Electives: Why We Invested
Helping employees grow isn’t just good practice anymore. It’s what it takes to get, keep, and create the best people.
Corporate training sucks. Think of the hours wasted on obligatory “Diversity Training,” mind-numbing “Innovation Workshops,” and cringe-worthy “Team-Building Exercises.” I’ve done them all, often with quiet disdain and outward enthusiasm. Expect you have too.
It’s a shame, really. The Great Resignation is powered in part by people who’ve had enough of jobs that aren’t helping them grow. That’s especially true for younger people… An annual RippleMatch study on What Gen Z Wants has long identified “Professional Development” as the most important attribute of that generation’s early career job opportunities. While other factors rose in importance through COVID-19, it’s still number one for them.
Today we all want — we all deserve — to feel like we’re advancing personally and professionally in the work we spend much of our waking hours doing. Companies that do that will have an advantage hiring, developing, and keeping the best people in a given category. And in the end, the company with the best people usually wins.
Electives, our newest investment, helps companies win by helping their people grow. The business is ripping right now, but the reason we invested has as much to do with its backstory as it does with its results so far.
One night at MIT’s Sloan School…
Jason Lavender and Krikor Dzeronian attended a guest lecture by a mountaineer who’d climbed Everest six times. They were captivated by his vivid explanation of how teamwork could be the difference between life and death, and — having experienced more conventional “team-building” programs — couldn’t help but notice that inspiring people with personal stories was a much better way to teach than boring them with PowerPoint.
Jason, who had already been an entrepreneur and angel, pulled together a quick Instagram ad just to test the market for a different kind of employee training experience. Within days he had more inbound interest than he could manage, along with the obligation to tell each respondent it was all just a test. After kicking around ideas with one corporate training exec she said “I don’t care if this isn’t a thing yet. If you can make it happen for us, we’ll gladly pay you for the trouble.”
Electives had its first customer before it even existed.
I’ve been doing this a while now, and it’s the first time I’ve seen that.
The platform they’ve developed to meet that market opportunity does so by providing access to a remarkable community of Creators, each telling personal stories and sharing real-world experiences that change minds and inspire growth... just like that Everest speaker did that night at MIT. The teachers and classes are vetted centrally (though they have some great ideas about how to scale that,) and the growing roster of classes happen live in person or over Zoom. Options today include:
- Resilience — A class on the importance and principles of mental toughness and perseverance, taught by Navy SEAL and Paralympic gold medalist Dan Cnossen. Dan shares some truly remarkable stories with participants, each involving circumstance that pushed him to the limit of what he thought he could endure, and each delivered with an eye toward providing the audience with new tools and methods for approaching the situations in life that might push them to their breaking point.
- Bathrooms and Beyond! — A class to help those in the cis-gendered, heteronormative majority really understand the conversation about gender and public space. It’s taught by Alex Myers, a novelist and English teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy who came out as transgender in 1995, and has since worked with schools to help them support transgender students and become more gender inclusive.
- Resilience in a Global Pandemic — A class that shares strategies for developing well-being following adversity, like that we’ve all experienced during COVID. It’s taught by Catherine Sanderson, the Poler Family Professor and Chair of Psychology at Amherst College, a physician with doctoral degrees from Stanford and Princeton and grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.
- Giving Effective Feedback — This class helps managers understand why both positive and negative feedback are vital to their own and their colleagues’ development, teaching a simple structure for providing it. It’s taught by Deborah Grayson Riegel, who teaches leadership communication for Wharton and Columbia Business School. She’s also a regular contributor for HBR, Psychology Today, Forbes, and Fast Company, and the author of “Overcoming Overthinking: 36 Ways to Tame Anxiety for Work, School, and Life.”
- Leaving Room for Magic— A class about boosting creativity through a collaboration and development process that helps you find play within your process. It’s taught by Syndee Winters, who made her Broadway debut as future-queen ‘Nala’ in Disney’s The Lion King, and whose other Broadway credits include Motown the Musical, Pippin, and “working it” as all three Schuyler Sisters in the smash hit Hamilton.
I was moved to tears on more than one occasion during my look at this company, and that kind of impact is almost always a good thing. It’s a great space and a great team, back by a syndicate including Ryan Moore at Accomplice and my friend Pete Blacklow at Boston Seed, both of whom I’m grateful to for making room for us in an oversubscribed deal.
If you’re not growing you’re dying, folks. If you’re ready to help your people grow, start by learning more about Electives here.
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