FIP 61: Human Capital Series 1/3 – Building Strong Teams Through Trial and Error with Anastasia Uglova

This week, Anastasia Uglova is my guest on the Finding Impact Podcast. Anastasia is Co-Founder and Managing Director of MindSky, which is an online platform connecting current university students and graduates in Rwanda with employment opportunities, which exclusively sources students from the Akilah Institute, a tertiary institute for women in Kigali and the only women’s college in Rwanda.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Anastasia went from working in public policy and communications in Washington DC to spinning off a company from a women’s college and why employees tend to hesitate to hire foreigners for positions in developing countries.
  • How MindSky built their high-performing team, meeting the four criteria of: 1) founder compatibility, 2) mission fidelity, 3) culture fit, and 4) skill set, and why of these 4 criteria founder compatibility is the most important.
  • As the founder, what happens if I am the problem with founder / team compatibility? Anastasia tells us that if even you are the problem, it does not really matter. Being the founder is an immutable fact, not a variable, so you have to find staff that can work with you.
  • Is your start-up having a lot of turn over? For MindSky, in the beginning, Anastasia and her co-founder certainly had to become okay with turnover as part of the process of the changing nature of a start-up, and not necessarily view it as a negative thing.
  • After founder compatibility, Anastasia tells us that mission fidelity and culture fit are really important – she advises that in the start-up phase, focus on hiring people that are excited about the mission of the company, not looking to build a certain skill set. She also talks about how it is important to hire people for the culture you are trying to build by defining your culture code to ensure you find people that are going to work well together.
  • Anastasia talks about the importance of really guarding the culture against “bad actors” especially in small teams, where one bad person can really bring down the mean. She warns that people are really attentive about what is being tolerated, which is why culture must be jealously guarded. But she highlights that it isn’t just the “bad actors” that will turn-over, it can include people that just do not gel with the team.
  • How long do you wait before letting someone go? Anastasia promises that there is no matrix, and founders shouldn’t be afraid to trust their gut when making HR decisions and shouldn’t be afraid to admit that their judgment is important. That said, if it seems like a skill issue, Anastasia cautions against letting people go over current abilities – when there is mission fit and culture fit, you can overcome skills issues with capacity building.
  • How do you build your team’s skills? First, establish a level of trust so people are receptive to feedback. Also, don’t be afraid to invest in training. At MindSky, they shut down regular business operations for two weeks for internal training to ensure that the entire company operated at the same quality standards.
  • For Anastasia and MindSky, no skills gap is too small to address and really worth it. Even if it is just teaching someone how to write a professional email, it shows them that you are invested in their personal growth and becomes a virtuous cycle, building loyalty and trust. Anastasia also believes that her employees will only learn what to do when given opportunities to grow and fail. That is why she and her co-founder made MindSky a “failure safe environment” which is critical for employee development, as growth can only happen through failure.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Anastasia:

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