CEO Culture Insights

Mark McClain and Jay B Sauceda

Mark McClain, CEO and Founder, SailPoint

Q. There’s been a lot of talk recently about #hustle and the glorification of burnout. How do you balance commitment to the cause and sustainability or repeatability in your culture?

I often use the phrase “You can’t sprint a marathon” as a way to capture the need for pacing and balance over time. One of the truisms of work is that it can, and will be, pretty intense at times, particularly in a younger company. However, since we want people to have a long and satisfying association with our company, we try to help them strike a sustainable balance over time. What that sometimes means is that managers need to help people regain their balance after an intense stretch. Other times, it means asking people to work at a very high level for a short burst of time (usually measured in weeks, not months) due to a real business need. The point is to ensure that as leaders, we work with our people to help them sustain the pace that works for them, while helping us meet the company’s goals.

Q. How do you carve our time and space for culture strategy? Is it like any other department or meeting, or do you have a special process or cadence?

I consider culture at its core to be “how work gets done” and, therefore, directly tied to our values as part of our overall strategy. I hold myself personally responsible to ensure that we put our Core Values (Impact, Individual, Integrity and Innovation) at the center of all that we do. Across the organization, we have a Culture Crew, that meets to talk about topics that range from our involvement in community issues, to what kinds of fun activities we should schedule throughout the year, to how we should celebrate as a team.

Q. Jason Cohen posted this question in a brilliant post on his personal blog recently: “Your first 10 people will join because you’re a startup: They get excitement, influence, caché, unique experience, and a small shot at outsized remuneration. But why will the 500th person join?” For you and your company, why will that 500th person join?

Well, since the 500th person joined quite a while ago… 😊, here’s how I’d answer that question. The people that join a company that’s “grown up” want many of the same things that people want in early-stage companies: the opportunity to work on challenging things with really great teammates; the right to expect to be recognized and rewarded for great work; the opportunity to learn and grow; and the opportunity to participate in the company’s success. Of course, the risk/reward trade-off is certainly different in the early days, but I believe that a great culture helps attract great people all along the experience and risk curve. We strive to be the kind of company where people want to recruit their friends and colleagues to join them.

Q. We’re thinking and writing a lot about leadership. How do you know a budding leader when you see or meet one?

I do believe that certain leadership traits can be taught, but it is true that some people have more aptitude for this skill. In general, the easiest way to spot a leader is to look around and see if they have any followers. 😊 People who have the ability to influence others to pursue shared goals, even when they don’t “direct of control” those around them are clearly gifted at leading. And, the willingness to take the initiative to address issues when they come up is a critical trait of leaders. So, those who see problems or challenges, pursue solutions on their own or with others, and then convince others to join them in propagating that mindset are those who will definitely have opportunities to lead in our culture.

Jay B Sauceda, CEO, Sauceda Industries

Q. There’s been a lot of talk recently about #hustle and the glorification of burnout. How do you balance commitment to the cause and sustainability or repeatability in your culture?

I’ve always felt that workload balance and time management is something the leadership team has to model for the company. In a way, what hustle means and how your company interprets it is an oftentimes unspoken core value.

If leadership is peppering team members with requests and emails at all hours of the day, burning both ends of the candle, and blurring the lines between work and personal time, it’ll be easy for everyone to assume that this is what’s expected. Just like any other core value, if the leadership doesn’t exemplify it, then it’s easy to understand why the behaviors can trickle down throughout the company. Setting boundaries at a company is only as effective as our willingness to be bound by them.

Evaluating the nature of the work is also important. I think along with the way we evaluate our management, we should be spending an equal amount of time evaluating the work and picking apart the areas that can be improved. Pace can definitely contribute to burnout, but the nature of the work can sometimes do so as well. Sometimes it’s the processes or inefficiencies in the processes that contribute to that burnout. It’s cliché, but working smarter, not harder is a quick and easy win.

Q. We’re thinking and writing a lot about leadership. How do you know a budding leader when you see or meet one?

I’ve never felt like there are born leaders. I think some folks are born with more charisma than others, but charisma does not always make a strong leader. All teams do not need charisma. All teams need clear goals.

I’ve always loved the quote about more companies dying from indigestion than from starvation. Though the quote was meant to drive home the importance of focusing, I’ve felt that it’s applicable to the primary area of dysfunction most teams suffer from; poor communication. Broken and unclear communication as a company scales always seems to be what breaks everything else. It’s what causes all of the indigestion. Of all the things that I value in leadership, clear expectation getting and setting is the biggest. When people get the “why” behind expectation getting and setting and in turn commit to it, they can be equipped with the tools to manage their team over time.