By: Patti Fletcher
There are numerous differences between men and women’s natural approaches to leadership. To really understand those differences, let’s take a look at the all-female founding team at Globalization Partners and see how their androgynous approach to company culture resulted in growing the company from zero to more than $17 million in annual revenue with business done in more than 150 countries in just three short years.
Here are six strategies they used to drive their growth.
An inclusive culture doesn’t support the company — it drives it
Some feminists might celebrate the fact that women compose 75 percent of Globalization Partners’ work force. CEO and founder Nicole Sahin actually wants that number to decrease to about 50 percent. This isn’t some philosophical or moral question but a strategic goal. The company revolutionized its industry in part because its all-female founding team brought a radically different perspective to the marketplace. But, those same women know that to stay innovative, they must continue to strive for a company comprising varied perspectives, experiences and skill sets. Diversity doesn’t do much, but inclusivity can be amazing.
When a new hire comes onboard, Nicole begins to build a personal relationship with them. Not only does she want to hear their ideas and gain fresh insights, she wants them to feel that they’re welcomed and a valuable addition to the overall fabric of the company. In short, she wants them to know their diverse perspective isn’t just permitted but expected.
Purpose and profit go hand in hand
Globalization Partners is a professional employer organization: They help companies hire foreign employees quickly. But, when I talked to the leadership team about why they do it, the conversation quickly switched from money to meaning. They felt they created and facilitated relationships across borders and boundaries.
Nicole said, “Through global commerce, comes peace.”
Echoing her sentiment, general counsel Nancy Cremins said, “It’s hard to go to war against your teammate or someone you value who works for you.”
It’s not just about turning a profit or gaining market share but about accomplishing something worthwhile while doing so.
Think about it, then take the risk
Despite being in the midst of that phenomenal growth, Nicole made the decision to stop taking new clients for several months.
For any high-growth startup, that’s just unthinkable. But, Globalization Partners’ leadership team was concerned that the operations that led to their success might not be sustainable as they grew. So they stopped taking on new business, continued to service their existing clients, and focused on building a structure for the future. It turned out to be the right choice.
This is a textbook example of the differences between men and women: Men see business barriers as obstacles, while women often see them as opportunities. Realizing they didn’t have a scalable framework, the team allowed the challenge to become the catalyst they needed to step back, rework their business model, then get back into the fray.
A male-dominated team would probably have followed the traditional high-growth startup approach: “Let’s build the plane while we’re flying it.” The lack of scalable operations would simply have been a problem to fix, not an opportunity to take advantage of.
Don’t hire an employee; hire a person
Globalization Partners embraces the concept of whole life integration. They don’t just deal with the person who shows up at the office but strive to offer a job that makes room for the rest of their employee’s life. Flexible schedules, generous family leave, a smart re-entry program for new parents — this place is nirvana for women who want to succeed at life and business at the same time. In making business decisions, the executive team considers not just what’s best for the company, but also what works for the people who compose it.
Invest in the future by investing in people
I almost fell off my chair when Nicole told me it’s company policy to extend a paid sabbatical — including fully paid world travel — to employees after five years of service.
“Traveling around the world with my husband, meeting people who were so different from me, changed my life. I want my employees to be able to experience that too with their families,” she explained.
Executive decisions are relational, not linear
Instead of The Lean Startup-inspired ethos of starting out as small and as quickly as possible, Nicole spent a year traveling the world to figure out Globalization Partners’ business model.
Of course, not everyone can take a year off and be a jet-setter. That’s not the point. She didn’t create a minimally viable product, sell it, see what worked, and then pivot and iterate again. That is, she didn’t start at point A, go to point B, and then hit point C.
Rather, she started outside herself. She talked to potential clients, providers, partners, and employees all over the world. She took multiple perspectives into account and then created a company that would work with all of them.
That kind of thinking — not “Where are we and where do we want to go?” but “What do our stakeholders need and how can we provide it?” — has made possible their fantastically profitable, fantastically fun journey.