Posted by: pauditore | August 11, 2009

Cooking Up the Right Startup Culture: Recipes for Empowering Employees

The movie Julie and Julia inspired this week’s title and I was pleasantly surprised to see blogging so prevalent in a movie, but I wont’ ruin it for you. Creating, managing and sustaining startup culture is all about selecting employees with the right stuff and empowering them. I have been on both sides of the coin, two successful startups and two failed and I can tell you that culture begins at the top. Again I will refer you to Lynda Gratton’s great book Hotspots and her excellent research on how to build collaborative teams of people that drive innovation. The Net/Net from her book and research is that you must create the right mix of people in a team to facilitate collaboration that leads to innovation. Too many thinkers vs. executers and the team quickly becomes jello.

Organizations globally would love to have the nirvana of a team oriented, collaborative culture where every employee treats the company’s business as if it were their own. The reality for most companies is this is a fantasy that will never happen. Once a culture is established in an organization it is baked and as I always said, you can’t make putanesca without anchovies and squid ink pasta.

The most effective ingredients that drove startup collaboration and innovation in my experience are:

  • Strong and focused and motivational leaders
  • Aggressive and entrepreneurial employee personalities
  • Organizational silo busting
  • Destruction of politics
  • Clearly defined and agreed upon management business objectives (MBO) and their associated key performance indicators (KPI).
  • Empowerment of employees


Abraham Lincoln once said “the culture of a company takes on the personality and characteristics of its leadership,” and if you look at companies like Apple, and Intel in the early days, the leaders demonstrated great vision and motivation. When many said Apple was dead, Steve Jobs re-invented the company with brilliant thinking, strategy and amazingly innovative design.  Focus, integrity and honesty are the hallmarks of great leaders, see, The Daily Drucker. At my third startup,, I was nicknamed the Nutcracker because of my aggressive and walk around leadership style. Everyone at had a nickname and I described this process in an earlier post this year, coined the “Sicilian naming celebration.” My focus and passion was sales and everyone knew it because we had to make payroll every two weeks. So I installed a ships bell in the office and every time someone made a sale the bell was rung. Shortly after the bell was installed, every time it rang the entire company started clapping and yelling. Motivational leadership is also a major factor and making people believe is not an easy task, this requires experience, depth of personal character and continuous work. Those employees that don’t believe in a startup company stick out like a sore thumb. I could write for days on this area, however, the world’s recognized expert on this is Peter Drucker, he was so smart that I don’t think he was from earth.

Employees with the Right Ingredients

This may be the most important factor in the success of your company and down the road its ability to sustain profitable growth. Look for aggressive entrepreneurial people that are not political and won’t live in a silo. One thing I have learned is that those people that have worked together before in another company will flock together in a startup and exclude others from their trust. This is good and bad, good if you can get an entire marketing, sales and/or engineering team that have worked together and trust each other. It doesn’t work when they exclude others and are not transparent and play politics. That is when I would say if you want to play politics then move to Washington DC, there is no room for politics in any startup and it is the kiss of death.

Recipe for Success, Clearly Articulated MBOs and KPIs

In the world of well run enterprises with strong management and accountability, we live our MBOs and we deliver on our KPIs. Clearly defining the mission statement of your company and ensuring that managers articulate your value proposition to all employees is paramount to success. Accountability is king in startup land and the minute that one person or one unit fails to deliver the entire organization feels it. This is often difficult to do from a management perspective in a startup because employees are often asked perform multiple tasks and sometimes loose focus on their real job. I have learned that recognition is a key factor here, and the ships bell is just one example of team building and empowering of employees.

Key Recipes for Managing and Empowering Employees

Believe it or not many companies do not understand this concept and it is one I have leveraged for many years. When I first joined SAP, one of my employees called me the sink or swim boss. At first the person did not get it but before long what they realized is that I had hired them because they did not have to be micro-managed. And I wanted to give them the freedom to do their job in their way as long at it aligned with our MBOs and delivered on the KPIs. This is called empowerment, and this gives the manger the opportunity to focus more on strategy, vision and execution. Remember, “There is no strategy without execution,” Peter Drucker again. Key to this is hiring the right employee and providing them with the resources and advice when they need it. This instills something called trust and not the false sense of family that many companies and organizations tend to instill. Suddenly employees realize that you trust them and this is huge because they begin to treat their job as if it were their personal business.  They will come to you when there is conflict and need advice because they trust you!

The real hard work is in managing for success, and that is making sure managers keep employees focused on their job, reward them accordingly and identify signs of burn out. If you have ever done a startup, you know how stressful it can be not only on employees but on their friends and family. As a manager it is your job to know your employees and know when they hit the wall, and respect their private lives. Startups are a marathon that never ends, so when an employee is burned tell them to take a breather. Recognize your employee’s success, keep them focused on their real job and manage them when they begin to burn out. At Zona Research and at we always had award ceremonies that included analyst, salesperson and researcher of the year.

The Personality of Fish: Ancho Chile Salmon with Mushrooms

Enough about sharks, they are in the news and if you watched 60 minutes this week you know that everything I wrote about them last week was true, they are over used, abused and under studied. We know more about the moon than we know about sharks, however, I don’t agree with the egalitarian group that thinks shark tourism is stimulating shark appetite for human flesh. Sharks have been eating man since we emerged 4.5 million years ago; there are just more of us in the water now. This week its salmon and I am including a new recipe that I created after watching the movie Ratatouille. Science this week will be the science of cooking and next week we will dive into the complicated life history of salmon.


  • One cup whole chantrelle mushrooms
  • One cup whole baby shitake mushrooms.
  • One quarter cup white vermouth
  • Two cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • Two salmon filets skin one about 8 oz each (try and get the thick filets closer to the head, preferably ¾-1 inch in thickness.
  • Quarter cup olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Juice of one medium lemon (myer lemon preferred)
  • One half stick of salted butter
  • Two tablespoons freshly grated ancho chile pepper
  • One tablespoon salt
  • One table spoon black pepper
  • One table spoon cumin

Prepare the fish by washing and drying it and removing and interstitial bones with a pair of needle nose pliers. Let fish sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. In one large non stick skillet (12” or more that can be placed under a broiler) pour in olive oil and cook at medium heat, once the oil is hot add butter and mushrooms whole, (don’t cut mushrooms up) fry until mushrooms are about half cooked, three to five minutes depending on your cook surface.

Remove mushrooms from the pan, but be sure to keep the oil and butter in the pan.

Add fish skin down, (note that you will not be turning the fish over).

As soon as you put the fish in the pan, add vermouth, lemon juice by pouring it over the top surface of the fish.

Then evenly sprinkle over the top of the filets the black pepper, salt and cumin, ancho chile and chopped garlic.

Cook fish five to six minutes or until you can see on the sides that it is cooked half way up the filet.

Start broiler in oven and adjust to high.

Remove skillet from burner and add some of the mushrooms to the top of the fish evenly distributing them over the surface and on the side of the fish.

Put skillet directly under the broiler and broil for five to eight minutes or until the fish reaches your level of cooking, some people like it rare on the inside.

Test fish with fork to see if it is cooked to your liking.

Remove from pan and place on plates pouring remaining sauce and mushrooms from the pan over the fish.

Enjoy this recipe, you may over cook it the first time but it is a great way to cook one of our favorite fishes. Until next time great marketing and selling in the millennium.


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