Practice what you preach


We have been evangelizing on innovation, change, thinking outside of the box, working cross silos, etc., for a few years now. We have been quite successful at it too. However, as our own company has grown we have found ourselves at the other end of our own advice. 

First issue I can remember, someone signed an official document which should have been signed by one of the partners. Then in another, one team member decided to book a couple of weeks vacation without letting anyone know and caused a bit of trouble with our workload. We are still a small team, but not small enough that everyone knows everything at all times. Additionally, the only way we can possibly work efficiently is if we are all autonomous enough to make decisions and push things forward, without the “bosses” knowing everything. So, we came up with our first set of company guidelines. A chill came down my spine feeling the corporate culture creeping in on us.

Question your own work
Hiring great people is very difficult, keeping people excited and interested is hard, tracking all things going on is unfeasible, always maintaining an entrepreneurial and creative mindset when it feels that all your dealing with is administrative work is close to impossible. Starting a business is tough, running a business is tougher. Therefore, I have found myself more than once questioning my own advice to corporate managers. I am not embarrassed to say so, I do believe that if we do not question our own work we can never objectively get better. Although I am far from having all the answers, this is what I have learned so far.

It’s all about attitude
Team. Hire for attitude and talent, not for skills. A great attitude will go farther than any skill and will keep cool when tough times come around. Hiring great people is harder than I ever imagined, but the satisfaction and lack of future headaches are worth every second. My best and worse decisions with regard to the company have all done with this and even though I am told I shouldn’t, I do take it personally. But the team is the company, not the other way around. What I am most proud of is not and will never be our balance sheet, but the amazing people we managed to bring together with the same goal.

Leadership and trust
Lead, don’t manage. Sounds like your typical LinkedIn material and it probably is. I do not pretend to have this figured out either, but I do believe it is crucial. We have to motivate people with our sincere appreciation for their work. We need to correct them by showing that we actually care for their improvement and not just the job. We need to trust, trust and trust again. Trust is said to be hard to gain and easy to lose, that’s true, but you don’t have that luxury as a leader. Not because we are so forgiving and great, but because we are human and all very different and learning to align and work together takes time.

Freedom from admin, I wish
Process and structure will set you free. I have written and spoken in the past about this and always get a strange look as it feels at odds with the creativity and innovation I am pushing people towards. Yet clear processes and structure allow us to be efficient, to detect mistakes early and free our time to actually do the fun stuff versus the admin. I will be honest, I wish our back-office was a tenth as organized as our projects and workshops. When you start a team you tend to throw this into the “later” pile and it piles up pretty quickly. We are working hard and fast at clearing that pile, once again thanks to the help of great people. I am amazed at how easy things become the moment you set them up properly. The key here is to always keep in mind that we own the processes, the processes don’t own us. They are here to guide us, not rule us. Have a process, but always think outside the process. That’s what innovation is really about.

by Alan Cabello, Senior Partner


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