“Although your career may be taking off, it’s important to remember that you’re not always the smartest person in the room.”

There aren’t enough entrepreneurs discussing the best ways to form a strong company culture. In 2018, the best way to set up your organization for growth, whether you’re a small team of under 10 or a large division in a Fortune 500 company, is to create an environment where your team feels safe to explore and make mistakes. This is how your employees will develop passion for the work that they do.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Thomas Jepsen from Contractor Quotes for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.

Thomas Jepsen is the founder of Contractor Quotes, which helps homeowners get quotes from local contractors. He managed to secure an investment treaty visa, which allowed him to move to the United States right after finishing his degree, and just managed to acquire another site that receives more than 100,000 visits per year.

Changing people is hard and trying to change a boss who seems to listen to no one else is fighting an uphill battle.

Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?

Thomas Jepsen: Honesty, hard work and personal growth

KC: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”

TJ: When it comes to millennials, what I look for more than anything is that fire in the stomach, although this is not limited to millennials.

I was once talking to a colleague who had interviewed a millennial for a position. Prior to interviewing the guy, the potential hire had received a couple of articles that he was advised to read, yet when he showed up for the interview, he hadn’t. The lack of preparation he had put in for the interview surprised me, although I would see a similar pattern among millennials I’d talk to.

There’s a certain level of entitlement present among your average millennial, which may have damaging effects to your company. Finding someone who not only feels entitled but also does not put in the work, is a dangerous combination.

When interviewing someone, I will generally send them two articles. One that is only slightly related and one that is very related to the industry. During the interview I will ask them about their thoughts on those two articles to test whether or not they in fact read the articles, which will serve a couple of purposes.

First of all, you will hear if they are in fact capable of doing what they’re encouraged to do. Secondly, I will dig deeper to see if they took initiative to learn more beyond the content of those articles. While they may question why they had to read the other one, which is a good sign, I would still expect them to have done it. You want someone who can ask critical questions, but get the work done when he needs to.

Having millennials desire to work from home is no issue for me, as long as you can rely on their ability to get the work done that needs to be done. If they start off by proving that they cannot read a suggested article prior to showing up for an interview, that person will surely not have the self-control to work from home, nor would I hire that person for a position.

A person who not only reads the articles but show a bigger interest in acquiring more knowledge independently may have that fire in their belly too.

Ideally when managing millennials, you start off by screening them properly to ensure you only get ones capable of thinking by themselves, and secondly when you’ve hired them, you create positive feedback loops on their work and allow them to take responsibility as early as you feel they are ready.

Your way of managing millennials should not differ from how you manage others, so this in fact is more general advice.

My one tip to millennials is to quit feeling self-entitled. If you want something, show up. Work hard. Use your network. Cold email if you have to. Show that you’re capable of individual thought and recognize that you may just be starting out in your professional career. This will get you a lot further than believing others owe you anything.

KC: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?

TJ: I believe a lot of managers get too much pride when they see themselves slowly moving up the ladder, and with the increased pride they end up losing touch with reality about the fact that they still need other people’s input, as well as their ability to admit they’re wrong. Although your career may be taking off, it’s important to remember that you’re not always the smartest person in the room.

KC: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?

TJ: Young startup founders often believe they can do everything themselves. What that translates into is that they believe they’re giving others responsibility and accountability, but then they go back out and take it back again. When that happens, and especially among millennial workers, this will be seen as a sign of distrust which will lead to employees being less engaged too.

KC: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?

TJ: Decide which tasks they’re currently doing and which they can delegate to others, and then stick to it. Let that person show he’s capable of delivering, and he’ll grow in the role. Rather than thinking about it as you giving up control, think of it as being a way to free up time so you can finally find time for things you’ve previously been neglecting.

KC: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?

TJ: If I can recommend one book, it is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is simply a gold mine. In terms of leadership, I think the most important thing the book teaches is to focus on win-win situations. People that work for your company will also be looking to get in situations where they too feel like they’re winning, and if they’re not happy in the position they’re in, for whatever reason, they’ll be out the door very quickly again too.

KC: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?

TJ: Often the best solution is to simply leave and find a better position with better management. While you may be in a position to change things, chances are you aren’t, and too many people spend too long hoping that a bad boss will change, although nothing else about the situation is changing.

You’re in a stronger negotiating position while you have a job, and I would try leveraging that when applying for other things.

Changing people is hard and trying to change a boss who seems to listen to no one else is fighting an uphill battle.

KC: Okay, we made it, Thomas! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

TJ: Since we’re very much an international team with different cultures, we make it very clear that sharing your opinion is fine, even if it is not necessarily the same as what your boss thinks. It is also not sufficient to mention this once. While it may be enough to mention it once for some, some cultures need time to adapt to a different feedback loop.

Note to the readers: If you learned one thing in this interview, please share! Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization.

Originally published at medium.com


  • Krish Chopra

    2x entrepreneur and founder of NP Hub. Let’s discuss leadership, scaling, and relationships to serve communities that need more support! In ATL

    Krish Chopra is the founder of NPHub. He believes in two truths: everything is a learnable skill and real leadership involves caring for others. Krish’s mission is to better support underserved communities and he and his team are currently serving the nursing industry so students have more resources to graduate on-time. He’s also contributes to major publications such as Forbes, Fast Company, and Inc., and has been featured in a dozen more.