2019 was the year we doubled in size. 18 people, our size at the end of 2018, is like an extended family. At over 35, where we are now, it is a small institution. 2019 was also the year I became a new mom. As I thought about how I was modeling behavior for my new baby, I couldn’t help but think about the same with Greenworks. What am I implicitly saying with my actions? Are the values I strive for consistent with my day to day?
One small example of how things change from family to institution was when I mentioned in passing to someone that I was rushing out to meet with some potential lenders. Because one of the hats I wear at Greenworks is leading our capital markets strategy, meeting potential asset-backed lenders regularly is part of the job description. The next week, our head of HR let me know that some people on the team were concerned. They weren’t sure what the fact that I was meeting with lenders meant for them. That made me realize we needed to do a better job communicating our goals, strategies and values to set the context for our actions.
Our market is changing rapidly as we enter a phase of hyper growth, but the core values we’ve used to build and guide the company have and will remain constant.
- Conscientious: Greenworks has its fingerprints on the CPACE product, whether or not we’ve financed a specific loan. We have, many times, figured out the messiness of getting the public and private sectors to work together. We unlocked the capital markets for CPACE as an ABS product, unlocking the trillion-dollar ABS market. That has everything to do with the teams’ focus on making this a long-term, sustainable industry. That is only possible when we maintain a high degree of integrity.
- Effective: To maintain our leadership role within the industry, it’s key that we maintain flexibility and the ability to shift course to be effective in a rapidly growing industry. I was shocked how much harder this becomes as you scale. We’ve had to become very deliberate about transparency while also putting the controls we need as we grow in place. This has meant clarifying our values, the five elements that dictate how we execute. We also implemented a ground-up, strategic planning process this year to root everyone, from our newest employee to our board, in our goals, strategies and objectives this year. That helps put shifts in context, since our overall goals won’t change, but the tactics might.
- Collaborative: A good friend of mine who runs a coaching company says “the strength of the team is in each individual and the strength of each individual comes from the team.” Jessica, my co-founder of Greenworks Lending, and I are first time entrepreneurs and have come up the curve far faster by incorporating feedback and seeking out and fixing what isn’t working. One of the best management articles I read over the past five years was about giving away your Legos. To encourage this behavior, we have put more focus on upskilling the team overall. When we hire, we look for intrinsic motivation. In a rapidly growing company, innate curiosity and a desire to “get it right” helps drive individuals to the next level where they will inevitably struggle for a time, while watching others perform the job they likely built and could do with their eyes closed differently than their colleague might. Those with an orientation of curiosity and continuous improvement are driven by a desire to see what that next step could be. This helps advance the entire company.
- Mission-Driven: we started Greenworks because we wanted to make an impact on mitigating climate change and economic development. This underpins everything from our operations to our branding. We seek out employees that demonstrate commitment to our customers and to advancing Greenworks’ goals day in and day out.
- Entrepreneurial: this is related to effectiveness. We expect everyone to take an active role in identifying and solving challenges. As we’ve grown, we’ve introduced structure around fixing things to ensure we’re not breaking something larger in the process (akin to “move fast and break things with stable infrastructure”) but the underlying value of entrepreneurship – constantly seeking out opportunities to make things better – remains.
Underpinning all of this is psychological safety:
Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up…It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’
To reach Greenworks’ potential in our rapidly-growing industry, we inevitably need to take calculated risks on new ideas. More and more, those ideas will come from our growing team, and that means employees need to feel comfortable voicing their opinions. A book I read and loved was Radical Candor, which argues that being honest about positives and negatives with your team, even your own struggles where possible, engenders a trust that means your team will be more likely to trust you with an honest assessment of their challenges and the company’s big decisions. We’ve implemented many of these concepts at Greenworks.
The average person spends 30-40% of their waking hours at work. After two years in the workforce post-college, I knew intuitively that I needed to spend that time doing something personally meaningful, which to me, meant something that could have a significant impact on climate mitigation. Five years after my initial insight, when I learned about CPACE from Jessica at the Connecticut Green Bank, I had an “aha” moment – CPACE, at scale, could meaningfully reduce carbon emissions from buildings. It created enough credit standardization and solved many of the structural barriers building owners face when deciding to invest in energy systems on their properties. Buildings account for 50% of our country’s energy consumption and only 2-3% of commercial real estate is institutionally owned and the rest doesn’t have great access to wall street for affordable capital to upgrade aging and inefficient systems.
Many first-time entrepreneurs agonize over starting a company; that was an easy decision for me because I saw the market opportunity CPACE created and I saw the urgency driven by the impending climate crisis.
One of the most exciting elements of starting a company is being able to give others the opportunity I personally wanted – to come to work every day and work on a personally meaningful challenge. What I didn’t expect was the day-to-day challenge of how to turn that concept into a good place to work! I’ve read a lot about running a company in the past five years, and “culture” is often used as a static concept, like something you set and forget. I’ve learned that while values remain constant, culture, or the expression of those values is something you never stop working on. Thankfully, we have an amazing head of HR here at Greenworks who has helped us hire a talented team of mission-driven individuals and who helps us promote a culture that embodies our values each and every day.