There are three major principles I find important in growing a team at a startup, including hiring great people, empowering individuals, and making sure the team feels that the workplace is fair. While not perfectly executed by any stretch, here is a bit more about how and why we try to implement this at Verde Energy Efficiency Experts in Chicago.
Hiring Great People
Tim Smith (Verde's CFO) told me the story of David Ogilvy, the founder of Ogilvy & Mather. Tim was the Finance Director at Ogivly & Mather, and always talks about the high caliber of people at the company. Here is the quote he shared from David:
"When someone is made the head of an office in the Ogilvy & Mather chain, I send him a Matrioshka doll from Gorky. If he has the curiosity to open it, and keep opening it until he comes to the inside of the smallest doll, he finds this message:
“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
I have always tried to hire people better than me. I have my strengths, but I try to look for folks that are smarter, more organized, better at communicating or anything that really strikes me. I look for giants, and if you know us at Verde - you know we have quite a few.
People are always impressed and ask me how we find such great people. I think business owners are sometimes threatened by others with great qualities, and find an excuse to not hire those individuals. In fact, one of my friends has a fast-growing firm with over 50 employees. I once asked him who the smartest person at the company and he said, "I am". While it might be true, my guess is that he isn't out looking for giants.
I can certainly tell you there are a lot of folks smarter than me at Verde. And yes, most of them are better looking than me too :)
I recently read the book, "Turn This Ship Around" by David Marquet. It talks a lot about intent based leadership, which is encouraging teams to be empowered by sharing intent, instead of asking for permission. This really resonated with me, as I have never been able to pay attention enough to those around me to micromanage their actions.
Intent-based leadership means that those that you work with will say things like, "I intend to start an initiative for composting in our office", instead of "Is it OK if we start composting at the office?" This subtle difference creates an empowered situation for the employee, but also still keeps the management aware of the plans before they happen. I am at my worst when I find out about something after it is complete, and am unhappy about it.
This is a huge change to the norm, so it takes work and consistent application of the terminology. We all still fall into our old language at Verde, so we are constantly reminding each other how to practice this correctly. However, it is a huge step in the direction fo building a company of giants, as it will unleash their full potential.
Making a workplace that is fair is super important. One of our great team members sent me this link this week, and it really struck a chord with her on why fairness is so important at the workplace.
I have definitely worked at places in the past that I did not feel were fair. I remember feeling like my initiatives and ideas were shot down, just because they came from me. I ended up withdrawing and feeling less active in the workplace - giving less of myself toward the organization.
Out of all of these topics, this is probably the one that is the most challenging to execute 100% correctly. However, that makes it all the more reason to put effort into this to make sure the organization is visibly trying to create a sense of fairness for all employees.