Most people don’t consider the right factors when growing their career. I was an early team member at Facebook, growing with them from 2006-2015, where I learned an immense amount about how hard work pays off, the importance of good culture, and how to scale with ease. Now that I’ve joined Atrium as Chief Business Officer four months ago, I’m excited to bring this knowledge to a new environment and fast-growing startup. Through these formative experiences, I’ve come to a handful of conclusions about effective ways to choose the right team and grow your career.
Where to work
Due to passion, industry, and team preferences, there’s no one-size-fits-all workforce. Some traits, however, are universal among successful startups, so if you’re looking for a high-achieving team, be sure to keep your eyes open. No matter the industry, I recommend finding a performance-based culture where people live by consistent values and a big, clear vision, executed by a diverse team.
In a performance-based culture, high-performers receive additional opportunities. At the beginning of my career, I was introverted, thinking, “If I put my head down and work as hard as possible, I will be given opportunities.” While that was true at Facebook, it’s not universal. Had I found myself at a company driven by other elements over performance (ego, bureaucracy, or nepotism, just to name a few), I could have performed just as effectively, and still be floundering to this day.
Big and clear vision
A company’s vision is key to fostering a bold, hungry atmosphere. It describes the future that comes about should the company succeed. It answers the question, “Why is everybody here?” A big, clear vision coheres the team and points its direction. It’s therefore important to nail it correctly right out of the gate.
At Atrium, our vision, mission, and values are direct and obvious, so the whole team lives and breathes by them. I’ve seen the incredible value of this coherence.
Facebook is famous for the success of its vision. On one hand, it was building a social networking site. On the other, it was making the world more open and connected. This vision attracted quality talent, launching a snowball effect that resulted in the platform being the first to connect over a billion people.
Facebook was growing so rapidly between 2006-2015 that it felt like a new company every year. As it grew, however, it kept a core adherence to its vision, with some elements even written on the walls.
Consistent company values
On the other hand, your company values influence everyday company decisions. Facebook had a world-renowned culture where engineering and operations had the mindset of “Move fast and break things.” If a decision had potential—even if it might be wrong—we tried it.
At Atrium, being in the legal industry, we don’t move fast and break things (but that’s not to say things aren’t fast-paced). Instead, we have a shared mission and core values appropriate for our industry. Our mission is to accelerate our clients’ growth through world-class legal advice and frictionless transactions. We believe in speed, transparency, and price-predictability for our clients, and also have six specific employee values we strive to represent, and even discuss as a company on a bi-weekly basis.
- Delight every client. We provide great experiences for our clients by building deeper, long-term relationships oriented around helping them achieve their goals and dreams.
- Execute with empathy. We approach conversations with empathy first, meaning we treat each other as people, not objects, while still holding each other accountable to execution and performance.
- A-team or fail. We operate with a single, yet interdependent community mindset, aligning our interests as one and acting with empathy for each other.
- Elevate the game. We’re constantly striving to raise the bar in ways big and small, empowering each other to level up with opportunities to learn and grow.
- Rethink the cake. We think from first principles – identifying problems, challenging commonly-held beliefs, and rigorously testing possible solutions.
- Win with integrity. We champion the right course (even when it’s unfavorable or hard); we choose to be transparent and honorable in our pursuit of success.
Just like Facebook’s values manifested in their rapid iteration, Atrium’s values focus on how we are pushing the boundaries of our industry and rethinking the way legal services are delivered. From our brand and website to our office layout, everything points toward those same values – we’re not a typical law firm.
Living by the values
As a company grows, departments can become siloed, with the company’s mission and vision becoming hollow words. By looking at a company’s day-to-day practices—especially those of its executives—you can tell how committed they are to what they claim.
Companies that actually live by their values are built from the ground-up with processes that incorporate accountability and discipline. The CEO sets this bar and everyone follows. At Atrium, Justin hosts biweekly all-hands meetings where the whole company comes together to reflect on successes and recognize a new “values champion.” He also hosts a monthly after-work session, “Jumping in with Justin,” to discuss something of mutual interest to the company, and runs a free boot camp to help startups raise money, all of which help ensure Atrium lives by its mantras.
When I meet someone considering taking on a new job, I suggest they ask 10 employees, “What is your company’s mission and vision?” Then, reflect. If you hear multiple different versions of the mission and vision, that’s a bad sign. Successful companies will be coherent, with every team focused on work in service of the same inspirational mission and vision. Successful companies will also understand the tradeoffs that naturally come with their values. For example, if one value is “rapid execution,” does the company trade-off consensus and empathy? If instead, the value is consensus, how does the company make decisions effectively? One of Atrium’s values is “execute with empathy”—we move fast and execute, while simultaneously empathizing with the other person’s perspective. Effective values are a balance.
By doing your research before joining, you can learn how the company actually operates, not just how it says it operates.
Talking about company culture wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of diversity. Unfortunately, many companies use dangerous practices around diversity that focus on optics and end results instead of the root question, “Why is a diverse company valuable?”
Effective diversity practices recognize two elements:
- Effective problem-solving requires a diversity of opinion.
- Managers are predisposed to hire people like them.
Effective diversity hiring focuses on equal opportunity, not equal outcome. It focuses on metrics at the top of the funnel, not at the end (e.g. “50% male, 50% female applicants,” not a “50% male, 50% female company”). Focusing on the funnel can achieve a diverse team of high-achievers while avoiding dangers like “the diversity hire.”
Even better, implementing a top-of-the-funnel strategy that focuses on sourcing, interviewing, and evaluating diverse talent will naturally teach your team improved hiring tactics, like how diverse talent is best sourced by showing up to the spaces where they already spend time.
How to progress your career
Choosing the right company is an important step. It’s not, however, the only step. Once you’ve found the right position, you still have to grow. This can be accelerated by using everyone as a learning opportunity, putting yourself outside your comfort zone, and speaking up about your performance.
See everyone as a mentor
Following mentors senior to you is a natural strategy, but it shouldn’t be your only strategy. While you can learn from mentors above you, startups aren’t known for good management, so use every relationship as a learning opportunity, whether it’s from a peer, business partner, or direct reports. Every single person can share the world through their eyes.
Through my career, rather than following in one mentor’s footsteps, I have extracted from each person’s superpowers to my experience. It provides myriad more learning opportunities and improves me holistically, not just in one or two dimensions.
Put yourself in uncomfortable situations
It’s easy to spend your whole life doing what’s comfortable, but that’s not how you grow.
As an introvert, taking on partnerships, BD, and COO were huge steps outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t slot into the standard Silicon Valley stereotypes. Through those roles, I learned my unique traits could be a benefit because different problem-solving methods often lead to better outcomes.
I spent years in jobs that made me uncomfortable for hours each day. But I never would have ended up where I am today if I’d remained comfortable.
My biggest growth came from opening up Facebook’s first office in India. There, I worked with all sorts of people, many familiar with a hierarchical, patriarchal way of doing things. My job was a difficult one: bring the Facebook culture to a population unfamiliar with Silicon Valley’s style. I took these uncomfortable experiences as growth opportunities and they helped shape the skills I use today.
Speak up about your performance
At the beginning of my career I erroneously believed, “If I do good work, I’ll get what I deserve.” This all changed when a well-respected manager pulled me aside. I had been on a promotion fast-track, so she asked if she should promote me. I said, “I let my work speak for itself.”
“Wrong answer,” she replied. “Many people in your peer group—that you run circles around—are coming to me, asking for raises and promotions. In this world, you have to say what you want and go for it.”
That conversation, along with many others on a similar topic, broke down my preconceived notions about work. It reshaped how I guide my reports, build teams, and make difficult decisions. It prompted me to change my framework.
Now, I follow a three-step process to accelerate at a company:
1. Understand your output and performance
Objectively understanding your performance clues you into the proper place for you. Rose-colored glasses won’t help here—they’ll only help you Peter out—but reality will get you far.
2. Take ownership
People often play the waiting game, either because they assume the company should take care of them or that their manager can read their mind. Neither is true. Instead, you need a “take ownership” mindset. This means no part of the company is “not my problem”—whether it’s picking up trash you see on the ground or helping out an overloaded teammate. Those who take ownership will contribute more and be better positioned to state their observations in an effort to improve the company.
3. Thoughtfully speak your mind
You don’t have to be the loudest person in the room, but you must clearly speak to your work. This means coming to the table with solutions, not just problems, and then highlighting the success of those solutions when they come to fruition. It can help to be especially clear when highlighting your successes because you generally must be your own biggest advocate.
My strategies have taken me from Facebook to Atrium and grown me as a person along the way. While choosing the right company is the most important step, the growth doesn’t stop there. Every journey is necessarily personal, but I’ve found this process to make a difference for me. Best of luck with your journey!