Lenny Rachitsky | Lenny’s Podcast – Claire Hughes Johnson (ex-COO of Stripe)
Claire Hughes Johnson is the former COO at Stripe, which she helped scale from a small startup to the legendary company it is today. She also spent close to 10 years at Google, where she filled several executive roles, including VP of Global Online Sales and Director of Sales and Ops for Gmail, YouTube, Google Apps, and AdWords.
Claire shares invaluable insights from her upcoming book, “Scaling People,” on how to successfully build and scale organizations. We talk about the importance of building self-awareness, and Claire gives tons of tactical advice on how to say things that are hard to say, as well as how to improve your internal communications and so much more.
Stuck at the decision
Don’t get stuck in the decision-making process. If you’re unsure about the decision-maker, ask—it’s probably you! Follow a process and make a decision. Be a force for positive momentum in your career.
Seeking advice and knowledge from others can help in scaling a company and implementing necessary changes. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, it’s important to reach out to others and start thinking about your needs sooner than you think.
Flexibility and scalability
- Stripe’s focus on mutual ownership and expertise and outsourcing parts of their support model has allowed for more flexibility and scalability in their growth while still maintaining their core company culture.
- Building a strong organizational and cultural structure is just as important as finding product-market fit and customers in early company growth. Neglecting to do so can harm the product and mission in the long run.
- New startups should focus on identifying the problem they’re solving, gathering feedback from early customers, and establishing a hiring process that evaluates the necessary talent. Companies should prioritize documenting foundational content and structures to promote replicability and scalability.
One of the things that I learned from John and Patrick Collison is that they have a very strong vision for what they want Stripe to be, but they’re also very open to feedback and learning from others.
I think that scaling people is really about scaling yourself first.
Your operating principles
- Establishing personal operating principles based on self-awareness and values is crucial for effective leadership and management in company building. This guides actions and decisions, ensuring success.
- Knowing your values and work style preferences can help you develop a belief system and operating principles, such as approaching uncomfortable conversations in a non-judgmental and non-threatening way, which can improve your leadership skills.
- As a manager, it’s important to create a safe space by asking questions and making observations without judgment. Explore hypotheses instead of lecturing, enable your team, and communicate non-judgmentally to improve effectiveness.
Being self-aware, observing physical and verbal cues, and providing honest feedback can improve communication skills.
Establishing a common way of doing things, like quarterly or monthly goals, creates stability in the face of ambiguity and chaos. This “operating system” allows leaders to maintain focus and stability when managing multiple teams or projects.
Companies should commit to a few operating practices to establish a consistent cadence, even if there are still challenges to address. Stabilizing practices can create a more stable perception in the midst of chaos.
Predictable review cadence
Startups should define clear mission statements, long-term goals, and values to guide their decisions and culture. New hires’ questions can signal the need for more work on these foundational documents.
Follow a predictable review cadence that meets the needs of the company and be cautious of creating too many checks. Use real-time metrics through a dashboard to avoid slowing down progress.
A COO can bring leverage to a founder/CEO in building and hiring leaders. A similar role, such as head of business operations, can also be considered. The right amount of friction, intention, and mutual trust is crucial for success.
Effective delegation and communication practices, common codified documents, offsites, and investments in smart communication can create cohesion within a team and drive business success.
To improve communication within your organization, invest in an intranet site and designate someone to handle internal marketing. Make sure meetings have clear objectives and use frameworks, for instance.