We all want to live a good life, right? Sure we do, but what does that mean? What does a good life look like? What are the elements that make it up? Given most of us spend 40-50+ hours per week engaged directly in our work, at Differential we believe it is important to get our entire team engaged in thinking through what a really good work life looks like - so, as our organization continues to grow, we can continue to build a company which reflects that vision and helps us retain our best people.
To help make this happen, we recently had a company-wide meeting, where everyone on the team spent the week at our home office in Cincinnati. It gave us a great opportunity to spend both structured and unstructured time together, which we believe can yield many benefits…ranging from building organizational trust and communication, to cross-pollinating specific technical knowledge across the team. We had Differential team members in from Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Columbus and Cincinnati…it was great. We caught a Red’s game, ate some amazing food and set aside a little time to get beneath the veneer and really engage everyone in thinking about the future of our company.
During one of the working sessions, we dug deeper into a few concepts we value as a company. Concepts like: “Less, But Better” and “Create Compounding Value”, to discuss how and where we can amplify those values in our daily work. We also broke into cross-functional teams and asked everyone to “Describe “The last company you’d ever want to work for”, as in, the kind you’d never want to leave. This is an important benchmark that we have been working to build since day one. The team explored this question individually, then in small groups, and then corporately, with a team-wide discussion. While the general themes which emerged are not unexpected, the consistency of the feedback we heard from person to person and group to group was remarkable. It may be because the team and culture we’ve already built are simply wired this way. Or perhaps there are other reasons. But if you are building a modern organization and interested in finding and retaining top-notch knowledge workers, then perhaps a few of the themes our team shared can help you too.
Here are the big concepts that were most to important to the Differential team.
Keeping Our Startup Roots. We’re an eclectic mix of “product people”…developers, designers, entrepreneurs and strategists. Most of us have had some form of startup experience, prior to Differential. We consider things carefully, think about things a little differently, and then make decisions and move quickly. We build, measure, learn and repeat. We believe this is a competitive advantage, both for us and our clients/partners. In fact, we’ve “productized” this know-how, and are now helping enterprise clients innovate more like tech startups. It’s fun (and valuable).
Flexibility of Where, When & How. This theme was universal. Our team places massive value on having a lot of flexibility around where they work, how they work and when they work. While we believe our current team members are self motivated and trustworthy enough for remote working, we also know that it is not for everybody. We’ll have to continue hiring top-notch people who can be incredibly productive when given freedom over when and where to work, but also represent the company incredibly well when they spend time working at our partners’ worksites - which they often do.
Engaging In (Personally) Meaningful Work. Having some input into the projects they work on was really important to the team - especially to our developers and designers. They’re looking for personally challenging work where they can solve hard problems. They want exposure to variety, and to work on products and projects they believe to be meaningful. Makes sense. As a services business constantly trying to balance shifting supply vs. demand across a wide range of clients, it is going to be a major challenge to create systems that align all our people with their most-preferred projects at the right time. But while it won’t be an easy task, working towards it as a goal requires us to get to know every member of the team better, and to understand their personal goals and motivations. So, we believe that just the process of working on it benefits everyone.
Questioning, Learning, Sharing, Growing. A culture that authentically encourages personal growth was a consistent theme. I’m always impressed by how our people are constantly asking questions, researching new trends and technologies, and freely sharing the highlights (and details if requested) with the rest of the team. It has become pretty natural and cultural at Differential. We don’t ever want to lose this. In fact, we need to amplify it. So, as one actionable output from our team pow-wow, we’re working on a flexible reimbursement benefit, where our team members can get reimbursed for continuing education opportunities (or tech products or software) that will help them learn and do better work, faster. We’re excited to see what people spend the money on, and how it helps them grow.
Income Upside Potential. As you might expect, a path to income growth was important for people. We all want this, right? But it was clear that the income number on their W-2 isn’t the only important thing for most of our team. Professionals skip around for the next “better offer” if their income is what they value most. But we’re trying to help people build a great life, through building a great business. That said, we’re committed to creating a pathway to help people increase their income over time. Especially for those that are markedly improving their skills and productivity and pushing themselves to a new level. We are looking at a few different models for doing this. Stay tuned for updates on that (and please feel free to send me a note @seanmccosh) if you have any thoughts or best practices that have worked well in your company.
For us, asking every team member to describe their vision for the last company they’d ever want to work for, was a super interesting and productive exercise. If asked, what would you say? Are the concepts described above important to you? If so, let us know. We’re looking for more great people - they’re our differential.