Candid advice to CEOs and founders building teams, mistakes included

To all startup founders and CEOs, freakishly celebrate and learn from your mistakes. There 's no greater teacher when it comes to building your company. Thursday's second installment of our Let’s Talk session, hosted in partnership with Missouri Bank, was a great reminder of this and drove home that there is no playbook for how

About the author: Regan Carrizales is the CEO of Silicon Prairie News. She’s been with SPN since November 2012, first as a community builder, and works out of Kansas City.


To all startup founders and CEOs, freakishly celebrate and learn from your mistakes. There ‘s no greater teacher when it comes to building your company. Thursday’s second installment of our Let’s Talk session, hosted in partnership with Missouri Bank, was a great reminder of this and drove home that there is no playbook for how you build a team and culture.

As our small group gathered around the table to talk about building a team—recruiting talent, the interview process, building culture and local startup examples of how it’s done, performance and accountability—it was clear this is the most critical, painful, semi-miserable and rewarding part of building a startup.

Let me re-emphasize the semi-miserable part. Recruiting, hiring and managing people will be one of the hardest parts of your job and will test you daily. It’s not for the faint of heart and in the spirit of Let’s Talk, I wanted to be candid about a few of my mistakes and rough lessons learned along the way.

Keep Moving. Last year, many of our team members turned over and with each new hole in the organization, I became paralyzed. Did I want to rehire a similar function? What competencies was I looking for? I had so much missing information and yet, by not moving, I was holding our organization back from focusing on the important parts of growing the business.

  • Advice: Keeping moving. No job description will be perfect. The roles and responsibilities will change monthly, if not daily. As Stephen Hardy with MindMixer shared yesterday, be upfront with the ambiguity and changing nature of the position and any candidate who isn’t on board probably isn’t going to be a cultural fit.

Culture is Your Job. Perks do not equal culture. Your organization’s core values are its culture and you build around those values. This is still a work in progress for us; however, I know that if we don’t focus on it now, I’ll wake up to an organizational culture created by default.

Here are a couple pieces of advice and examples shared yesterday:

  • When interviewing candidates, their competencies are as important as their fit. Continue to evolve an interview process that draws that information out of a candidate and stick to your process.
  • Ensure your perks tie back to the values and re-evaluate often. Carlos Antequera with Netchemia shared that in their culture, customers come first. To support that value, they provide each employee with WOW chips. Employees can award other employees with WOW chips if they received outstanding customer feedback. At the end of the quarter, prizes are awarded to an employee with the most chips.  

Open and Honest Talk. Ben Horowitz articulately defines in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” what it means to be a wartime CEO. I would define my first year as being a wartime CEO, which was not natural to the core of who I am. I wasn’t always open or wanted to talk to my team about all the, frankly, bullshit that I/we were experiencing. I set a terrible example for what I wanted, which was an organization communicating openly, sharing feedback and embracing mistakes.

  • Advice: Be truthful, always. Set the example for real dialogue among individuals and teams. That means speaking to action as it happens, providing feedback in every single conversation and having a healthy appetite for making mistakes. Build those feedback loops into your process and expect nothing less from your team. Also, formalize accountability at the individual and team level. Quarterly performance meetings and 1-on-1s are great ways to do this. Focus the conversation on key performance metrics that move the business forward and how each individual contributes to that progress.

My last piece of advice is to just “be you.” You will be tested often and will want to question very foundational pieces of who you are. As a female CEO, I was even more sensitive to how I responded in various situations. Was my reaction seen as being weak? Did the team respect me? I struggled to concretely define my leadership style, which was wasted energy.

The best advice one of my mentors shared with me is to “just be Regan.” Once I understood what that meant, I was able to focus on those things that were actually important to building our company.

 

Happy team building,

Regan

JOIN THE MOVEMENT!

Sign up to receive daily updates in your inbox.