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With Mike Kohn from Spark Fund

The intelligent enterprise is one that uses people analytics to make data driven decisions. A discussion on how today's leaders should integrate data in decision making. The conversation was led by Ali El-Shayeb CEO & founder of Nugget.ai with Mike Kohn – Head of people operation at Sparkfund, a startup based in DC that focuses on improving access to advanced energy technology through a subscription model.

Ali El-Shayeb
I’d like to welcome Mike Kohn to this week’s panel on understanding what it takes to become an intelligent enterprise from a people perspective.
Mike, can you give us a short introduction and tell us what you do at Sparkfund.

Mike Kohn
Thanks Ali! So great to be here! Hi everyone! Like Ali mentioned, my name is Mike Kohn, and I head up the People Operations team at Sparkfund, a start-up based in DC that focuses on improving access to advanced energy technology (think LED lights, HVAC systems, electric vehicle power stations, etc.) through a subscription model. In my role, I get to work on all things in the people space - recruitment; retention; coaching; engagement; total rewards; and diversity, equity and inclusion, among other things. We’ve worked hard to make data-driven decisions on how we can improve the overall experience of our people and work towards our company objectives and goals.

Ali El-Shayeb
That’s amazing Mike! We can all agree that, the more you know about your people, the more you can enable them to do their best work. But few organizations actually make an effort to understand their people. How does it work in a startup environment like Sparkfund?

Mike Kohn
You’re spot on, Ali! And with people being such a critical part of an organization, it’s really important to keep that top of mind.
It’ll certainly vary from organization to organization, but at Sparkfund, we’ve made it one of 3 company-wide goals - building a workplace where people thrive is something that we all take a shared responsibility around. That means setting up metrics and key results that support that goal, and then creating opportunities for everyone at all levels to really make an impact accordingly.
And the best way to understand how people are doing and what they need? It seems common sense, but I would say that it’s a simple conversation - have two-way dialogues about how things are going, both at the company and outside. Sometimes I provide the questions and the prompts to help get that conversation going, but it’s all about sitting down, talking it out, and listening to facilitate that understanding.

Ali El-Shayeb
It seems that building 1-1 relationships help you foster strong bonds with your employees that lead to future business success. For a startup this can be manageable, but large enterprises are challenged with unimaginable talent volumes. Are they doomed when it comes to building relationships? What can they learn from the startup world?

Mike Kohn
That’s something that I reflect on a lot - it’s been much more manageable for me to build relationships in a smaller company quicker than it has been in some of the large enterprises I’ve been a part of in the past!
That being said, being in a large organization or a small one, it’s about intentionality. Making time for this is hard, but it can go a long way, and it’s the highlight of my week to catch up with someone I haven’t chatted with in a while, either inside or out of the company. I try and make sure I’ve got a non-recurring 1:1 on my calendar every week, if I can. When I’ve been in larger organizations in the past, I’ve approached it by keeping up with peers and colleagues, and then branching out by thinking of others I could learn from, and then asking those people for recommendations on other people I could talk to. In case tools are helpful, the other thing I’ll throw out there is that I’ve loved using the donut integration on Slack - it’s basically a random pairing mechanism so that you get to meet someone new every time. Whether it’s something informal like that, or something more formal like a mentoring program, building some structure is another chance to enhance relationship building.

Ali El-Shayeb
On the topic of disruptive tech in the people space, AI is posed to have a great impact affecting the way we interact.
So, what can technology help us solve here, what’s already been done, and how much further do we have to go?

Mike Kohn
I think that technology / AI can help take the place of some of the more mundane and routine tasks that we have to do in our worlds. For example, I’ve been excited about streamlining processes through the use of Applicant Tracking Systems or Payroll Systems in my world. And that lets me put my time towards things that are better handled by a person - things that let me focus on the human side of business.
I think there are ways to push the boundaries of streamlining and automating processes - there’s a ton of amazing development that’s out there right now across so many different platforms. I’m excited to see how we can continue to incorporate that into our work!

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