A Company’s Most Valuable Assets are its People and its Culture
I’ve been having a great time talking to companies about what makes them modern. I was particularly excited to chat with David Hassell of 15Five because we are users of their solution and I am a big fan of their modern approach to weekly reports. 15Five is based on a marvelously simple idea. Have each employee spend 15 minutes a week writing a report that takes their manager no more than 5 minutes to read. The solution makes it simple for managers to roll up the most important problems, insights and successes.
The idea behind 15Five originated with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. He built his company around his passion for climbing and surfing, and didn’t want to spend so much time at work that he couldn’t enjoy them. He realized that if he asked all of his employees to spend 15 minutes writing a report that took their manager no more than 5 minutes to read, his employees would feel heard and he would have better insight into the workings of his company without sacrificing his precious time. David gave me more insight as we talked about the importance of understanding what is happening on the front line.
Tell me about 15Five.
The heart of the solution is making sure that everyone in the company is on the same page and that the CEO has visibility into what is going on for the front-line employees and on up. This way employees and managers have a voice and leaders are able to keep their finger on the pulse of their team –everything from surfacing issues before they become problems to celebrating wins as they happen. We approach it in a very efficient manner that ensures the most important information will make its way through the organization. What happens is that people have meaningful conversations and companies become more aligned. Our mission is to help companies and individuals reach their highest potential. Based on what we know about organizations and team dynamics, solving the communications gap was the first priority.
We believe in the 80/20 rule (80% of the outcomes result from 20% of the drivers); that more communication is not necessarily better and that what’s actually important to communicate doesn’t take much time at all.
What makes 15Five different from other companies in the market?
There really aren’t any other companies that focus on the problem in quite the same way that we do. There are a number that focus on general corporate communications or corporate social networks, like Salesforce.com’s Chatter. There are also other solutions for performance management and project management. They are very useful, but they are not designed to drive the highly focused information flow that we think is important.
We have several core design values and the number one is what we call elegant simplicity. See, simplicity lives on both sides of complexity. There are some things that are simple/simple and you don’t really need to create solutions for those, but if you can simplify things that are inherently complex, you can create magic. The iPhone is a great example. Apple took something that is quite intricate, but made it an enjoyable experience with only one button and revolutionized the industry.
To get someone to take on a new habit, to encourage new behavior, you’ve got to do it in a way that adds value to every single person who does it. The tools that we interact with should be both functional and a delight to use. When this happens, you get a positive emotional experience. Most companies think of their customer as the person paying the bill, but we put as much importance on the front line employees as the guy who signs the checks. When employees are heard and understand what’s in it for them, you get the best information.
Can you describe your typical customer?
That’s an interesting question. When we started, we expected to get customers with a range of employees between 20-500 and we did, but we were surprised that we also attracted some very small teams with only three or four employees and we got some large Fortune 500 companies and multi-nationals. Because every type of company needs an effective communication channel, we have companies of all types from universities to churches. The bottom line is that our customers are organizations with people at their core.
We are really interested in the way business and work, in general, has changed in the last 5-10 years. What has changed in how you do business and how your employees work in that time?
We were built as a distributed workforce with virtual teams. It’s a necessity today and our product is also designed to support that model of work. We do get together periodically, but we’re flexible most of the time. I believe that this has been an important part of our success because it allows us access to talent all over the world. We are a San Francisco based company and competition there for talent is incredibly high and even if you find someone, if they are good, they will be very expensive. If we confine ourselves geographically, we’re basically saying that because we don’t want to deal with the details of supporting a remote worker, we’re willing to exclude 99.9% of the marketplace of talent. We decided not to do that. We’ve really embraced the distributed model and see it as part of our core value of “finding the leverage” or taking what you have and figuring out how to get multiples of return. In fact, recently I went to Maui. Our Director of Marketing happened to be on the big island, our co-founder was working from his home in the Ukraine and our customer success manager was back in San Francisco. No one missed a beat and we were firing on all cylinders.
Has anything changed about your customers’ expectations about doing business with you?
Despite the fact that we are interacting more and more electronically, the personal touch is what sets apart the great companies from the good companies. Companies like Zappos have made it their mission to deliver delight and a “wow” experience for their customers. This approach is starting to catch on. We focus on customer success rather than customer service. Being proactive vs. reactive is really important if you want to develop a deeper relationship with your clients.
15Five isn’t really about creating reports; it’s about making our customers as successful as they can be and removing obstacles to their goals. We also try to help make people’s lives better in the process. After all, the initial idea came from a desire to achieve a positive work/life balance. What could be more modern than that?