…look for opportunities to remind your team members of common goals so there is less of a focus on individual competition. While it’s easy to think competitively when it comes to career advancement, I can honestly say that the colleagues who I’ve seen excel the most throughout my career have been the ones who work well with teams, on teams, and leading teams. The most successful people I know get what it takes to be the seams along a quilt.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Norman. Amy Norman is the Co-founder and Co-CEO of Little Passports, a children’s media company that inspires children to learn about the world. She co-founded Little Passports in 2009 after building expertise in strategy, finance, and general management at eBay, McKinsey, and KPMG. She holds an MBA from Wharton and a Masters in International Studies from the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.
She currently serves on Facebook’s Small and Medium Business Council and has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and more. With a deep passion for entrepreneurship and world travel, she’s managed to dream up her “perfect job.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us Amy! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began my career hustling at consulting firms and working in banking, but I quickly realized that a sleep-deprived life wouldn’t give me what I’d craved, let alone time for a family. At one point, I realized that if I was going to work long hours, it better be for a mission I feel passionate about.
I co-founded Little Passports with my best friend and former eBay coworker Stella Ma in 2009. Both of us were fairly new moms and we were on the same page about wanting to create a company that could make a positive social impact. Our joint passion for travel and our kids led us to write the business plan for Little Passports, and we haven’t looked back since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
If you’re unfamiliar, Little Passports offers monthly subscription boxes that embody our mission to inspire children to learn about the world. Each box includes hands-on activities and games that teach kids about a certain place in the world or subject matter.
Imaginary pen pals named Sam, Sofia, Max, and Mia take subscribers along on adventures by sending them a package about their travels each month. One of the ways I know our subscription box offerings are really resonating with our customers is by the fanfare we receive at the office.
We have an entire wall of letters and mementos children have made and sent back to Sam, Sofia, Max, and Mia. We also receive notes on social media about how parents have planned entire trips based on their kids’ Little Passport adventures. One family took a trip to Costa Rica and specifically planned an itinerary to mirror the one Sam and Sofia took in their World Edition Little Passports box. Another family goes out to dinner to sample the cuisine of the country featured that month.
This shows me we’re actually influencing children’s interests and teaching them to be curious about the world around them. Ultimately, I believe this will contribute to the creation of a more tolerant generation of kids who see cultural differences as exciting, not something to fear because it is unknown.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In 2016, we launched our Science Expeditions subscription, which teaches kids through STEM-based activities and games. This year, we’ll continue to build out our science offerings along with more standalone educational items such as board games and books.
The more educational toys and activities parents have access to, the better! We need hands-on activities for kids more than ever given the draw of the screen.
According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
People need to feel like their work has meaning, and they need to be able to see how their individual efforts puzzle piece into the larger picture: the company’s mission. Every time we make a hire, we like to be sure that the individual joining our team feels passionate about Little Passports’ mission to nurture a lifelong love of learning and spark curiosity in the next generation of kids. You don’t have to be a parent yourself to want to support this goal.
To get back to your question, I think general unhappiness at work in the U.S. is a result of mission-less work and leadership that fails to keep teams aligned with the greater goal. When you go into work every day and have a clear idea of how your set of tasks and the unique ingredients you bring to the team contribute to the company’s recipe, you honor and appreciate your work more. And when you have gratitude for what you do and feel driven by a common goal, you’re happier.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
One word: negatively.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
I try not to say what managers and executives “should” do in terms of handling company culture because every situation is different and requires a unique solution. But I can speak to the tone that I believe is ideal when culture isn’t a match with the company’s mission and you need to prompt a change. A tone fueled by compassion and a genuine interest to listen to what individuals are saying and feeling goes a very long way.
To that end, leaders can be open and transparent about what they’re feeling too. There’s nothing more impactful than a leader who shows their authentic selves, explains their fears, and illustrates their pie-in-the-sky hopes to their team on a regular basis. Transparent leadership sets the stage for trust across the company.
To reestablish trust among individual team members, think of yourself as a facilitator. There are small things you can do like encourage team members to think of creative ways to support one another. Language is powerful. Ask your team to get into the practice of saying things like: “Is there anything I can do to support you while you manage this project?” Or, they can anticipate specific ways to help before asked, for example: “Need a proofreader for your presentation before the marketing meeting? When individuals trust one another, they assume their coworkers have a positive intent, even if it doesn’t always come across that way in digital communications.
Also, look for opportunities to remind your team members of common goals so there is less of a focus on individual competition. While it’s easy to think competitively when it comes to career advancement, I can honestly say that the colleagues who I’ve seen excel the most throughout my career have been the ones who work well with teams, on teams, and leading teams. The most successful people I know get what it takes to be the seams along a quilt.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
We need to do more to enable parents to work and not shame them for having priorities other than their jobs. We fall behind other countries in terms of paid parental leave, affordable child care, and allotting flexibility so parents can be there when their kids need them.
Yet, there are these contradicting societal expectations where parents are expected to work at the pace they did before parenthood and still have time to be involved with their kids. It’s just unrealistic.
Entrepreneurs who are building new companies from the ground up have a responsibility to create cultures that work for everyone, not just employees who don’t bear the responsibility of loved ones, whether the loved ones are children, aging parents, or other relatives in need.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I’d describe my leadership style as vulnerable and transparent. It’s taken me some time, years in fact, to realize that subduing my own extroverted tendencies allows the non-extroverts in the room to be heard, validated, and uplifted. Now, I try to start every meeting with questions rather than reporting facts or my own opinions first.
I’ve also learned to say “I don’t know” when I don’t. It’s given my team members the opportunity to chime in and let their skills shine. Oftentimes, they know what I don’t have the answer to, which is a testament to why we make a great team.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Hands down, my mom. She told me as a child I could be anything, maybe even the first female president. It seems natural that any parent might tell their kid that, but it really stands out to me as a positive memory that motivated me. My mom has always been there for me every day since to talk about work. Not everyone can say their parent is their mentor, but I can and I’m so grateful for that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My life’s work is to inspire children to learn about the world and help parents raise a generation of open-minded, curious, and compassionate kids. At Little Passports, we want to make education feel like fun and to teach kids to be excited by the differences that make people all over the world unique.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Do the things that only you can do. It’s easy to be a generalist and to try your best at a laundry list of things, but we’re all the most successful when we do what we’re best at to a deep degree.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d challenge every parent on the planet to inspire their kids to learn about people all over the world so there is more tolerance of differences than fear. If we can teach kids from every country in the world to be excited to learn about different cultures, we will have a better world on our hands in ten and twenty years.