This week, Grovo was honored to be featured as a presenter for NewCo, a festival that takes you behind the scenes at New York’s 100 most innovative companies. During an hourlong speaking session at our office on Wednesday, our CEO and Cofounder Jeff Fernandez shared his insights on how to keep company culture strong during a period of aggressive growth. Grovo has plenty of experience with both: we’ve won accolades for our culture while growing rapidly for the past year and a half.
Want to find out how we did it? Here are five tips Jeff shared with the NewCo audience about building culture at a growing company.
Create and live by a standard of performance. While on vacation in 2013, Jeff read The Score Takes Care of Itself, a book by legendary football coach Bill Walsh about the leadership philosophies he used to turn a bad San Francisco 49ers team into arguably the greatest dynasty in NFL history. In the book, Walsh talked about holding his team to a Standard of Performance: a set of expectations that established a high minimum of effort and excellence from every individual. Reading this, Jeff jumped out of his beach chair and called Grovo cofounders Nick Narodny and Surag Mungekar. “We’ve got to do this!” And they did. Today, Grovo’s Standard of Performance is the founding charter for our culture. Every new hire gets a copy. We refer to it constantly in internal communications. It is the guiding principle around which we hire. The Standard of Performance is Grovo’s most important document—no small thing at a company with 5,000 videos in our content library.
- Hire a talent team early. Grovo started building its Talent department at around 40 people. Now at 150, the team has 6 full-time members. A lot of companies don’t add these pieces to the puzzle so early, but Jeff credits our relatively large Talent department as one of the main reasons for the strength of our culture. They find great people and they make themselves available to anyone who needs them. It’s especially helpful if the Talent team is universally beloved, inside the company and out.
- Make onboarding count. The first few days an employee starts working at a company are some of the most important of their entire tenure. It is in those days that they make and receive first impressions, learn their role, understand the organization, and immerse in company culture. Jeff emphasized his commitment to creating an inspiring, aligning, warm onboarding process for new hires. As he does in every company meeting, Jeff emphasized that there should be no cultural divide between old and new employees. “Everyone here is a part of the story of this company,” he told NewCo. That sense of belonging starts during onboarding.
- Embrace open and honest communication. Grovo is a remarkably transparent place. Jeff gives us clear and honest updates on the business at every opportunity. At All Hands meetings, he presents the board deck nearly verbatim to the whole company. Employees meet with their managers at regular one-on-one sessions. The goal of all of this, Jeff revealed, is to make each employee feel more empowered for being here. “I want everyone who works here to feel like they’re learning how they could run their own company one day,” he said. That’s a powerful message to hear at any stage of your career.
- Make people feel special. Jeff told a story about when the company was throwing a party back in the early days. “Nick looks at me and says, ‘We have four thousand dollars left. Maybe we shouldn’t be spending $750 on this party.’” Jeff insisted that they did. “You need to make people feel special,” he reasoned. Consequently, we all do feel special. Between Grovo Clubs, rec league sports, and departmental and inter-departmental outings (your humble editorial team escaped the room) we certainly do feel the love.
The culture of an aggressively growing company is rooted in a natural, shared purpose: let’s build this thing together. That’s part of the fun. The CEO doesn’t need to invent a reason why people should be excited to come to work; success takes care of that. The challenge is to make sure that the company stays true to itself. Jeff likes to note how problems don’t go away when you start winning. They change. “We used to not have any money. Now we don’t have exotic enough beef jerky,” he jokes.
Jeff and the management team have done a phenomenal job of making each of us feel at home here, no matter how new we are or what role we’re in. Everyone who calls themselves a Grovo Sapien is ready to put in their best work. Knowing that every coworker is held to the same standard of performance as you makes for contagious respect and camaraderie. Most importantly, it gives us all a sense that the best is yet to come.