George Stubbs became fascinated with team dynamics as a teenager playing soccer and elite ultimate frisbee in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, and around the country. As a student at Harvard, he designed his own college major to focus on the theory behind dynamics within people, systems and organizations. He wanted to better understand the invisible things that happen to create successes — and failures — for groups. Below, the long-time Alpine Investors PeopleFirst consultant and coach shares wisdom from his vantage point as an aid to Alpine and its portfolio companies, why focusing on people is core to success and how the firm’s growth has the potential to accelerate impact — on people, companies and the world.

Ever since my days on sports fields, I’ve understood that if you get people and team dynamics right, you can achieve great success. In my work with Alpine as a PeopleFirst consultant and coach, I get to use my natural people skills to help individuals and teams strengthen their relationships, too. Whether I’m consulting company leaders on the right approach at a critical moment in time or coaching an individual toward a personal goal they have, I feel lucky to make this my life’s work.

Prioritizing individual growth and development is not only a deeply human way to work, but it also impacts a company’s bottom line. Alpine’s PeopleFirst philosophy is built on the belief that the firm will drive results by attracting and retaining extraordinary people. PeopleFirst is also a recipe for growth. This approach shapes how everyone from Alpine leadership to individual contributors to portfolio company CEOs invest, hire and develop.

Prior to Alpine, I worked closely with upper-level management at a few Fortune 500 companies on organizational or executive development teams. It was a crash course in how dynamics and facilitation can work at big organizations, and it taught me the dynamics of smaller teams within larger ones. I helped design a leadership program at Google based on a Harvard class I had taken and taught, and then I worked at a boutique consulting firm where I began my journey with coaching and facilitation. From there, I took the leap to start my own coaching and consulting firm in 2017, and that’s when I met Alpine.

I knew I wanted to work with Alpine right away because the team believes in investing in people to build thriving businesses. Alpine’s leadership puts a lot of trust into their consultants, and I felt an inherent realness to everything they did. Too often, work around leadership dynamics, learning and development can feel like an afterthought. As Alpine’s PeopleFirst approach was developing, it felt central to everything they did. I didn’t have to prove the value of my work, so I could focus on making an impact from the very beginning.

I believe that growth and development can enable everyone to do their best work.

Growing capacity as part of Alpine’s PeopleFirst program

PeopleFirst is both a philosophy and a program. It’s Alpine’s declaration that talent and leadership development is the most important factor in creating great businesses and successful results. Working alongside Alpine’s PeopleFirst team, we’ve developed a series of best practices depending on where a company is in their life cycle, which starts with getting companies up to speed, then establishing a rhythm to maintain what we implement.

Sometimes I design custom workshops or programs based on what companies need. In anticipation of a big review period, for example, I designed a workshop on giving and receiving feedback that I’ve now delivered to several Alpine companies. I also teach a leadership development workshop called “Immunity to Change.” It’s a 4-hour session where you start with something that you want to get better at, and by the end you’ve taken a good look at the unconscious beliefs you have and how you’re limiting yourself in your effort to do that thing. Individuals get vulnerable and discover new things about themselves and then figure out how to channel those things toward their own success.

Everything I do in service to PeopleFirst is about growing capacity. Whether that’s growing capacity within a company, within a team or within an individual through one-on-one coaching, I believe that growth and development can enable everyone to do their best work.

To get the most out of a gathering of people, everyone needs to feel a baseline sense of psychological safety, so that they’re willing to say something risky or share what they really think.

Discovering what companies need to thrive

I always kick off my company work with discovery interviews so that I can understand what’s working well and what’s not. Then I make recommendations and a plan. Most often, our first step is to use vision and strategy work to create alignment within the leadership team. I often work closely with company leaders to create a strategic document called the One Page Plan (OPP), where we write the business’ goals for the quarter, year and a five-year timeline, all written alongside the company’s vision and values statement on a single page. The OPP helps align the leadership team around shared goals and is used to inspire one page plans for the leadership team, and then for each individual leader.

Without transparency or alignment, even the most engaged and focused teams won’t know where they’re headed. Alpine’s vision and strategy work provides a clear mental picture of five years in the future. Writing out that longer-term vision then helps leaders make decisions about everything from team structure to product to acquisitions in a more strategic way.

Holding space for progress

When I show up to consult on and facilitate a company retreat, conference or meeting, my goal is to enable everyone to be truly present in the conversation, so that they can do the work. I’m focused on the context, which is the invisible stuff happening in the room, like how team members are relating to each other or how they’re communicating. I still need to understand the content — things like numbers, strategies and language — but my role is about holding space for the group to work together.

To get the most out of a gathering of people, everyone needs to feel a baseline sense of psychological safety, so that they’re willing to say something risky or share what they really think. I’m there to gently guide the group toward their planned goals and agenda. I also make sure the physical space is set up in a way to create the most productive connection and conversation.

Alpine’s PeopleFirst work has evolved alongside the firm, which is a tribute to Alpine’s leaders and their belief in this work.

Sometimes I’ll notice that a participant brings up a question or decision, and many people start to share differing opinions; it feels like time to vote. As a facilitator, part of your job is to name it and then shift it. So, I’ll say, “Looks like we just created a chance for voting, is that what we want to do here? Is that what we need to move forward?” By naming the changing dynamic in the room, I’m able to help the group stay focused on their goals, while working through the inevitable challenges or disagreements that come up in any good discussion.

If you’ve succeeded as a facilitator, you’ll notice a tone shift in the room. Everyone has been vulnerable together and has loosened up and bonded. Sometimes there’s a tangible difference, like the moment when the leadership team is transparent in a real way for the first time. But many of the changes we’re working toward happen over time; it can take a company’s culture or individual relationship weeks or months to shift, and then the impacts of that improved dynamic may take even longer to show up.

I’ve had failures as a PeopleFirst consultant, too. Sometimes I’ll realize that I got in my own way or could have done something differently. I’m always learning, which is part of the reason I love this work.

Coaching individuals for the good of the whole

In addition to my consulting work, I also work as an executive coach for Alpine’s portfolio company leaders and HQ employees. Alpine has assembled a group of 20+ different coaches, so everyone has a chance to find their ideal match. When I get paired with someone as a coach, I work with them to develop an agenda, support them to come up with their own answers and then develop their ideas and a path forward.

People issues come up most often with leaders, but we also tackle organizational challenges, personal blockers or anything else that’s getting in the way of their ability to lead. Sometimes my role is as simple as asking, “I think you know the answer to this, what are you hesitating about?” While other times we talk through a range of different possible approaches before settling on a plan. Sometimes I’ll coach two employees who are struggling with their working relationship. As a facilitator, I hold the space for them to spend 90 minutes focused on strengthening their relationship, not caught up in their day-to-day work challenges.

Focused on future growth and change

The only constant is change, and as both a coach and consultant, part of my job is to prepare companies and individuals for it. Alpine is growing quickly. Sometimes growth can get in the way or make it challenging to maintain focus on initiatives like this, but Alpine’s PeopleFirst work has evolved alongside the firm, which is a tribute to Alpine’s leaders and their belief in this work.

Creating a company where people come first and truly love to come to work is not easy. By building this robust PeopleFirst program and devoting funds, energy and time to growing it, Alpine’s leaders have seeded the potential for major ripple effects. If companies in Alpine’s portfolio have thriving PeopleFirst environments, and those PeopleFirst efforts make a positive impact on the business — which is Alpine’s core mission and belief — that’s where it all aligns, and you begin to create rocket fuel.

Read more about Alpine’s PeopleFirst program here.

PeopleFirst coaches are independent contractors that are advisors to Alpine and portfolio companies and are neither employees nor affiliates of Alpine entities. Any compensation, expense reimbursements, equity interests or other amounts received by such persons generally is paid for by the applicable Alpine Fund(s) and/or their portfolio companies, and such amounts do not offset the Alpine Fund’s management fee and are not otherwise covered by the management fee.
Certain statements about Alpine made by PeopleFirst coaches and consultants herein are intended to illustrate Alpine’s business relationship with such persons, including with respect to Alpine’s facilities as a business partner, rather than Alpine’s capabilities or expertise with respect to investment advisory services. PeopleFirst coaches and consultants were not compensated in connection with their participation, although they generally receive compensation and investment opportunities in connection with their roles, and in certain cases are also owners of portfolio company securities and/or investors in Alpine-sponsored vehicles. Such compensation and investments subject participants to potential conflicts of interest in making the statements herein. Past performance not indicative of future results. Results may vary materially and adversely. Please see Alpine’s Terms of Use for additional disclaimers.
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