March 13, 2018

Startup Superhero Video Series! – This Week Featuring Preccelerator Mentor Sue Funkhouser on “Navigating Corporate Culture”

Stubbs Alderton & Markiles and the Preccelerator Program are proud to announce the launch of their Startup Superhero Video Series – featuring SA&M Attorneys, Preccelerator Mentors, and entrepreneurs on topics specific to entrepreneurship and lessons learned throughout the journey.

This week we’re featuring Preccelerator Mentor Sue Funkhouser on "Navigating Corporate Culture."

Sue Funkhouser is a management consultant and coach at Pinwheel Performance.  For 15 years, she has helped companies from Fortune 500, Startups and Non-Profits to improve organizational performance. Sue’s passion is helping founders grow their companies by developing leaders, teams and company culture. She mentors entrepreneurs and facilitates team and culture workshops at the SAM Preccelerator and Cross Campus. Sue also speaks to groups such as Young President’s Organization and has authored an e-booklet, Steering Company Culture during Growth. Connect with her on Twitter and Linked-In.


Speaker: Sue Funkhouser

Moderator: Heidi Hubbeling

Sue: My background is that I for the last 12 years have been working with company’s leaders on their own leadership style, team effectiveness, and looking at the organization because culture is an organization as a whole. I have Master’s degree from Pepperdine University, the business school and that really taught me how to look at organization through a system’s lens and how does everything work together and that is how I approach my own work.

Heidi: You ‘ve been really beneficial to a lot of companies and we know that corporate culture can be a trigger for great success for a company long term or can be a trigger for failure. It’s one of those foundational items that these startup companies need to know, so why is corporate culture so important?

Sue: It’s your competitive advantage and it’s been proven in the marketplace. There’s research that shows that if you have an effective, greater company culture, you will get greater financial returns. You can look up Money Magazine’s research that shows that there is a 23% financial more return based on having a healthy effect of culture. There’s others if you want to know. Besides the financial research, it is something that can’t be replicated, something that can’t be duplicated not one culture is the same as the next. Your products and your capabilities can be copied, but your company’s culture can’t. The last thing is it acts as a magnet, you want to attract your people so if you have a healthy company culture you’re going to attract your top people as well as retain them.

Heidi: One of things that is a bedrock in company culture is the value systems of the company. How do you work with organization’ to develop your value system?

Sue: Its always helpful to provide a framework for people to look at so, I developed an acronym called WE ARE. Imagine a license plate called WE ARE and its we embody, so what is as a group we embody, and then articulate your values, reinforce your values and evaluate. I want to say one thing about the “we embody” so you have a culture no matter what and you want to find out as a collective what is most important here. I ask founders to please never take a piece of paper with words on it and say, “oh we are this, this and this” ask questions and stories about when have you made the most difficult decisions and what’s been most important. What have you weighed? That’s a way to draw that out. I have processes for each part of the we are, but I think that’s an important way to what do you embody? How do you articulate that value? How do you enforce it? Then later how do you evaluate it?

Heidi: Very important for companies building out that foundation for the long-term strategy of their company. I think that is a very powerful tool. What is some advice you give to companies wanting to build high performing teams?

Sue: One of the things, that I first like to talk to founders about is to understand that teams develop, much like individuals do. There are normal developmental stages for teams. Sometimes, they complain it’s like “this, this, this”, but its natural. Teams form and the they’ll storm and they must settle down and work on how they norm with each other and then they to perform. I remember I was working with a leader and they were prescribing this stuff and I explained that they were just storming. They’re trying to figure out how to work together and you need that if you’re going to get them to perform. That’s the first thing I tell people is to just know that its normal and you need it. Another thing I have found that a lot of people think its interpersonal. That all the problems are personal. As soon as we start working around what is your purpose or mission, what are the role clarities? What are the expectations of each other? A lot of that strife goes away.

Heidi: As a company grows, what do founders struggle with most?

Sue: There’s a lot to struggle. One common theme is about letting go. In a couple of ways, first in kind of a cognitive sense, leaders as they grow, have to let go of control and they have to move from being a technician to a strategist. I was talking to late David Goldberg, the former CEO of Survey Monkey and he said in his first venture when they went from 20 to 50 employees the hardest thing was to let go of the reigns. That’s one thing. The most heart wrenching thing that employers find is that they must let go of their early employees. What happens is as a company grows, some employees can’t scale their capabilities. You may try to develop them and move them around and eventually they just can’t or for a scaling company they don’t fit they’re just not interested in. It is so heart wrenching, every founder I talk to mentions that a person has been with them since day 1, but the fact of the matter is that if you do not let them go, there’s going to be some repercussions. One example, I was working with a company in New York and the CEO, heart of Gold, but when I interviewed his team they mentioned that for two years they had been shuffling people around every single department. The high performers said they didn’t have time to babysit, they’re getting in the way and he just had to cut it. It impedes performance and from what has told me is that you know in your gut. It’s hard but, you have got to do what is right for the company. What I advise people to do is how they let their early people go is do it in a way that shows that you care. You do care! Call-up your buddies and say, “I know this person they’re really good at this, would you meet with that person because you might know someone or you might have an opportunity”. Then go with that person and say “here is a list of 5 people that I have talked to, they’re ready for you and ready to take your call”.

Heidi: Very difficult, but very impactful advice, I think that’s a tough situation when that company gets to that stage of growth. The way that you respond, also affects your company culture overall and it’s a testament.

Sue: Those stories will ripple.

Heidi: You’ve been a mentor of the program for a couple of years now, what is the biggest give back to you, what do you enjoy most!

Sue: I love coming in here and thank you for having me. I just met with this new company whom I have never met before and we were supposed to meet for 20 minutes and we met for like an hour and half. I mean it was fabulous! What I love is that I learn so much. I get to meet with hot entrepreneurs that want to unleash stuff in the world and I get to learn about the new technology, I get my things opened. Just our interactions and the ability in such a short-time even though we expanded it to have fun, to get to know each other, but to have an impact and help them prepare for something, it so great. Thank you so much.

Management Consultant & Coach
Pinwheel Performance


To learn more about the Preccelerator Program, contact Heidi Hubbeling at .


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