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:

FIP 120: Adapting management and leadership styles for scale, with Glynis Rankin

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are talking about how founders of social enterprises can transition from being a product builder to company builder, with Glynis Rankin from Creative Metier. Glynis is the CEO of Creative Metier, a niche consultancy that works with social impact investors and their investees to support social enterprises and small and growing businesses in emerging markets through executive coaching, human capital resources, and organizational strengthening.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • How founders shift their leadership and management styles as their social enterprise scales, by looking at issues such as delegation, role of culture and values, coaching styles, etc.
  • The key difference between leadership and management roles in early stage social enterprises, where the core objectives of the leadership role are to set the strategic vision for the business, manage the interface between the business and the external environment, and inspire others to engage in it. Whereas, the management role is about the day-to-day activities to achieve the strategic business plan and deliver results.
  • The importance of delegation and coaching as a necessary leadership style so that the founder can pass on responsibility of key business functions and driving the business to others within the organization, while the founder can focus on other key aspects of aligning the culture and values with the business vision and future growth.
  • About examples of Creative Metier’s programs to support small businesses and social enterprise founders in making the transition to a delegation and coaching style of leadership in line with their business objectives and values.
  • And finally, Glynis shares excellent resources that are useful to social entrepreneurs and small business founders as they think about shifting their leadership styles and prepare to transition their business for growth and scale. The links for the resources are provided below.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Glynis:

Raghu Krishnaswamy Finding Impact

FIP 78: Finding Strengths to Let Managers Shine with Raghu Krishnaswamy

This is the third part in our second human capital series, with seasoned leader and manager of people, Raghu Krishnaswamy. It’s a real honour to get him on the podcast to share some of his insights about managing teams. Raghu spent over 30 years with Unilever in various roles crossing many aspects of the commercial world – starting as a management trainee and finishing up as VP for Marketing Operations in Africa.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Unilever’s culture of developing talent was the best thing Raghu’s taken from his career there. He enjoyed the diversity in his job, which took him to many different countries and he learned to develop many different teams in different cultures.
  • Ragu is Chief Commercial Officer at Off-grid: electric. He does two things: build brand and build people. His view is that to reach scale as an individual, the best thing he can do is build the human capital side of the business.
  • Raghu starts by looking for people’s motivation. On the one hand he works with the western elites who come to the country wanting to do good, and the other, african entrepreneurs, who are either engaged with the purpose or are just in it for the job.
  • To do this, he invests time in getting to know the people in this team. He does this by being genuine and authentic, which helps people to open up and be their whole selves. He knows their struggles, the moments of joy, their kids, etc. This helps the manager figure out the right direction within the company for the individual to grow.
  • To help people open up, be transparent about your failings, and limitations. For Raghu, it’s about his challenges with technology and not staying out late socializing with the team. This builds a strong bond of trust.
  • With trust, your team will come to you with problems or when they need help. So you’re creating a safe environment which people.
  • Building a good team needs good casting – which means defining the ingredients well i.e.e the diversity and personalities within a team need to fit. As a manager, you’re trying to put individuals together who compliment each other’s strengths.
  • To find people’s strengths, you observe. What can they do well? If you help people shine by allowing them to amplify their strengths, you’re creating a happy individual who wants to do their best for the organisation.
  • There’s no substitute for getting people to do work, and then, observe them on the job to identify their strengths.
  • When you hire, you hire for the right attitude, and you train them for skills.
  • Social enterprises must get to grips with the sensitive topic of cultural divide, when people from top class, developed nation universities, who have a burning sense of purpose, get to work alongside young, committed, purpose-driven Africans, or those who simply are working for a job. In Raghu’s experience, initially local team members might not feel confident fully engaging with the newcomers, and vice versa. You need to work on creating a safe environment to form teams that gel.
  • Raghu counters the idea that high standards need to be relaxed because you’re operating in Africa. Location has nothing to do with excellence. Human excellence can be achieved anywhere.
  • When problems are complex, solutions are invariably complex as well. There’s often 10 things to be done, and the ‘burden of leadership’ is to choose which of the 10 things to focus on, with consistency, until excellence is achieved.
  • The danger with introducing technical solutions into social enterprise is that frontline workers cannot be burdened with complexity. Push complexity up.

Links to resources:

Connect with Raghu:


FIP 77: Company culture and ways to motivate and build cohesion with Julienne Oyler

Today’s guest is Julianne Oyler of the African Entrepreneur Collective who shares her thoughts on building organizational culture.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Why Julienne thinks that “culture eats strategy”, noting that even for herself it is important to have a fun and exciting work environment to be successful. The way that she interprets this phrase is that an organization can set a good strategy, but it is really good people that are the engine of the work and success.
  • For the African Entrepreneur Collective – which is based on the idea that the problems on the African continent have solutions that already exist in Africa – its mission translates into organizational values and culture. For example, they focus on hiring local talent, using ideas that come from their staff, and have a commitment to continuous learning and growing. She notes the importance of cultivating values organically and not hierarchically.
  • Sometimes, however, the organization’s value can clash with the country in which they are working. The African Entrepreneur Collective manages this to some extent through hiring – for example, hiring people that are comfortable in working with non-traditional or non-hierarchical work settings. The hiring process includes a values-based screen, with employees receiving continued reinforcement of culture during performance reviews, meetings, in the office environment via paintings and artefacts, and about every two months the organization roasts a goat to come together as a team and celebrate successes and have fun.
  • The organization also does “happiness audits”, which is based on the idea that employees are the best predictors of future success of the organization. Every six months, she asks each employee how they feel about their current position, how they feel about the organization, and what is one thing that management can do to make their life happier at the organization. Julienne notes that people tend to be predictive and forward looking when speaking about their roles and are motivated by being a part of something larger than themselves.
  • For the people on the team who may not naturally fit with some of the values, sometimes they have quiet conversations with people regarding expectations and performance in relation to specific responsibilities and tasks.
  • They have also started a book club, from which they recommend “Radical Candor” and “Getting Things Done”. Julienne herself looks to Starbucks as an example of a large corporation that has an ongoing commitment to culture from which other organizations may be able to derive inspiration.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Julienne:



FIP 76: KPIs, Cohesion, and Driving Performance with Gayatri Datar of EarthEnable

Gayatri is co-founder of EarthEnable, a social enterprise with a mission to improve the health of low-income communities by replacing dirt floors with affordable and sanitary floors. She is incredibly passionate about scaling simple technologies that can have a positive impact across the world. Gayatri shares some tips and tricks on KPIs, building team cohesion and driving performance.

On this episode we’ll discuss:

  • The 5 whys technique – ask ‘why’ until you get to the core of the issue. For example, What are the core issues that are influencing health? For Gayatri, floors continued to come up as a concern, but not at the start of conversations. “What would you want to change?” Roof. Why? Because it leaks. Why? Creates more problems: muddy puddles on floor, bugs, people get sick. Then the discussion surrounding the floor would take place.
  • Be comfortable with failure! Try things that aren’t fully thought out or planned. Not everything needs to be structured. You can learn so much from this process. Fail early, fail often.
  • When developing your KPIs, clearly lay out what ‘good’ looks like. Start micro, then go macro.
  • Gayatri’s team does not have output oriented KPIs, but they used to. She found output oriented KPIs were doing everyone a disservice and causing clashes between her teams. If her sales team were focused on numbers, it could be difficult for her operations team to deliver high quality floors to all of her clients. They would find themselves asking the sales team to lay off sales to deliver better quality. Their incentive structure wasn’t helping the achieve their goals of building high quality floors for their clients.
  • Everyone should always be working together towards impact. At EarthEnable, all employees are being rewarded on 3 things – number of families they impact, customer satisfaction, and profitability. All employees are optimizing for all 3. The goal is to have everyone working more fluidly across departments.
  • Start to delegate! Relinquish power where possible.Second stage of growth.
  • Try not to have KPIs that handcuff you to goals that may shift or change.
  • Can be easy to choose your first few KPIs, should be tied to your values. Consider using Sub KPIs that monitor the key metrics that are influencing the big 3 KPIs.
  • If sales positions are purely commission based, your team may not feel safe or secure enough in their job to do it well. Can be a huge distraction. Incentives should be intrinsic in order to motivate employees to grow the company while serving your customers well.
  • Gayatri’s team has quarterly performance reviews. They strongly believe in structured check-ins.
  • Make a commitment to be honest with each other about what your team isn’t doing well. It is important to acknowledge when things aren’t going well.
  • Negative feedback doesn’t feel good, but it is the only feedback that helps you grow. It can make you feel in conflict with who you think you are.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Gayatri:

FIP 63: Human Capital Series 3/3 – Creating Company Culture and the Role of Self-Confidence with Ayla Schlosser

Today we hear from Ayla Schlosser, co-founder of Resonate, whose mission is to unlock the leadership potential of women and girls in East Africa. Through storytelling, confidence-building workshops and leadership training, Resonate is aiming to close the confidence gap that impedes opportunity and potential in women. Resonate takes this missed opportunity and turns it into action. As of February 2018, Resonate has worked with over 3000 participants across East Africa and partnered with forty different organizations, including a few big names like Kate Spade, Imbuto Foundation (the flagship organization of Rwanda’s first lady Jeannette Kagame), and the Segal Family Foundation

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Ayla came to create Resonate. Ayla found that there was a huge emphasis on building skills and education for women, but the internal transformation needed to build confidence and put these skills to use was often overlooked.
  • Ayla was the problem that she was trying to solve. A big part of her growth came from understanding the difference between standing up for an idea vs. yourself.
  • What about men? Ayla confirms that women struggle disproportionately. This is due to societal roles, history, and a number of institutionalized and systematic inequalities in other spaces.
  • Ayla tells us stories about women VPs and Founders that she has met at conferences who have struggled with confidence and the feeling “not enough-ness.”
  • Too much cake? Ayla and her team celebrate their achievements and successes a lot. They have a slack channel dedicated to acknowledging the good work of their team!
  • Resonate worked backwards into their culture and have been very careful with every hire. A couple years in, they realized that they had a strong culture, but had never codified it. They found times when they felt most proud and uncovered their core values.
  • Ayla and her team acknowledge that there will be times in the future where they may need to call out times where they didn’t embody their desired culture.
  • They like to check in on their team on a personal level too. “What are you going to do to take care of yourself this week?” Then be accountable and follow-up! Show that you care about your colleagues beyond the work space. It builds trust.
  • Have you invested in your onboarding process? Resonate has made this a priority. They encourage their staff to, “keep learning and welcome challenges.” New hires are given an on-boarding project. It is meant to be 1-2 weeks long and gives them a quick iteration of project cycle and feedback process.
  • Be like the Hummingbird! Ayla shares one of her favourite stories and how it has inspired a recognition award within Resonate.
  • Ayla talks about the important of transformations within your own team. Their current Director of Operations began as their administrator and is now working with Execs and Phds in the US.
  • When employees say “I can’t do that or I don’t have the skills”; there is a temptation to bring in the experts. Ayla tells us how she has fought this off. That’s when people get better. When they are given the opportunity to do something that is slightly out of their depth.
  • Create a network of mentors and advisors – surround yourself with people who know what they are doing.
  • Grow your people at the same rate as you are growing your organization and you will be way better off. Invest in everyone!
  • Ayla tells us about an example of her training having an impact at one of the Kate Spade operations in Rwanda.. Employees were given the confidence to speak up and see their own worth. Ayla considered this a huge step forward.
  • In start ups, we are always sprinting and moving on to the next thing. Pause to acknowledge. Pay attention to how your employees want to be acknowledged. Some like cake and some would be so embarrassed by that. Knowing the difference will build trust and a rapport.
  • Feedback can have an inherently negative feeling to it. Positive feedback is super important too. Ayla narrows it down to three different types of feedback – goal oriented, appreciative, and constructive.
  • Lastly, Ayla reminds us that even experts are always doing some things for the first time. If you don’t know something, chances are you can still do it anyway.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Ayla:


What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

FIP 62: Human Capital Series 2/3 – Recruiting and Retaining High Performers at more Mature Organizations with Sarah Perrott

This week, Sarah Perrott is my guest for the second episode in our human capital series. We’re talking about recruiting and retaining high performers at more mature organizations. Sarah is the Founder and Managing Director of Cresco Consulting which is a boutique consultancy offering both executive search and development for organisations and individuals. Cresco provides clients with a bespoke service, tailored to their needs founded on the belief that anyone can flourish in the right environment

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Some useful advice on how to build a positive team including recruiting, strengthening, building cohesion and building motivation, as well as some tips for the jobseeker.
  • How Sarah, with over 25 years of experience working with CEO’s and senior leaders of many well-known organizations, went on to start Cresco Consulting.
  • How Cresco uses psychology and behaviour change theory to match employees to companies. Some of their principles are 1. recruit for attitude and train for skill; 2. align the values of the candidate and the organization; 3. align the personality and approach of the individual to the issues on hand.
  • What tools to use and what not to use at various stages of your organization including, (a) MBTI Type tool for teams in existence; and (2) trait tools for recruitment like 16pf, and Hogan’s Dark Side tool.
  • What must an organization do to attract top talent and build a cohesive team? To actively source from a diverse pool of candidates from different avenues to ensure that creativity and innovation are encouraged by eliminating unconscious bias, like how to use a well worded advert in recruitment. Headhunting, social media and networking are other ways.
  • How to prevent hiring people in your own image, including using interview panels to eliminate unconscious bias.
  • How to use different tools to improve the cohesion of your team. Using the MBTI Type tool to understand the individual’s preference, tendencies, blindspots and motivation which builds self-awareness.
  • What tools to use to keep the high performing team motivated? – Sarah’s view is that there should be precise and immediate feedback for improving performance. Nancy Kline’s tools in “Time to think” methodology are recommended. Also tools of appreciation are effective at improving how people work together.
  • Tips for the job seekers in the audience on how to assess the offer from a potential employer. Sarah emphasises that job seekers should spend time with the organization and the people, then trust your gut.

Links to resources:

Connect with Sarah:


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:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

Jim Taylor Finding Impact

FIP 32: Designing an Organisation that People Love to Work For with Jim Taylor

Proximity Designs started in 2004 in Myanmar as a social enterprise focusing on the rural sector. Starting out with smallholder farmers, they first introduced a simple pump that dramatically improve water use and boosted productivity and incomes. They’ve since moved on to launching many products and services that can touch thousands of villages and millions of lives. Currently, their products are available to about 80% of the rural population with customers in over 10,000 villages.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Proximity Designs have structured their distribution network to reach millions of farmers in their villages.
  • Jim believes that the management and operational workforce needs to be made up by local staff otherwise you miss out the nuances and parts of the culture that are critical to serving customers.
  • Where skills are unavailable locally, Proximity Designs judiciously uses international experts to embed in the organisation and train staff, who will then do the training company wide.
  • They run an in-house training facility, called Proximity School, whose core course is difficult conversations. These are inevitable to any organisation, more so when the culture is about avoidance of confronting problems. The course aims to separate the emotion from the facts.
  • Proximity Designs teach staff using 10% classroom time, with the rest on the job learning, of which formal and informal feedback via managers is critical.
  • For example, frontline sales staff are trained in sales methodology, and their managers are trained in coaching. Managers ensure a structured conversation, called a “clear conversation”, on a regular basis, with their staff.
  • To attract great staff, they offer people the opportunity to find meaning and purpose in their work, and a great work culture that supports individual learning and development.
  • To keep a finger on the pulse of a large organisation, Jim stays in close contact with manager, plus they use an intranet to encourage discussion across all levels of the organisation.
  • Culture is paramount. If someone is a high achiever, but does not fit with the values, they’ll prefer to let them go than disrupt the culture.
  • One of Jim’s roles as CEO is to ensure people are engaged. Jim measures employee engagement to keep a track of the health of the company. It’s an intentional process, not just an email that goes to staff.
  • Results of employee engagement are published internally, and broken down by different department and location.
  • Jim talks about having learnt so much about organisations and their shortcomings before starting proximity designs, so recommends learning those failures early on in your career, if you intend to lead an organisation.
  • A story of failure Jim recounts, was about how the private sector started serving the rural energy sector much more efficiently than they could, so they exited that part of the company to focus their scarce talent and resources on other more important areas, like farm finance and advisory services. It was a difficult decision that paid off.


What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!


Grant Brooke Twiga Finding Impact

FIP 31: Tips on Building Trust and Hiring People by Founder-CEO, Grant Brooke

We talk about how to think about a CEO-Founder’s transition from day-to-day firefighting of operations to looking more on the horizon. Grant Brooke moved from fire-fighting day-in, day-out as a new start-up and getting involved in every facet of the business, to building a C-Suite who reports to the Board, to moving into a design-sprint format that looks three months on the horizon and decides what the business should be focusing on then. This episode is packed of useful tips about hiring, understanding teams, culture, building trust and expats.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • The founder’s hired key people within their networks, with people they could trust and knew how they work.
  • A key reason for raising their first round of venture finance was to hire good people.
  • In order to attract the best people, who might otherwise be working at multinationals, they tried to offer very competitive salaries, create a very free, autonomous atmosphere, and creating a vision around where they were going.
  • Their hiring strategy early on was to identify someone in their network who they knew were good, then invite them out for a coffee or go out for a drink for a couple of months, then by which time, both parties will know if they want to continue together.
  • Grant tries to create an intellectually safe environment within the company. As a CEO, ways to do this include publicising your mistakes to encourage others to make mistakes and try new things, and be obvious about learning from your colleagues, encourage meetings to be a collective understanding of what needs to be done and volunteers to take responsibility for actions.
  • They don’t give directives. Instead, they encourage staff to step up to take on challenges that are facing the company.
  • Don’t over-promise to employees, such as using gimicky contracts that tie pay increases to individual performance. Instead, have a broad understanding that if the company does well, then everyone will do well.
  • Because trust can get eroded by simple misunderstandings in communication styles, use any interaction with employees or suppliers to be intentional about building trust in that relationship.
  • Instead of waiting to see what is ahead on the horizon, Grant tries to define the things that should be three months on the horizon.
  • Make a kindle library available to encourage employees to self-develop, and ensure everyone knows that’s a key part to progressing up the company.
  • When hiring expats, think about the learning curve for a skilled expat to fully understand the culture and customer versus up-skilling someone from the local job market who has a much better understanding of the customer and context. It’s often much cheaper the second way.
  • Hiring non-expats has important implications for the culture of the business too, in particular, in encouraging staff to speak up about how they think the business should be run.

Resources we talk about:

Connect with Grant:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!