Leadership at SumUp
At SumUp, one of our core values is having a Founder’s Mentality. In part, that means that everyone is expected to be a leader: We all take ownership for making SumUp’s vision - a world where small merchants can be successful doing what they love - a reality. Everything that SumUp does is in pursuit of that mission, and everyone at SumUp is responsible for making it happen.
SumUppers who lead and enable teams have a particular responsibility to uphold and reinforce our values and turn our Organisational Vision into a reality. As people leaders, their decisions have a direct effect on the SumUp organism, and that organism has a direct effect on our customers, partners, and other SumUppers.
In making those decisions, we expect people leaders to exhibit and foster a culture of discipline, which is a key ingredient to ensuring a healthy, successful SumUp for years to come. In his book Good to Great Jim Collins writes about an “entrepreneurial death spiral” that successful start-ups can fall into:
Few successful start-ups become great companies, in large part because they respond to growth and success in the wrong way. Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves into uncharted waters, and visionary zeal. As a company grows and becomes more complex, it begins to trip over its own success—too many new people, too many new customers, too many new orders, too many new products. What was once great fun becomes an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff. Lack of planning, lack of accounting, lack of systems, and lack of hiring constraints create friction. Problems surface—with customers, with cash flow, with schedules.
In response, someone (often a board member) says, “It’s time to grow up. This place needs some professional management.” … The professional managers finally rein in the mess. They create order out of chaos, but they also kill the entrepreneurial spirit. Members of the founding team begin to grumble, “This isn’t fun anymore. I used to be able to just get things done. Now I have to fill out these stupid forms and follow these stupid rules. Worst of all, I have to spend a horrendous amount of time in useless meetings.” The creative magic begins to wane as some of the most innovative people leave, disgusted by the burgeoning bureaucracy and hierarchy. The exciting start-up transforms into just another company, with nothing special to recommend it. The cancer of mediocrity begins to grow in earnest.
The way for a creative, innovative company to avoid that fate is to run itself with discipline. Collins writes that “When you put these two complementary forces together - a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship - you get a magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results.”
What does a culture of discipline look like at SumUp? Here’s a partial list of the kinds of things we expect our leaders be accountable for:
1. Disciplined spending
SumUp spends, in total, hundreds of millions of euros each year, and leaders must take individual responsibility for what it is spent on. Not only are leaders responsible for their own team or tribe’s spending, they are also responsible for understanding, challenging, and validating everyone else’s spending. In doing so, leaders are expected to recognise that the interests of SumUp as a whole are more important than the interests of any individual team or function. A well-balanced allocation of resources will help create an eternally great SumUp. While it is a core principle of ours that we manage the company through context over control (i.e., we trust well-informed leaders to make good decisions), we use enabling constraints such as Capital Allocation Agreements (CAAs) - internal commitments that tie a team or tribe’s spending to KPIs or other factors - to force us to make spending decisions carefully and collectively. Leaders at SumUp are expected to take ownership of the entire CAA process - again, not just for their own teams but for the company as a whole. That includes an expectation that leaders challenge themselves (and each other) on whether additional spending is really needed and, if so, work with other leaders to determine where the money should come from. In other words, we follow a co-create/consult/test model for major spending decisions; we don’t just leave them for “senior management” to decide.
2. Disciplined people management
Maintaining and growing talent density is essential to a healthy organisation. To do so, we must attract and develop talented team members and also let go of less-than-stellar team members. We want to create an environment in which top performers thrive and company performance takes off. Therefore, we expect that all leaders take responsibility to enhance talent density at every opportunity.
As part of that, the keeper test, made famous by Netflix, should become second nature to leaders at SumUp, and they should apply it every quarter. Team members with the kind of talent we need and want should be developed and rewarded, and it is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that such team members get the opportunities, training, and guidance they need to grow professionally. By the same token, leaders must also acknowledge when somebody will not be successful at SumUp, and they must not let one person’s limitations become limitations for everyone else.
3. Disciplined decision making
It’s important that we do not allow SumUp to become a “political” organisation, as after politics comes bureaucracy and the entrepreneurial death spiral. By “political,” we mean behaviors such as lobbying (e.g., someone saying they will try to “convince a higher up” or “put in a word” with a senior leader on an issue) and proxying (e.g., someone bringing in a senior leader to avoid or solve a conflict or decide something they should decide themselves).
Leaders at SumUp are expected to eliminate “politics” from decision making by being mindful of these tendencies and speaking up if they observe lobbying, proxying, or any similar behaviors. Equally importantly, leaders must all set good examples for the rest of the organisation by avoiding such behaviors themselves. Part of the cure for “politics” in decision making is transparency. The more transparent we can make our decision making processes by following the co-create/consult/test framework, the more people will feel empowered to become an active part of a decision rather than feeling their only option is “political.”
4. Disciplined communication
To develop discipline on big issues, like the ones discussed above, it’s essential that leaders develop discipline on day-to-day matters - including how we communicate. Here are some examples of what disciplined communication looks like:
Meetings: Start on time, finish on time, have an agenda and write down and communicate outcomes. Delete meetings that aren’t useful. Accept or decline invites on time. Listen actively.
Written communications: Keep up to date on Slack messages and emails sent directly at you; barring holidays or other special circumstances, such messages should be read within one business day. Be conscious about your recipients and try to avoid adding to the “noise”. Be concise when communicating and actively invest effort into becoming a better communicator. “Not enough time” will always be a challenge, but it can never be an excuse; the only ones who can solve it are ourselves.
Cascade clarity: Leaders at SumUp must make sure that their teams have absolute clarity about what SumUp is doing and why we’re doing it. That means it’s our responsibility to ensure that our messages are understood.
Feedback: Radical Candor is the goal. Leaders are expected to provide immediate and honest feedback to both the people they manage and the people who manage them.
5. Collective Responsibility
Much of what is described above can be boiled down to the concept of collective responsibility that we began this section with: We are all responsible for all aspects of the SumUp organism. So that leaders understand and can effectively exercise that responsibility the following is also expected:
We all know our main products inside and out: Everyone at SumUp - and especially our leaders - should use our products on a quarterly, if not weekly, basis. That means using SumUp cards at our merchants, paying each other via our apps and payment links, setting up real or mock online stores and using them to issue invoices, and taking full advantage of the banking services that we offer in your market. You should also visit our websites as if you were a customer, try to sign up and poke around to see if there’s anything that could be improved. Only by using our products can we fully understand our customers’ experience, and only by understanding our customers’ experience can we continue to deliver products that people love.
We all own KYC and AML: Compliance with our legal and regulatory obligations - especially with respect to KYC and AML - is absolutely critical to SumUp’s success. Leaders must not only follow the guidance of the Compliance team, they must also fully understand and own the compliance obligations that pertain to their role.
Disciplined people engaging in disciplined thought leading to disciplined action - this virtuous circle will be key in both capitalizing on our strengths and addressing our weaknesses. At SumUp, our leaders strive to hold one another accountable in a productive way so that our leadership team improves and the SumUp organism stays healthy and growing.
Leaders at SumUp should be models of our values around the three pillars of We Care, Team First, and Founder’s Mentality. In addition, we have identified the following qualities as keys to success at SumUp. It is our goal to develop these qualities in all SumUppers, but we expect leaders to demonstrate them consistently in all that they do.
Genuine passion for SumUp’s products and mission that inspires others
A sense of urgency to accomplish goals quickly and efficiently
Aiming higher to spur performance and build momentum
Accountability for decisions, good or bad, and a commitment to learning from them
Taking initiative to seize opportunities that present themselves
Agility in constantly adapting and improving in the face of change
Practical decision making to quickly and efficiently find solutions to complex problems
Deep product understanding viewed from our customers’ perspective
3. STRATEGIC VISION
A big-picture perspective that understands how one’s team or tribe goals fit into SumUp’s overall strategy and vision
Prioritisation of what is most important to SumUp as a whole
Collaboration with other leaders, teams, and tribes to ensure that SumUp achieves its goals
4. SERVANT LEADERSHIP
Empathy and care for others
Humble and active listening
Active coaching to help team members develop professionally
A focus on team building