Claire Hughes Johnson: How Stripe’s COO Approaches Company Building

In this episode of Resources for Humans, Jack sits down with Stripe's Chief Operating Officer, Claire Hughes Johnson, who spent over a decade at Google before joining Stripe, to talk about her mindset when making organizational decisions, her hiring and onboarding practices, and the real source of power when it comes to leadership.

The need for payment has stayed the same for thousands of years; the only thing that's changed is the technology behind those payments. Enter, Stripe.

The economy and job creation are ever changing, so while Stripe's idea is on solid ground, its execution is constantly evolving. Hughes Johnson makes sure the company, which is known for its high retention rate, is finding people who are on board for that long-term change. People who care about economic infrastructure are the most important thing we look for at Stripe, she says.

When making changes and adapting to change, she often asks, "What are we going to optimize for and what price are we going to pay for optimizing that thing?" Every organizational decision has an externality. While Hughes Johnson is someone people look to to make the whole company better, she's constantly trying to "get herself out of a job."

Another vital component of Stripe is transparency. During onboarding, she runs a session that discusses how the company is evolving and how much autonomy employees will have -- how they should feel empowered, but that also means a lot of responsibilities. They're "anti-hierarchy." She mentions that their managers will not be with them all the time so the impact they make is driven by their own decisions. Furthermore, employees often work in teams, so effectively giving peer feedback is essential.

Hughes Johnson believes that some of the best decisions for a young company like Stripe involve preserving optionality; we cannot really predict what the world five years from now will look like and if a product will evolve with that world. An example of this is how Stripe employees don't have job titles. Growth is a large part of employee culture at Stripe, she says, and if you're growing quickly, you're going to have the wrong job titles with the wrong people quickly.

She also spends time thinking about the relationship amongst the leadership team — investing in relationships, understanding work styles, how they're going to make decisions together and who's in charge of what. Real power comes in vulnerability, she says, and knowing you can't do everything.

She and others at Stripe believe that ultimately, the work they do is helping to close an opportunity access gap where people may have ideas for a new business, for instance, but don't have the opportunity to realize it because of where they're based or who they are. The system is broken and wrong, and they've got big plans to fix it.