For any company, culture is going to evolve over time as the business grows and matures. What makes your company special won’t change. But it may look different as you grow from 25 people to 100 to 500. Along with that growth, your team make-up and what is important to them and their lives will shift over time.
There are a million articles that define “culture”. For me, it’s your DNA. It’s how you work, how you make decisions, how you interact with each other. Hopefully, you have captured this in your company values. However you define your culture, everyone in your company should be able to describe it the same way.
At Ordergroove (OG, for short), we lean on our values and the underlying behaviors that demonstrate our values, to describe our culture: authentic, collaborative, supportive, results-driven, and full of ambiguity.
Once you have identified your culture, you should build every aspect of your employee experience from that foundation. OG uses our culture to drive how we think about performance feedback— open and ongoing, no ratings, and more focused on feedback and development. We use competencies tied to our values to ask behavioral-based questions during the interview process to make sure candidates are a “culture fit,” not just a cookie-cutter personality of the hiring team). We built our recognition programs to have rewards of an allowance to the experience of your choice, so it feels more personal. Our quarterly Groovy Award Winners become OG Ambassadors to champion our culture with new hires and with our leadership team. Your culture also helps identify what perks are going to be valuable to your team. And since culture evolves, your perks will need to evolve as well.
Perks are not ping pong tables and free snacks. While those are nice things to have around the office, real perks are added benefits help enrich your team’s lives.
From my experience in 20 years of HR, what matters most to team members changes over time. Below are some ways our perks have changed as our culture has evolved over the last four years I have been at Ordergroove. Ordergroove is a 75-person SaaS company that is still very much in startup mode even though we have been around for a few years. We have a mix of people that are earlier in their careers and people that have been in their field for many years. Most of us are based in NYC, which prior to March 2020, was a major part of our identity. The evolution of the perks I’m sharing below did not come from a huge swing in the makeup of our team, but more from our evolution as a company and the maturity that comes with having a larger team with more diversity and people with different interests and needs.
When I first started at OG, we had a company-wide social event every 4 to 6 weeks that almost everyone attended. As the years progressed, we noticed there were some staple events that people continued to love, but others saw dwindling attendance. More ad hoc smaller group activities started popping up. These less formally-organized events consisted of like-minded people playing games, watching movies, or organizing lunch deliveries, and eating together. At first, I was worried that these interest groups were fracturing the team. In response we decreased the frequency of the larger events. The action made the larger social events more meaningful. Plus, there was no reason to force people to join events that they weren’t really interested in just because it was sponsored by the company. It was also a better use of our budget! Moving to a balance of larger events and more informal small events supported the importance of being your authentic self while still building a sense of community.
Our team’s health is very important to us. We kept trying different wellness programs to support the team but none were really providing a lot of value. We tried gym discounts.We tried discount passes to different classes. We finally realized that we should be allowing people to choose what wellness looks like for them. So instead of discounts on specific things, we opened it up to be an annual wellness allowance. That way our team could use the wellness stipend how they wished (within reason of course). We have some people who love the gym, other people who love taking random classes, while still others use it for at-home equipment or intramural sports.
In 2020 we also expanded the wellness stipend to include mental wellness, so that subscriptions to meditation apps are covered under the program. The goal was always to support people’s wellness, and that’s a very personal thing. So we needed to evolve our perk to support that individuality versus try to box it into what we could have access to under corporate programs!
Before COVID-19, we were mainly an NYC in-office kind of company. We had some folks outside of NYC, and we said people could work from home when needed. But people openly said that it felt like a perk that not everyone got to enjoy or was really just for leadership or some people. It wasn’t until we were all forced to work from home that we were able to see just how strongly we were able to work together even when we were not physically together. It’s taking some work to figure out the details, but we plan to move to a flexible remote work policy once we can safely re-open the office. The new policy allows you to do what’s best for you. If you want to work remotely, that’s fine. If you want to be in the office, that’s fine. If you want to do a mix of both, that’s fine too. We will have a few days throughout the year we want everyone together in NYC— All Hands Meetings, Annual Kickoff, etc— but most of the time it won’t matter. As long as you are hitting your goals and being an active member of our community, we won’t worry about where you are doing your work. Before we rolled it out, I tested it against all our values and it checked every box:
There is more within our culture that we can be evolving as we grow as an organization. The perk of moving to a flexible remote policy will lead to more evaluation of our social events and the things we did have in the office that people enjoyed (which by themselves are not perks, but more representations of our community). While we have a strong parental leave policy, we will continue to evolve what other support we can give our working parents in the future. Evolution is about recognizing and adapting to change. Our perks and our culture will always be evolving. The goal is to be open to the change, be able to identify what your team needs at that moment, and to deliver the most value and benefit for your team so they feel supported while they’re working. Benefits should reflect who you are as an organization, not just the cool new trend someone read in an article.