Building Brilliant Company Cultures

A Roundtable Discussion with Top Tech CEOs
By: Steven Pezim
Managing Director of Bedford Group TRANSEARCH

Culture is the DNA of every organization. It is the collective personality of a company; the essence of who and what the company is. To understand how important culture truly is, if you look at the most successful tech companies in the world, such as Apple, Google and Amazon, you’ll see their unique respective cultures has empowered them to attract and retain top talent.

As a CEO, you need to be the driving force behind your organization’s culture. For all intents and purposes, being CEO means you are also the Chief Culture Officer.  Everything you say and every action you take will underscore and set the culture of your organization.

So what are tech CEOs doing to create and develop dynamic and innovative cultures? I had the opportunity to speak with AceTech Ontario member CEOs and ask them engaging poignant questions about their company cultures. What follows are the culture stories of 360insights Founder & CEO Jason Atkins and Nudge Rewards Co-Founders Lindsey Goodchild (CEO) and Dessy Daskalov (CTO).

Steven’s Question # 1: Describe the culture of your organization and how it changes/advances as the business grows.

Jason: Our culture is one where we’re not just colleagues – we’re teams. We like to work hard and play hard so there is a lot of time spent inside and outside the office together. That’s really important for bonding and ensuring we will all go to bat for each other. For example, we have 60 different clubs, which offers our teams the chance to do activities together, from ultimate Frisbee, to golf.

As the company grows, we are very intentional about shaping the culture. We have a chief of staff who is our culture curator. He reports directly to me about our core values being experienced by our teams and ensuring this directly drives our clients’ experiences.

We introduced culture ambassadors who are voted in once a year just like a student council. They represent all the people of the company. They are instrumental in helping to grow the culture as the company grows.

Lindsey and Dessy: Our culture focuses on our people being happy, productive and growing the way they want in their career while contributing to our larger goal of revolutionizing how the non-desk worker communicates at work. When we interview people, we look to hire people who want to push themselves to develop professionally and personally. Once they are on board, we have regular one-on-ones with each team member to check in on all aspects of their happiness at work and to make sure we’re all aligned on our values.

As the company has grown and we’ve built teams, we recognized the need for effective and regular communications with the whole company and that too has become a defining part of who we are. For instance, we hold a regular full team stand-up every Tuesday morning to keep everyone on the same page.  We also run a weekly ‘Show and Tell’ on Friday afternoons, where people get together to reveal something they worked on or did that they’re proud of. Even if it’s technical, people from other departments are welcome to sit and observe. We have that level of comfort here. Lastly, we send out a team-wide email every two weeks to keep everyone apprised of the wins and losses occurring across the organization.


Steven’s Question # 2: As a CEO, the values, beliefs and behaviours you model can greatly impact your employees and your organization’s culture. Discuss how what you model is shaping your culture?

Jason: One of the most important things I do is live the values of our company. When you live the values, I find you can help inspire other people to live them as well, which creates the best culture.

People see this authenticity and that we deliver on our commitments every single time. That transparency is key.

Lindsey and Dessy: We really believe in practicing what you preach. Learning and growing is a shared value that we practice because we want everyone growing individually and as a team.

For example, when we do reviews with our employees, they also have the opportunity to review us.  This makes it clear to everyone that we’re willing to work with them on their professional growth, and they play a role in our professional growth.

When we set quarterly or annual goals for the company, we also set goals for ourselves as leaders and our employees set goals for themselves. We then run half-day sessions communicating these goals across the organization. This makes us all accountable to one another but also creates a transparent and open environment to understand how all of the contributions of the company come together to create big impact.

Steven’s Question # 3: There’s a common adage in business that relates, ‘If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ How does your organization measure its culture?

Jason: We use the Net Promoter Score tool to measure both our clients and team members’ happiness. To give some context, the score, from 0-100, shows the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products and illustrates their overall satisfaction with the company. It’s the ultimate indicator. Both our staff and clients have extremely high scores. I believe if you have an amazing company culture, your clients feel it.

Since we launched the company, we have had a 99% client retention rate and to me, that relates directly to the strength of our company culture. When you take amazingly good care of customers and deliver on what you say, you’ll keep those customers.

Lindsey and Dessy: At the end of every quarter, we check in on our progress towards our goals, including those pertaining to culture. This is on par with the way we measure revenue, or product development, because just like those other two pieces, we know that people and culture are a vital component in making Nudge a long-term success.

Outside of the quarterly check-ins, we have a running anonymous survey where employees can safely post any and all questions/feedback they have for the company, and we then address this during our quarterly all-hands sessions.

Steven’s Question # 4: By 2020, half the workforce will be millennials, which will contribute to a major cultural shift in the workforce. What is your organization doing to prepare for this cultural shift?

Jason:  We’ve worked hard to create a culture where people want to be here – even before or after regular work hours. Our people want to connect with each other. That kind of culture is a very good one for millenials. They want a good life experience at work. They want to care about what they are doing and feel that their job is having an impact. I think we’ve created that culture here so we’ll be very well prepared for the shift of millenials and we will help drive that shift.

Lindsey and Dessy: When we hire new team members, we look at attributes like their desire to learn, their compassion, and their desire to make a great impact. We often value their aptitude and attitude, more than their previous experience. By virtue of that, we have hired many millenials because millenials have a strong focus on working on their passions, have a big appetite to learn and a desire to grow.

Another key action we take is the way we communicate. Our business itself is based on bringing concise communication directly to front-line employees, in a regular cadence, in order to ensure alignment and making sure everyone understands how they fit into the bigger picture. That’s exactly what we do with our own team members and that seems to be connecting well with millenials (which by the way – we, as co-founders, are too).

Steven’s Question # 5: The teams in your company are the foundation of your culture. Discuss the work you do to build harmonious teams and how this strengthens your culture.

Jason: Communication is a top priority for team building.  We have huddles every day. Summary notes are recorded and sent out to everyone at our 10 offices in three countries, daily. We have monthly executive meetings that are recorded on video and live streamed. Quarterly meetings are recorded and distributed to everyone. Once a year, we have a whole company get together where the entire company is flown out to be in one location.

Our culture ambassadors are empowered to drive our teams and the culture of the entire organization. When you have this kind of communication and connection, a culture is created where everyone is there to support one another. I believe the culture we have here is the main reason why we have been voted one of the top four places to work in Canada, five years in a row.

Lindsey and Dessy: For us, we’ve found the secret to building harmonious teams begins with hiring individuals who are passionate about their craft, but are united in their desire to build something that makes a big impact on the world. When you give passionate people the room and space to grow, get better and share their work with one another, then you create happy, productive and fun teams. Our teams are ones where people have empathy – they care about what others are working on. When we host our ‘Show and Tell’ sessions, the love and passion our people have for what they are working on is unbelievable and that garners a lot of respect across our teams.

Outside of the in-office experience, we host a lot of team outings that are outside of the office and this makes sure that people who work in different areas, from sales staff to developers, get to know and appreciate one another. We’ve done everything from picnics in the park to improv classes, and this fall, we are taking over a roadside motel in wine country for a weekend of team building!

Steven’s Final Thoughts

What we’ve seen from the leaders of 360insights and Nudge Rewards is that the companies who will accelerate have CEOs who understand and live the values of their organization, do even the smallest things to reward and make their employees happier, hire people who fit well in the work environment and actively measure how well they are performing culturally.

I’ll end off with some data that tangibly shows how culture does make a difference.

An 11-year study by Harvard Professors John Kotter and James Haskett looked at 207 companies in 22 industries. The companies that significantly managed their culture yielded outstanding results, including:

  • Revenue growth of 682% compared to 166% for unmanaged
  • Stock price increase of 901% vs. 74%
  • Net income growth of 756% in relation to just 1%

The numbers say it all. Culture is key. Make it count for your organization!

Steven Pezim is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Bedford Group TRANSEARCH, Canada’s largest, privately held executive search firm.

Jason Atkins is CEO of 360insights, a leader in sophisticated software that provides on-demand incentive solutions.

Lindsey Goodchild and Dessy Daskalov are Co-Founders of Nudge Rewards, which delivers a mobile application solution designed to engage, educate and reward frontline employees to improve their performance every time they work.

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