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3 tips to align your values with your startup’s culture

By Ram Iyer
Mark McClain Contributor
Mark McClain is the founder and CEO of SailPoint, the leader in cloud enterprise security.

You’ve heard the phrase “leading by example,” but what about “leading with values”?

I’ve always led by example by using my values as my guide. Still, it wasn’t until I founded my first company that I fully understood the importance of embedding those values into the company, too.

Integrity, individuals, impact and innovation are the “4 I values” that drive my decisions and the actions of those at my company each day. These are not just words on a wall at our HQ or on a mousepad for our remote crew, but values that everyone in the company lives and breathes. Over the last two years, these four values became even more important and continued to guide me, my family and the leaders at our company.

As organizations map out their “return to the workplace” (NOT “return to work,” because we never stopped working) plans, we should not simply go back to how things were before. Instead, let’s all take a moment to redesign something that sets everyone up for success, with values as the compass. I think you’ll find this approach helps people not only survive, but thrive in the workplace.

Leading with values is, in my experience, the best leadership position to take, and there are three ways to accomplish this goal.

Leave behind old-school mentalities on workplace hierarchy

The tone of the company’s culture comes from the top. The culture you envision for your company will only come about if your employees believe in the practices that you are asking them to implement.

At some point in your career — probably right out of school, a few years in or somewhere in the middle — you experienced a company where treating lower-level employees with less respect is just “a part of the job.” Companies with this type of “paying your dues” mentality tend to work these lower-level employees like grunts until they burn out and leave.

Or they eventually crawl their way up into management-level positions, and the cycle perpetuates itself as they deride the newer crop of employees, eroding any semblance of a healthy culture.

This is not the way.

As a leader, if you want your work environment to indicate inclusivity, support, collaboration and have the essence of a team mentality, you must set the precedent right away. This means stripping away the hierarchy that accompanies work titles and making it clear that your company values contribution based on merit, regardless of position. You are one team, united in your purpose to deliver on your mission, based on your values. This level setting ensures that everyone has skin in the game, and no one has the leeway to treat people poorly.

Don’t get caught in an ivory tower mindset

Early on in my career, I began sharing an office when I could. Those office spaces were purposely not what anyone would consider cool or nice “digs” — not the furniture and certainly not the view. Even as CEO now, I’ve had someone on the team describe my current office as a closet. But it gets the job done.

Simple signals like this send a powerful message, and the signal must remain consistent. Don’t take a limo; rent a cheap car. Don’t fly first class; fly coach. These may seem like minor details, but one of the biggest pitfalls any CEO can encounter is falling victim to an ivory tower mindset — when you become so out of touch with the people you manage, your employees start to notice.

Make a cognizant effort to know your people. Implement a “management by walking around” strategy. Don’t sit in your office all day; get out on the floor among your people. Drop by their desks and ask them how their day is going. Eat lunch in the break room. Put in the effort to attend new hire onboarding.

Not physically back in the office? Drop into Slack channels and Zoom meetings. I once “Zoom bombed” a baby shower for one of our crew members just to hear all the well wishes, and it made my day and theirs. Overall, just be present and humanize your workspace. It pays off in spades.

Be thoughtful and consistent with workplace practices

The tone of the company’s culture comes from the top. The culture you envision for your company will only come about if your employees believe in the practices that you are asking them to implement. More importantly, you will not grow a solid culture if you don’t give these initiatives and practices 100% of your own effort.

For example, one new initiative we rolled out last year is a campaign we call “Free2Focus.” Twice a week, the SailPoint crew is asked to avoid booking meetings for a couple of hours during Free2Focus time. Not only does this address Zoom fatigue, it also gives our crew the chance to catch their breath whichever way suits them best — whether that’s taking a walk, helping with their children’s schooling or just turning off the camera for a bit.

If I want my team to show themselves some grace during the week, I’ve found that I need to apply the same practice. This means not setting up meetings during Free2Focus, not sending emails all hours of the day and night and not judging people for taking breaks when they need them. I trust my team to get the job done largely on their own time and own their own terms. I promise, your employees’ performance will be better because of it.

Being a CEO is more than building on a vision, a product or an idea. It’s about leading your people with values to accomplish mutual goals in a way that doesn’t zap them of their morale or dignity. It’s easy to get caught up in all the things that come with a job, but if you don’t put in the effort to immerse yourself and your values into the entire company, you’ll end up too big for your own good — and certainly too big for your company’s good.

It won’t happen overnight, but remember, the smallest things are often the ones that have the biggest impact. If you’re the leader, lead by example. It’s the only way to build teams that stand the test of time.

For tech firms, the risk of not preparing for leadership changes is huge

By Ram Iyer
Jason Dressel Contributor
Jason Dressel is president of History Factory, which helps companies use their history and heritage to enhance and transform strategy, positioning, marketing and communication.

Every week over the past three and a half years, an average of three CEOs have exited tech companies in the U.S. That tally is higher — in good times and bad — than in any of the other 26 for-profit sectors tracked by executive search firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. You’d think tech companies should be the paradigm of how to prep for leadership transitions, since they operate in such a constant state of flux.

They’re far from it.

A change of command is one of the most delicate moments in the life cycle of any organization. If mishandled, the transition from one CEO to the next can result in a loss of market valuation, momentum and focus, as well as key personnel, customers and partners. It may even become that turning point when an organization begins to slide toward irrelevance.

With so much at stake, 84% of tech execs agree that succession planning is more important than ever because of today’s fast-changing business environment, according to our new survey of corporate America’s leaders. Seven out of 10 survey respondents agreed that tech companies face more scrutiny than other multinationals during a transition.

84% of tech execs agree that succession planning is more important than ever because of today’s fast-changing business environment.

Yet we found that tech execs appear just as unprepared for C-suite transitions as their peers in other sectors. Three out of five respondents said their companies don’t have a documented plan to handle a leadership change, even though, by that same ratio, they acknowledge that a documented plan is the biggest determinant in seamless transitions.

The findings may not be troubling if these respondents were millennial startup founders, years from leaving their companies. The executives we polled, however, hail from 160 companies that have been in business for a minimum of 15 years — 35 are tech companies, the largest industry cohort in the survey.

The smallest companies have at least 1,500 employees and $500 million in annual revenue, while the largest have head counts of over 500,000 and revenue upward of $100 billion. They have been around long enough to understand — and put into place — risk management and crisis planning, including what happens should their leaders fall victim to the proverbial milk truck.

Tech execs should be more rigorous about succession planning for one important reason: institutional memory. Tech firms generally are younger than other companies of a similar size, which partly explains why the median age of S&P 500 companies plunged to 33 years in 2018 from 85 years in 2000, according to McKinsey & Co.

These enterprises clearly have accomplished a lot in their short lives, but in their haste, most have not captured their history, unlike their longer-lived peers in other sectors. Less than half of these tech firms, in fact, have formally recorded their leader’s story for posterity. That puts them at a disadvantage when, inevitably, they will be required to onboard newcomers to their C-suites.

It’s best to record this history well before the intense swirl of a leadership transition begins. Crucially, it will help the incoming and future generations of leadership understand critical aspects of its track record, the lessons learned, culture and identity. It also explains why the organization has evolved as it has, what binds people together and what may trigger resistance based on previous experience. It’s as much about moving forward as looking back.

Most execs in our poll get it, with 85% saying a company’s history can be a playbook for new executives to learn and prepare for upcoming challenges and opportunities. “History is the mother of innovation for any type of company,” one respondent said. “History,” writes another, “includes the roadmap to failures as well as successes.”

But this documented history cannot be a hagiography of the departing CEO. Too often, outgoing execs spend their last years in office constructing their own trophy cases. Even as they conceded their own flat-footedness on transition planning, the majority of execs said they have already taken steps to create and reinforce their personal legacies — two-thirds said they have already completed their own formal legacy planning, many with the blessing of their boards.

It’s ironic, then, that three out of five also said that the legacy of a CEO or founder often overshadows the skill set and experience a successor brings. Two-thirds of tech execs believed that the longer a leader has been in office, the more it complicates a transition.

Tech leaders can do this right and have done so. Asked which five big-name CEO transitions was most successful, respondents’ No. 1 was Apple’s handoff from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook (38%), followed by Microsoft’s page-turn from Steve Ballmer to Satya Nadella (28%). The others, at General Electric, General Motors and Goldman Sachs, each netted no more than 13% of votes.

Apple’s apparent predominance in this survey might contradict the advice to play down the aggrandizement of an exiting CEO and highlight the compilation and transfer of an organization’s history to the next chief executive. Jobs, after all, painstakingly managed his legacy until the end. But even as he continued to take center-stage, he also made sure to pass along Apple’s institutional knowledge and ethos to Cook over the 13 years they shared space on Apple’s executive floor.

Sooner or later, everyone in the C-suite today — including startup founders — will depart. For the sake of everyone they’ll leave behind, they should begin prepping for that day now.

Collectiv Food raises $16M Series A to connect food producers directly with kitchens

By Mike Butcher

In the modern world, we tend to like to know where our food comes from and this has massively influenced professional kitchens. For decades, food suppliers have sat on one side and distribution channels (restaurants and the like) on the other. But large wholesalers in the middle have traditionally crushed producers on prices and late payments. Professional kitchens can circumvent this by going direct to food producers. But they can’t manage hundreds of direct relationships. It’s just not been possible. Until the Internet.

Collectiv Food is a new startup that addresses this with a new take on the food supply chain model. It directly sources products from suppliers, unlocking price advantages for both suppliers and buyers, it says. Its competitors include Brakes, Bidfood, and Transgourmet.

It’s now raised £12M / $16M in its Series A funding round led by VNV Global, along with VisVires New Protein (VVNP), Octopus Ventures, Norrsken VC, and existing investors, including Partech, Colle Capital, and Mustard Seed. Frontline Ventures was the earliest investor in 2017.

Launched in 2019, Collectiv so far operates in the UK and France. It operates by sourcing food directly from producers, disintermediating the wholesaler middleman, and delivering straight to professional kitchens. Customers include restaurants, hotels, catering firms, meal-kit companies, and dark kitchens. The company claims that this approach (which also involves multiple distribution points across cities) generates 50% less CO2 emissions than traditional supply methods better prices, fresher products, transparency, traceability, and more reliable service.

Customers include Big Mamma Group, The Hush Collection, Dirty Bones, Megan’s, Crussh, Butchies, Cocotte, Tossed, and Fresh Fitness Food. 

Collectiv founder Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi said in a statement: “We’re being pushed by a combination of strong tailwinds: end-consumers demanding a better understanding of provenance; cities implementing air pollution regulations that limit large freight; a post-Covid hospitality industry desperate to improve margins but with limited staff availability to facilitate this in-house. Combined with our innovative model, we’re able to set our sights on not only becoming a European leader in food distribution over the next few years, but even a global one.”

Björn von Sivers, Investment Manager at VNV Global, said: “Collectiv’s innovative managed marketplace connects a fragmented supply of producers with the very fragmented demand of professional kitchens, creating improved transparency amongst other clear network improvements for all stakeholders.”

In his former profession as a Forensic Accountant, Hibbert-Garibaldi came across the business model for Collectiv after he investigated one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK and their food wholesale leg, mainly for violations of codes of conduct, such as how they were behaving with their suppliers. “I quickly realized that food supply chains were broken, with too much opacity and malpractice, and at the end of the day not benefiting any sides of the marketplace,” he said.

Engrained with a passion for food from his French and Italian origins, he quit his job and spend months in restaurant kitchens to understand the problems they faced: “I wanted to understand why it was so hard for them to source good products, know exactly where their food was coming from, and receive these products reliably and sustainably whenever they needed them. Using this I built my case study to get out to investors and start the business.”

It remains to be seen if Collectiv can scale, or take a chunk out of the vast food supply chain industry, but if it ends up appealing both to suppliers and distributors it will be very interesting to watch.

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