Strengthening culture amidst rapid growth

We’ve doubled our full-time headcount in fifteen months, going from 9 to 18 at the start of February. Three of those hires joined on February 1. That was the first time in a long time that we’ve had more than one person start on any one day, and it got me thinking about how to systematize the onboarding process. We’re particularly interested in having all of our new additions strengthen our culture.

With a third of our team working remotely, and so many folks working heads-down on their own projects, I have some concerns about people drifting away, not contributing to the evolution of our culture, or not feeling a part of the team. Fraternities have the same sort of problem and then some–a quarter of their people are churned and replaced every year. That got me thinking, How do they help new folks get engaged?

I looked back on my days as a pledge, discarded the horrid parts, and zeroed in on what I felt was one of the best and most healthy pledging activies: a practice we called “getting sigs.” Every pledge had to meet with all 75 or so brothers at the brother’s convenience and get his signature. I liked that the onus was on the pledge to schedule the meeting, but I disliked that the brother had some power over the pledge. Brothers could withhold their signatures in exchange for silly tasks like shoe polishing. Few did this, but the possibility was always there, and it introduced an unnecessary component of power and authority into an activity that could have been solely about forging or strengthening bonds.

After discussing it with a handful of existing team members, I decided to ask our new people to meet with every employee on the team at some point during their first month, and then spend their fourth month revisiting those meetings (no signatures required). On their first day, I posted the following to our Basecamp thread under the “Culture” project, copying everyone:

Dear [names of new people]:

This will likely be one of the first basecamp posts you read once you get your email up and running! Attached is a 2012 End of Year Roster showing all of GuildQuality’s full-timers, plus the three of you.

We’ve been mulling over how to help y’all get to know the more tenured folks on the team, and help all of them get to know you as well. The goal is to lay the groundwork for good communication, and help you get the lay of the land as fast as possible. We want you to be comfortable reaching out to anyone on the team, and we want them comfortable doing the same. Here’s what we’re thinking:

In your first thirty days, please reach out to every member of the team (including the other new folks), and schedule a brief conversation (at least 15 minutes, but as long as you want). You can do it face-to-face, over lunch, or via video conference, but it has to be one-on-one and it has to be scheduled in advance. If you like, print out the attached list and check folks off as you go along. Please wrap up all these conversations by the end of February.

You’re going to be pretty fresh at GuildQuality in your first month, but I expect you’ll have a pretty good idea of how things operate three or four months from now. With that in mind, please plan to have a second round of roster conversations with everyone in your fourth full month (May).

Everyone else:
This is meant to be a conversation rather than an interview. Come to each meeting with questions of your own. Also, be thinking about what you’d like new folks to know about what you do here at GQ, and what you can do to help them get their legs underneath them.

Yesterday, I posed to all the new folks the following question: “Y’all are the first to endure this sort of exercise. Please tell me how it’s coming along. Is it weird? Helpful? Awesome? Horrible?”

They responded:

I think it’s awesome and helpful. I’m a people person so I like getting know more people! Although, I haven’t met with everyone yet- I still feel at home within my first month. So with that being said -all who have not met with me/I have not met with.. Lets! Other than that I am very happy to be here and more than satisfied with the company culture.

I agree that it is super helpful. Specifically for getting to know the individuals who don’t work in the office.  I also found it helped me better understand the development team’s day-to-day responsibilities (which there are a plethora of!). I still have 3 or 4 people that I need to meet with but up to this point the exercise has been successful!

I still have a few more to go as well but I think it has been very helpful. It feels slightly weird to ask someone to just sit down and talk but it is better than the alternative of going many months and never really talking to a majority of the team. I think it was a great idea.

All in all, I’m liking this exercise so far, I’m looking forward to seeing how the meetings in the fourth month go, and I expect we’ll refine and repeat the process with our other new hires. It’s a meaningful investment of time for the new people, and I believe it’s helping us to strengthen the ties that bind. What do you do to help new people get the lay of the land?

Liberty and Dependence in the Workplace

If libertarianism is defined at its core by its commitment to maximizing individual freedom, than a failure to apply that standard in the workplace demonstrates that libertarianism fails to live up to its own moral standard.

That’s from this thought-provoking post on private sector abridgments to freedom via Bleeding Heart Libertarians. As a liberty-loving employer, this is something I think about a lot.

Work should be liberating, not enslaving. That idea is what attracts me to Results Only Work Environments, and it’s why I’m always encouraging folks to either start their own businesses or to pursue a path with companies who value their employees’ freedom and well-being.

But freedom is a slippery concept. Freedom’s antithesis is slavery, and coercion isn’t the only thing that leads to slavery. Indulgence, protectionism, and nannying foster dependence — and dependence is a subtle and insidious form of slavery.

So lately, I’ve been asking myself, “What can we do to ensure that our environment is always a place where our people are able to leave, and choose to stay?”

Irony: I just ordered several tricked out MacBooks for the team.