Spotlight On: Jenny Busing, Excellent
Today Jenny Busing is one of the co-founders and co-CEOs of Excellent, but before that she was a COO, a serial founder and a professional dancer, teacher and national championship dance coach. It’s this diverse career that has informed her personal philosophy - that work shouldn’t be a drag - and led her to team up with co-founder Samantha Gadd to create the home of the employee experience (EX) revolution.
And what is EX design you say? Well, as Phoebe wrote in our investment memo, a company is simply a group of people - a great company is a team of thriving, engaged people, enabled to do their life’s work. Given we spend a third of our lives at work, EX design is a way for every employee to have a voice in designing what that time might look like, and for companies to attract and retain the best talent.
Read on to learn about the EX revolution (+ the manifesto Excellent has unveiled), why advice should be weighted according to mastery, and why Jenny doesn’t believe in “work life balance”...
Blackbird: You've had a fascinating and varied career before Excellent - tell us about it! What were your early experiences of work and how did this lead you to where you are today?
Jenny Busing: My career started at 3 years old when I began my dance training. I was a serious competitive dancer until 18 years old then went to university as a dance major and then became a professional dancer, teacher, and national championship dance coach. Dance taught me to love the process of mastery. Mastering a craft means a daily investment in strengthening your relationship with the fundamentals and then using failure repetition and iteration to master new skills. When the best dancers or any elite athlete practice and miss a skill they immediately think, “and again”. It takes years to nail complex turning sequences with a team in perfect synchronicity. The best performances you see are the result of thousands of failures. This prepared me for a lot of things in life but especially taking on my career in technology and entrepreneurship. Learn the fundamentals, attempt new things, fail, iterate, and again!
My personal philosophy is that work cannot be a drag. I don’t subscribe to work life balance, I believe that work is a life experience. If we spend a third of our whole life doing work, shouldn’t it be something we are enthusiastic about?
BB: How did you first meet your co-founder, Sam, and was there a lightbulb moment where you both realised 'this is it' as co-founders? Or was it more of a gradual thing?
JB: Sam is a dream co-founder and we hit it off like a house on fire. We have different skills but similar energy and deep belief in a world where people love their work. Sam is a master and visionary in her field and she has built a following because of the way she continually evolves. She has always been an early mover, shifting her consulting business from HR to EX way ahead of the curve nearly 7 years ago. We have both been founders before which means we know a little more about ourselves and what we need in a partner which made the decision easy.
What is the 'EX Revolution' and how is Excellent at the forefront of this?
JB: The EX revolution is a call for leaders to design with rather than for their people. Excellent believes in a world where every employee has a voice in designing their experience of work, and we teach leaders and organizations how to do just that using human centered design methodology. Most companies already use this approach for their customers to build great products and services, and we help them unlock this capability as it applies to their employees.
You've mentioned the importance of strong mentors for career development. Can you tell us about some of your own mentors and how they've helped shape you as a leader?
JB: My mother is certainly a mentor of mine, she was a head of HR and taught me early how to interview, and probably most importantly how to negotiate my salary. I didn’t know how under trained people were in that area until I started hiring people. I once hand recruited a person to replace me in product so I could focus on operations. She had a rare, incredible skill set despite being quite young. I asked her salary needs and she basically told me the number she needed to survive which was far below what we budgeted and were happy to pay her. I stopped her and told her to go outside my office and think of the highest number she thought her skills were worth and come back and ask for that. She had to leave and come back a couple of times but she finally asked for an appropriate number and I agreed to give it to her if she promised to negotiate much harder for herself in the future. I have also spent the past three years being mentored by Linda Jenkinson who is an absolute master entrepreneur. My favorite lesson from Linda is about discernment. You get so much “advice” as a business owner it can be hard to filter. Linda says, “Look at who is giving the advice, what have they done? Have they done it more than once?” Certainly everyone has something valuable to teach, but advice should be weighted according to mastery.
Excellent is working on an Employee Experience Manifesto for the world - can you tell us more about what this is, and how it's come together so far?
JB: The EX Manifesto is a project sponsored by Excellent and is going live on Dec 2. We gathered an incredible group of EX thought leaders, designers, and experts to contribute to a document that would serve as a north star for EX values and principles in organizations.
The manifesto is a free resource you will be able to view and download at www.exmanifesto.com. You can also sign up attend a panel discussion about the EX Manifesto to hear how the manifesto was created and how to use it in your organization.
Finally, what excites you most about the future Excellent is building?
JB: Work isn’t working for millions of people, employees feel it, leaders feel it, but most are unsure of what to do about it. EX Design is the process of getting everyone to the table to solve these problems together, and we exist to make that possible. Every organization in the world needs this capability and we power that through EX Design School at Excellent.
Jenny’s Spotlight On:
A book that is worth reading or a film you loved: Get Together: How to build community with your people
The last great article you read: Why Product Market Fit is not enough by Brian Balfour
Someone to follow on social media: Shit You Should Care About - its founder Lucy was our Gen Z contributor at the EX Manifesto Summit and SYSCA reports the news like no one else.
Learn more about Excellent and its work in Employee Experience Design here