Leadership is difficult. Leadership in times of crisis and ambiguity is doubly difficult. Leadership through times of multiple global tidal waves can seem impossible. Going back to my talk at the top, Shopify is in a new box that we don’t yet understand. The world is in a new box that it barely understands. We’ve only traced a small corner of this box and just started exploring the rest of the vast dark areas. It will take time.
In addition, our team members need us more than ever. The best thing we can do for them is not to add to the ambiguity. Shopify hasn’t always been good at setting clear expectations across the organization and I think this is starting to cause huge management debt that is spiraling out of control.
I can’t tell you how to do this in your different departments. But a good start would be to remind everyone that we are a business. Most importantly, we are extremely ambitious. We are trying to create a world class product that gives superpowers to the merchants we obsess over. All Shopify does is accomplish this, and everyone at Shopify should be able to describe how their work, through a series of direct or indirect steps, advances this mission.
To help make that clearer for your team members, here are some tips on what Shopify is not:
Shopify, like any other for-profit business, is not a family. The very idea is absurd. You were born into a family. You never choose it and they can’t separate you from your family. It should be overwhelmingly obvious that Shopify isn’t family, but I see people, even executives, casually using terms like « Shopifam » which will make the members of our teams (especially juniors who have never worked elsewhere) have a bad impression. The dangers of “family thinking” are that it becomes extremely difficult to let go of bad performers. Shopify is a team, not a family.
We literally only want the best people in the world. The reason you joined Shopify is because – hopefully – everyone else you met during the interview process was really smart, caring, and engaged. It’s magic and it creates a virtuous magnetism on talented people because very few people in the world have that in themselves. People who don’t shouldn’t be part of this team. This magic and magnetism is the product of rigorous performance management that I expect all of us to return to.
Shopify is also not the government. We cannot solve all the social problems here. We are part of a real ecosystem, economies, cultures and countries. We also cannot meet all of your needs. We will do our best to take care of those who ensure that you can support our mission. Shopify’s worldview is well documented – we believe in liberal values and equal opportunity. Sometimes we see opportunities to help advance these causes. We do this because it directly helps our business and our traders and not because of a certain moralistic excess.
We want to build one of the best companies in the world. We are obsessed with our merchants. We want everyone to have a chance to improve their lot through entrepreneurship. We want to make and keep Shopify, the product, world class or die trying.
The only way to do this is to have amazing people. We hire some of them based on their future potential, and we help them, but we expect them to develop their potential. Some of them take us further in their careers. But we all have to re-qualify for our jobs every year. The race for the red queen of Shopify’s historic 40% or more growth is that everyone must perform at least 40% better each year to qualify for our current jobs. I expect you to hold yourself and your teams to this standard. Judge this improvement by having a growth mindset, deepening the business, taking risks, making better decisions and doing whatever it takes to better support our mission and our merchants.
We will always have compassion for team members in really difficult situations. For example, those who suddenly find themselves becoming the primary caregivers or those struggling with mental health issues. There are also second chances, especially for those who have already been the best performers. Apart from these cases, we have to remind everyone that like any other competitive (sports) team, how you present yourself each day and contribute to the success of the team is important. Beyond straightforward performance, anyone who indulges in endless Slack trolling, victimizing thinking, dividing us and them, and zero-sum thinking should be considered for the threat they are: they break teams. The teams survive and prosper thanks to the actions of the collective and the cohesion of the whole. Poor performance and divisions cannot be tolerated.
If this sounds surprising, it’s because we kind of lost something. Shopify has always been like this. I feel that many of these fundamental beliefs have been blurred in recent years. So, as the person who has witnessed every minute of Shopify’s existence, I want to reiterate some of these fundamentals. Shopify is as successful as it is today, precisely because of the downstream effects of these early ideas. Currently we are successful despite the draft. It won’t work any longer. Let’s go back there.
Despite all the external buzz around Shopify (market capitalization, largest company in Canada,…) we are still very early. We are in the big leagues among the biggest and the worst companies in the world. When we succeed in our mission, millions of marketers do better. Millions of people find jobs. We have the potential to make tens or even hundreds of millions in the future. I am here for this potential, and I need you to be there for it too.
OK, that’s a lot to take into account. You might be tempted to take what’s up there and run it through some kind of low-pass filter and translate it into your own language before discussing it with your peers and prospects. Do not do that. Above I want everyone to understand. It is important not to scramble a message that fights against the scrambling of principles. You are responsible for reinforcing these lessons and making your teams accountable to them. The Talent team will follow the next steps in the coming days. Better yet, actively help them with ideas and opportunities to implement those ideas. This is what leadership looks like in action.