Why meetings are central to building trust
CEO of Sherpany, Tobias Häckermann, speaks with former BBC interviewer, Nisha Pillai about developing culture, leading by example, and building trust through meetings.
The Agenda Podcasts
The Agenda brought to you by Sherpany uncovers the journey leaders take from facing challenges to making decisions. In this unique series of podcasts, leaders talk candidly with former BBC World Service interviewer, Nisha Pillai. #Leading together
In this podcast episode, you will hear:
CEO of Sherpany, Tobias Häckermann, as he discusses the beginnings of his entrepreneurial journey, the value of building culture, and the importance of meetings for effective leadership. From the very beginning of his career, Tobias Häckermann aimed to create a company culture that focussed on people, values, and trust. In his view, leadership is a key element in building culture, and to do so, it relies on the most important leadership tool: meetings. Meetings are the moments in which people come together, where leaders set examples, and where organisational culture is lived. Here are some of the topics covered in this podcast that will help you to get inside the mind of this young serial entrepreneur, who leads a people-centric, remote-first company, and strives to build a world where every meeting counts:
- The path of entrepreneurship, and to developing a strong culture
- How to enable your teams to bond
- A leader’s number one tool: Meetings, and how to make them effective
- On trust and performance, and on maximising employee happiness
- Leading a remote-first company, and the transition from natural to earned leadership
- The role of leaders in the post-COVID world
On building culture and making meetings count with Tobias Häckermann
The path of entrepreneurship, and to developing a strong culture
"I started my entrepreneurial career sort of by accident. I got the opportunity to organise basic security for some events that I was invited to and started to realise that there was a need around that. And I started to organise more and started to build the first company. And in the beginning it went smoothly and it just grew very naturally. But then over time, I realised something that became very important to me. It was investing into people and investing into culture and an environment where people like to work, love to go, and can grow. [...]
That's something I took out of that, whenever I'm going to found another company, I want to do it in an industry that allows me to properly invest into the culture, into the environment and, ultimately, into the talented people that work for me."
What would you have done differently then if you'd had the comfort factor to be able to invest in people?
"Probably three things.
- Number one. To invest time and headspace into thinking about what are the values of the company, what is the culture that I want to create? And it starts with going back to the very own values that we carry in us. If we are founders, entrepreneurs and build the first company, ultimately, company culture is going to be a strong reflection of our own values, and it takes time to find those values in us. I would have taken the time to find it in myself.
- Number two is then build routines and sparks within the company to bring that culture alive. What does that mean? That these can be events, this can be a get together. This can be playing a game together. This can be how you paint an office. It can be how the welcome package of people looks. It can be how you steer your townhall and all these elements. You reflect your culture and your values in all of those elements where leadership actually happens.
- Number three, it's hiring great talents and being able to pay them sufficiently that they can stay and work and grow within your company.
All the things you do around building culture is focussed towards that moment where you really need the entire team, the entire company to hold together, and pull into the same direction without questioning whether it's right or wrong. That's when culture becomes visible and also that's when the strengths of a culture gets visible."
Meetings: A leader’s number one tool
"Retreats are opportunities to make the culture visible, but it's not a tool to create culture, it's not a tool to keep culture alive. The main tool for that is leadership. It's how we lead. And where do we do that? In meetings.
So, for us an absolute fundamental instrument are meetings. The quality of meetings, the way you organise meetings, the way you set-up a meeting, the way you ask for clarity before a meeting, the way you open up with a personal check where you address the emotional side of people. Then start into a discussion making sure that everyone can engage during the conversation. Closing a meeting with creating that clarity, a shared understanding of what's going to happen next, what is our rationale, what did we understand in that meeting? What are the decisions that we have taken, and who is going to do what until when?
Getting all those little things right that make meetings great is a fundamental element of leading by example and by making their own meetings great, you demonstrate a lot of your culture because it's the moment where we come together. So, meetings are for us a fundamental instrument to create that culture. And the retreat is an opportunity to make it visible."
When I think about leadership, it is about how to keep people together.
On trust and performance
"As leaders we have to give a lot of trust and offer trust. And as leaders, we also have to re-earn it every single day to make sure that as a company we hold together. I think trust is more important than performance. Obviously, we want to have performance and trust. So, if you look and think about high performing teams, we look in two dimensions. Number one is performance. The other one is trust.
So, it's very obvious if you have a high performer of high trust, everyone wants those. And it's also clear if you have a low performer with low trust, no-one wants those. But now the question is, do you rather take a high performer of low trust versus a medium to low performer with high trust? And when we think about a changing environment, fast paced digitalisation, all the things we know, trust is fundamental for the team spirit."
The role of leaders and the transition from natural to earned leadership
What have you found the most difficult aspect of being a leader, of running the company?
"To me, it was the change from, I always call it, natural leadership to earned leadership. Like in the beginning when we started, and when you were the founder or one of the founders, you start building, you do everything from creating a product to making sales to figuring out whether you have proper marketing, you do everything. And then you grow. You have your first team members, the company grows and you have a lot of authority.
Then at some point you have the first people joining and being critical, and challenging you, why do you do the things the way you do? Why is it different? Why is that the right mark? Why is your strategy the right next move?
In the beginning, I felt challenged. I felt questioned as a person. I took it personally. That was hard for me. It was also hard for the company, but I had to go through it and re-learn leadership, and get way more clarity. Why do I do things the way I do? Why are values so important to me? Why is the culture aspect of the organisation so important? So this transition from natural leadership to earned leadership was definitely the most challenging moment in terms of leadership at Sherpany.
When I think about leadership, it is about how to keep people together, how to embrace them, and to embrace whatever that new normal looks like. Now it's the pandemic. Maybe in three years it's another financial crisis. Maybe in five years' it's the next pandemic. Or a big hit from the entire global warming, which is a tremendous challenge for us as people, as humanity to solve forward.
As a leader, it comes back to building that environment where we can tackle those challenges one step at a time, and shifting the focus to actually making the world a better place with everything we do. [...] We are not going to solve it from one day to the other, but we have to solve it together. If we try hard enough in different ways, we can make it happen. And that's definitely something that we as leaders have to embrace every single day, and hold up the flag and say we can do it."