December 09, 2015

Getting the Pulse of Your Company

If your startup job title includes the term "Founder" or "VP," you've almost surely experienced the menacing, sine-wave of your own personal psyche. On a daily basis, you'll soar euphorically through excitement and opportunity, to sometimes having to peel yourself off the walls you run into; full of challenge and disappointment. I've trained myself to at least have awareness of this trend, so regardless of the current mood, I can still keep trucking.

In general, attitudes are positive, the atmosphere is electric, and people literally run< to get things done. The new challenge that arose is that as our team has grown, that trend manifested itself in the whole company. Meaning there were days where everyone walked around, head hung low -- we might as well have been some sad federal agency. I recall this being brought up periodically in excutive meetings -- "Is it just me, or are people really happy and in a good mood?" or "Why is everyone acting so depressed?" We would spend time coming up with possible reasons and ideas but in hindsight, we were lacking one big thing.

We didn't have a solid pulse on the company. Yes, we had tons of metrics that showed how well we were doing from an external metrics perspective, but we were missing one of the key ones -- how are our people doing?

With that in mind, here is what we've found helpful. We're an evolving and growing company, so some of these are relatively new and I'm sure all of them could be improved.

Top Level: Quarterly Survey

Ever since Q1 2014, we have sent a poll to all of our employees once a quarter. While we make some tweaks and additions, the core questions are pretty much the same, which allows us to track trends.

  • This is completely anonymous. The only thing we've done recently is ask them what team they're on, and only define a team if it has a sufficient number of people to retain anonymity. As much as we champion transparency, we have ensured that we respect privacy in this case.

  • It should also be completely quantitative for measurement (and qualitative answers damage anonymity). Everything is either a score from 1-10, Yes/No, or choosing from a few options.

  • Getting as close to 100% participation is important - so every manager constantly hounds their team to respond to the survey (since it's anonymous, we can't guess).

  • Since one of our big core values is transparency, we share the overall results publicly with the team.

  • One of the challenges we've encountered is that as leadership reviews each anonymous response, we can clearly identify people who are very unhappy with the company. It is really important to resist the temptation to turn it into a witch hunt and try and identify exactly who the person is. The appropriate team lead should already know.

With the same question asked every quarter, you can identify macro trends, as well as quickly identify major deltas in the current quarter. Here's the results from one of the questions we asked, and how it can be quickly interpreted:

Here are the exact questions that we ask - why don't you use a tool like Typeform and send this out to your team today?

  • How fulfilled/satisfied are you with your current role?

  • Over the past 6 months, has your satisfaction increased or decreased?

  • How appreciated do you feel for the contributions that you make to _____________?

  • How long can you foresee yourself staying at _____________?

  • When you wake up in the morning, how much do you look forward to the day?

  • How stressed do you feel regularly?

  • How much do you enjoy being around your coworkers?

  • How much faith do you have in our company's success?

  • How much faith do you have in what _____________ produces?

  • How much faith do you have in the company's leadership?

  • How likely would you be to recommend working at _____________ to a friend?

  • Do I know what is expected of me at work?

  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

  • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

  • In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

  • Does my manager, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

  • At work, do my opinions count?

  • Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

  • Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?

  • Do I have a best friend at work?

  • In the last 6 months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

  • This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow? Which team do you belong to?

One Level Down: Weekly Anonymous Surveys

Reading the levels on a quarterly basis is great, but we wanted to get more granular. What if we could get a clear signal every week?

We implemented a tool called TinyPulse - it sends out one survey question to our team each week. Again, all responses are anonymous. There are other benefits to TinyPulse and other similar tools, but we're just going to focus on the satisfaction component here.

  • We've found it necessary, like the quarterly survey, to maximize participation. I have a standing deal that, if we can get 90% of the company to respond within 36 hours of the survey going out, I will personally buy breakfast for the whole office. Worth the cost, if you ask me.

  • Responses can be both qualitative and quantitative. I make a point to respond to each and every submission, and have long conversations about serious topics, completely anonymously. I've been told that seeing the feedback loop complete incentivizes further participation. This isn't a dusty "suggestion box" that gets ignored, this is a critical piece of our management arsenal.

  • Again, with transparency, we'll send out the full anonymous results to the team every week. I and my team should be held accountable for anything that these tools uncover.

The Lowest Level: 1:1s

I've written about the utility of 1:1s. But the specific goal in your 1:1s is to gain a pulse for how that employee really is doing.

I'll be completely honest, the higher up you are, the harder it is to get a reliable signal from a team member on how they're doing. So, as open and accessible as I strive to be, I rely on our team leads and managers to get a better idea of issues as soon as they arise.

OK, what next?

Hopefully, through these three methods (let us know in the comments or on Twitter if anything else works for your team), you've gained a clear read on how the team is doing. What's next?

  • You should be able to identify trends of reasons or concerns (1:1s, surveys, etc) - clustering those and identifying potential solutions is really helpful.

  • When presenting the overall results of a quarterly survey, we've been able to stir up frank and open conversations, which yield really helpful advice.

  • We make it clear that we are open to feedback and suggestions - in our 1:1s, we ask what we could be doing better. We openly commend the people who provide suggestions and show that we're following up on their advice. Anonymously, people can always submit suggestions and we've even gone as far as to openly read them in a meeting and develop a response.