few people who didn’t feel some sense of loss when leaving a job. Maybe it’s for one of the reasons above, but it’s not uncommon for people to feel a loss of some part of their identity. This is magnified 10x if someone isn’t ready to leave a company. There’s some research that indicates death, divorce and job loss are the most stressful things people have to endure.

Moving on takes a while. I still say “we” when talking about my last company, and I need to be very cognizant of not saying the wrong name when I’m talking with others about where I work. It’s not that I’m not excited about my current role, it’s really as simple as breaking a 4.5 year habit and ritual. It’s easier when you know the landscape and your company. It’s harder when you are feeling something new out, and it can really magnify reminiscing about the last role.

You look back either too fondly or too negatively. There are break ups where you look back and you miss everything, conveniently forgetting there was a reason you left. There are break ups where you look back so angry about everything that you forget there was a lot good (at one point) about the relationship. The same can be true when you leave a company, particularly in the short-term.

What’s the worst break-up with a company you’ve had?

Core Values – My Influences

At work, we’re working on figuring out what our values are and who we aspire to be. It’s a critical project for any company (I think) because your values should drive everything from hiring/firing to recognition and promotions. They should be so engrained in everything that you do that people always know the right behavior or decision to make, based on what you believe in as a company. Once we have our values, we can start to build out performance management, recognition, events, etc.

Because I have the pleasure of being one of the executive team sponsors of the project, I’ve been immersing myself in all things culture and values. I get myself pumped up. I share with others. I geek out. There are a lot of companies identifying and leveraging their values in a very effective way to differentiate themselves (and their talent) from the pack. Here are a couple companies that have inspired me:

Netflix: This company took culture and values to the mainstream with the release of their culture deck. Not only did they share out their values and illustrate with examples, they talk about their culture so openly and honestly, knowing that it’s not the right fit for everyone. They flat out share that average players will get terminated with a generous severance package to hammer home just how important being exceptional is to them. My favorite example is “picking up the trash” … there’s really no better way to encapsulate a set of behaviors and attitudes you want than with that example. If I can help produce something anywhere close to as articulate as this deck, I’ll have a drop-the-mic moment and feel like I’ve done something special.

Amazon: Their Leadership Principles make their expectations crystal clear. I love calling out a bias for action and frugality. One may assume a company as large and successful as Amazon wouldn’t see either as a filter through which decisions should be made, but it is an integral part of their DNA. When you look at all of their principles, you can start to see how they’ve grown and innovated in the ways that they have. Their “think big” and “Customer obsession” also start to shed some light on how they’ve taken on so many different markets and innovated in ways that have transformed the expectations of customers around the world when dealing with online retailers. Zappos is really high on my list too, but I can’t call out two Amazon companies without feeling like I’ve stacked the deck!

Valve: When I first started at Buildium, one of the co-founders sent me Valve’s handbook. “Maybe we can do something like this?” Yeah, maybe Dimitris! They don’t call out their values as explicitly as others, but if you read through their handbook, you can tell what matters most to them and why they think it gives them an advantage in the market. My favorite part of the handbook is the end, when they are blunt about what they don’t do well. I think every company would be wise to take a look in the mirror and acknowledge what they don’t do well.

BambooHR: Anyone who works with me or talks shop with me knows how much I idolize this company. I have put two companies on their platform because it’s just so damned useful and intuitive, but I’ve always admired their culture and ability to push out useful product updates at a blistering pace. The Bamboo Way is clearly articulated and I’ve never had an interaction with their team that seemed at odds with what they say is important. This company is going somewhere and it seems like the people are happy to be driving the ride in part because of their values-oriented culture.

Atlassian: I’ll end with a simple one. They have a “mere” five values, but articulate them quite well and give their team context as to why they matter.

How does your company do with core values?

Forget what HR tells you to do … do what works for your team.

Let me back it up a little bit. I’m not saying to not follow whatever performance management process your company has in place – we’ve worked really hard to put something in place as a baseline to ensure people are getting feedback in some scaleable format. I’m also not saying to not listen to HR’s coaching – many of us geek out about this sort of thing and love to help you become more effective at delivering feedback. I am saying not to let yourself be limited by whatever system is in place – see at as a framework to build off of.

We need to do a reboot of performance management at my current company, so I’ve been reading up a bit, studying new tools and thinking about how to best combine simplicity, regularity and efficacy in a scaleable system, while leaving room for teams to do what works best for them. Here are some key components for any manager thinking about performance management.

Regular feedback. I meet with everyone on my team once per week. Each person fills me in on anything they need help with, talks about things they have accomplished and asks any questions they have for me. I save the end of our time to ask questions about how they’ve taken on a project, why they’ve made the the decisions they have, or how well something went. Then I provide my feedback on anything that jumps to mind based on the prior week. Rather than forced feedback covering a long period of time, it’s timely little bits of highly-specific feedback (at least, that’s the goal … I have off weeks).

Career planning. Several times a year, an informal check-in on career goals is helpful (and greatly appreciated). Talk about their big picture goals; don’t dance around the fact (or get angry with the realization) that they likely won’t be with you and your company for forever; figure out the skills they need to hit their goals; and figure out the projects and coaching you can realistically provide for them right now. If you are committed to their growth long-term and figure out how to help them, you will almost certainly get more loyalty and effort from your team.

Ask for feedback. If you are helping your team grow, there is no reason for you not to leverage them to help you grow. Ask what you are doing and not doing well. Ask how they like to be managed and what is driving them crazy. Some of my biggest growing moments as a manager came from open feedback from my team. You’ll need to earn trust first – nobody is going to give tough (but helpful) feedback to their manager if they are worried it’ll come back to haunt them. Which also means that you shouldn’t ask for feedback if you aren’t ready to hear it (I’ve seen this turn sour a number of times).

Do an intake. If you take on a new team or new person, do an intro meeting. I have one I do 1-2 times a year that covers seven questions and helps me immensely as a manager.

  • What do you love to do?
  • What do you hate to do?
  • What are you awesome at (overlap allowed)?
  • What are you bad at (overlap allowed)?
  • What are your goals – career and skills to acquire?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • How do you not like to be managed?

This allows me to deploy people on things in their wheelhouse, challenge them with projects that will build skills they’ll need to hit their growth goals, and saves me some hard lessons in managing them the right way. It also lets me give more helpful context to the projects I assign them (ie. “I’m giving you this project because I think it’ll give some skills needed to hit this goal”).

The wrap: Talk to your team about how they want feedback. Ask them about a system that works for them. Be open and honest with them. Commit to growing them. It may seem counterintuitive to be committed to getting someone promoted (or hired to a bigger role elsewhere), but it will pay off in performance and engagement. It’ll likely help with retention, too (because people ride out the hard times for a good manager). Being a good manager is a lot of work – giving feedback and managing performance are both a huge part of it. Find a good mentor, read up, experiment and ask for feedback. It’ll pay off in your career growth.

 

 

Picking Mentors – HR Novice to HR Guru

I’m not a guru (I only play one on the interwebs), but I think I’ve graduated from novice with a lot of help from a lot of people. Some I stumbled on through luck or some prodding, some I sought out. If I was talking to a younger version of me (with fewer gray hairs), here’s what I’d say:

Work for someone you can learn from. Provided you have the flexibility to be patient on job offers, only accept one working for someone you know you can learn something valuable from. Pick someone super smart. Pick someone who is an expert in their field. Pick a great leader. Provided the job ticks off your other needs, always choose the role reporting to someone who awes you with some characteristic or skill.

I have a list of people I’ve interviewed with over the years that I would have loved to work for, solely because of how much I thought I could learn from them. Only two of these people are in HR. And mind the other side of you tenure at a job. It may be time to consider another role if you don’t feel you are still learning from your manager, or at least invest in some other avenue of learning

Find HR thought partners. My CEO at Buildium, Michael, acknowledged I was relatively inexperienced and encouraged me to find experts to use as thought partners, even if it cost the company money. I used an HR consulting company called Insight Performance and worked closely with the amazing Amy Scannell. Early on, I’d call with a question and follow her recommendations. Later, I’d call with a solution and ask if I was missing anything. Over four years, I developed in large part because of her mentorship.

Our investors hosted summits where I was able to network with other HR professionals. Annually, we were able to hear what others were trying, things that had gone well, and lessons learned the hard way.  It’s here I met one of my HR crushes, the incredibly amazing Christine Song. I still find myself learning from her amazing LinkedIn article shares and occasionally bouncing an idea off of her for feedback.

Lastly, blogs and conferences were a great sources of inspiration and expertise. I religiously read upstartHR, then met the super talented author, Ben Eubanks at a conference. Keeping up to date with what was on his mind helped me keep a thumb on what was going on in the profession and challenge my own thinking and beliefs about the right way to do things. It made me grow and evolve. Getting to interact with him and ask for feedback was amazing.

 

Network. I hate the thought of schmoozing people in a large room, so I try not to. That doesn’t mean I don’t see incredible value to expanding my circle through smaller events, speaking on panels, and offering to feedback to people who ask. I’ve found myself with a groups of individuals that have taught me a lot about different functional areas and other business problems. I have found that as I’ve learned more about all aspects of a business, I’ve become better at my role.

The wrap. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to stumble into some amazing mentors who have shaped the professional I am today. I didn’t really start to see the value until in my thirties, but I wish I had started earlier. Don’t limit yourself to people in your profession – there is something to be learned from anyone who is really good at something. Ask them about the biggest lessons they’ve learned, the biggest mistake they made, things they wish they knew earlier in their career and anything else that comes to mind. You’d be surprised at how much it helps you navigate things you face.

 

That 6:30AM Factor – Scaling Drive and Commitment

“We used to have people here at 6:30AM everyday. How do we get our team back to that?”

“Mike, we’re bigger now. You can’t expect people to do that.”

I recently was having a discussion with an engineer at a growing medical device company about the issues her company has had scaling. Her boss was lamenting how they used to have a culture where he wasn’t the only person in the office at 6:30AM, with the underlying feeling being that it meant people just didn’t care as much or weren’t as driven.

Maybe the 6:30AM factor is defined differently at your company, but it’s such a common concern when scaling that I wanted to talk about it a bit. How do you make sure to keep the special something as you grow and aren’t afraid of shuttering your doors tomorrow? While I think it’s really hard to do, I think scaling that sort of drive (in this case) is possible if you are really deliberate throughout the process of growing your headcount. Here are some of the components you need to have.

Great hiring (and firing) practices. Your founders should define the characteristics they love in employees and the culture they want to have early on, then work with the HR or People Ops team to engrain them into the hiring process. The earlier, the better. You want to have it down to a science and learn from your mistakes before hitting a stretch of rapid growth.

Many companies wait too long to hire a strong person to build out the people infrastructure, so it’s not a surprise that it becomes an uphill battle. You should be interviewing for fit, work style, skills and experience early on, and exiting people who aren’t a fit for the culture you want to sustain. Your culture will naturally change as you grow, but you need to be vigilant about reinforcing the characteristics you want and avoid letting it slip into a bad place early on.

Purpose. Part of the reason you see such a vibrant culture in a lot of start-ups is that every person feels able to impact the company’s ability to sink or swim. Even the intern gets face time with the CEO to hear about the vision and strategy. How can you not be excited to come into work with that level of clarity and ability to impact great things?! As you grow, that doesn’t happen organically. Before you know it, you have a content writer writing about tax returns, who doesn’t see how what they does matters to the company and watches the clock until they can leave.

As you grow, you need to be much more deliberate about purpose and making people feel impactful. People further down the ranks are going to feel further and further from what the company is trying to do and top-level metrics. The content writer doesn’t see how this article impacts MRR or growth rate, but maybe they can see it impacting organic search results or customer satisfaction.

Your leaders should take the time to position tasks and initiatives very specifically, tie them up to department goals, and explain how that impacts company goals. Also, define the mission and goals of their teams. When you give people a task, show them the metrics it’ll move. Let them own it. People want to feel like they make a difference – it’s what gets them pumped to get out of bed in the morning and, maybe, show up at 6:30AM to try this new thing they think will move the needle.

Autonomy and growth. When you are a small company, it’s really easy for people to feel like they control their own destiny and get to take on stretch projects. It’s invigorating. When people are pumped about what they do, the time flies. As you get bigger, there’s less green field, more process, more specialization and things may move a little slower.

It takes a very deliberate effort by managers to distribute the boring tasks that nobody wants to do (and give them context so they are slightly less awful), and also distribute the stretch projects to members of the team so everyone still has something they are really excited about. No, your customer service rep probably won’t have a chance to run social media as you grow, but maybe they can be a team lead or run an onboarding program.

What happens more typically is that a couple of people get all the stretch projects, while others get the grunt work. So you have a smaller number of people feeling autonomy and the opportunity for growth. I think this adds to critical mass becoming less and less engaged. I think the only real way around this obstacle is good management. Unfortunately, many quickly-growing start-ups end up with a lot of first time managers (usually the people who got stretch projects and crushed it) who aren’t able to be as deliberate about divvying up work. Which brings me to …

Good management. Great managers are a differentiator. People join for them, excel under them, and stick around through the hard times because of them. They make work exciting. You need really good managers to hire and fire correctly. To give purpose as you scale. And to ensure autonomy and growth opportunities throughout their teams. If you have great managers, you can scale that start-up feel where people are invigorated by what they do. Every business struggles with this, but particularly growing ones where every day there are a million other things to take on.

The wrap. Even if you solve for all of the above, reality kicks in. When you are a small company, your demographics may be very different than they need to be as you grow. For example, with more experienced leaders, you likely will have more people who have families and other commitments outside of work than a fifteen person start-up with a lot of twenty-somethings. Having people in the office at all hours becomes less likely (and I’m not sure it’s the best measure of scaling success).

If your company grows, your dynamics will need to change, regardless. As a leader, you need to really get to the heart of what’s important, define it for your HR team, listen to their feedback (i.e. are you focusing on the right measures of success?), and let them get to work weaving it into the fabric of your company. That is, in my opinion, the best way to scale a really positive culture that reflects the wants of the founders while meeting the needs of the business.

Oh. And hire/develop good managers as you scale. That, too.