As a veteran of several software startups, I’ve been involved in my share of attempts to write mission statements and extol the companies’ differentiators in marketing collateral. I wistfully read articles describing forward-thinking companies in which HR, company positioning, and actual day-to-day management were in concordance with each other. But then I had to go back to drafting another version of the mission statement that lacked anything real to believe in.
When we started Two Octobers, we were motivated by the opportunity to do it better. Since we are selling a service, employees and the work they do are everything to our success. So building a strong team, keeping them challenged and engaged, and empowering people to make good decisions is critical. Over the years, we’ve developed a few practices that enhance our culture and promote these values.
We don’t have a defined mission statement; rather our mission is to build and run a business according to these principles. We defined these when we began, and they still feel right. We use these principles to evaluate new hires, to train new employees, and in performance reviews.
Every quarter, we form groups to work on business improvement. Everyone contributes topic ideas for groups and chooses which one to join. The group sets specific goals for the quarter and ultimately rates itself on how well it executed towards the goal. These groups have become one of the most powerful forms of collaboration we have by mixing people who may not work together day-to-day. We’ve gotten a lot accomplished, with a lot of buy in. Groups have built new processes, improved onboarding for new employees, measured customer satisfaction, and developed new service offerings. It’s hard to overstate the impact the groups have had on the company. Goal groups have allowed us to make improvements faster and better than any individual effort could have achieved.
As we added people to the team, it became harder to simply know who had in-depth knowledge about individual parts of what we do. Who can help me answer a question about shopping campaign performance? Who knows Google Tag Manager really well? The badge program (which came out of a goal group) was designed both to identify who held this knowledge, and also define a way to acquire and prove your knowledge as an expert. To get a badge, you need to demonstrate working knowledge and share that knowledge with someone else, usually as a group presentation. Badge holders get stickers and their name added to the wall of badges in the break room. Need help with turning around a troubled account? Check the break room wall for a list of experts to consult.
We hold a weekly lunch-and-learn meeting called Confab (short for “confabulation”). Any employee can host a confab on any work-related topic they think is interesting. It’s both employee-driven learning, and a leadership opportunity. We’ve had over 100 different confab topics and over two-thirds of the employees have led.
Continuous, metrics-based feedback
We’ve baked in ongoing employee performance feedback into everything we do. Dashboards comparing campaign improvement metrics by client and by campaign manager let everyone see where they stand, and inspire a little friendly competition for better metrics. Employee-led monthly meetings with managers follow a company-wide format. In these meetings, managers review metrics, give feedback and help employees create specific short-term goals for personal growth. We still have annual reviews, but now they’re focused on long-term goals and directions.
And lastly, in a people-centric organization, we are not afraid to adapt and change these practices to meet the growing needs of the organization and the feedback from the team. We’ll keep what’s effective, and adjust or throw out what isn’t working. And that’s the ultimate expression of a people-centric organization: one that uses the right tools at the right time to keep the team engaged and the company moving forward.