While there are many factors that contribute to a successful startup venture- the product/market fit, the branding and messaging, ability to raise capital, it all pales in comparison to the talent and engagement of the people. It has become cliche at this point for companies to say “our people are our greatest asset” — but unfortunately not many companies act as though this is really the case, or know how to make it happen.
One of the recent discussions I had with a relatively early stage company was very different on the issue of human capital. It is a company that is on the verge of going public, and one of the founders and I were in a deep discussion about the factors that will make the road ahead a great success. This is a seasoned business person with a healthy track record of growing companies. For him, it is all about the people, and he knows how to make that real for all involved.
“If people love working here, we will be a success” is how he started out. He explained how Sheryl Sandberg had been the glue that people needed at Facebook in those earlier days. He said “if people needed a friend, or a shoulder to cry on, a drink or a remedy for a hangover, Sheryl was right there making sure they had what they needed. She created a family.” This entrepreneur went on to say that his first job is to make his people know that he would do whatever they need to be part of the team. He listed off the importance of openness, of being heard and valued, of being challenged and included in decisions. He said “if they need me to wash their car, I will do that too”.
It is interesting to speak with CEOs and executives who are passionate about making their place of business the BEST PLACE for people to work, as compared with bosses and managers who really feel that people are interchangeable and ultimately disposable. Maybe they believe they can hide how they feel, but it is completely evident. A boss that really deeply cares for their people can be spotted a mile away- unfortunately there are not as many as there should be. Reading Mission Driven Leadership- My Journey as a Radical Capitalist by Mark Bertolini also shows that this can happen in large corporations as well smaller ones.
Before you start managing people it bears reflecting on the impact you will have on the people who work for you. People quit bosses not jobs, and by your actions you have the power to make some people’s lives really miserable- if you don’t actively try to make them better. If you already manage people, have you stopped to think about how your actions are impacting them- and are you doing all you can to make this work environment as great as it can be for them? Would you wash their car if they needed you to? Do you believe your business would be better if they knew you would?