Interview: I do not tie business or people to rules, I only give direction

Interview
Petr Skondrojanis is one of the most famous Czech faces of the Human Resources. He wants to teach companies how to create good company culture and respect their employees. What does he have to show for it? He has founded Cocuma, Kariérní pouť, Cultmag, Cult Talks as well as organized the talk show Culture Rocks. To manage all this, he does not sleep very much and watches countless news sources. A number of people have asked him about HR reform and company culture. We were curious about what kind of boss he is, what people he surrounds himself with, and what mistakes he has learned from the most.

What kind of people do you want around you in your work?

I always had a guiding principle that I was looking for people who are smarter than me and can teach me something. In my projects, I give a certain amount of direction, but at the same time I respect the expertise of my colleagues. For example, I will not tell my colleague how he should take pictures, because I know I am not good at it. I like people who have expertise, know their value and can enrich me.

Petr Skondrojanis, Founder of Cocuma

Where do you look for such people?

These people are all around you; just go to conferences, meetups and follow people on social networks and see who Jirka Rostecký interviews in Mladý Podnikatel or who appears in Red Button, No Pitch Party and TEDx. It is essential to build a personal brand that creates a network of people who connect you. If you work on your brand, the network will grow steadily. It is a natural process. For example, at the age of fifteen, I ran away from home and was living on the street, so for me, a community is the basis for survival – whether they were squatters or people with whom I was working in a company.

What factors most defined your development?

The fact that I have always tried to overcome boundaries. According to a Gallup test, I have no potential to translate ideas I’ve come up with into reality, while Cocuma (Company Culture Market) is a completely realized project, so I'm always out of my comfort zone. If I was not aware of it, I would probably get some serious illness and break down. By knowing it, I accept the burden and benefit from it. I'm trying to create projects that get all of us out of our comfort zones. I know we'll learn a lot from them and we’ll develop.

How does Cocuma work?

We are nine freelancers who still do not have an office and are not bound by any structure, so we are developing ourselves. People bring good ideas and I try to encourage them to work on our common goal. Everyone has freedom to do what they need to. My colleague Petr Vágner, who takes photos and makes videos, works for Cocuma clients, which would not happen in a normal company. I care that people understand the idea, the content and some principles that we have in our projects, but I do not need to organize the people, and I do not even want to.

When you have such freedom, what is your workflow?

We primarily work on Slack, where we have different channels according to projects. When a new profile is made on Cocuma, people get a message to stay in the picture. Once a month, I write an internal blog about what we've done, why we resumed cooperation with someone or why we're hiring a new person. I try to inform people and be honest. We work agilely - we have been doing something one way; what if we tried to do it differently? People around me understand why they are in the project and what it brings them. They perceive the success of the whole project as their own.

Does it happen to you that you make mistakes when working with people?

(laughs) I am not good at cooperating with people. In some cases, I am very individualistic, and it is difficult for me to react to others’ opinions when they differ from my convictions. People around me know that my weak point is that I do not care for results, but that things are done. Besides, I'm also chaotic - I cannot manage a company, handle administrative tasks and negotiate terms. I am much better at making up visions and ideas. People around me suffer a bit, but at the same time I'm a man who respects people and likes people, and when I choose them, it's a commitment for me.

Have you ever caught yourself approaching people as resources?

Never. I respect people so much that I do not consider anyone to be a resource. I treat my child, who is three years old, as an equal. People are people and we must consider the context we find them in. I'm always trying to find out how many children people have, what’s going on with them, what camera they will buy and things like that.

Is this the humancentric approach you often talk about at conferences?

Yes. I respect people and their situations very much, and I do not judge them. I have always thought a cleaner is as good as a director. Often, we do not even know that a lady from Ukraine has a family in a war zone, and she takes care of her children here and sends home packages with clothes. Then there is a director who gets three hundred thousand Czech crowns a month, has a luxurious house and tries to create a good company culture. Which one is better?

Do you see any inspirational companies on the market that treat their employees nicely?

All companies featured on Cocuma do. In the past, I used to mention Zappos and Goretex. Today at conferences, I talk about Ysoft, Decatlon, Etnera, and Gamee. Rayneti from Ostrava is great, or even Purple Technology. These are all companies that do it differently. When you look at their Facebook pages, you will see how Boženka Řežábová and her people go to Bali for a month and how the boys from Purple Technology take the whole company to Croatia with a chef. Each company has an interesting story and approach.

How do you know that these companies really mean these activities and are serious?

I'm very interested in how businesses work. In the past two years, I have done 1,422 hours of interviews for about sixty companies. At the same time, in my spare time, I mentor companies that want help with their company culture. I can figure out what works, and I try to see what happens abroad. That is, what's happening in the US or the UK will soon come here.

What are these countries talking about in the field of human resources?

They are talking about automation and the need for a new approach to people. By 2025, 47% of jobs will be replaced by automation. No one knows what will happen to people who lose their jobs. One possibility is an apocalyptic scenario and the other is that companies start preparing people for the future. They will help them find their strengths, strengthen them and support them in learning and retraining. It is said that today's young people will have up to three jobs at the same time. If they will not know why they are doing the work, they will leave.

You often talk about HR reform. What has and hasn’t changed in companies’ approach to employees?

Unfortunately, management still lags behind leadership. I dare say that 90% of people in executive positions are managers and not leaders. These people micromanage others and criticize young people because they don’t do things exactly the way they think they should. What, on the contrary, is changing and will have to change radically is the approach towards employees. Abroad, there is something called the employee-centric company culture. It means that the people who run the company try to give employees everything they can so that they can deliver good results. This is done in different ways. You can work with ambiance in the company, vision and purpose, as well as with tools that enhance cooperation and support so that the whole thing works.

Where do you learn about these trends?

I follow a lot of HR tech people who show what trends are happening, like Karen Azulai or Bill Boormen. I'm following Gary Vaynerchuk, Richard Brandson and other leaders of inspirational companies, including those in the Czech Republic. I look at business blogs of Basecamp, Slack, Readymag and Evernote who all make great content. These companies give tips on how to be productive and creative, they explain how websites and different tools work. Inspiration is everywhere. And I'm very inspired by the companies I've known and whom we’ve made a profile on Cocuma.

How do you manage to keep the overview and do all the projects well?

(laughs) I sleep about two hours a day.

Two hours?

Well, sometimes five. But I occasionally happen to go to sleep at four and get up at half past seven. I only do things that I enjoy and I don’t enter into projects that bother me. In a way, purpose is a drug. I like to open my notebook at ten o'clock and figure out how to write an article or how to build our next Cultmag. I do not know if I would do things better if I focused on just one project; maybe, but it’s more fun like this. Moreover, I would not achieve everything I want to before I die.

What is it that you want to achieve?

Too many things. Career-wise, I want to be a global expert on company culture at the age of 60. Until then I need all the companies to work well so I can fly around the world and be a consultant. There’s a lot I need to do.

Petr Skondrojanis has been working in the Human Resources for over 20 years, always on the supply side. At work he was always interested in three things: a) the purpose of what he does, b) mutual respect, and c) professionalism. He calls himself human-centered because he works for people. He puts people, their perceptions, needs, and their relationships in the forefront of everything he does. He believes that each of us has pros and cons, everybody makes mistakes, each of us is authentic and the variety is in what most interesting thing we do. At present, he spends most of his time working on company culture and enjoys meeting a lot of great businesses and a lot of skilled people who want to add value to their work. The world is better than it seems at first glance. And in a 50-year-old Austin Mini Cooper, even a traffic jam is an experience.