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Have empathy for yourself, managing is hard. Part of it is that you're going to make mistakes, part of it is that you're not going to be perfect. Great managers have a growth mindset and they just recognize that this is hard. And that part of it is a craft that you will always be getting better at.

In this episode

If the workplace culture isn’t being lived, it doesn’t really matter, does it? 

Managers are responsible for bringing the culture to life.

Jevan Soo Lenox, Chief People Officer at Insitro, dives into the importance of building a cohesive culture across an organization and shares ways in how to do that. 

Jevan also shares the systems and processes he uses as a CPO and the importance of efficient onboarding for longterm success. 

Tune in to hear all about Jevan’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!


Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


04:39

Insitro background

06:52

Follow the platinum rule

12:52

Learnings from working at McKinsey

22:53

Onboarding at Square

33:25

Creating a cohesive culture

35:56

Being a manager today


Resources


Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  00:32

Jevan, welcome to the show.

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  04:41

Thank you for having me.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  04:42

Yeah, very excited to do this with you. I know you’ve had a pretty extensive leadership career at work that a lot of brand name companies like Stitch Fix square McKenzie, and today you’re the chief people officer at NC tro. So we dug into that A little bit before we press record, but maybe you want to just give the audience I thought it was like a very, very cool thing that you guys are working on there. Just give us like a, you know, quick overview, what do you do at the company?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  05:13

Yeah, and see tro is a company that is applying machine learning to transform how drug discovery has done drug discovery, it’s a very, very hard process. It’s a process where something like low digit percentage success rates of drugs, making it through the pipeline and getting to patients often costing up to a billion dollars or more in development. And it’s getting worse over time. So the industry is actually getting less productive over time. And so if you think about one of huge opportunity as a business to really transform something that is clearly not working well. And also something that’s really needed by you know, humanity, as really pitching to a senior exec candidate or that spot and saying, you know, come here and save the world, because we need to do this, that we need to do this. And so it’s a really inspiring mission and vision. And honestly, really, really fun people and organizational challenges. Because our business as you might guess, from what I described, we have a ton of amazing biologists and chemists focused in the lab, we have amazing machine learning engineers, software, engineers, product managers, building, the technology, we’ve got create GNA, folks supporting across. And they all come from pretty different walks of life, really different expertise, really different ways of working. And you have to knit it together. And I told my CEO in my interview process, you know, you’ve got a recipe here where you’re hoping one plus one equals three. But if you don’t really build intentionally, one plus one is not even equal to because there’s such disparate groups of people, that the inability to really align around how to work together in a really transformative way will be really hard. Right? We have to build that for them.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  06:42

Yeah, lots of very interesting challenges. So I think that that really sets the stage very well. But let’s start from the very beginning. Do you remember if we were to go back in time, when you first started to manage and lead a team? One of the things we’d like to ask about is those early mistakes, do you remember some of those very early mistakes that you used to make?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  07:03

Yes, many. I started managing in my kind of early and mid 20s at McKinsey. So I had done a couple years as a junior consultant, as one does. And then I’ve actually moved over to the people side of McKinsey into the group called firm recruiting. And, and was focused there. And in retrospect, it was actually a blessing. So the first team members that I led were people that are actually very different than me, which is a harder first task as a manager. But I think, ultimately a really important task because I managed to learn how to do. And so the key mistakes I’ve made as a very naive young whippersnapper in management was a I think the first instinct, if you’re trying to manage well, is to manage to the golden rule. So you manage like, well, this is how I would want to be treated, and so motivates me. So I’m going to manage others through that. And turns out that most people are not you that I guess all people are not you. They’re not motivated the way you are, they don’t come from the same set of life experiences, right. And so applying the golden rule is certainly better than not doing anything and just kind of managing your gut instinct. But it actually isn’t super successful, because you’re not really meeting people where they are, and really thinking through how to problem solve, how to help them be their best selves and do their best work. So I think they call it the platinum rule, right actually do unto them as they want to be done. And I think it took me probably a year or two to really understand that fully through a lot of stumbles.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  08:30

Yes, super interesting. And I actually had never heard someone call it the platinum rule. So that is, I guess, in opposition to the golden rule, where it’s all about how they would want things versus how you would want things. Yeah, that’s super interesting. Yeah. What an interesting term. So do you remember I mean, do you remember an example of maybe you know, you thinking that someone wanted to be managed a certain way, and you then learn that maybe that wasn’t the way and like, what an example was or how you came upon that realization? Yeah.

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  09:04

So I started the consulting side and the consulting business to take people straight out of college, historically straight out of college, straight out of grad school, generally earlier in career earlier in life, right. And so, and tend to come from specific academic backgrounds and tend to be driven, I think, I mean, honestly, we call them gunners, right, you’re just super driven. You always want the next brass ring, you probably don’t have a lot of other things in your life, actually, that are distracting you from your career aspirations, right to go to tech. We don’t have families yet, and so on. Right. And so that was who I was. And so naturally, I sort of thought, well, these are a bunch of other people in McKinsey, they must be driven the same way. Even on the consulting side, I actually think that’s not a great assumption, but certainly as I moved and outside of consulting into the recruiting group, you know, two of my first team members that I started working with were senior recruiters. They’d never been on a consulting I they’re really deep in their practice and their craft, if you will, they were later in life one, I believe already had a child at the time. So they were thinking about their work in a different way. And when I say that, I don’t mean that they thought it was less important or that they didn’t care someone right, but how they thought about their career success, how they thought about driving the work, just was had really different reference points. And, you know, I think my initial instinct was to say, Well, I’m the manager, I’m gonna lead through my reference points and push, push, push. And I do think part of management or great management is offering your reference points to your team in a way that supports them and helps them right. But there is a nuance of being open to their reference points, or actually seeking them out and understanding them right and thinking about these reference points combining and this amalgam of insight. And I think, you know, took me some hard lessons of, you know, kind of leading in a very monolithic way, right, of showing up in a very specific way of giving feedback in a very specific way, then kind of be like, Why is it working? Why are they responding? Why is it getting better? Why, you know, why are they changing direction, and so on. And I think, you know, doing some self reflection of saying, Gosh, I’m kind of being an idiot, I am really leading in a way that is actually pretty self centered. I think, to your point, the golden rule, the difference between the golden rule, the platinum rule, though, I have two young kids started with the golden rule is not a bad place to start, I think, right? But it is actually self centered, right? It’s sort of assumes that your worldview, your way of being motivated of doing things, and so on, right, is the way that others should conform to that. And so this idea of the platinum rule, right, of just leading through empathy, and really starting from this other place, doesn’t mean that sometimes you’re not gonna give hard feedback doesn’t mean that sometimes you’re not gonna disagree and push pretty hard on something, right. But it is this anchoring around, where is that person starting from? How can I connect with them in a way that will really break through and that we can kind of get to somewhere really great together? That I think was something again, that honestly, those two team members, in many ways really taught me? I would also say they like most things in life, I think I really learned that lesson in different ways over time until we get a little bit better at the last each time. But it’s something that I don’t think you necessarily just nail one time.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  12:13

Yeah, it’s a very good point. The other version of this I’ve heard is sometimes people want to do the opposite of something that they’ve experienced. So for example, they may have had a boss before they started to lead a team and say, was a terrible boss. And they thought that the goal of being a boss is being the opposite of what they experienced. And so they do the opposite. And so but yeah, it’s always this pendulum. And you eventually figure out that everybody is, like you said, very unique. And it’s about the empathy and doing things the platinum way. And that’s a term that I might use. Now going forward. So I really like that. So since we’re talking about McKinsey, I just want to dig in a little bit. So yeah, McKinsey is definitely at least from an outsider’s perspective, we look at it as being a very competitive place. And so we talked a little bit about how it may have shaped the way that you view people and culture today. But are there other lessons that you take from your time at McKinsey, to where you are as a chief people officer today?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  13:18

Yeah, and as a longtime McKinsey person, I might clarify, it actually didn’t feel that competitive inside, I know, the perception from the outside, it did feel that way. I do think there are a lot of competitive people who go to McKinsey. So but the culture inside to me in many ways that your most competitive with yourself, because it is a place which has a very, very high bar, and you get a lot of feedback. And so that leads people I think, to constantly, constantly just sort of feel like you’re always being told this could be better, and what you could work on and so on, right. But as long as the business was growing, there wasn’t actually particularly so kind of mid levels, a cap. So you know, multiple people can get to that next role, because the business is expanding, there’s more projects, and so on. But I do think that element of kind of continuous improvement. And there’s a pressure to that, right, I think aligns a little bit of maybe your outside perceptions, the things that I really took away from that time, a couple things I was thinking about, as I was prepping for this conversation. The first is McKinsey related to find a client mission or business, especially if you will, and the people mission, and talked about how they’re both vitally important to the success of the firm. And that, generally, you’re looking for decisions, ways of working, etc. That really brought the two together, right? To shouldn’t be in opposition. A lot of the times there were occasionally they’re in opposition, you have to talk about how to navigate those, right? But the idea is to those two missions are both really important. And you should be kind of bringing both lenses to any given conversation or situation. And I think that’s a really great way of thinking about building great organizations and managing, right. There’s their goals that you’re accountable for their thing. There’s output in outcomes that you’re trying to create, and that you’re also trying to hopefully make it In an amazing experience for your team members, and when I say amazing experience, I don’t actually mean that every single moment is super happy, go lucky and that you’re, you know, going to happy hours every single day or so on. Right. But I mean that when they look back on that time, they think, Gosh, for that time on that team for that time working with that manager, I grew so much, I achieved so much more than I thought I could I learned so much more, right? Hopefully, I had a really fun time doing it too, right. So I think that’s not that doesn’t matter at all. But thinking about the people mission and the people responsibility of a manager is kind of equally commensurate to like delivering, and that the two can go together. That’s a huge thing that I took away from that and still kind of guides me to this day. The other thing I would think about is a lot with McKinsey and my lessons there is when you’re thinking about leading teams and building great organizations, you want to build what I call infrastructure. And so what are the ways that you hold meetings are the ways that you hold one on ones? How do you coach people on promotions and career development? What are the people processes, you ask for all these, these structures, right, that support managers, that’s important employee that’s supporting organization like this is how we do things, these are expectations. And then there’s culture and behaviors, which is you can have the most amazing set of things on paper that you’re supposed to do. And if they don’t come to a wife in a way, that’s powerful people, and people don’t see it being role modeled, and lived every day, it doesn’t really matter, right? And so you really need to have both. And I think McKinsey at its best, really did have both there’s a ton of rigor, a ton of structure constantly iterating on how do we develop people? How do we move them faster? Through how do we get them to be incredible the things that we’re asking of them? And a lot of conversation constantly around? What’s the culture that we’re creating? How do we hold our leaders accountable? What are our leaders responsibility, to behave in ways that are visible and inspiring to the entire team? McKenzie to be clear, is not perfect, definitely has made, especially recently a bunch of mistakes. But I did really think I’d see, I think, see some pretty incredible things there around recognizing that those two pillars are important. As a chief people officer, now I think of myself as one of my key responsibilities as an architect. So I have particular responsibility for building those structures. But every manager has an opportunity to bring that culture and those behaviors to life every single day, right. But you, all of us have probably, unfortunately been in situations where teams side by side in the same function engineering sales product, right, like, are having very different experiences, based on what that manager is doing, even though they’re in the same ecosystem with the same structures, right? So you, as a manager have tremendous power, actually, to shape that experience in a really positive way through the small things that you do.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  17:46

Yeah, it’s very interesting how you almost, I guess, phrase it as a dual mandate, which is, you know, obviously, we need we have some goals and some objectives, and we need to deliver certain output. But there’s also a responsibility, at least from a manager’s perspective, where you want to create an environment where it is a meaningful experience, there is growth, or there is, you know, people can look back on those days. And, you know, look back with, I guess, a smile, saying that, yeah, that was a great time, not because we partied. And we did this, but also, maybe there is some of that. But there’s also I grew a lot, I learned a lot in that experience. And I also really liked the way that you described your role as chief people officer to be an architect of a lot of those systems. And when you think about those systems, what kind of systems are you generally thinking about? What do you feel are some of the processes that you architect in the organizations you work with?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  18:44

Yeah, so at a very basic level, you’re thinking about how you bring people into your organization, how you set them up for success, how you keep them growing and inspired, over time. And all of the processes and structures that actually allow that to happen, right. So that, you know, I met a relatively small company now, we I joined a under 150 employees in January. And so we are in this next phase of building, right a company that will be doing all of those things and ways that we find effective and inspiring to the team. And so it’s really across the whole people stack, if you will, it’s everything around hiring. We’ve just rolled out a new interview training, talking about how to create a really balanced and equitable interview process that’s efficient, but also really getting a great read on people and candidates on whether they be a good fit for the role and whether they bring new perspectives and add to the culture that we’re constantly trying to strengthen evidence each row. We just did a big project over the summer around onboarding. This is something I’ve worked on a lot of different companies. And this idea coming back to the dual mission piece, I think about onboarding new employees as just two big things you’re trying to do. The first is you are trying to accelerate them to full productivity as fast as possible. That’s a very mercenary view. But it’s actually kind of important to say out loud, right? Because you hire great people they want that to, they don’t want to be sitting around. They want to contribute, right? Like all of us make great hires, and what are they asking you the first couple weeks, let Put me in coach, like, I want to do the things right. And for them to get in the game, you got to teach them the rules, you got to show them where the bases are, right? Because every company, there are different attributes of the business and their organization. And so the more that you can think about giving them that guided tour, I kind of call it the information they need, or the context they need of the skills they need, potentially right, that they can get to that full productivity as fast as possible, they’re happy the business succeeds, it’s less of attacks on the team around them in the manager, all good stuff. The second piece beyond the whole project, due to the pieces, is really bringing them into the culture of the company really bring them to the values of the company, really inviting them to strengthen it. So I’m a huge proponent of the evolution of language over the last few years of culture as because great companies are constantly evolving on culture. And there, there are, I think, universal values that should scale. And, you know, sort of carry through from chapter to chapter but what I talk a lot about as cultures Evolve is the way that those values manifest at different scales as you go global, right, as you go remote, obviously have to look different, the practices that allow those values to actually live and breathe in and really drive our business necessarily evolve as the business evolves. And so by that nature, there’s this delicate dance as you bring new people. And we’re really communicating those values that you stand for really welcoming them in, because hopefully, you’ve actually done that in your interview process. So you’re not sort of finding out in the first week, whether they actually aligned to that. But also saying like, this is a really, you know, this is a living, breathing document. And so the way that that culture can keep strengthening is for people to add their perspectives on for this next chapter, here’s how we make those values, ultimately successful. And so I could go on and on. But those are the kinds of examples of the things that you’d have to architect at each of these different stages to say, for the business, where it’s at today, and where we want to go for the next couple years. What are the most effective interventions is what I call them, that we can choose to make, to help the organization and each team member reach whatever aspiration that we may have, for these different things.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  22:15

You know, I like the phrase that you use, which is most effective interventions, because it definitely does feel like interventions that, you know, at some points in time, but it’s also part of the overall architecting of the lifecycle of employees. And, you know, it was very interesting for me, you know, having a video conversation here, I guess not everybody who is listening in was able to see this. But in particular, when you started talking about the onboarding, you were very, like, it was very obvious that you were very excited about onboarding. And I know you’ve worked on onboarding at a bunch of different companies. So why don’t we start with Square, I’d love to learn about, you know, some of the things that you learned about onboarding at Square, and maybe we can then, you know, basically also take that conversation into culture add as well. But what did you learn at square what was special about onboarding there?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  23:13

So square, the onboarding program that I walked into was pretty spectacular. In many ways. It was called square one. And it was a one week program. And there were a bunch of different sessions each day around different parts of the business around the history of the company. And really, senior leaders would come in and lead them at that time. So I joined about 400 employees, we’re still at this scale, we’re going to kind of do this, our CFO, Sarah fryer would come in and lead the finance section, right, our head of hardware engineering, Jesse doorbusters, though, they’re actually would come in and lead a session on hardware. So it’s pretty incredible. And then you’d end the week with what we call the jack walk. So we are co founder Jack Dorsey, at the Gandhi statue at the San Francisco Ferry Building. So there’s a beautiful statue of Gandhi looking out over the water. And you’d meet them there first thing Friday morning, and he would talk about why he founded square with this mission to really help small businesses start and thrive. In a world that is often stacked against small businesses and how that was good for society. It was good for economy, it’s always good for humanity. And obviously, in this context of Gandhi of saying, you know, this is the change that we see from the world and you got to go be that change, you got to drive that change. And then we’d all walk with Jack together back to the office, which was probably like about a half hour walk from the very beginning. And at that time, you could ask Jack, any question. So at the end of square one, you know, if you hadn’t already drank the Kool Aid on square, you would drink a whole gallon container. That’s awesome. It was so inspiring your token that could build leaders, you’re kind of like, Yes, I’m gonna be retired years, like, do everything we can to drive this mission. What was really missing and I actually took over the team was responsible for onboarding, right that was addressed directly into the challenge was the productivity part. So you end Did the week? Totally it all in unsquare? drank all the Kool Aid love the culture, I love the values. If I’m an engineer and like, I don’t I don’t know if the tech stack, I don’t know how to ship anything, right? If I’m a salesperson like I don’t, who are our customers? What do I do tomorrow, right. And so there’s just this whole pillar that was missing, although the first pillar was used honestly one of the most spectacular ones I’ve ever received at any company. And so we then had to build the other side of it. And so that’s exactly what we did. We thought about what are all the things that someone needs in their first few weeks to be successful? What are the ways in particular that a manager because a lot of the factory manager each or prepare to give them the context of what they need to know. And then we created something that we called a Kickstarter project. And so the manager would think through a, what’s the shape of their first few weeks in terms of the conversation that needs to have who’s the Buddy on the team that can support them beyond the manager to be a little bit more accessible to ask questions that appear level, and what’s a Kickstarter project, something small enough that someone could actually make traction on it, and ideally, finish it in a few weeks. But something also important enough or, you know, would be appreciated enough by the rest of the team to it’s not a throwaway thing, right? It’s actually like, oh, gosh, we’ve been wanting to get to that for months, I’m so glad someone took care of that that bug is, we just haven’t gotten to that bugs like that someone finally took care of that bug. And so it’s something that you can really celebrate together as a team. And, of course, you know, part of learning is actually doing work. So it’s not just reading all the things but could have been someone’s just starting teaching with the business engaging, what their responsibilities are their role, that actually also helps them learn. And so really figured out how to build that together, again, partly through what are the ways that we can support managers and make that as easy as possible. So really, creating the templates and support and ways of thinking about it, make it sort of, I don’t have to spend hours on this, I can actually just be really thoughtful on a Friday afternoon, knock it out. And then again, thinking through there are places where the business actually had to do more to further support the managers. So every engineering manager shouldn’t be explaining the entire tech stack to every new engineer. That’s something that we can do in a session for all new engineers and engineering leaders can drive and get some scale effects. So this dance again, between the structure, the architecture, and the individual manager behaviors, this dance that can keep kind of changing steps, if you will, over time.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  27:18

Hey, there, just a quick pause on today’s episode to let you know that we really appreciate you helping us spread the word about the Supermanagers podcast, if you’re enjoying what you’re hearing, so far, dial into your podcast app of choice, whether that’s on Apple, or Android or Spotify. And just leave us a quick review. Now back to the interview. It’s really interesting to hear the evolution. And so you started with square one, and it was one week. So what did it turn into? So when you were done, nothing is ever really done. But when you were more done, what how long was it? And how, yeah, what did it look like in terms of just when you would think of someone as having completed onboarding,

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  28:03

I would say we ended up doing a very big push around the first 30 days. And so I think a common way of thinking about is 90 days, which I think is a pretty healthy anchor. But probably the biggest lift and focus was that first 30 days, after we sort of architected this sort of where I think we really call it square one 2.0, which is quite a mouthful. It’s square one 2.0. And the first big push was around engineering onboarding, actually, because again, we’re hiring a lot of engineers at that time and sharing a lot of feedback that we really need something to accelerate their productivity, because they love square one from a culture perspective. But they really are not getting the information and the context and the tools that they need to jump into the work. And so we built all that that was really focused around a month. And then actually, I moved out of the people roll over to the sales team, and lead sales operations for square and we’re building out our first sales team, and gold a one month sales bootcamp. So similarly, we’d bring in fresh new sales reps, we would teach them how to sell it’s where we teach them all of our products. And we would kind of have a ramp up over the first 30 days of them shadowing other sales reps and other sales reps shadowing them, where they’re taking their first pitches, right and giving them feedback and truly thinking about this kind of peer mentorship model, if you will, over that time to get them to at the end of the 30 days. It’s not that we expected them. They were you know, exactly like a sales rep that had been there for a year. But it probably was that moment of saying like, okay, little bird like bow pie out of the desk, right. And we’ll keep an eye out for the next couple of months. At this point. It’s a bit more of a typical manager feedback relationship, versus the full court press that that first month look like?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  29:34

Yeah, so I think there’s so many lessons that you can take away from looking at something like this, but one of the ones that just maybe stood out to me was and I know they were 400 people and of course, maybe the original square one doesn’t scale if you’re, you know, 40,000 people, but still to get all the senior leaders in the company to be part of that process. You know, I think they’re companies that are much smaller than that. We’re seeing your pupil are not involved in the process. And, you know, I think that says a lot, because I think it just puts weight behind. You know, the fact that this is that first week is really important. It’s the first impression in the company and to, I guess, level set people from a culture perspective, is that important that you had every single or almost every single, you know, senior leader be part of that. So that’s super interesting. And of course, like you said, it sounds like your role in many of the organizations that you’ve been at is to make sure that that zero to one stage, you know, zero to super productive is, you know, as fast and as efficient as possible. So, very interesting to see how you put that together. I also like the the Kickstarter project, so the Kickstarter project is makes a lot of sense, especially for engineering organizations. But did you have something similar, for example, when you were like when you took on the sales team and helping them get from zero to one?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  30:59

Yeah, the sales team was, there’s a little bit of a variation on the Kickstarter idea, because the sales team, you know, they’re all ultimately trying to get to I’ve got, you know, a target, I’m trying to, I’ve got a bunch of customer potential customers that I’m working with. And I want to feel fully knowledgeable and confident that I can go out there and have those conversations and close some deals. And so the Kickstarter project, in that case, wasn’t necessarily like a specific project per rep, but more of this learning journey over the first 30 days or so of, how do we give you the different things at the right time in terms of knowledge and capabilities, so that you can layer them and kind of remember that, right? Because we gave everything to them. And I tried a version of this, we give everything to them in the first week, it’s just complete overload, right? They can’t, you can’t, as a human take all that in, or most of us can’t take all that in and retain it. So there was actually quite a bit of an art to thinking through what builds on what what do they get first, what should they get? Second, what’s the first conversation that they should hear with a customer, what’s the first thing that they should try with a customer, which part is easier than that? Right, so you gotta jump into a certain stage of conversation, shadowing, experiences, reps, but outside the sales team, and outside of engineering, we did apply the Kickstarter project to other areas. So people on the GNA side, you know, whether it be finance, or sort of more analytical goals, it might be an element of, hey, we’ve got this new data set that we’re working, we’re just starting to work through. And someone needs to get in there, just like assess the state of the data, start doing some cleanup, organize the data in the ways that we know, we can actually drive analysis or think about what kind of analysis we want to drive with that, right. And so that’d be an example of something that tangible that to someone pretty fresh can do, and do that’s valuable to the team. But those will be really specific to each team, and sometimes even each person and manager to really work through that. And that took some coaching, actually, a member of my team spent a pretty good amount of time working with managers to really help them think through, you know, what is an appropriate Kickstarter project that really set someone up for success? Yeah, it

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  33:00

sounds like you were really, really purposeful in this whole process. I mean, when you say things like, yes, we could dump a whole bunch of data and make it accessible to them. But some things build on others. So which one should come first, and, and just making sure that everybody has a win very early on is that momentum definitely builds on each other. If you feel like you’re successful in the first few weeks, you know, you’re likely to have more successes, and it kind of builds on. So I really like that. One thing that I thought would be interesting to talk about, is I know you worked at a bunch of different companies like say, Blue Bottle coffee or Stitch Fix. And I know, for example, at Stitch Fix you had, you had some hourly and some salaried employees. And I know at the current company you’re at, you have software engineers, and you also have, I guess, people who work in the lab and scientists. And so it sounds like in your career, you’ve had the opportunity to work at companies where there’s been different types of employees. And one of the things that I think a lot of companies struggle with, is how do you get these different type parts of the organization to be a interact with each other, so they don’t feel like they’re in silos and, and kind of make the culture a cohesive one. So since you’ve had the opportunity to do this at a bunch of different places, I’d love to get your thoughts what have you learned about, you know, different types of work that happens in a company and getting people to be more cohesive culturally?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  34:26

Yeah, so I love this question. And I feel like I’ve run headlong into it a number of different organizations. I think it comes down to when you think about cohesive culture, really defining a set of values and principles that are really going to unite you in terms of how people work together, how people treat each other how people lead. And when I say lead, it doesn’t you actually don’t have to even be a manager. I think people can lead from any role in the organization, just different contexts, of course, but leadership is, you know, I think great organization. Do you see that happening at Every level at every role, and those principles and values, whether it’s around how you collaborate, whether it’s around how you give feedback, whether it’s how you take risks, and stretch people, and so on, right? Whether you how you make hard decisions and work through those, hopefully with speed. Those are the things that you know, when you think about people going from different companies, if you ask them to describe what’s different, beyond the actual sort of physical attributes of the business, and so on are like, what’s different about how people work together? Right? They talk about these things, talk about how people communicate, they talk about transparency, they talk about how leaders show up day to day, right? So those things are the things that I think that’s what you want to be cohesive, right? What is really, really terrible, I think, for people is when they see that function over there, or this business unit, or that country, sort of group. And they say, Gosh, it feels so different, right? And on all these dimensions, it feels so different in terms of how people are treated, it feels so different, and how meetings are right at the tone of those meetings, it feels so different and how decisions are made, right? What I think is a red herring is then to say, a cohesive culture is universally consistent, because I think that is unfortunately not going to be the case some of the examples that you brought up at Stitch Fix, we had 1000s of part time stylists working from home 1000s of warehouse workers working from distribution facilities. 1000 or so at that time, corporate team members working in a whole different variety of roles. Blue Bottle, you might guess from a coffee company is about baristas as about the folks at headquarters and DNA roles. It was about people working at the roasteries. Those are radically different jobs. Those are people coming from radically different life contexts, very different experiences. And so actually, I think one of the things you said over in a question is this question of micro cultures versus cohesive cultures, like there are micro cultures in those different contexts. And I don’t actually think those micro cultures are necessarily bad. But the micro cultures have to rest on a consistent foundation of those cohesive cultural principles and values, right. And then from then on, of course, a life as a barista is super different than life as a chief people officer or the marketer or as an accountant at headquarters, but we should be united by those same things that are true around how we treat each other, how we think about helping the business grow, how we think about customers, and so on. And part of that, I think, making sure that that empathy exists, which I think is another uniting cohesive thing, right is those businesses that blue bottle and Stitch Fix, of really trying myself and encouraging others to literally walk in those shoes, right to spend time working in the cafes, to spend time in distribution centers, at Stitch Fix, we ask people to style. So you can actually get in there and solve for clients just like our stylists do, and see what their feelings, see the challenges that they face understand their feedback better. So things I think you can do to bridge the micro cultures to really have a safety net, to make sure that they’re not diverging in ways that are problematic. But I think once you’ve really established that cohesive set of cultural principles that span the entire company, acknowledging that there are differences in people’s context in their work, and their lives, and that’s some variation in the way that those cultures come to life effectively, actually is healthy, right, but it’s a bit of a tension. I’ll give you another example. So when I was building out squares for sales team, the company, gosh, was probably about five years old, at that point, five years old about that point. And unlike most tech companies, at that point in time square had become a really successful company with no sales team. So most kind of business to business companies, which technically it’s where is Roberts, you know, you’d have a sales team selling to, you know, this big company and that big company, right, and closing the deals and so on. But square started really, really small, right square started with your aunt and my grandma, doing the garage sales on this vipeak are great, and so on. And so they built this incredible business, all from that side where you didn’t need a sales rep if people were just signing up online. And so when we said hey, for square to keep evolving, to be successful, and for us to be able to compete for these bigger businesses are not going to sign up online, they have to talk to the sales team, we have to fill a sales team, which from a business perspective, okay, that makes sense is there shouldn’t be much, you know, kind of challenge a lot of very unhappy people. And the reason why is they said my stereotype of a sales culture, Glengarry Glen Ross, is always be closers, lots of swearing ring, the god like, salespeople are jerks, they’re gonna ruin our culture. We have this amazing culture that we’ve cherished and built through square one and all these things, right? And you’re gonna come in and build out the sales team and you’re going to destroy Spanish culture. This is like always other things that were said on that. So I said, Okay, well, we need to do it for the business. And so it feels I love square, and I certainly don’t want to kill the culture. And so it feels like my challenge is how to build a sales culture that is consistent and cohesive with square more broadly, but acknowledging like it is in a different culture. Their jobs are really different. Their compensation was structured, completely different rest of the company. They have a lot more competition. Do not risk, right, because that’s part of the job. And so by that nature, how do you create a team and environment that is specific enough to help them succeed? But does it diverge or conflict with the broader environment that was so inspiring and that they’re a part of it right. And, honestly, it was really fun problem. And so we really dug in, dug into it. And what we built that I think the team was so proud of at the end, as we’re working together, we talked a lot to leaders, other sales organizations that we admire, we hired some great people from the outside, we heard their perspectives and so on, I think what we really discovered was the sales organizations that we admired most that we we wanted to sort of emulate. There is a competitive element, but somewhere to we’re talking about the Kinsey, the competitive sales words that we thought were great, that would work within a square context. Sales reps were more competitive with themselves, they didn’t want other sales reps to fail, they wanted to win. They wanted to win for sure. But they didn’t want to do it at the expense of other team members. Right? It wasn’t sort of all or nothing. It was this idea that everyone actually wanted to succeed, I actually want the whole team to skate, I would still like to be at the top of the leaderboard. But there was this collective sense of community and connectedness and helping each other out. And so that’s what we really sought to build that we thought was consistent with Square’s culture. But there is an element of a sales culture that is more individual that has to be right, people are just accountable for a kind of output that is so different than I think he’s more collaborative, product driven roles, right, where you’re just your your success is so intermingled with everyone else’s day to day, right. And that’s a different kind of challenge. So I can go on and on about this. I’m very passionate about this topic. But those are some examples. And again, I think something that even managers can think about where, what is this broader culture of the company that is really inspiring that we should make sure that we, as a team are living up to you? And what are some specific things of the work that we do and the challenges that we face that we may actually have to problem solve a bit fresh, and that’s okay, just as long as you’re thinking about it in context, and then tango with a broader company.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  42:02

Yeah, it’s very interesting how you put this all together, which is, it’s okay to have micro cultures, like, that’s completely fine. And as long as you know, there’s a base layer of cohesiveness that makes up that will make things connected. And of course, I love just the tactical allow people to walk a mile in each other’s shoes and, and try different areas of the company to really get a sense for and build empathy. I think that was super important as well. You know, one thing is, and then you obviously ended off by saying, and managers can actually know this and have a part in this too. And I know, when we first started chatting, before we hit record, you were talking about how these days, it’s so much harder to be a manager, and it’s become a lot harder than it was 10 or 15 years ago. And here, I you know, you added on this extra little bit of these days, managers also have to manage micro cultures and make sure it, you know, matches the whole culture. So this is like yet another thing that managers have to do, but maybe tell me why you think being a manager is way harder today.

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  43:08

Yeah, I think when I started my career, that the sound like the career grandpa, this conversation, but you know, a manager, you needed to get your team to deliver. And I think you should be nice, your team was probably more than a Gen five, I think some managers went above and beyond to really inspire their team and so on, right? I think some organizations really push on that, but probably the general Zeitgeist was, you know, be nice, do well, by your team deliver and you know, kind of good things will happen. And I think the world has just gotten a lot harder, right? I think when I think of what we’re asking managers to do now, so first of all, you think about just all of the dialogue, and I think eye opening around diversity, equity, inclusion, and talking about how we want people to be their best selves and, and bring their full selves to work. And we want to create an environment for everyone to thrive. And we want to create an environment where people are really aware of and curious and open to feedback around how they can be better and contributing to that kind of environment, creation, and so on, right? And it kind of a lot of that rests on the manager. And that’s really, really, really hard, right? It’s taking some things that we talked about this turn the conversation of centering on the other person, the platinum rule. So like, even kind of, I think of more challenging space, right? Because the issues of diversity, equity inclusion are far bigger than companies, right? They hit on deep social elements, they hit on deepest history. There’s just a lot there, right. And so any given manager are trying to account for that, trying to navigate that, especially for things that are outside of their own experience and understanding. Even if you don’t have a bunch of courses, right? Even your most conscientious, it gets really hard. It’s really, really hard. I say that from even my own experience as a manager today of holding myself accountable to that work. That’s that is really, really hard. I think coaching is Our team members through careers and development is so much harder than it was 1520 years ago, 1520 years ago, it was generally, your is your career path at this company? Hope you like it. Here’s the next step, go. And now it’s, you could be thinking about switching functions at that company, we’re much more open to that than we used to be, right? We think about a lot more lateral movement, I think across companies than we used to the tenure of people at companies continues to decline. And so I think part of actually being a great manager is really being honest about the fact that people may be looking outside sooner than one would hope, and having honest dialogue about that, how to talk about the pros and cons, what I’ve seen over and over again, the last few years. I think the managers who are more effective at retaining their best talent, have really open and honest conversations with that talent along the way about moments where that talent might be looking outside, might be active, we think about this opportunity. Well, we think that’s true, right? And what I often say, to make it super practical, what I often say to my team members, first of all, when I’m building relationship with them, I’d say, if you ever start thinking about leading, give me a first shot, just tell me they’re going give me a first shot, tell me about what you’re thinking about, tell me what’s driving the conversation, tell me what that opportunity is, give me a shot to work through it with you. And then the thing that I commit to you is, I first and foremost want you to be successful and happy, I then would prefer it to be on my team, the company over time, as long as things are going well, it’s on right but but anything if you’re not going to be happy, and this is not the right thing for you. That’s not good for me. That’s the company either, right. And so let’s have a shared set of stacked hands that we can trust each other on that if you can trust me to be vulnerable with me and say, I’m really thinking about, you know, other things, I’m really unhappy, or I’m even curious, maybe it’s even that level of just sort of unhappiness, then I commit to you that I will come to you with respect. And to say that while you should obviously know that I’m going to have interests of the company and my team at heart, that they will not override that I will see I mean, like I care about you as a person. And fundamentally, I do believe that if someone’s just going to be unhappy in a role, it’s not going to be good for anybody. And so that is, I think a more inspiring and more meaningful way of leading and managing, it is so much harder. It is so much harder. Nothing has an answer, right? Everything is fluid, everything is specific to that person. Everything is specific to a context. And so I could probably go on and on. But there’s so many examples of what we’re now asking managers to do to be successful. I think, again, if you lean into those skills and lead into that success, it’s thrilling honestly, it’s really, I think, really a wonderful way to feel connected to your team members and, and really invested in their success. But it’s so much harder. It’s so much more complicated.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  47:51

Yeah, I think he did a really good job of outlining why this is so hard and why I think we’re you know, close to 120 episodes in the Supermanagers podcast and why every time I do an interview, I still learn something new because it is actually that complex. And there’s just so much to do and so much to learn. And it’s always evolving. You always have to continue to be aware of what’s going on in the environment and, and make sure to evolve as well. Jevan, this has been a really insightful conversation, we heard really cool stories about your early days at Square and how you built square one to be square 1.2. And everything about the concept of building most effective interventions, microculture building a cohesive culture across the board. And of course, why management is so difficult. So one question that we always like to end with is for all of the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft. Are there any final tips, tricks, or parting words of wisdom that you would leave them with?

Jevan Soo (Insitro)  48:56

Oh, gosh, I mean, I think the first thing I would say is just to have empathy for yourself, managing is hard. And so part of it is that you’re gonna make mistakes, part of it is that you’re not gonna be perfect. But I think great managers have a growth mindset, they just recognize that this is hard. And that part of it is a craft that you will always be getting better at. And so if you give yourself that space, I think you’ll everyone will be better off for it. And just again, you gave me the request to make things practical, so I’ll make it practical. I would one of my recent teams had a moment at all hands where someone asked a question and the tone of the question I didn’t love. And I was also kind of having a bad day. Like I said, we were updated and so I probably didn’t think about center games at all hands and I kind of snapped a bit in my answer and and gave her a response and honestly the content of the response was right, but the tone of it was not and and then I get we get out of the all hands and then one of my team members who I trust gives me feedback and says not one of your best moments and also people are chattering. And so then I got you know, I went through all the human reactions like the fences. And then I got upset at myself, like, Why did I do that? And so on, right? And then, and I was talking with her about what’s the right thing to do here? And I said, Do you think it would be overkill for me to address the deed? And she said, I don’t think it would be. And I thought about writing an email and so on. And ultimately, I decided to actually create a video. And so one take, I just wrote down some talking points, and I just kind of view myself and say, like, hey, team, I’ve gotten some feedback. They it was not one of the best moments. Let me just talk it through. Here’s where I was at. I answer the question I stand by. This is why the way I answered the question the way I brought it to you, I do not stand by. And I hope you do. I hope you’ll give me some grace. And forgive me, I apologize. Because my intention was not to sound frustrated or resentful of the team. That’s like the last thing on my mind. That’s my thought. But I did want to stand by the answer, which was, you know, in some ways on hard answer, I know it probably disappointed some people, and this is why and so on, right. And the response I got back was just like, unbelievable. I think someone will email me back to me later that night, like Jevans back. So I just still I think my advice is just like, you’re going about stop. And I think there are a lot of things that you actually be surprised that you can recover from as a manager, but it’s, it’s really showing up again, quickly with self awareness with vulnerability as a human being and a lot of team members will really respond

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  51:19

to that. You know, Jevan, that was probably the best answer. And that’s like a lot to say, for my parting question. The final words of wisdom, I think, you know, 120 episodes, and that was probably the best answer. And what a great yeah, that was awesome.

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