A few years ago, in a survey of 500+ employees across USV portfolio companies, we were surprised to see questions about best practices in management and leadership bubbling to the top. When we asked people what they expected to spend a lot of time thinking about at work, the number one response was, “better ways to communicate and collaborate internally.”
We wondered: Would it be possible to expose people across USV companies to management and leadership frameworks while leveraging our collective network intelligence across the portfolio?
Since that time, more than 400 people in the USV network have engaged in an outside-led training session as part of our focus on learning and development opportunities. Here’s how we’ve approached each layer:
Often, at the stage when mid-level management is introduced in startups, strong individual contributors are promoted. As a result, they are frequently the closest to the toughest growing pains of startup life, having lived through it. I’ve also noticed that these individuals tend to carry a lot of internal social capital with new and old employees alike. It’s also worth noting that these individuals tend to be first time managers. However, we noticed that it’s uncommon for startups to facilitate management trainings internally — a trend that my colleague Zach noticed has led to a new wave of L&D startups.
Our Approach: Two years ago, we introduced “USV Manager Bootcamp” to our network in partnership with LifeLabs Learning. Like all of our programming, we wanted to bring people together from multiple organizations in the same room — surfacing new perspectives at the same time as we exposed some sample management frameworks to try. To date, we’ve helped 300 people from 50 different USV companies level up their manager skills as a first-time manager. In surveys of employees three- and six-months after taking the program, we’ve seen a consistently high Net Promoter Score of 74 for the program overall. Additionally, since that time, at least 20 of these companies have continued to level up new managers, either through LifeLabs or other external providers, and it continues to be one of the most sought-after programs that we run.
After launching our new management track across the USV Network, the number of requests for additional learning and development programming began to increase. We started hearing anecdotally that some of those employees were returning to their organizations and sharing what they learned, which spurred interest among more senior leaders. We also received repeated requests to better support women leaders in our network and help them connect with each other. While it’s impossible to design a “one size fits all” framework for executive leadership, we wanted to see if we could support our execs the same way we’ve been supporting our new managers.
Our Approach: In 2018, Lauren Young on our Network Team introduced the first cohort of the Women’s Executive Leadership Program. This six-month session brings together 15-20 women execs across NYC companies and, through the guidance of outside facilitation, gives them a space to discuss key issues in leadership and connect with peers. In addition to continuing this program with another 15 executives this year, we’ve started rolling out quarterly “electives” for executives, including a course on “Adaptive Leadership” and one on fostering inclusion at work using principles of “Radical Candor.” So far, 60 Network Execs have engaged in these programs, and we plan to continue these on a quarterly basis.
FOUNDERS & CEOS:
In many ways, we’ve designed much of our USV Network programming to support individuals other than the founder and CEO of these businesses. While we’ve been running CEO Summits since 2010, we also recognize that our CEOs already receive a lot of outside counsel and advice: From their boards, from their executive teams, from other peer groups, from executive coaches. However, year after year at each CEO Summit (which we organize in an “unconference” style, like much of our USV network programming), we started to hear repeated requests to “bring experts in the room.” We also started to hear an increased number of requests for external executive coaching and exposure to CEOs and other leaders who have “been there, done that.”
Our Approach: Prior to last year’s CEO Summit, we experimented with our first-ever “CEO Master Class” session, inviting Dick Costolo back to USV to speak about his experiences in scaling Twitter from 40 to 4,000 employees through the IPO. For four hours, Dick stood in front of 40 CEOs in our USV office, with nothing more than a whiteboard, and simply told his story. The room was rapt. “More of this,” they requested. Since then, we’ve repeated this course one other time, with two other USV Network “alumni” — Jerry Colonna and Chad Dickerson — and we’ve since expanded our “CEO Summit” to a two-day event, including a Master Class again this year.
As Maria Palma from RRE Ventures pointed out, many startups don’t invest in formal activities to provide real-time feedback, development opportunities, and training. That’s why we, like many other firms, are starting to broaden our definition of portfolio support and engagement. At USV, we see this as just one more way we can use the power of networks to help our companies build better businesses.