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Guru Technologies

"5 ways a CEO can help build a sustainable company culture: Guru’s Rick Nucci"

Below is an article originally written by Guru cofounder and CEO Rick Nucci, and published by Technical.ly Philly on October 24, 2019. Go to Guru's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

The image above shows Guru's company values. We view them as our lifeblood.

When done well, company values guide us on how we truly want to operate both as a company and individually as we do our daily jobs. They should be a part of every decision made, which means they must have room to grow and change as a company matures. By treating your values as a set of living principles, you'll be in a position to build a sustainable, flexible and growth-oriented company culture.

When we decided to formalize our values at Guru, it was because we'd reached a point where we were about to start growing rapidly. Before that point, we were able to look around the room to reach a consensus, but we knew that going forward, we needed to identify our north stars around how we wanted to make decisions holistically. How did we want to interact with each other? How did we want to interact with our customers? Who were the kinds of people we wanted to bring on for the long journey?

Here are the five major things we realized as we worked toward a sustainable company culture:

1. Define values that symbolize your great team.

Protecting company culture is one of the most important jobs of a CEO, but no CEO exists in a vacuum. Observe the way your team interacts and identify patterns. Those patterns are clues to what your culture is, and some of them can be defined as company values.

Tap those people who have passionate opinions and views, but don't lose sight of values you feel are not negotiable. For me, those were "don't take yourself too seriously" (because those who do tend to debate out of a desire to be right instead of a desire to learn) and "embrace the journey" (because burnout cultures never endure).

It's also critical to revisit your values over time so that they can evolve as the company grows. Not only does that give you permission to not burden yourself with trying to find the perfect set of values the first time, but it allows you to recognize that A.) what works for a company of 30 people may not work for a company of 300 (or 3,000), and B.) you're probably going to get something wrong the first time out.

2. Values aren't perks.

I believe that trying to out-perk other companies to attract the best talent is a losing proposition. Perks get copied (in a way, they're just another feature set), but the identity of your company — how you define it, measure it and reinforce it over and over and over again — is something that can't be copied.

At Guru, we want to compete for the best talent based on values, not on which perks we offer — and I also know that that means we're going to lose some candidates. At the same time, that means that those candidates who do end up joining are driven by more than just a paycheck (or gourmet chefs, onsite dry cleaning and climbing gyms). They tend to be more mission-driven and more excited about the cause.

3. Be intentional about reinforcing them.

Once defined, celebrate employees who live out your company values. It's a way to show newer employees what behaviors help you live a value.

At every one of our monthly company town halls, we have a segment called "Values in Action" where we thank individuals who embody our values through their contributions. To integrate our values into our workdays, we designed custom Slack emojis for each value, making it easy for team members to recognize each other. Our standard employee review process also includes a score for each value, allowing peers and managers to rate and have a discussion with the employee about how they live them and where there might be opportunities for improvement.

When not a daily part of the conversation, it's too easy to forget values, which can lead to culture dissolving. By keeping these principles at the forefront of everything, you can naturally promote your company culture by showing instead of just telling.

4. Avoid the growth-at-all-costs culture killer.

If culture is one of the last great corporate differentiators, and your hiring process ignores it in favor of "rockstar software developers" (or simply hitting hiring targets for the sake of hitting hiring targets), you're going to lose your culture before you have a chance to even build it.

We use the scorecard process defined by Geoff Smart and Randy Street's book "Who," and our scorecard includes a culture interview component. After defining our values, we break them down into interview questions so we can test for compatibility. The result is an inspiring amount of team compatibility, with a strong ability to collaborate, figure out tough problems and execute effectively. Oh yeah, and they are more likely to be here because they feel connected to the company and the mission, not just equity.

5. New leaders should make culture a top priority.

If you're new to a company that has a strong existing culture, understanding and attempting to demonstrate it should be a top priority in your first six months. Again, this shouldn't solely be a top-down approach. You're going to be working with people who have been functioning — and hopefully thriving — under the current culture.

The better way to approach it is to look at it as you would an existing product with a strong brand. Talk to your coworkers and understand the way they think and operate and learn what they're experiencing and seeing. Look to codify the positives in what you observe and then explain why you've decided to incorporate those into your company values. This will ensure that everyone understands that it's coming out of listening and learning from those around you and that you're responding to what they care about.

Remember that culture trumps strategy. Defining, iterating, celebrating and hiring for your values will go a long way toward creating an enduring company.

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This article originally appeared on LinkedIn via the Forbes Technology Council.

Image Credit: OkCupid
OkCupid

Meet The Queer Product Designer Behind OkCupid’s Inclusive Pronouns Feature

Below is an article about PowerToFly Partner OkCupid, originally written by Clare Kenny, the Director of Youth Engagement at GLAAD, and published on October 1, 2018. Go to OkCupid's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Once a fringe phenomenon, dating apps have become a mainstream way for people of all backgrounds, locations, and interests to date, make friends, hook up, and—sometimes—find love. While some online users enjoy the newfound normalcy of dating apps without harassment, the same cannot be said for all users.

LGBTQ people—especially those who live outside of traditional expectations of gender identity and expression—are often subjected to high rates of ridicule and hateful language online. Dating apps are no exception.

Apps like OkCupid, though, are working to change this climate by allowing daters to express themselves more accurately on the app. OkCupid looks to make a positive impact in the lives of all LGBTQ people by focusing on representation on the app and behind the scenes. That's why when it came time to update, OkCupid enlisted their Product Designer, Rowan Rosenthal, who identifies as Agender and uses they/them/theirs pronouns, to take the lead in adding a pronouns feature to the app.

Like many of us in the LGBTQ community, Rowan is no stranger to the ways and woes of digital romance. In order to learn more about the positive impact updates like these can have on users, community members, and companies alike, we asked them to walk us through their journey being a part of revolutionizing LGBTQ inclusivity at OkCupid.

Tell us about the OkCupid platform update: What changed, what was added?

Daters are now able to enter their pronouns in the details section of their profile. We've included the most common options "she/her", "he/him", and "they/them," as well as an option to write-in your own. (The write-in section can also accommodate sets of pronouns, i.e. "she/her and they/them.") This information is displayed publicly anytime someone views your profile.

What was your role in the OkCupid update to include pronouns on the app?

I identified the need for this feature via 1:1 interviews with queer folks who use OkCupid. To further validate this need I looked at the data surrounding existing pronoun usage—tens of thousands of members had already mentioned their pronouns in their profile, despite having no dedicated space for it. I designed pronouns to live alongside other prominent details on member profiles, as it's a critical and basic point of information about you.

Why is it important for dating apps to include features like a pronouns section?

It's essential for dating apps, or any app really, to create space for the fullest expression of identity possible. This is critical for dating apps specifically, though. As a member of a dating app, you're trying to convey your true self—putting it all out there in hopes that someone else on the app is interested in who you are. Including a dedicated space for identity & pronouns allows the person seeing you to get a fuller and more accurate sense of that. It also helps those who use pronouns that society typically doesn't use/recognize feel like this space is for them. Making sure to including pronouns, more gender identities, and more orientations goes a long way towards creating that sense of inclusivity.

Image credit: OkCupid, 2018.

What advice do you have for LGBTQ people, especially trans and non-binary people, who have been skeptical of using dating apps?

Dating apps are an amazing place to meet like-minded queer folks that you wouldn't be able to get to know otherwise, especially when your daily life might involves mostly interactions with mostly straight & cis folks. We understand that there can be other challenges when you're non-binary or trans—I know this firsthand. However, the biggest benefit to using a dating app, whether you're LGBTQ or not is that you can signal what you're looking for and what you're about. That's why at OkCupid we ask you 15 questions about yourself and you can filter based on what matters to you—meaning you have a better chance of meeting someone who cares about the same things you do. I've always used OkCupid, even before working here, just because I felt more comfortable with the variety of ways I was able to express myself, my identity, and my beliefs on the platform. So, that's (obviously) my recommendation here.

What do you hope non-LGBTQ users of OkCupid learn from this update?

While this update mostly pertains to LGBTQ users, we do hope this change will help to normalize the use of singular they/them, as well as other pronouns, within the dating space.

What is your advice for other companies, in and out of tech, that want to connect and support the LGBTQ community?

Listen. Talk to your LGBTQ users/customers and really listen to what they have to say. You can't assume what they might want, or how your product might be improved for them—you just have to find out, and go from there. Solicit feedback, do your research, and don't be afraid of criticism. That's the best way to build trust and inclusivity.

Clare Kenny is the Director of Youth Engagement at GLAAD. She leads GLAAD's Campus Ambassador Program, Rising Stars Grants Program, and amp series. Clare is a graduate of Skidmore College.

Shield AI

The Role Of Trust At Shield AI

A conversation with Ryan Tseng, Co-Founder and CEO

Below is an article originally written by PowerToFly Partner Shield AI, and published on November 27, 2018. Go to Shield AI's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE FORMATION OF SHIELD AI & THE MISSION. HOW DID TRUST FACTOR INTO THE UNDERLYING IDEA OF CREATING THE COMPANY?

Trust was a huge component of what inspired Brandon to want to start Shield AI. His experiences in the military and his experiences deploying and seeing people in harm's way. For me, as an entrepreneur, trust was important in the context of being able to trust your teammates. When we started, on the first day, we talked for eight hours about the mission of the company and the values we wanted to set.

The mission and values were centrally important, and among that list of values, the first one was trust. I don't think there is anything more important to the functioning of a company than trust. If trust is absent, you will never achieve your mission.

Honesty and integrity are table stakes. At Shield AI, we ask that teammates be willing to put the people around them first. As an organization, trust is about being a company that puts customers and stakeholders first, asking what we can do better to meet their needs more effectively and focusing on how we can make them proud. So, at the beginning, we thought that if we could build an organization where honesty and integrity were central and infused into every decision we made, where there was a culture of putting your teammates first, and where there was a culture of focusing on how to make customers proud, then we could have a solid foundation of trust.

DID YOU THINK IT WOULD BE HARD TO DO?

I didn't know if we would be able to do it, but I knew through my prior experiences that it was something I cared a lot about. I had witnessed environments where there was not a lot of trust and I saw how detrimental it was. I knew it would be challenging because I believe so many teams and companies have trust-related challenges.

HOW DOES SHIELD AI WORK TO CREATE A CULTURE OF TRUST?

There's a process for it and it starts with just having clarity about what our values are. Because trust sits at the top of our values, it has a large impact. It permeates all of our processes. We consider trust in the way that we hire, in the way that we conduct our performance reviews, in the way that we interact with investors, and in the way that we serve our customers.

In additional to building the values into our processes, I would say that a lot of people on the team are very deliberate in talking about trust and values frequently. For instance, our current priorities are product, execution, and teammates. That's not an accident -- the idea of putting teammates first is a pillar of trust and it is something that I and others on the team prioritize all the time.

HOW HAVE YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES IN LOWER-TRUST TEAMS INFORMED HOW YOU THINK ABOUT CREATING TRUST AT SHIELD AI?

It is common for organizations to include concepts of trust, honesty and integrity in their values, but have cultures that fall short in the embrace of those values. The biggest gap are the leaders -- leaders who do not make it a priority to build a culture of trust. Leaders who watch things happen and do not say anything when they should. Among the most important aspects of building a culture of trust is getting the leaders invested in the importance of continuously emphasizing and embodying trust and talking about why it matters.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF CREATING TRUST IN A PRODUCT SUCH AS NOVA IN THE CONTEXT OF PROTECTING LIVES?

I think it's the most important aspect of the product. Whether or not somebody chooses to use it is based entirely on whether or not they trust it. Without the foundation of trust, Nova would not be something that our customers would choose to use when people's lives are on the line. Just as trust is fundamentally essential for a high-functioning team or fundamentally essential for an organization's success, trust is fundamentally essential for a product to be useful to people.

IF CUSTOMERS WERE TALKING ABOUT SHIELD AI AND TRUST, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT THEM TO SAY? HOW WOULD YOU WANT THEM TO THINK OF THE ORGANIZATION?

I would want them to know that we genuinely care about our mission and making them proud. If every conversation at Shield AI were recorded, no matter who was at the table, and played back for our customers, it is my hope that our customers would conclude, "I'm proud to work with these people, they stand up for my interest."

Optoro

Giving 1%: Optoro Employees Donate Time To Local Community Garden

Below is an article originally written by Sarah Foulke at PowerToFly Partner Optoro, and published on June 14, 2018. Go to Optoro's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Not only do Optoro employees receive generous PTO, but we're also encouraged to take VTO (Volunteer Time Off)! We recognize that volunteer opportunities enrich and inspire the lives of our employees and as a company, we're tracking towards a goal of giving 1% of our time. This equates to 20 hours a year per employee.

We support many local and international organizations, including City Blossoms, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering healthy communities by developing creative, kid-driven green spaces. City Blossoms focuses on implementing urban gardens in low-income communities where children may not otherwise have access to green space. The organization works to teach healthy living habits, community development, environmental education, and artistic expression.

This week the Sales and Marketing teams traveled to Seaton Elementary School in Northwest DC to help City Blossoms clear out an overgrown garden.

We trimmed overgrown weeds and plants, cleared out trash, and helped build a garden. It was a great way to give back to our local community as well as bond as a team!

Want to join us? Check out our open positions!

SendGrid

Giving Back At SendGrid: What We’ve Done And Where We’re Going

Below is an article originally written by Christina Frantz, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at PowerToFly Partner SendGrid, and published on November 27, 2018. Go to SendGrid's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Happy #GivingTuesday!

Giving Tuesday is celebrated every year on the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving, and encourages people and organizations to give back to the community.

The day also marks the 4th anniversary of Pledge 1%–a movement SendGrid joined just prior to our IPO in November 2017. This movement was created with the idea that all companies, no matter their size or stage, can make a social impact by donating 1% of their assets including equity, profit, people's time and/or product. SendGrid has committed 1% of our equity over the next ten years to help our communities thrive.

Corporate responsibility at SendGrid

I was lucky enough to join SendGrid to create and shape our community investment strategy. Over the past several weeks, I've met with Gridders to better understand what we do and what we're passionate about in an effort to identify what we are uniquely positioned to do to drive positive change in our communities.

What I've found through these conversations is that giving back is already part of SendGrid's DNA. I've learned about amazing things my team members are already doing to support our community that has laid the groundwork for our corporate social responsibility initiative.

Stem volunteering club

For example, Gridders Jessy Sweet and Hannah Apuan started a STEM Volunteer Club to improve STEM initiatives around Denver. The club connects Gridders to volunteer opportunities such as:

  • Teaching coding to Boys and Girls Club youth
  • Mentoring at hackathons that serve underrepresented community members
  • Tutoring elementary students in math

"The idea of our club was inspired by discussions from one of the Diversity and Inclusion weeks at SendGrid," says Hannah. "Gridders were asking: how do we improve diversity in tech? We decided one of the ways to bring new perspectives into the technology industry would be to start from the beginning and emphasize STEM education for students from all backgrounds."

SendGood with SendGrid

SendGood is a program created in 2018 by Gridders Austin Whiting, Carly Brantz, Mike Pace, Corinne Nagel, and Veronica Hudson. The team focused their efforts on how to leverage our product to support nonprofits.

SendGood is a program that allows marketers to sign up for our Marketing Campaigns tool and once they send 5,000 emails, a $50 donation is made on their behalf to charity.

"SendGood makes a difference by helping drive our new product Marketing Campaigns, but we're equally excited that it supports organizations whose values align with SendGrid's 4H values: hungry, happy, humble and honest," says Austin.

Learn more about the program and beneficiary nonprofits.

Community week

We just wrapped up our annual Community Week, which is an opportunity for Gridders to volunteer, arm in arm, in support of our communities. Over the course of a week, more than 150 Gridders volunteered in eight unique cities with 19 nonprofits for a donation of over 1,000 service hours!

Events like these are valuable because they help people develop new skills, foster connectivity between colleagues, and also make a huge difference for nonprofits who rely on volunteers to accomplish their goals.

Through the team's efforts, we were able to feed hungry neighbors, encourage self-sufficiency, educate low-income children, build homes for families, care for abused and neglected animals and provide support to families with critically ill children.

Pledge 1%

And now today, I have the honor of representing SendGrid at Nasdaq to ring the opening bell alongside the Pledge 1% organization and other companies who have taken the pledge. We're here to celebrate the power companies have to be a force for good and are hopeful that we can encourage other companies to join us.

No matter the size or stage of your company, every organization has the capacity to help their communities.

Making a profit and making a difference does not have to be mutually exclusive–in fact, together they are a profitable business strategy.

As I collaborate with Gridders to identify our social impact strategy, I'm grateful we already have the ingredients I believe are essential to a successful strategy: a passion for giving back, a commitment to utilizing our unique skills and products to improve the lives of others, and a long-term dedication to investing in our communities. We'll be back soon to share our social impact mission and strategy!

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