AI Accelerator Start-up Meets Coaching Company?

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Lessons from a Progressive Partnership Between Groq and Boon

“If leaders hope to grow their companies past the start-up phase, it’s essential to scale with a balanced leadership approach – one that pulls the best from good people instead of unintentionally pushing them out the door. When these leaders partner with experienced coaches, who understand start-up dynamics, often from firsthand experience, and are willing to commit to a ‘be human first©’ development journey, their ability to navigate work, and scale, becomes realistic. By bringing more ‘be human first©’ to our leadership, we can create a culture in which others increase their focus on authentic human connections.” – Ad Boon, Founder and CEO of Boon

At Groq, tradition isn’t exactly our approach. In fact, the opposite is becoming our reputation. We live the mindset of first principles thinking, meaning we look at everything and decide what it should be.

Take our interview process. If you’ve heard anything about it, it’s very different. It’s intentional, from the time commitment and the questions we ask as we look to understand cultural fit and emotional intelligence just as much as experience and know-how. People give it praise, but it wasn’t instant – it took months to develop and it continues to evolve today.

And then there’s G2, the strategic incubator we piloted last year. Led by Estelle Hong, Chief of Staff, G2 deploys talent and business models to address company needs as they arise. It was born out of our talent-first principle – if the candidate is a cultural fit who could raise the bar at Groq, we should strive to find a home for them and their talent.

Because we’ve committed to innovating, from our technology to our hiring strategies, we’ve attracted incredible talent density. Everyone at Groq comes from some background of success. The gravity of those past experiences means we could either decide what past experiences to adopt or invent the ones we always wanted. Changing habits can be rocky, but once the goal is set, we carve a path straight to it with the intent of learning along the way. This doesn’t mean being different for different sake, but rather a result of our cultural axioms – building great teams, focusing on growth through talent density, and innovation via first principles.

When it comes to empowering employees to realize their full potential, we’re committed to being different. What most start-ups don’t do is focus on motivational drivers for their employees at every stage of the company, from “start-up” to “scale up.” The latter requires balancing the push mode of leadership – tell, direct, delegate – with the pull approach – empower, collaborate, coach. So we went external and partnered with Boon, a coaching company working by the non-traditional “be human first” model. We recognized that Boon’s approach and influence would positively catalyze changing habits brought from past experiences.

Jonathan Ross, CEO of Groq said, “We believe in doing things differently at Groq. When it’s working we can feel the impact but when competitors start following our innovative practices, it cements our value of defying gravity.”

Boon’s network of experienced ICF PCC level Executive Coaches work with Groq leadership and talent to first dive deep into themselves and their potential in order to bring their true selves to the professional work they do every day. This leads to exploring how we can use our personal strengths to positively impact our immediate teams and Groq’s culture as a whole.

After having experienced coaching firsthand, Brian Holley, Vice President of Sales and Customer Support at Groq said, “I’ve worked at companies ten times our size that don’t invest in their people in this way. It shows that Groq truly means what it says when it claims it wants to attract the very best and then develop the very best in them. Partnering with Boon continues to help us realize those high expectations.”

Working with Boon meant a shift from directing to coaching, which is all about listening rather than telling. Through individual coaching sessions we become aware of our own habits and experience more effective ways to listen. We also aim to align our employee and business goals by shifting from purely directive goal setting to a reciprocal process that links the growth of the business with the growth of us as individuals. Our conversations with the coaches make us understand more intimately “why” we are here, and how we can set our intentions to best support Groq as we scale.

“The mirror Boon is helping hold up for leaders forces us to take time to self-reflect,” said Mark Heaps, Director of Brand & Creative at Groq, who has partnered with a Boon coach. “The coaches ask you the type of questions that make you ask yourself, ‘How am I going to turn this reflection into action?’”

Feedback loops also have become critical to our learning and culture, meaning they’re embedded in the way we operate daily instead of ad hoc or infrequently at annual review time. For example, our coaches accumulate qualitative feedback about us, from people who know us and who we trust, so we can use this feedback for growth while limiting our blind spots.

“Embarking on a journey with Ad Boon and his team required the humility to recognize that we are all a work-in-progress and the openness to uncover weaknesses that perhaps we were unaware of or willfully ignoring,” said Dennis Abts, Chief Architect at Groq. “More importantly, it has required the willingness to strengthen those weak spots like the Japanese Kintsugi where broken pottery is carefully and meticulously rebuilt. Instead of hiding the cracks, they are accentuated with gold, adding to the unique character of each pottery piece. We all suffer those unique fractures — some more visible than others — as part of our personal fragility. When we fix those fissures we ossify ourselves and become less fragile, almost antifragile, with each breakage.”

Finally, working with Boon has helped us to understand the power and need to build peer-to-peer networks. Our Groq Circles bring together Groqstars from cross-functional areas to share lessons learned and personal development themes from completed coaching sessions. These Circles help prevent siloes while broadening awareness and sensitivity to other groups’ goals and needs. It creates a support structure for everybody and ignites the common understanding that while this work is hard, we are not in it alone.

You can dive deeper into Boon’s coaching framework here. These commitments to unique ideas are part of what makes Groq grow and we’re excited about where it’s taking us.

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