If you read my last blog post, you learned why some of my greatest failures led to founding Workify, and why we rise to the challenge when our backs are against the wall. Thanks for returning. Now, we are going to cover how we found a problem worth solving and how this translated to work we’re doing at Workify.
At the beginning, we had a hypothesis and good idea for how we could help companies understand culture but not much more than that. “Stephen – you are going to roll your sleeves up, use the scientific method and ask customers about their problems!” And so it was—I had the direction I needed to lay the initial foundation that would become Workify via Dustin Wells, my co-founder. The playbook given to me by Dustin Wells is known as “Lean Startup”. This is a widely used framework to help founders manage the uncertainty that’s inherent in launching a startup. The Lean Startup process, which is rooted in customer interviews, was invaluable in helping us identify our minimal viable product, or MVP.
The original goal we set for ourselves was 10 customer interviews—we eventually completed 40 with companies as small as 35 employees (RealHQ), as large as 130,000 (CIGNA) and everything in between. Not long after I began the interview process, I quickly realized that everyone has a strong opinion regarding culture. It’s a polarizing topic. Some people said, “What is culture? You can’t define it. It’s a buzzword.” Others responded, “Culture is number one. It’s the most important thing to our business.”
One of the key questions we asked was “who is ultimately responsible for defining your culture?” Many said it was the responsibility of the CEO, founders or leaders. The general consensus was that this was “leadership’s” job. According to our interviewees, leadership— typically comprised of the organization’s culture carriers—is responsible not only for defining culture, but communicating it to their employees and telling stories that reinforce culture and values. However, it was the employee’s responsibility to live and breathe the core values, in effect bringing culture to life. We’ve all heard the saying “actions speak louder than words” and herein lies the problem that most companies face when there are cultural issues.
In the Lean Startup interviews, we identified a pattern, or cycle, that the companies we interviewed fell into. To break it down:
- Employees disengage, as evidenced in their discretionary effort, leading management to believe that there’s a culture problem.
- Executives push for HR to form a culture committee, or task force, to address employee issues and concerns.
- A company-wide management initiative to redefine culture is rolled out as a strategic initiative.
- HR and managers execute a communications effort to share newly redefined culture to the masses.
- Standard “go-to” solutions are implemented, e.g., more social events, happy hours, town halls with senior department heads, culture hacks, etc.
- A few quarters go by and company communicates basic updates on culture goals—culture initiatives fizzle out leaving management and employees frustrated.
We saw this vicious cycle play out across organizations both large and small. Though companies knew they had issues with culture, their solutions would stall out without making any real progress on addressing the issue.
How We Found Our Purpose
Our original hypothesis—that companies had issues defining culture and couldn’t measure or quantify it—was a problem, but this alone wasn’t compelling enough to solve.
After we dug deeper, we found four issues in the customer interview data that were more compelling:
- Existing tools aren’t designed for a modern, younger workforce which demands anonymous feedback, multiple channels (Web, App, SMS, etc) and low touch data requests.
- As companies grow, culture evolves which can create misalignment between their values and their employee’s actions day in/day out.
- There’s no silver bullet or one size fits all to culture and employee engagement. Most tools are not flexible enough to address specific company needs.
- Point-in-time employee feedback and survey tools can’t trend data over time and as a result, don’t uncover hidden trends.
As we captured in the vicious cycle diagram, companies were doing their best to take action and improve culture, but they simply weren’t moving the needle. This is where Workify comes in.
In Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, The Golden Circle, he clarifies the method a person or organization can use to realize their purpose. Three distinct questions need to be answered: why, how, and what. This is the breakdown for Workify.
We realized helping management teams obtain better data around culture and employee feedback was useful, but providing a service that helped design more effective surveys, analyze and identify corrective action was even better.
We would help our clients uncover hidden trends in the workforce so they could move the needle on employee engagement.
Companies were struggling to keep a pulse on their employees. They couldn’t develop the right balance for collecting more real time employee feedback without being tired from survey fatigue or relying on stale data. Our technology-enabled service would solve this.
In many organizations, employees are left feeling voiceless, while their management struggles to make sense of data that could improve their lives.
We would create a new operating system for employee communication making it easy for both employees to have a voice, and for management to turn feedback into insights and action.
Our mission is summarized in this last diagram, an example that was originally drawn with the help of a friend on a napkin during a late-night brainstorm.
On the left, you see leadership and culture, while employees and engagement sit on the right. The two cross paths with each other, but they end up missing a solution. Workify is in the middle of the two, bridging the gap between leader and employee, and culture and engagement. With this method, leaders are changing their organizations based on what their employees say, using data that can be read and understood.
Understanding that employee voices contain the clues to fixing a company’s culture is not our original idea. Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP said it best:
“Leaders just need to ask the people because the people always know.”