Category Archives: Company Culture

Why startup teams resist hiring a new leader, and what to do about it

angry mob

I’ve run across this situation with startup CxO coaching clients three times in the past week, so it felt like a good time to write about it…

Here is the scenario: You realize that you need to hire a more experienced leader for an existing team, and there is lots of resistance to making the hire: the team doesn’t see the value in bringing on someone more senior, they think it will ruin their existing freewheeling culture, or they are confused that you want to replace a leader who is well-liked (but not performing well).

Here is the deal: they often don’t know what a great leader would look, sound, or feel like, or what they would contribute to the team. Early hires tolerate uncertainty & chaos well, and value a lack of structure. To them, you are “ruining” a great thing. They have heard (or lived) the horror stories of bad managers, so they value strong individual contributors who can organize people around them reasonably well, and who primarily represent the core values & beliefs of the team. You, on the other hand, are looking for a solid people manager who will provide some more structure, accountability, & mentoring, who will contribute to a broader strategy and to the exec team, can act more autonomously, and who will balance the demands of the business with the needs of the team.

You’ve announced that the hire is underway, you’ve written a job description, and you’re bringing in candidates. The team interviews possible leaders, and because they can’t actually envision what a more skilled/senior leader would look like, they screen for what they would look for in a peer (ability to do the hands-on job of senior individual contributor is usually what they look for), and overlook the qualities that would make them a great leader: people skills, ability to lead a team in making a decision, planning, accountability, and collaboration with peers to solve complex company-wide problems. The post-interview meetings devolve into arguments about what you’re looking for, and you start questioning your sanity, especially if you haven’t hired for this role before. You feel like you’re totally wasting your time talking to the team that’s arguing about this, and you wonder if the drama will ever end…

The assumption that most drives people nuts about this one is that they dearly want it to be a collaborative process; they value getting the input & buy-in from those around them, and they can’t understand why the team won’t fall in line and help with the hire.

I can think of at least two paths to follow, both with pros and cons…

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6 Keys to Happiness When Your Startup is Acquired

Acquisitions aren’t easy, but they don’t have to be miserable. Here’s a guide for anyone at a company being acquired (most applies to acquirers as well).

Last week James Home and Marcy Swenson hosted a core conversation at SXSW on How to Be Acquired and Stay Happy. Wonderful smart people generously participated, sharing their experiences of what worked and didn’t in both sides of dozens of acquisitions of tech startups. (In a future post, we’ll summarize the unique issues for founders and the executive team leading up to acquisition.) With the market shift in startup exits from IPOs to acquisitions, learning to do it well and happily is important to anyone at a startup.

Interestingly, the entire conversation focused not on business integration or strategy but on human integration. We think the strategy may be less important than the people and how they run with it.

Here are the six keys… Continue reading

Startup Happiness Values Deck: Find your team’s cultural DNA

In 7 Principles of Startup Happiness we wrote:

We’re seeing a new type of entrepreneur starting companies lately; they are approaching their company culture with almost as much passion as the business idea itself, with the goal of creating the type of organization that they will be most happy being a part of.

We’d been working to create a canonical set of values that successful startup founders shared. As we began pitching these values to different startup teams, we found that each team had their own unique set of values. Startup founders start their own companies so that they can live according to their own values, not someone else’s! That led us to create the Startup Happiness Values Deck – a tool that startups can use to discover and discuss their own unique cultural DNA as well as to understand each other and work as a tighter team.

Here’s a picture of the cards:

Startup Happiness Values Dec

After testing out the Startup Happiness Values Deck on over 100 individuals and founding teams, in person and at events such as Summit at SeaLUXrQuantified Self, and Startup Lessons Learned, as well as with our coaching clients (both in person and over the phone).

We’re finding that it’s a terrific shortcut to creating meaningful conversations about company values and culture. Sometimes it also surfaces, clarifies and suggests solutions to current important issues the team faces.

We’ve been working with our friends at Delivering Happiness to create a version oriented toward the broader corporate and work world.   (If you’re in San Francisco, join us Thurs evening (6/23) for the San Francisco Delivering Happiness Town Hall where you can try out the first version of this new deck with your team! The first 40 participants will get to take one home to play with.)

Different versions of the deck have between 20 and 30 cards (we’re using an iterative process to introduce new cards and eliminate unpopular ones). We ask each person on a team to stack rank the values, according to what makes them the happiest at work, and we’ve been impressed with how unique and individual the results are.

Even more interesting are the conversations we have with teams after each individual has completed the exercise. The foundation and cultural DNA of the company is laid bare, along with launching points into understanding individual needs and differences, and turning shared values into habits.

Because the values cards are external, moveable, and tactile, people seem to be able to discuss difficult challenges with more ease, and reach solutions more quickly.

As coaches, we’ve found this to be an invaluable tool to help us create constructive conversations amongst team members very quickly. For teams who are experiencing challenges reaching agreement or making decisions, it often helps to explain why that might be happening, and allows us to facilitate solution-oriented conversations.

We are available for 2-hr or half-day workshops for startups, teams, or incubator programs; we will customize the material to meet the needs of your unique situation. We enjoy helping teams to learn, grow, and succeed!

7 Principles of Startup Happiness (v 0.1)

We’re seeing a new type of entrepreneur starting companies lately; they are approaching their company culture with almost as much passion as the business idea itself, with the goal of creating the type of organization that they will be most happy being a part of.

Over the past several months, I’ve been working with my colleague and fellow business coach Dale Larson to try to describe this phenomenon. We’ve tested it out with a variety of entrepreneurs, VCs and journalists in meetings and at parties, and heard lots of yes. Here is our first formal presentation of these ideas.

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Zuckerberg on Making Mistakes

This week at the Web 2.0 Summit, Mark  Zuckerberg from Facebook talked about four values that he’s made a key part of his company’s DNA: move fast, be bold, take risks, and don’t worry about getting everything right.

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When employees steal your soda, ur doin it rong

“One day, a sign appeared on a soda fridge saying: Drinks cost Microsoft millions of dollar a year. Sodas are your perk at work. Don’t bring them home.”

It turns out the “soda incident” was the most commented-on part of Philip Su’s goodbye letter to Microsoft. Why?

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Want a great exit? Build a great culture.

Asked about the importance of culture in making an acquisition, he didn’t hesitate for a second. Guido Jouret, Cisco’s CTO of Emerging Technology, said “We pass on acquisitions if the culture isn’t right. If it isn’t right, nothing else matters.”

Jouret is responsible for incubating Cisco’s future billion-dollar businesses, so I asked him after he gave the keynote at last week’s Plug and Play Expo what he thought the critical qualities in a startup’s culture that he looked for in acquisition. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d rattle off four things instantly…

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