Do not be afraid to give up responsibility to employees — people want to act, are just as ambitious as the founders or C-level of companies, and are very eagerly involved in topics they feel they have an influence on. They also feel appreciated in this way, which in my opinion is essential to improve the company’s work culture.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Piotr Sędzik.
Piotr Sędzik is the COO and Co-founder of Applover, a full-stack digital agency, honored in 2019 by Deloitte as the “Rising Star” in the CEE region and as a 24th Fast 50 company in 2020. He is also the CEO of Smart Citizen, a company that studies urban agglomerations to improve the quality of life of their citizens.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a child, I believed that I would like to build something of my own. I wanted something for which I will be responsible and on which I will have an influence. It gave me the conviction that it would depend on my decisions which way my target project would develop. Moreover, maybe it is not the most modest thing of me, but I always had an inner knack for doing business somewhere. The first opportunity came quite an extortion. When I was 7, I went on a school trip and on the very first day I spent all the money my parents gave me. I just bought candy, comics and games. There were a few days left until the end of the trip, so I had to deal with it. I decided to sell hair gel to my classmates before each school disco. There were disco parties every day, the class was quite numerous, so I finally returned home with a large sum of money for a 7-year-old. In later years, when I was a teenager, I started a company that organized events for peers, then there were several unsuccessful startup projects, and finally, based on my experience in building products, my 3 friends and I decided that we would start a Full-Stack Digital Agency — and that’s how Applover was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It is tough to choose one story, as for over 4 years of operating there were many. But probably one of the funniest ones was when we went to a fairly large industry conference. And at that time at conferences, we did not avoid alcohol — we were just over 20 years old… On the day before the main event, we let the steam go off and went to the party. The next day I had a panel speech at 8:30 am with the presidents of several large cities and the president of the largest hotel chain in the CEE. It was a prominent experts panel. As you can probably guess, I did not look my best, I also spoke and communicated my thoughts not too brightly. The moderator of the meeting, on the other hand, confused the questions. Instead of asking me about technologies and startups, he wanted me to answer the questions that were supposed to be responded to by the absent Polish minister of tourism. Completely hungover, I was asked about the road infrastructure in Poland and the legal conditions of the investment. You can probably imagine that I was not hailed as the best expert at the conference. We quickly ran down the panel so as not to meet anyone’s eyes. Fortunately, at 8:30, it didn’t have much attendance in the room. The lesson was learned, today, we are much more conscious about our speeches.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I think that every project is in some way exciting — may it be a technological challenge, a really recognizable client or an innovative digital product. We are working with several interesting companies in the MedTech industry. We have just developed a great app that helps connects patients with doctors and provides the most important updates on the Covid-19 pandemic and discoveries. LabPlus is available in Poland and is getting more and more popular. What is more, we are working on a very innovative product for Steppie, recently noticed by Business Insider as an Insurance Fintech startup to watch. It is a product that encourages healthy lifestyle habits which translates into insurance discounts and extra bonuses for its users. I believe that this product will encourage people to be more active and make healthy choices more often, e.g. they will take these 10k steps each day to pay less for insurance.
Moreover, when the pandemic became our new reality, we joined Tech to the Rescue initiative and helped one of the NGOs — altruisto. It allows users to donate to charity, now to help fight Covid-19 while shopping. Especially nowadays, I know it is really significant and can help a lot of people. What is more, users can feel more encouraged to give some money back for a good cause when it is so easy with a plugin at their browser. We work on digital products like that from the very beginning of Applover.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. 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?
It is not easy to make an employee happy in the workplace. However, it is undoubtedly one of the key factors why one company grows and others do not, or grow more slowly. If you build a work environment where employees want to come, identify with the company and enjoy their daily work, you are a few steps ahead of the competition. It’s all about employees seeing a goal in the company’s activities with which they agree and identify. In order for them to see this ultimate goal of the company, they need to know and feel that there is also room for them — for their development — both financial and personal. This is just crucial. If you build such structures, base them on the values of employees, then people will be grateful, happy, satisfied. They will be more devoted to the company because they will simply feel good at it and will treat it as their own. They will be engaged in its development, especially when you give some of them more freedom and responsibility for their departments or other certain areas. When your team feels that they are capable of managing some areas, make decisions influencing your business — for your business growth — the sky is the limit.
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?
I know the impact will be really negative in every area.
If the employee does not understand the company’s goals, sees no sense in their daily work, does not identify themselves with the company’s values, their approach to work is at a minimum level. As a result, it affects their engagement, creativity, commitment to the company, vibe to action, which moves to the company’s productivity and profitability.
Moreover, when the employee is unhappy, their stress levels are often higher which translates into their health and wellbeing. Unhappy people more often take sick leaves and are absent from work.
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 believe that managers and leaders should:
- Provide and collect feedback — it is very important that the employee receives clear feedback based on respect, but also concrete and honest. So that your team has the opportunity to convey their feelings and ideas themselves and not be afraid of it. Employees see more sometimes, they work in this company, so we should base their opinion on creating jobs.
- Communicate a clear setting of the goals of the organization — it must take into account the personal development of the employee so that this main goal is also achieved through the development of the staff.
- Provide clear company values - their determination is very important as it affects the daily work of people. As knowing that the main value in the company is, for example, being as professional as possible, they try to implement this value in their daily work and can improve accordingly.
- Communicate clear and easy to understand rules for teamwork and organization — again, you need to clearly define the rules of team play and make sure that everyone understands their duties and responsibilities.
- Not be afraid to give up responsibility to their employees — people want to act, are just as ambitious as the founders or C-level of companies, and are very eagerly involved in topics they feel they have an influence on. They also feel appreciated in this way, which in my opinion is essential to improve the company’s work culture.
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?
Lead by example. Show people that you can be a leader with passions. So that your employees do not overwork and feel inspired to look for their escape from work and become less stressed. Apart from the fact, small changes lead to bigger revolutions and if you can support your 60 employees in the development, they will translate into their loved ones and their social networks, and even with such small changes, you can lead to the bigger ones. After all, only a few dozen years ago in the US there were no popular maternity leaves, and now it is changing, thanks to socially responsible organizations. So make your organization socially responsible, and show that it is possible for others.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I am trying to base it on the values described above. For me, it is important to be a leader who provides clear communication of goals and taking into account the goals of the personal interests of the team members. I make sure that everyone has the same understanding of the values on which the organization is based and supports these values. Clear rules and regulations of the game at the workplace are also important to me as a leader. When you can communicate transparently, your team can trust you. Moreover, sharing responsibilities with team members and engaging them in the development of the company is a crucial part of what I want to pursue as a leader.
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?
I must admit that I am really grateful to my parents. I always could count on them, in every situation. It gave me a lot in the context of starting my own company because I had no fear that if I failed, what would happen next. I mean, there was fear, but it was smaller. I knew that even if I did not succeed and lose all my savings, they would help me and somehow I would get back on track. You can make more risky decisions thanks to this and you can be just more courageous when it comes to starting your own business.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When the pandemic became our new reality, we joined Tech to the Rescue initiative and helped one of the NGOs — altruisto. It allows users to donate to charity, now to help fight Covid-19 while shopping. Especially nowadays, I know it is really important and can help a lot of people. What is more, users can feel more encouraged to give some money back for a good cause when it is so easy with a plugin at their browser.
What is more, our CEO is conducting programming workshops for children from orphanages since October. As Applover, we always look for a way to support others, whenever we can.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill
In my opinion, you should learn from your mistakes and failures, and go on with your work. Only thanks to it, you can develop and finally succeed. Our first business failed, but we have learned a lot and now we can say that Applover is on its way to being a really successful company.
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 believe that if you are given something, try to share it with others. Do good and give back — I really trust that this works well for everyone. If you are lucky enough to not struggle during the global pandemic, right now, try to help others. At Applover, we are always operating with this idea in mind. That was why we decided to join Tech to the Rescue initiative and support NGOs that help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to it, we helped a great organization that allows you to easily donate to charity while shopping — mentioned before Altruisto.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!