The below article is based on a presentation related to company culture I made this morning for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s event, The Business Case for Mental Wellness. If you attended today’s event and are looking for the slides, they are embedded at the bottom of this article.
Perhaps you have read the news elsewhere on this site, but if you have not, 360insights just won the Great Place To Work Institute’s annual award for number two best workplace under 1000 employees for all of Canada. This marks our fifth straight year in the top four, and our second time winning number two.
Today 360insights is a team of just over 300 people worldwide, but this business was started late in 2008 by one guy in a room with a whiteboard. Luckily for us, that guy could see all of us in his vision for the company.
360’s founder, Jason Atkins was initially very inspired by the online shoe retailer Zappos and their strategy of building a happy workplace. He knew that people who are happy in their jobs not only do better work, but also actually live better, more fulfilled lives.
Here’s the challenge with that – as a technology startup, we know that the typical company culture is one of overwork; not necessarily harmonious with the goal of having happy people. We knew we had to get super intentional about culture as a strategy, so one of Jason’s three founding commitments, from day one – before the business was even started was An Unbelievable Place to work for Employees.
Intent + Resources + Action + Measurement
How we deliver on that today is that we have team of Culture Ambassadors, with eight new members elected each year, supported by a core leadership team of three; one person from HR, one dedicated Culture Curator, plus me and my role in Team Engagement. Each Company Culture Ambassador (CA) also their main role at the company and does the CA work outside regular hours.
We realize you can’t make unhappy people happy, but we know that what you can do is be carefully considered in the way you train, speak and behave. We know that you can make an effort to connect people through clubs, all-hands meetings and other live events. People are enormously affected by their environments and so we want to be very intentional about the type of environment we create for our team. Through all of this, you begin to form a mainly unwritten cultural, almost tribal agreement amongst the team – “this is how we treat each other; this is what it means to work at 360insights” and so on.
Mental health, for us, is a tacit part of our overall culture strategy. We approach it from a “mental wellness” perspective; meaning that first of all, we want to be a light in people’s lives – an empowering agent for them and if they do choose to leave, they are leaving better off for having worked with us.
How’s it going? Here are some results. And this is despite having grown the team by about 430% over the last five years:
The 4 Pillars of Workplace Happiness
Here’s how we think about building a culture of happiness: the four pillars of workplace happiness.
- Sense of connection – Do people feel like they are being seen? Do they feel bonded to their teammates, connected to the company culture, and to serving the goals of the company?
- Sense of control – Do team members feel empowered and that their work has meaning or do they feel like each day is a fire drill and they are the just the fire hose?
- Sense of progress – Can they see daylight from where they are sitting today? Do they see an appealing future for them at 360?
- Higher purpose – When the going gets tough, can people take comfort in knowing that their work is serving a higher purpose?
These four pillars inform how the culture ambassadors plan our year and they are also the basis from which we build out and measure the potential value of new initiatives.
Sense of Connection
Sense of connection is the pillar that tends to get the most energy, and here’s why: historically, our company culture was built on connectivity and a feeling of being “all in this together.” We have been growing incredibly fast and we don’t want to compromise that culture that has enabled our growth along the way and so we really work hard to keep people connected.
Daily team huddle – Each morning we have a live “9 at 9” (nine minutes at nine AM) for the entire company, which is usually attended by just under one third of the team, the rest tuning in via WebEx or checking out the recorded video later. This meeting is where we share quick updates, wins, challenges, changes and other things people need to know to be informed in their work, but it’s also where we celebrate new team members, special events, birthdays, etc.
Quarterly all-hands meeting & social – As the name implies, an all-hands meeting is held on a quarterly basis with most of the company physically present. The meeting is meant to be a transparent, holistic look at the previous and upcoming business quarters, with executive leadership team members sharing where we’ve been and where we’re headed with the team at large. These generally also include an “Ask Me Anything” segment with the CEO or the entire executive leadership team.
Celebrating holidays and life events – Holidays, life events such as baby showers or even special days such as Nation Grilled Cheese day are celebrated in style, often accompanied by a vast potluck meal self-organized by the team. Food has long been an amazing way to build meaningful connection between people and these days provide fun and fellowship, often forming many new connections along the way.
The CA team is also responsible for ensuring that the team has outings to sports events, ski trips and other special social activities throughout the year, although these are not necessarily CA-only undertakings and many team members have pet projects that they deliver throughout the year.
Sense of Control
Nobody wants to feel anonymous at work, or feel as though they are just a cog in the big machine. Humans thrive when we feel self-determined and powerful in our actions and so it’s important to not feel like a pinball in our work.
Due to the nature of being a fast-paced startup, team members historically had a significant sense of control by virtue of the fact that we were building and operating the company at the same time. That being the case, everything needed to be done and good ideas often quickly found fertile earth in which to grow. While this remains true to an extent, our fast growth and the fast growth of the team make it important to have some more structured way to collect feedback and provide a platform for ideas.
Each quarter, we measure employee net promoter score (eNPS) to check the health of our company culture and check the temperature on how we’re doing on the founding commitment of delivering an unbelievable experience for our team.
Alongside the eNPS, we collect different types of surveys such as the recent survey to check in on how our core values are resonating with the team. As a values-driven organization, we want to make sure the values have meaning and that people feel like the values are truly helping to steer the ship. Above all though, the eNPS and accompanying surveys are a chance for people to provide feedback, however positive or however harsh, on changes they would like to see in how 360 operates.
The CEO then responds to the feedback and open-ended questions in a public forum such as the daily huddle, all-hands meetings or internal videos. Real-time feedback and interaction with senior leadership has also always been a matter of course as our offices are open concept and everyone in the organization is quite readily accessible to everyone else.
Sense of Progress
A big measure we’ve been trying to get right for years now is we have been experimenting with different ways to render each department’s success metrics in real time on a screen visible to everyone in the area. To provide an ongoing sense of progress is to provide people with meaning and a window into how their work contributes to the overall success of the organization.
We also want people to feel like they can grow as the company grows. To that end, we support outside training and education, as well as providing inside training such as manager training for team members advancing internally. During orientation, we run a company culture bootcamp, offering a personal values exercise that helps people to determine their top three core personal values and how they may or may not be living them through their work and the rest of their lives.
Traditionally, the employee review process is where employees would get the best window into their progress with an organization. Our employee review process is still being iterated on, with the ultimate goal of harmonizing the important elements of accountability for performance and real results alongside encouraging life goals, intrapreneurship and how each person lives the company values.
360’s third founding commitment is to make a difference in the world, and this one might be my personal favourite. Even as one of Canada’s award-winning top places to work, there are simply still times when a person can find himself or herself having “a bit of a day.” Serving a higher purpose helps people get outside themselves and channel their energy into making the world better.
The above photo shows our team last weekend on Earth Day 2017. Over 40 people, including the CEO and his family, met up at 9AM on a Saturday and collected over 100 bags of trash from the community parklands around our office.
We have also done huge amounts of fundraising over the company’s history – as a company we have worked with Pencils of Promise, charity:water, NewStory and others, but more importantly, we get behind the causes that mean the most to our team members. For example, last month two team members hosted the Barista Takeover, where 360 team members who are former Starbucks baristas whipped up special coffees and treats to raise money for another colleague’s personal charity, Fanconi Anemia. Another example: a few weeks ago it was National Grilled Cheese Day and so a small team put together our 2nd annual Cheese Loueeze, raising about $300 for our CEO’s Haitian scholarship fund.
Speaking of Haiti – we are now in our fifth year of working with a technical school in Port-Au-Prince, helping them to build up a BPO business, which also handles some of our data entry work for us. Since we began working with the team in 2013, we’ve gone from employing ten of their top students to now employing fifty-five. This work is truly changing lives – our young team members are feeding their families, paying rents, buying cars, and going to university on their income. Check out our video, 360insights – Trade Note Aid to learn more and to meet our awesome team in Haiti:
Company Culture and Mental Wellness
So are we getting it right?
We still have people go on stress leave. We know that we still have to get better at mental first aid and at having tough conversations in a timely and gracious way. We also know that the way we operate 360 and we interact with each other as a team will continue to evolve, but we don’t think that one day we’ll just “get there” and be done.
We believe that if we keep working with focused intent, letting the pillars of workplace happiness inform what we do, then we will always know that we’re doing the best we can.
We hope and believe that by empowering people, helping them understand how to live a values-based life and offering them higher purpose, we are contributing to their mental wellness.
As I mentioned earlier: we want our workplace and company culture to be a light in people’s lives; an empowering agent to them and if they do choose to leave, they are leaving better off for having worked with us.