Coaching and mentoring within corporations typically leave a positive effect on the employees. Tune in to hear why mentoring arguably has a more lasting impact and how it can improve employee well-being.
LevelNext is a marketplace of mentors who can help you take your career, team, and company to the next level. They connect professionals with 1 on 1 guidance from experts who've been there, done that.
Bryan Smith, a founder at LEON and the host of the Organizational Health Podcast, sits down with Elisa Garn, the founder of LevelNext to discuss the importance of peer mentorship and how it can help improve Organizational Health and Well-being.
Key insights include:
Bryan Smith: Hey, what's going on, everybody for Leon I'm Bryan Smith and you are listening to the organizational health podcast. It's the show where we get down and dirty for 15 minutes with people, leaders, executives, and founders. On the playbooks, they use to improve organizational health. On today's podcast. We have Elisa Garn, founder at level next, which is the premier marketplace for mentors to connect with tech professionals.
Wayne to take their career team and company to the next level police. Are you ready to kick this off?
Elisa Garn: I am ready. Let's go.
Bryan Smith: Fantastic. Tell us about your background, your experience in HR and now as a founder and what you're working on.
Elisa Garn: Yeah. So I've worked in HR for 17 years at the behest of my very first mentor. In fact,
Uh, didn't have any interest in working in HR. Didn't want to be the principal's office of business. But my mentor was really good at pointing out the attributes that he felt would be or contribute to a really strong career in HR. So I did that worked for four of those years for recruiting agency, which helped me really develop more of my entrepreneurial side and be more interested in developing business.
Um, took a little bit of a stint doing marketing and more of like branding, specifically personal branding and corporate branding for an insurance agency before finally taking that dive and pivoting into the tech space as a first time founder entrepreneur at the beginning of this year, 2022. So it's been a wild ride, but, uh, interestingly enough, you wouldn't think that all of those overlap, but they definitely do. I'm hyper focused on developing workplaces and cultures that focus more on the human experience, because I believe that if we fix a lot of what's wrong and in the work dynamic,
Uh, we ended up creating a lot better communities and environments and ultimately like enhancing life for people getting more out of the time that we're here.
Bryan Smith: Alright, fantastic. So size of the company right now.
Elisa Garn: So it was just my co-founder and I just, the two of us, um, if we're counting people that weren't getting paid, we're probably an enterprise level company.
We have a lot of people that are helping us out of the goodness of their hearts that believe in what we're building, knowing that we're not in a position to pay them yet. So just, just the two of us.
Bryan Smith: Okay. So one of the goals, um, over the next year, from the business standpoint, and even from a funding standpoint, if that's in sort of your direction,
Elisa Garn: Yeah, we're actually fundraising our seed round. Right now. We had pre-seed funding earlier this year, which we use to build our first version of product, which is live now. So we are generating revenue, but we're looking to scale. And part of that will be onboarding team. Um, very quickly. So within the next few months, we anticipate scaling anywhere between about 20 to 40 employees, depending upon the level of race.
Um, but we're going after 2 million right now in this seed round, which is, uh, both scary and exciting all at once. And where we're heading. So we're right now in the B2C market, but we're going to be expanding into the B2B market and taking our platform into companies to help them with an organized and structured mentorship program for their employees.
Bryan Smith: So explain that a little bit more. So let me say it from a B2B standpoint, um, from a mentorship standpoint, is that, is that coaching. Um, you know, what, what are the details behind that?
Elisa Garn: It's primarily mentorship. And of course everybody has their own definition of what's the difference between a mentor and a coach and an advisor and a sponsor. And we really just focus on, um, guidance more than anything. So people that are at the peak of their careers, they're really only have a few hours a month to provide, maybe take on one to two people that they can mentor.
Uh, at any given time, um, but taking it into the business space, again, my background in HR. It's so difficult to create lasting mentorship programs. There's so many problems that you have with it for one it's yet another thing that HR has to be responsible for, and it usually takes a backseat to, you know, seven or eight other priorities that come up.
Um, you also are pulling resources from your existing employees. So if you have your top producers or leaders in the organization that are also asked to dedicate time to mentorship, you're getting less of their work time dedicated to, uh, to what they're also supposed to be doing. And it's also just really difficult to set expectations. What are the rules of engagement and mentorship? You know, I think that a lot of people want to be mentors and want to be mentored, but how do you approach that? How do you make the ask?
Are you worried about rejection? How much are you supposed to control and own in the conversation versus how much is your mentor supposed to. Uh, so that we solve all of those problems and make it very easy for companies to just plug into our network of pre-vetted mentors that have already said yes.
And we most specifically focused on industries that we consider tech. So working in front of computers, essentially, we don't do a lot with healthcare manufacturing. Uh, but if they're environments where most of your employees, at least 80% or more are working in front of computers, that's a really great fit for us.
And most of what we focus on within the mentorship coaching space is career inflection points. So all of those points in time that, you know, getting your, getting a job, getting a promotion, trying to negotiate a pay increase. Um, pivoting in your career. We really want employees to feel empowered that they don't have to be scared of what happens. I lose my job or what happens if I get passed over for yet another promotion or I find myself an employee. We really want to help them true the power of mentorship and networking, um, be able to proactively, um, find and connect those opportunities for themselves.
Bryan Smith: Okay. All right. Cool. So to sum it up roughly about 17 years experience within the HR marketing, pretty much everything space, which by the way, probably makes you a fantastic founder. Um, roughly about two to four people right now within the current team, potentially more for the people that are helping you out. Um, your.
You have revenue, you are making rubber RPR driving revenue right now, looking to raise roughly about two to three, two to 4 million, um, over the next, say three to six months to help your company scale both from B to C, but also in the. These spaces that makes sense.
Elisa Garn: Yep. You got it.
Bryan Smith: All right. Cool. So with your background and, you know,
And I'm actually really curious because I think the mentorship plays a big role in this. But in your own words, how do you define organizational health and the second part? How important is organizational health in the business climate we are seeing today.
Elisa Garn: Organizational health really is a representation of the sum of your employee health.
I mean, depending upon how well people feel, and there's many elements of wellness, it's not just physical health, it's not even just mental health, but you have all of these different elements. Uh, which many different companies are out there to finding right now. That is the sum. So if you have a large part of your population that is experiencing burnout or unable to show up because of financial stress and stress is at home or relationship challenges or whatever it's going on, you're getting a less percentage of that individual that is able to.
Contribute to the organization in an efficient way. So the way that I look at it is it's a company's responsibility to provide an environment and create circumstances for employees to be their best. But it's up to the employees to choose that engagement and manage, you know, the autonomy that's provided by the company and those resources.
With their personal responsibility of, again, engaging, selecting, doing the work. Uh, and, um, making sure that they can, uh, optimize their performance at peak times. So I think that organizational health and just in general, Even the way that we approach it at level next. This is why, part of why I wanted to start a business. I wanted to be able to prove that.
You can still make profit, but not at the expense of your people, but because of your people. So we're doing it through that lens with great intent. Uh, and it's freaking hard, man. Especially as a first time founder. I knew what I was getting into because I have enough of these, these people in my network to hear their pain points.
But man, just because you hear the tornado warning on the radio, it doesn't mean it makes the tornado suck any less. It's just, you knew it was coming. So we're right in the thick of that. Um, and I'm sorry, remind me your second question.
Bryan Smith: How has organizational health? Change in the business climate that we're in today.
Elisa Garn: Yeah. It's it's crazy because I think that it was already on this trajectory of growth and change, and you'd just like things evolve over time. Anyway. But that pandemic thing. Just smashed it all in our faces as far as like, no, we're not going to do this on a gradual percentile change over years and years.
It's in your face right now. I think we saw that with the great recession where people didn't not want to go to work. They just had this opportunity of really assessing what was important in their lives. And work is a huge part of that. So if they were feeling disconnected or if they were just kind of showing up and checking the box or working for companies that.
I didn't really have a passion or purpose behind, you know, other than just making money. I think for a lot of people, it was, it was a moment of reflection. And now that we're starting to come back from that people are coming back to work eyes wide open, and very specifically looking for companies that maximize that opportunity of.
How are you going to create this environment for me? How am I, what are you doing to help me be my best, whether that's investing in my development or just making sure that I have resources to take away some of those fears that we have as, as humans, let alone employees. Um, so it's been just, just completely growing and growing in that respect. And I think that.
Uh, just like in the great depression back in the twenties, you know, twenties and thirties. Uh, the 19 hundreds. You had a lot of companies that did not adapt that just said, you know what, we're just gonna, we're gonna keep doing what we're doing. And the companies that did not adapt to understanding people, looking for purpose or people looking for benefits.
Uh, if they didn't offer those things very quickly with the recession. Uh, ended and we pulled ourselves out of that period. Those companies were not around anymore. And I think we're going to see a lot of that in this situation we're in right now as well.
Bryan Smith: By the way I love that historical facts. That's fantastic.
Um, you know, it's really interesting, you know, especially in the reason I asked this question is because, you know, with obviously the amount of layoffs that are happening in that obviously coming out of COVID. I feel like the term organizational health has changed so much, right? Because it's obviously about our mental health. It's obviously about, you know, trait learning and developing, increasing overall capacity of our employees to better performance on and so forth. But it also comes down to your point.
About organizational health being sort of this like dynamic process where it could be. Liquidity, right. It could be risk mitigation grew up, you know, I taking to account. Other pandemics happening, right? Like to me, it's organizational health. There's this sort of overarching thing that ultimately assesses how resilient.
Your organization is to stressors. Right? And I feel like, unfortunately that we've gone down such a big, uh, Uh, like at this big cliff regarding that organizational health is only about mental health, but the problem is, is that all those other things that aren't exactly mental health or burnout also influence the mental health of our employees. Right? So when it comes to getting mentorship for your people, those things are directly impacting the wellbeing of your people.
When it comes down to the fiscally responsive, responsible, and how many people you hire are not laying off. That also impacts organizational health, right? Does that make sense?
Elisa Garn: Absolutely. Yeah.
Bryan Smith: Um, so. Going back to your HR days. And obviously now it might not be necessarily now because it was smaller head count, but how do you go about understanding and quantify organizational health?
Elisa Garn: That's a fair question. I mean, it's one of the cool things is like being able to start it from scratch and not having to go in and fix the problem after you've already, you know, grown and you're already making money. And then you have to figure out like the harder choices of do. I want to potentially risk that revenue.
If we make this change, how is it going to impact? So there's less change management involved. Uh, but I will say. You know where, um, I have to recognize my gaps, my weaknesses. I didn't go to college. Everything that I'm doing right now is from the school of hard knocks, but there's a poetry in it as well because I'm able to leverage my mentors in building this opportunity for people to find and hire their own mentors.
Uh, to fill in their own gaps. And what I found is mentorship really provides that opportunity of. Um, one of the best things about it is like, even if my mentor doesn't know the answer or they're not there to solve my problems. But man, just the, just the confidence that they can instill and knowing that you have this almost partner in crime of somebody that's there for you, that's going to catch you if you fall.
Uh, that has been really, really important in the infancy stages of building this business. And I think of foundation of what will always be within our organization, as it relates to scaling our organizational health. Um, for example, one of the things that we've done very early on, even though I would consider myself an expert in this, like how do we create human design within our employee experience?
Uh, I know that I'm also being pulled in 17, 18, 20 different directions every day to build this business. But knowing how important that employee experience design is to me, I've actually hired a consultant. And then I know from my network to make, to keep me on track and hold me accountable for making sure that we're, for example, identifying our values very early on with my co-founder and I giving definitions to those. And then through the lens of those values and what we're trying to build as an organization, aligning everything from our benefit programs to, like you said, even our, our risk programs or our contracts or our customer experience.
Um, we have all of these experience factors like. Human wellness, financial wellness, environmental, physical, social, occupational, intellectual. How are we designing things that we care the most about the impact we want to have through all of those different touch points along that employee journey and what we hope to achieve in doing that?
Is as we scale and we start to, uh, really ramp up. Everything from hiring practices to being able to pivot and make very difficult business decisions. We're doing it through these binoculars. I guess if you want to say, or a magnifying glass to make sure that alignment continues to exist, and that hopefully provides us an opportunity to stay open-minded and humble enough.
That when we hire the experts for their respective roles, to help us with the things to deliver on our organizational health. Um, the, we are going to provide that autonomy and freedom for them to do what they do best and allow them to do the work that we hired them to do without getting in their way. But making sure that we're not doing it in conflict with who we are as an organization, what we represent, what our purpose is and what our values are and how we hold each other accountable.
Bryan Smith: Okay. Um, in your other roles, what other types of software have you used? I mean, did you use surveys? Did you use. Um, you know, were you big on one-on-ones like, give me an idea as far as like that, that the daily or.
Elisa Garn: Yeah, so. I mean, I've done that. That's your base. It's uh, I think that surveys are. Um, bittersweet, because I think that you end up getting. Uh, survey is only as good as the question that you asked. And so sometimes surveys don't always get to the right insights of what you're trying to measure.
Um, but generally I would say. There's. When it comes to HR, uh, we're often the ones responsible for figuring out how to do this, how to measure it without the proper skillset trading or, uh, understanding knowledge base to do this in an effective way. So tools I've used, I'm a big fan of a Lumo, um, for feedback surveys, because for one it's it's text-based. So you're not asking somebody to sit down for 35 minutes and fill out a big long dissertation.
Of feedback. Um, but it's ongoing. So it's live, it feels very organic because you're able to see, especially in larger groups, employee groups, You can see trends based on how we implemented this new policy on this day. And then it affected our, our feedback in this way. Um, but it also has a tool called the illumination cycle, which is based on the idea and concept of design thinking. So it allows it empowers without using the jargon and all the terminology that tends to confuse and alienate HR people.
It provides tool and framework for them to understand how to get the right information, ask the right questions. And then be able to follow through on let's let's test this, let's get some additional feedback or let's, uh, let's pilot this with a small group of employees. See how it works before, you know, we take it and scale it into the rest of the company.
So I've really, really liked that one from, um, It just the templates they use, but also the opportunity that you have to create it on your own. And really make it your own. Um, Are there tools and just procedures. I think there's a lot that gets undervalued with just, one-on-ones like just spending time with people in individual meetings and.
Finding out the pulse. Like that's a very, very underutilized skill set, but one that's not usually invested in. Yeah. Managers still have time. They're also expected to be acting and performing in their role too. Uh, but a tool that I do like in that sense is called bridge. I Instructure and bridge is in my opinion, one of the most, if not the most impactful one-on-one management and employee development platforms out there.
Uh, I say that with, with a little bit of salt in my mouth. Cause I'm like, man, I want like, I hope that level Mexicans big enough, one day that we can either coalesce with them or merge, or maybe we'll, we'll be able to acquire because what they've built is really, really impressive in, um, within the workplace dynamic.
But, uh, you know, it's not something that extends past, past your work environment. So those are a couple that I've really liked. Um, but yeah, just in general, I think it's, it's just important to have any kind of KPIs to get started without feeling overwhelmed of having to do everything. So just starting with one or two areas that you know, are core for your business.
Or going to get you to the next three-year goal that you have as an organization. I think it's a hard to stay on track when you try to do too much all at once.
Bryan Smith: Um, cool. So talk to me about the playbook behind mentorship and how that improves organizational health, that at a company.
Elisa Garn: Yeah. There's oh, there's a lot of data out there to support this, which I love.
You know, in building a business, you don't want to have to make things up. And I love that. Um, mentorship can be tracked back to. Honestly like prehistoric days where it's like, we didn't have information, but we knew that that connection of, of human wisdom of being able to pass and transfer knowledge and the applicability of it.
Has been cornered species for millennia. So the fact that it's now showing up in more of this like workplace setting and career development aspect, I think that the way that it's contributing primarily to organizational health is. We need human connection in a world that is so disconnected to technology and all of the things that we have, tech and resources and things that are intended to automate and make our lives more simple and provide.
We're happiness, I think are actually. Deteriorating much of our, our, of our human experience in this world. So mentorship, whether it is for your career or even just. Your personal wellness card outside of the organization when we're whole, our companies are whole. Um, so I believe that what we're building is, is one of the catalysts to, um, creating the change and lasting legacy in the world of being able to solve.
Acre problems more quickly and solving the right problems. Because otherwise what we will continue to have happen is we're going to recreate the same solutions to the same problems over and over again, without actually making any traction air. So if we could even just reduce that by one generation or even 10, 20 years worth of, of that wisdom that can be passed down.
Uh, at this global scale, leveraging technology and automation and some of these other things we have, I think hopefully it's going to save our planet. I mean, I'm not, uh, I'm not a huge tree hugger by any stretch of the word, but I do think that that our future generations are in trouble. I don't know what their life is going to look like on this earth, if we don't start solving some of these problems.
So I'm doing that through work and human connection and the lives of our people, um, seems pretty significant.
Bryan Smith: Great. So, um, how to consumers or businesses go about, um, engaging with you guys and then potentially buying level next.
Elisa Garn: As a level next.com right now is live. That is our website for our B2C market. Anybody can go on, it's completely free to sign up. You can go. And we have smart matching technology, which we'll pair you with recommended mentors based on your career needs. Um, but you can also browse all mentors so you can search by price, location.
They're at their expertise. And where we're just moving into the B2B market. We are piloting right now. So we are talking with pretty. You know, profile companies that we would like to work with. Um, to understand what their needs are, but that we won't be releasing a full P2P version until later next year.
Bryan Smith: Cool. All right. So last part, this is our top three at three. What books are you reading and what would you recommend?
Elisa Garn: I oh, I love this one. Okay. So I have some of them behind me. And it's hard for me to pick just three, but I'll try to pick the three most relevant to the most recent. So if you're a founder, if you're a business owner and frankly, if you're an HR person, anybody that is trying to figure out how to leverage your credibility or get, uh, be able to persuade others, um, backable, as long as I just finished, very, very good from the point of view of like, what makes people backable?
Why would people believe in you and take a chance on you? Awesome. Um, I also really liked the book range range is essentially a book about, uh, the benefits of being a generalist versus a specialist. So being able to pull from many different dynamics and learnings throughout your life and how that, how you can parlay that into a really effective career.
Uh, and then the third one. I mean, it's, uh, it's, it's a little off the wall. It's not actually a business book, but I really liked the book. Quiet. So quiet by Susan Cain, um, helped me, especially as what I would consider a developed extrovert. I was an introvert growing up, but I'm one of the few percentage of that did actually have significant, significant enough change in personality.
But I'm now an extrovert and the book quiet really helped me understand. The differences and strengths between introverts and extroverts, and especially helped me better understand those individuals, uh, in my marriage at the time. Uh, colleagues that I had a harder time connecting with because of that difference. So that was a really, really powerful one for me to build some empathy toward the two different personality types.
Bryan Smith: Okay. Cool. So backable range and quiet. Uh, second question. What's the, uh, Or founders, do you follow or would you recommend for other people to follow.
Elisa Garn: Oh, there again. There's a lot. Um, we usually have a lot of them on our platform as a matter of fact, and getting to know them has been really great.
One, that always comes to mind for me. Uh, is David Smith. He's the CEO of Cotopaxi here in Utah and just absolutely inspiring human. I think it's so hard for CEOs. They get put on pedestals. To live up to their name and reputation because that's a lot of stress when you become people's hero and they perceive a level of expectation from you. And Davis is one of those that I have just seen navigate that beautifully. He's very humble. He's very good about owning his mistakes.
Um, and really there's no pretense to him. He just, he's very authentic and has built a business in a humanistic way that is not a expelling resource, but actually contributing to and solving a lot of the world's larger problems through, I mean stuff that's possum. I don't know if you have any Cotopaxi gear, but like,
I have everything from sleeping bags to coats, to Fanny packs, to everything that they sell. I probably have one or more of 'em. So he's an amazing, amazing leader. Uh, to follow just in terms of how to, how to build a business, how to scale a business and how to leverage business in a way that's not at the expense of humankind.
Bryan Smith: Cool. Uh, last question. What are your personal passions? What are you doing to.
Elisa Garn: Oh man, personal passions. I'm not shy on. Then your company about. Yeah. So outside of business, I actually own, um, I own a business with my mom. We make, have some sugar cookies. So those are really elaborate. Yeah. Like the Royal.
Yeah, we, uh, we have a channel on Instagram called cookie crown, which is spelled with two E's. C O O K E crumb. And that's been really fun. The reason it's a passionate. Bill is because it's allowed me an opportunity to channel, to reconnect with my mom in her later years where we kind of had a touch-and-go relationship, much of our lives.
So that's and, uh, it's, I mean, there's, there's always stuff to be doing. I'm just, just trying to keep my head above water as a founder right now. So there's not a lot of time for other things, but anything outdoors. I mean, living in Utah, it's kind of. Part of our credo here, like hiking or mountain, mountain biking, road, biking, trail running, uh, truly just like anything that's in the outdoors. That is my church. So I look forward to those opportunities of spirituality as much as I can have them.
Bryan Smith: This is completely off script, but are you cooking person, like, is that your jam?
Elisa Garn: I, so I went to cookie con for the first time last year.
And I've found my people, like just, just weirdos, like me that are some of the kindest artists people you'll ever meet. There was so much pink and purple at that event. Uh, I don't eat the cookies because I, I wouldn't be able to maintain my life otherwise, but. But I love making him. It's such a cool creative outlet.
Bryan Smith: There's a great cookie company and their, their founder who like is drawing a blank right now. He's fantastic from a marketing standpoint, but have you heard of last crumb? I have not. Well, I mean, one day only rely on drops, right? So it's like you have to get on their list and they drop it at a certain time and certain day for like 12 cookies. It's like $120.
Yeah. Um, They're amazing like Cole Shaffer. Who's a friend of mine. He's actually started part of our copywriting team. Um, he writes for those guys and last crime is by far. Maybe not as good as yours, but by far the most. Most amazing cookie experience you'll ever experience from the box that you open to, how the packages read.
At down to the cookies are fantastic.
Elisa Garn: Um, nothing you can do, like you can build a business around something as what would be simple as cookies. Like, like everything you're explaining about the experience of it. That's just. Oh, Magic to my ears. I love it. I'll have to expire now.
Bryan Smith: Well, listen, that's all I have for you today.
Thank you so much for being on the podcast is fantastic. And I'm just once again, working. Uh, people are more about you.
Elisa Garn: Uh, best place is linkedIn. That is by far my love language. So you can look me up on there, but I'm also very easy to find. I am a stockers dream, so you can. Email me directly. If you prefer it, you firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryan Smith: All right. Cool. Thanks so much for your time.
Elisa Garn: Thanks. Yeah.