Collect feedback. You may not know that there’s a problem with your culture or with how you work with a particular employee until it’s too late. We’re currently in the process of implementing standardized feedback collection processes, as well as standards for responding to negative feedback.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sascha Eder, COO and Co-Founder of NewtonX, a search engine for professional expertise. Sascha is a graduate of MIT Sloan, a former consultant with McKinsey & Company, and a former professional athlete.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The idea for my company came about as a result of me experiencing the same pain points that NewtonX clients face. My co-founder, Germain Chastel and I met at McKinsey, where we discovered a pervasive problem in the industry: we needed access to expert knowledge from C-suite executives, global influencers, and niche subject matter experts — for example somebody who could give us crisis management best practices in the event of a major oil natural disaster — but the companies that would provide access to these experts (specialized recruiters and/or expert networks) were too slow and often of poor quality. In this lack of efficiency and precision, I saw a missed opportunity for automation — which is how we came up with the idea for NewtonX.
I founded the company in 2016 with CEO Germain Chastel, who was my colleague at McKinsey, and CTO Anuja Ketan, who is a very experienced technologist. Together, we’ve built an expert discovery engine that leverages robotic process automation and a proprietary knowledge graph to identify world-leading experts and connect them to our clients.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing that has happened to me as a result of embarking on this career is that I myself have become somewhat of an expert on incredibly varied and niche topics, just from connecting our experts with clients. At the beginning of the company, I was doing some expert screening myself to pick up slack as we grew, and learned about topics as varied as frangible bullets, color palettes at Paris Fashion Week, and separating Vanadium from Titanium in titano-magnetite ore.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Last year, our company grew from three employees to over thirty, with the majority of hiring occurring over the past six months. While this growth has been incredible from a business standpoint, it also revealed to me that we needed to implement processes and initiatives for establishing culture and communication norms. This has been the most exciting project for me to work on: building out employee happiness initiatives, paths to promotion, and feedback channels.
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?
There are a few reasons: one, is that I think our culture is changing a lot in terms of what employees expect from the companies they work for. Where once it was fine to just get a steady paycheck at the same company for your entire career, now people tend to job hop, do freelance/gig work on the side of full-time work, and even switch careers entirely. Additionally, I think that younger generations expect their jobs to be fulfilling, particularly if they’re working long hours. Meanwhile, corporate culture has remained largely unchanged: hours tend to be inflexible, expectations for career building have not evolved with cultural attitudes, and many companies still aren’t investing in employee happiness initiatives.
This discrepancy between what employees expect and what companies offer is the primary culprit that I see for unhappiness in the workplace.
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?
All three of these things are interrelated and dependent on each other. Unhappy employees are significantly less productive than happy employees because they aren’t internally motivated to do well in the workplace. As a result, company profitability suffers. Furthermore, unhappy employees tend to have high turnover, which costs the company months of time and lost productivity in recruiting and training.
On the employee side, being unhappy in the workplace can have a significant impact on overall mental health. When you’re unhappy for 8–10 hours per day, this can be incredibly demoralizing. Additionally, I believe that if there’s one unhappy employee in the workplace this will affect those around them. That’s why it’s important to identify unhappy employees and intervene to try and find a solution.
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?
1. Promote transparency
Employees tend to feel unhappy and unmotivated when they’re not in the loop about company growth, roadmap, and successes/failures. This year, I started two initiatives for improving transparency: one, is a bi-weekly all hands where team leaders and company leaders give updates. The other, is a weekly #NoFilter feedback session for the operations team (our largest team).
2. Give gifts
My founders and I like to give surprise breakfasts/lunches to demonstrate employee appreciation. We also give small gifts like stress balls or standing desks. These little gestures can go a long way for showing employees that you appreciate their hard work and dedication.
3. Collect feedback
You may not know that there’s a problem with your culture or with how you work with a particular employee until it’s too late. We’re currently in the process of implementing standardized feedback collection processes, as well as standards for responding to negative feedback.
4. Create internal communication forums
We recently started a monthly internal newsletter to share company updates, press updates, and team updates. In it, we include fun pictures of different team members as well as an employee spotlight. This really helps everyone feel connected and in touch with what everyone on the team is doing.
5. Model a culture of respect
Culture is established from the top down. As founders, it’s incredibly important to model respect and temperance from day one. Even when you get stressed (as we all do) you need to be respectful and measured with employees and with your co-founders.
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?
Movements like #MeToo definitely do a lot to improve global workplace culture, but beyond huge movements like this, I think the best we can do is be transparent with what works and what doesn’t.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
The leadership team at NewtonX created a skills matrix that includes the characteristics team leaders should exhibit. One of these, is being able to handle stress and not put your own stress back into your team. Another important skill we value is communication and agility. Things change quickly at NewtonX, and it’s important for team leaders to be able to work with change and translate change efficiently to the team.
As a leader and a manager, I try and take things as they come, be present, and give clear and concise instructions to my 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?
The person I am most grateful to for getting where I am is my mom. She supported me throughout every stage of my life, whether that consisted of homework, presentations in high school, preparing for exams at university or preparing for a job interview. Without her, I would never have had the confidence to set the goals I’ve set for myself and to work towards achieving them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I teach a business and leadership course at Queens College to help aspiring entrepreneurs learn from my success (and my failures). Additionally, I try and bring good to the world through my daily leadership at NewtonX, and through my writing, which has appeared in Inc., Forbes, and VentureBeat.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” — Goethe
I truly believe that knowledge acquisition can give life meaning, but I also feel that in my own life I need to use the knowledge I acquire in actionable ways — either to improve the world or to improve my own life.
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 am a huge believer in philanthropy, and would love to inspire a movement for global literacy. I believe that knowledge is power, and the more people who have access to knowledge, the greater chance we have for building a better world.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!