Culture at Harris Partners

Earlier today I was interviewing someone for a job at Harris Partners (side note – what a great candidate!).

I was trying to explain to her the type of culture we have – one that promotes extreme ownership. As a follow-up to the interview I wanted to leave her with some thoughts and materials that shaped my thinking over the past years in founding the company, and shaping its culture.

My list was as follows:
a) “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” – I read this book the summer before I left McKinsey, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Before reading it I knew I wanted to leave. After reading it I knew what company I wanted to build next.
b) “How Google Works” – Google (or any other software company) didn’t make the “Built to Last” list of companies, because one of the criteria was being around for 80 years or longer. This book describes in most detail around the types of behaviors we are trying to have Harris Partners employees – “smart creatives” – to exhibit in order for them (and our company with them) to thrive
c) Stanford University CS183C: “Technology Enabled Blitzscaling” – Reid Hoffman (a founder of LinkedIn) created the course, invited a “Who Is Who” of Silicon Valley to guest speak across 20 lectures, then made it available on YouTube. What a legend! While I learnt something applicable to Harris Partners from each lecture, the one that made the biggest impact was definitely one by Jeff Weiner (current LinkedIn CEO).
d) The Netflix deck (and a follow-up HBR article) – the Power Point presentation by CEO and Chief Talent Officer of Netflix describes how Netflix approach to talent and culture works. It was famously described by Sheryl Sandberg as the most important document ever produced in Silicon Valley. For 128 pages, it is a surprisingly quick read (helped by font size kept well above 40pt on most of text!)

My personal philosophy that most likely still shapes a lot of the Harris Partners behaviours can be very broadly classified as stoic. And there is a whole list of books that have been shaping the thinking

Feedback matters

Today I had another meeting with another smart person to talk about digital transformations. He sits on a board of a large multinational company that has been around for a while.

It was another meeting with a lot of nodding: we both agreed that the digital transformation would make a lot of money for the company, and that without it it was a matter of time that the company would first stop growing, and then quickly start struggling.

The meeting still finished with an overarching feeling on both sides that nothing will be done by the company’s management. Conservatism, or rather lack of foresight of the future burning platform, will mean that excuses will be made – not to move, to preserve status quo, and to continue the slow slide into oblivion.

The culture of any organisation can only be blamed by a very myopic person. At the end of the day the buck stops with the boss. “The culture of any organisation will over time evolve to the lowest behaviour that a leader is willing to tolerate”.

Leadership cannot be a hobby that CEOs practice when the times are good. It is how they act in the face of the struggle that separates the great bosses from the good ones. Being a great leader sometimes requires difficult decisions and tough conversations. Have you ever had to fire someone? If so, which one do you think is easier – firing one under-performing person on your team, or sweeping problems created by that person under a carpet and waiting for them to explode?

Sometimes I feel that the only thing that is required from any person working in a high performing team is their attitude and openness of mind – ability to take feedback from anyone, and assessing it in an objective manner to see if it is true, and then acting on it.

And it is everyone’s job to give that feedback.

“Truth is like poetry. Unfortunately, most people fucking hate poetry.”