What makes a company culture vibrant, high performing, sticky?
4 young CEOs know… and in 5 minutes you will too. Read on.
You Don’t Need An MBA, You Need A GSD (Get Stuff Done)
AnswerLab CEO Amy Buckner Chowdhry has some answers. Her client-experience company has 35 employees, was bootstrapped with no funding and is profitable. Chowdhry relies on a one page strategic plan with monthly reporting. The team knows “who owns what” and everyone’s progress toward their goals is clearly tracked. AnswerLab operates on 6 core values:
- Build trust
- Provide amazing service
- Jump in to help others
- Handle change with flexibility
- Embrace new technology
- Figure it out and get it done
Team members are acknowledged for embodying values, and quarterly awards (gift certificates of $50-$100) are the prize. At the end of quarterly team meetings the gang does non-profit work together.
Each team member knows where they stand and where they are going thanks to AnswerLab’s Holistic Talent Plan, comprised of 4 core functions:
1) Career with career path, annual 360s, quarterly reviews, competencies all managed throughSuccessFactors.
2) Learning: AnswerLab University helps new hires get up to speed, ongoing presentation skills training benefits all, one hour learning lunches every other Friday (covering topics like Nutrition, Design 101, and Hassle Maps — and everyone is surveyed for topic suggestions) keeps everyone learning. To encourage exploration of new technologies, AnswerLab also reimburses employees up to $400 for software or digital products.
3) Wellness: Everyone gets a FitBit pedometer connected with an online leaderboard so all can see who’s clocking how many miles. This promotes more “walk and talk” meetings—which last generally one hour–along with monthly step competitions. The company also reimburses for gym memberships.
4) Impact: AnswerLab’s Giving Back strategy is entirely employee-driven with a three-pronged approach: group volunteer time, research expertise (a white paper available for non-profits), and financial support for select non-profits.
AnswerLab has had zero turnover in 3 years. Their team members won’t quit. Now we know why.
Ensuring Innovation, Ninja Style
David Helgason CEO of Unity, a tool vendor for video games and video game-like content and training has a slightly different approach.
The vibe of Unity is an engineering-intensive culture of cool people doing cool stuff together. Helgason wanted to see how far they could take their company with a self-managed and self-organizing style. They have 175 employees and still don’t have much in terms of cultural rituals and structure. Very high level direction is provided, and then “everyone just figures it out.” Teams set their own working hours, and new hires surprised by the loose culture often have to be “taught freedom and free thought.”
A cool ritual Unity has is Fridays Are For Fun. This is a day-long event where engineers work on what they want, doing what they think is right/interesting/fun. The Rules: let anyone who wants to work with you do so, document what you are doing and tell others about it, meet at end of day to share what was accomplished.
Three times per year Unity holds NinjaCamp, where all engineers worldwide get together and code from Monday AM through Fri PM. Each Ninja Camp has a theme: think far ahead, work together better (processes and code reviews). Results of Ninja Camp are demoed on Fri PM. Helgason says many new features and functionality in Unity products have come from this event.
Engineering talent shortage? Not at Unity.
The Way to the Heart is Through the Tummy
Revolution Foods is changing the way kids K-12 eat. CEO Kristin GroosRichmond, a former Wall Street exec and Kirsten Saenz Tobey founded the company in 2006. All staff get stock options—drivers, dishwashers, hourly workers, everyone. This is non-trivial as they’ve doubled in size each year–by this fall they’ll have 1,000 employees.
The Rev Foods team likes to keep things light. Every office makes a holiday video and at each region’s holiday party they screen the videos. Oh—and everyone MUST take vacation… where they unplug totally.
Top performers in each position per region (be they in dispatch, assembly, chefs, anywhere) are selected for the training team. This team then launches new markets. Top performers are cultivated and easy to track, since each team member has an Individual Development Plan and is reviewed twice per year.
Here’s a list of some other rituals, Rev Foods style:
- Continuous communication: Huddles and Regional Town Halls keep everyone in the loop, while monthly and weekly updates, announcements, appreciations keep everyone connected.
- Fun Home Office team job titles: the CEO is the C’manderin Chief, the CIO is the Chief Food Fighter, Accounts Payable is the Big Spender
- Every employee gets a tasty Rev Foods lunch daily
Tasty food and a chance at a tasty financial future, thanks to stock options, keeps Rev Foods folks hungry to help.
Keep It Bright and Fresh
Eventbrite, an online event-booking company, has some super cool cultural rituals. Julia Hartz, President, and Kevin Hartz, CEO, decided to put all of Julia’s energy on the people of Eventbrite (whom they call Britelings) as their team grew from 30 to 100 in one year. Now they have 200 staff and their growth shows no sign of slowing. Here are 2 of my favorite rituals:
Weekly Heart2Hartz: these are optional, no-holds-barred, 30 minute group Q&A sessions with the President and CEO. Team members can either submit questions anonymously in advance, or ask them then and there. Tough questions are welcome. Here are some examples:
- How close are we to hitting our forecasted revenue numbers?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What are the two biggest new things we learned as a company in 2011? What are two big questions we want to answer in 2012?
Eventbrite holds internal training events called BriteCamp. This program was created and executed by a Briteling for Britelings. It is an interactive environment where staff can learn about new/interesting topics amongst peers. BriteCamp was not mandated by management—and the topics are not only work-oriented. What I love is how this program empowers staff to speak up and share info, which helps foster a culture of candor and collaboration. BriteCamps are usually around lunchtime hours and have about 25+ people attending, and topics range from understanding vertical markets better, to learning about SEO or even learning how to play poker.
Education, Career evolution, adventure and making a difference, stock options, food, feeling like part of the tribe–all boost recruiting, retention, and cool culture.
How are you attracting and retaining super stars? What cultural rituals do you have?