FIP 121: Maintaining culture with growth through scale, with Paul Breloff of Shortlist

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are talking about the challenges of maintaining culture as your social business scales, and tactics for how to adapt and scale your culture, with Paul Breloff of Shortlist. Paul’s company, Shortlist, helps companies build and develop their teams through a new approach to hiring. Particularly, we’ll be talking about Paul’s experience as he grew Shortlist’s team across two continents and to nearly 100 people and lessons he’s learned from the entrepreneurs at companies Shortlist works with.

On this podcast you will learn:

  • The definition to the word Shwashbuckle. 0:58.
  • Why he got into “talent;” his background is mostly in non-talent social enterprise and impact investing after advertising and corporate law. For about 14-15 years now, very focused on financial inclusion and initially was part of a team who set up a community development bank in the US which led to Accion Venture Lab.  The theme underlying all of this has always been looking at for-profit business models which can expand access to opportunities in different ways. 2:30.
    • Saw a talent gap in companies and how culture could enable or disable teams in doing things.
  • Realized that investors comfort zone was talking about fundraising and strategy. The messy reality of building teams and getting the right people on those teams are something that doesn’t get talked about as much, but they often make or break whether these companies work. So Shortlist emerged from those experiences. 6:12.
  • Shortlist created a platform (now close to 1 million people) that connects skilled professionals to great careers in India and Kenya, using tech tools that automates the collection of data points beyond their CV. 8:08.
  • How Paul came to define Shortlist’s culture. 10:10.
    • Culture should come from the co-founders. A key part of defining the culture was setting strong core values, which are: own it, act with intention, find the adventure, be a whole person, and one team.
  • Core values can adapt! Shortlist added “one team” after realizing the importance of this after a merger with another company and now they make it a major priority. 18:56.
  • Challenges he faced maintaining culture across multiple continents and what process or activities he put in place to help develop it. Tried to create consistency, and enough opportunities for exchange so people could get to know each other. But distributed teams is probably the future. 21:15.
    • Things that have worked: 1) Creating global informal places to spark chatter and sharing of personality. E.g. Their global WhatsApp group is quite active, silly, not very professional, but lets people throw emoji’s back and forth. 2) Creating face-to-face opportunities for real time connection, ie. making sure the team travels between India and Kenya. 3) Investing in technology that allows you to stay connected remotely. 4) Monthly remote town halls which get the whole office together to say hello to new employees, goodbye to employees moving on, promotions, etc. 24:30.
    • Any pushback from Board members or investors about having too much fun? No. “A startup’s most important product is the team, and making sure it works well. I think our stakeholders believe that and want us to invest in that.” 30:45.
  • Resources (books) that Paul would recommend to others: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (Zappos CEO), Primed to Perform by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor. 32:10.

Resources from this episode:

Connect with Paul:

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