Interpretation of poem, dream or person requires intuition and divination, not science.

Camille Paglia via Frederick Woodruff

Welcome to the first week of the second section of our miniMBA. We have left the Discovery section and are in the Connection section. Connection is all about looking within. If we look out into the market to find a white space to dominate, we are surely practicing extractive capitalism. But let's look within first and focus on building a healthy company, including a well-executed infrastructure with culture initiatives to nurture it. We're setting ourselves up for a different experience of growth. One where the internal experience of how our company operates matches the external messaging we preach to the world.   

Week 6, this week, is all about Personnel Tools. And I found this quote I used above from controversial cultural critic Camille Paglia fitting for how we want to think about building a team, even if I don't agree with her cultural views (ContraPoints for the win, as always-(9:48) 😏). In recent years, so many softwares have popped up promising to optimize your HR experience, usually through "science," promising precision and objectivity whether for blind hiring or personality assessments. But the interpretation of humans requires intuition and divination, not science (says a professionally trained scientist). And this week, we'll look at how that works. 

 If you are just joining us, you can catch up on the previous lessons here

Have you been finding these lessons valuable? This is a note to let you know that Early Bird Registration for the full Business Growth Program will open up on November 7th, but you can email me early to be put on my personal outreach list if you're interested in joining us in 2023. Looking forward to continued learning in 2023! 


We have now laid a plan for growth, and once we have that clarity, the first place we look is within our company to the internal experience of how it operates. It’s a bit of a paradigm shift from the old rhetoric of looking out to the market to find a space to dominate/disrupt/hack (lol!). It seems important to define what I mean by using our intuition to think about the people within our company. I do not mean a "gut" feeling. In fact, most entrepreneurs make mistakes going with their "gut" when it comes to hiring and building teams. Instead, I'm talking about Nobel-prize-winning Economist Daniel Kahneman's definition in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. I originally wrote about it here, but to summarize, Kahneman, he says:  

"Valid intuitions develop when experts have learned to recognize familiar elements in a new situation and to act in a manner that is appropriate to it." 

So how do we recognize familiar elements in a new situation? Well, we have to have a foundation of familiar elements to begin with, and that starts with having personnel tools in place. Whether we have employees or work with contractors, it is our team that allows us to make our vision a reality. And even if we are a solopreneur, we must always see our company as something separate from ourselves. Therefore we must create the infrastructure that allows our employees or contractors to thrive and which allows solopreneurs to systematize their operations so we’re not always “putting out fires.” 

I like to say that employees cannot deliver an experience they don’t receive. So if our company is marketing itself or its products to impact its customers' lives positively, then the employees should have the same experience working within the company. This idea of congruency is unique to this program, and we always prioritize a healthy operation first. 

You should first consider whether you have employees or contractors working for you. A lot of times, we think someone is a contractor when they are legally considered an employee. Be sure to check your own state laws to know if you are compliant. Most of what I'm writing about below applies to employees only. Contractors are their own independent entities and you cannot legally tell them how to conduct their work. 


A good personnel plan starts with understanding your own organizational chart and how it must evolve to meet your vision. Your org chart should include salary bands for each role, particularly if your state requires you to be transparent about this. This is your staffing roadmap, it allows you to stop building your team in a reactive way and to start building it in a supportive, proactive way. When you set your financial goals, you should always know what team you will need to achieve those types of goals and the salaries you'll be required to pay them. Raises shouldn't be a random act every year at the whims of the economy. They should be well-thought-through increments tied to growth and consistent across positions. All the dots should be connected. Only once we’re clear on the positions can we write a well-defined job description and all of the supporting tools for a healthy infrastructure. 

A well-defined job description is beneficial to an employee but also to you. It helps you understand how to define roles and responsibilities to create the support you need allowing you to anticipate any changes in your own role and how you might need to fill the gaps. I wrote about how a well-defined job description was the #1 demand women had 40 years ago when they flooded the workforce. Dolly was trying to warn us all. 40 years later, it still takes work to convince entrepreneurs why this tool is vital.  A well-defined job description is also a tool for equity. It provides employees with clarity of expectations so that they can know exactly what they are responsible for in this role. That’s the first step in creating a space that prioritizes psychological safety.

A job description details all of the essential functions of the role, ensuring that day-to-day expectations are clear. Each JD tells us our title, our supervisor, the purpose of the position, and any physical requirements ensuring that you create a diverse workforce through ADA compliance. Some JDs also include KPIs and accountabilities, but those aren’t foundational requirements; they might appear on employees' other documents. 

Once each Job Description is clear, you can create the following: 

  • Job Postings (different from a Job Description): This is the external document that gets posted when you seek candidates for the role. This is the very first experience employees have of your company. How are you presenting yourself? How are you laying expectations from initial interaction for how you want potential future employees to pursue this role? 
  • Interview Protocols: Interviewing is an art. It is here when we're trying to interpret people, from their resumes to their cover letters to the answers they provide to our well-thought-out questions. We often under-prepare for interviews, give out too much information to the candidates before understanding their background and approach to work, fail to ask questions that offer insight into experience and actions, and rarely ask for work samples and references. 
  • Onboarding & Training Programs: This is one of the most underdeveloped areas in most companies. No matter the position, everyone who comes into our company should be given a clear 30-60-90 day onboarding plan depending on the role and level of the role. Not only does it provide clarity for an employee, but it also provides clarity for us as leaders. Did we do our part in setting an employee up for success? And here is where we move away from "gut" feelings of why someone is working out in their role and have a clear guide for how things are truly progressing. This tool is a living document, a guide that should be referenced weekly by both the new employee and the manager. 
  • Employee Handbook: This is all of the legal policies you need to provide employees when they begin. You will need a labor lawyer or a PEO to develop this properly. 
  • Operations Manuals: This massive tool outlines every standard operating procedure in your company. More on this in Week 8. 
  • 90-Day and Annual Performance Reviews: Most people have had a negative experience with written reviews. They usually lack purpose and never connect to the values, and most employees and founders suffer through them to get an annual raise. But reviews can be a transformative experience for both employees and founders when done correctly. They should be rooted in both the values and the essential functions of the role. We must connect those dots, or we are not operationalizing the culture. They are the best opportunity to give 2-way feedback. They are productive times to set annual goals for the employee's growth. 
  • Employee Development Structures: These are monthly or quarterly meetings to follow the progress of the Annual Review. We do not want the review process to be a static, once-a-year discussion. It should be dynamic and present throughout the year to guide growth. 
  • Guidance Plans: A helpful tool if employees need guidance for growth during the year. 
  • Employee Growth Pathways: This should be clearly outlined in your organizational chart. How can employees grow within your company? How might their accountabilities change? And what indicates they're ready for growth to a new position? 
  • Exit Interviews: A great opportunity to get candid feedback from an employee, usually best done on their own time on their last day. 


Each tool ensures you’re giving employees what they need to succeed in their roles. It takes the guesswork out of growth and ensures that you can begin to give the same experience you expect them to deliver to your customers and clients. It also begins to create what Kahneman refers to as "familiar elements." If you have a well-built infrastructure in place, you have the beginning of familiar elements every time you bring a new person into the mix. Only then can you appropriately judge how someone's performance is meeting or not meeting expectations. We have fancied ourselves *modern* with the integration of HR software. Still, I mostly see these fall flat because we believe their science-based approach is more accurate when in fact, we are now learning about the devastating consequences of personality tests and the fact that blind hiring software can be flawed as well. We cannot expect technology to be the magic bullet that solves the challenges of bringing humans together to work towards a common goal. It takes rigorous leadership development and disciplined use of your infrastructure. It can never be a totally flawless process, so we don't want to fool ourselves into thinking that technology can make it so. 

Building tools might seem time-consuming, and I won't lie, at the beginning, it is. These tools take time to develop, but I promise you will waste more time over the lifetime of your business without them. We mistakenly believe that expectations should be common sense. We are misguided in thinking that because someone held this role at a previous company, they’ll know exactly what to do. But this is the thinking of a company in its infancy. When we aim to grow into adolescence and maturity, we provide clarity. As Brene Brown reminds us, clarity is kind. Just because someone has previously held this role at another company does not mean they know how we expect it to be performed at ours. They don't know the nuance of our leadership and our culture, and our responsibility is to mentor them into that experience. 

Building tools is also our first step in operationalizing our culture. That’s a mouthful! What does operationalizing our culture mean? It means taking our values and actually applying them to how our business functions. It takes them out of the handbook and off that plaque on a wall and applies them to the specific tools employees will use on a daily basis. (No shade to a plaque on the wall, but we don't want that to be the be-all-end-all of how your values get expressed in your business.)

To do this, we’d reference our values in creating our interview protocol and identifying questions that help us decipher if potential employees have had an experience with our values in previous roles, how previous experience might contribute to our values, and what their unique perspective is about our values (remember they can mean different things to different people). Then we take our values into consideration with the build-out of our onboarding materials. What type of onboarding experience are we creating? Is it values aligned? How do we teach people about these concepts and expectations? How intentional are we about their development? And the same goes for everything else: from our Performance Review to our Operations Manual to our Job Descriptions and Development Structures. 

If we are truly committed to equality, empowerment, and general best practices in the 21st century, this is a key step to laying the foundation.



  • Did I complete the founder job description assigned in Week 3
  • When I did my values audit in Week 2, did I identify the Personnel Tools that were missing in my company? 
  • How might I experience my team differently if I provided them with the necessary infrastructure to succeed? 
  • Why am I not prioritizing the build-out of this infrastructure? Where does my resistance lie? 


What a Living Wage Means

MIT Living Wage Calculator

Buffer Salary Calculator

Open Hiring (video)

Capitalism and Disability (book)

Persona Documentary

Biased (book)

Coded Bias (documentary)

Conflict is Not Abuse (book)

Zingerman’s Passport (Tool)

Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder (book)

Maslow on Management  (book)

Good luck! We'll see you here next Wednesday for the second lesson of the Connection section. Week 7: Culture Initiatives. If you have a colleague who should join us, they can sign up here


How is it the end of the year already?! This November, we'll read Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Marie Brown. This free event will be hosted on Tuesday, November 29th at 7PMEST via Zoom. Please email me to register. 

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Have you listened to our latest episode with Mike Duesenberg of Blank Studio? If you're just joining us, be sure to check out Ellie Lum of Klum House, St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance and Gage & Tollner, and Alex Daly of Daly


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