At a macro level there are dozens of ways to get insight in to how your company culture is changing as you grow – you can send quarterly or annual surveys using SurveyMonkey. You can ask for feedback via email. You can do anonymous Q&A at your all-hands meetings, etc.
But the problem with a macro level view is that it’ll tell you, on average, how your culture is and how your employees feel about the company. It’s the average you should be worried about. Instead, you should focus on the whole picture.
For example, if you use eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score), you might get 64% which on average isn’t bad. But if you were to look across the spectrum of results in this example of a sample company with 414 employees, the eNPS result is deceiving:
Here we can see that 317 (305 + 12) employees love working at the company and are extremely likely to refer their friends for open positions. Great, right? Yes, but what about the sum of all detractors, who are the employees that will go out of their way to speak negatively about your company and tell their friends to stay clear of open positions?
10 + 4 + 8 + 9 + 5 + 6 + 8 = 50. That’s 50 employees out of 414 who really, really don’t like working at your company. Again, on average, your eNPS is pretty good at 64, but ignore the detractors and there’s a good chance things will get worse over time and not better.
Employee Net Promoter Score surveys are typically anonymous, so you might be asking how you can turn those detractors in to passives and then promoters. Good question – and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and experimenting with over the years.
At Bigcommerce, our mojo (which is our eNPS equivalent – remember Austin Powers and his mojo? Yeah, that’s where it came from) on average, has trended up over the years. There was an 18 month period where the wheels came off and it dipped quite a bit across all departments, but we managed to get it back on track and kept it on the up after that.
One big lesson we learned during the dip is that as you grow, it becomes necessary to add layers of management to effectively scale the company. While it’s fun to have 30 direct reports in the early days (ahhh, 2009), no one really likes doing that – founders tolerate it because we have to, but seasoned executives won’t. More growth means more layers: C-levels manage VPs who manage directors who manage managers, etc.
This layering can be dangerous and screw up your culture if anyone in that chain doesn’t fit in to your culture. I wrote previously that fast-growing companies don’t always get hiring right and we’re as guilty of that as anyone else. All of those layers make it harder and harder for founders or the CEO to keep a true pulse on the company’s culture.
The great thing about Bigcommerce, though, is that every member of the executive team obsesses over culture. And they each have their own ways of keeping their finger on the pulse.
The way that’s worked best for me over the years doesn’t scale. It isn’t sexy and you won’t read about it in Fast Company or on The Harvard Business Review blog. And I guess it evolved by accident more than by planning.
My approach simply involved meeting every month or two with about 6-8 different people in the company that 1) were not members of the exec team, 2) were individual contributors or managers, 3) were a good representative sample of the mojo in their team or department and most importantly, 4) would tell it to me as it is and not sugar coat problems.
During out meetings there would be no agenda and I’d just ask what was on their mind. We’d talk about a mix of subjects, from work to what they were learning, what I was doing and what I focused on, when they were next going to Austin or Sydney or SF (depending on which office they’re in), etc.
Besides flattening the company and learning a lot, I’d always leave with one or two nuggets of actionable insight that would help make a change to improve our culture. Doing this with 6-8 people every month or two really gave me a lot of insight. It led to all sorts of actions – people being promoted, fired, moved from one project to another (for good reasons or bad) and even me forcing people to take leave to just rest after a huge project was completed.
As I mentioned earlier, this approach isn’t “text book”. It doesn’t scale, takes a lot of time and can uncover things you don’t really want to hear about people in your company. But man, it’s effective.
The important thing to getting this right is to meet with people who are a good representation of their peers and who have a realistic (not pessimistic, very important) view of their team, department and the company as a whole.
If you end up meeting only with people who are detractors then you’ll leave each meeting feeling disheartened – so choose wisely.
Another important point here is to be yourself and speak openly and honestly about challenges and opportunities in the company. When shit hits the fan, tell them why and get their perspective on the problem and even what they think you should do to fix it. Good advice comes from everywhere in a company, especially individual contributors who are passionate about seeing your (their) company succeed.
For me, these meetings are fun and very informative. They help put things in to perspective and give me valuable insight I couldn’t get from surveys or our executive team. If you’re at the point where you can no longer meet with all of your people one-on-one, then this approach will give you more actionable insight in to your company culture than anything else.