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SpinWeb is an Indianapolis-based digital agency, specializing in enterprise website design & digital marketing

What Makes a Great Company Culture? Interview With the SpinWeb Team

Allison Gibbs

Posted by Allison Gibbs on 6/9/16 9:30 AM

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This year marks a major milestone in SpinWeb history. It's our 20th birthday and we've accomplished something that many business owners think is impossible: a successful Results Only Work Environment. 

How do you make sure people are working?

I need to see my employees.

These are the questions and concerns most people have when they hear about our company culture and work philosophy.

For eight years, Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) has been our guiding work ethic. We've adapted it and evolved as a team over the years. We are often approached by other agencies who are curious about how it works, so today we're sharing some of the key pillars of what makes a great company culture.

Why Change What You're Doing Now?

Your pain points might be any or all of the following:

  • outrageous overhead and building costs
  • filling out paperwork and managing time-off requests
  • unecessary tasks and busy work to fill out a 9-5 day
  • long commutes
  • unable to attract and retain high performers.
For us, a work environment focused on results and autonomy addressed all of these problems.

Adults Only

"Responsible, hard working people survive and thrive in a ROWE." – Heather, Project Manager

ROWE is an excellent way to separate the dedicated employees from those who are less industrious. You'll quickly learn who's serious about the job at hand and who's more interested in dragging their feet, giving excuses about why they haven't turned anything in yet. 

"Being treated as an adult in the workplace is what makes the culture to me. No crazy micromanaging. Just let me get my work done." – Sam, Overlord/Developer/VP of Titles

Treating your employees like the responsible adults that they are makes them rise to the challenge, and it eliminates the time (and soul) sucking part of being a boss.

Defining the #1 Result

Ours is not overly complicated.

"Make sure clients are ridiculously happy." – Michael, President/CEO

Empower the team to find new ways to do this, figure out how to make it happen.

In practical terms, this led our support staff to create a metric for themselves: all support tickets would be responded to within 24 hours. Support is constantly striving to beat that time, too. Another metric is 100% client satisfaction rate. These numbers are transparent and we talk about these measurables every week.

Of course, in other practical terms, balancing client satisfaction with employee satisfaction, client expectations and profitability are on all of our minds, as well. 

"We all take a ton of pride in making sure the client is happy, that we're positively impacting their business, and that we're doing what's best for our company and ourselves at the same time. The goals are clear." – Stephanie, Content Manager

Defining Core Values

 "Our #1 core value is 'family/self first.' We drive that culture by supporting each other when something comes up that requires us to be away from work. I have to take my daughter to an appointment? Mike jumps in to run a meeting for me. Nathan has to pick up his kids early? Sam & Chris cover support. Heather breaks herself and needs emergency surgery? [true story: she recently broke her wrist] I cover website projects for a few weeks.  As a team, we do whatever we can to help each other out." – Allison, Strategist

This isn't a made-up core value that was handed down from the top, or created in a board meeting in some far away conference room. The team protects each other.

Sit down with your team, and discuss what's important to you. Together, you can create a list of core values that everyone feels passionately about, and that accurately reflects your beliefs. 

Ownership

When people ditch the conventional work environment, they become their own boss and they own what they do.

A great work environment, to us, is all about ownership. We take pride and ownership and responsibility for SpinWeb's success.

This is literal, not a feel-good fluff statement. One of our goals is profit sharing, so we are all taking ownership of this goal. One of the benefits of an adult work culture is figuring out how to be more efficient, how to fix things earlier, and how to make the company more profitable. This is extremely satisfying if you know that what you're doing directly impacts the bottom line.

We make big, important decisions – about pricing, how much time or how many resources we spend, when to outsource. We're trusted to make the right calls and we get taken to task when we make the wrong ones. 

We take ownership of our culture, too. We lead the "fun" and extracurriculars. We don't have forced parties or celebrations or team building exercises.

For example, Sam organizes movie outings to Flix Brewhouse because he loves movies, and it is completely voluntary for anyone who wants to join. There's no pressure, and everyone who's there is there because they WANT to be, not because it's mandatory.

Coaching

"You go from a manager with minions to being a coach with a team." – Chris, Sr. Software Architect

We do whatever we can to coach people. We've never fired anyone without trying to coach them first. 

This might seem challenging, but think of the benefits. You can cultivate the team you want with a little love and care. Take responsibility for coaching new people, freelancers, and junior team members.  We set up our own training sessions when we see a need; we don't have to wait for someone to tell us to do this, or ask permission. If there's a gap in knowledge, we take it upon ourselves to seek that information out, from another team member or externally. 

Accountability

We track time internally for data. We want to make sure we're profitable and that we're charging the right amount. We do post mortems and adjust projects based on our analysis of past projects.

Don't keep your team in the dark. Talk about your company's financials regularly—keep things open and transparent, and be willing to entertain questions and suggestions from your team.

It's in the whole team's best interest to make sure that everyone's holding up their share of the responsibilities; if someone's slacking, it's up to the team to chide them. Or, conversely, if someone is performing above average, the whole team can celebrate together. 

"Trust is a big one for me! We hire and work with people we trust, therefore it works for our team. We have weeded out those who cannot handle the freedom." – Abby, Director of Business Development

Connections

How will we communicate when we're not in the same building?

Thank goodness for modern technology. With the communication tools available now, we are able to keep in touch with each other, even when we're located in different zip codes. 

"I once worked with a company that thought it was a huge perk to have company-wide 'work from home Wednesdays.' Then they’d send out an email every Wednesday…'I hope everyone is having a productive day!' No thanks!" – Amy, Project Manager

If you're concerned about keeping tabs on your employees or wondering how you'll know if they're really working from home, ask yourself  this question:

"How do you know they're working when they're at the office?"

If the answer is, "Well, I see them and we talk about projects, and we go to meetings together, and I can see them at their desk." Then, that answer should speak for itself.

You can communicate and meet in a variety of ways, some including in-person meetings, virtual meetings and chat/instant messaging. Seeing someone at their desk from 8-5 does not mean anything specific when it comes to results and measuring work.

At SpinWeb, we use a variety of communication tools: Slack, GoToMeeting, Pivotal and all the Google apps, just to name a few. Slack is great for team communication; we exchange information about projects, share ideas, and occasionally embark on epic GIF wars. It's casual and easy, and we're never more than a few keystrokes away from the whole team.

We typically use GoToMeeting for professional calls with clients or for team conference calls. It allows us to share our screen when it's necessary, and it's also a great platform for trainings.

Sure, you can communicate exclusively via internet, but there's something to be said for in-person contact. We implemented Free Lunch Fridays. It gives everyone the opportunity to connect, and we've scheduled our weekly huddle right after. It's optional, and not everyone makes it to every meeting, but it does provide a regular touch point for the team.

Square Wheels

"ROWE will break people." – Anonymous SpinWebber

Anyone who has to do creative work has to find their space and time to get work done and be in the groove. Those who can't handle autonomy will quickly surface. And people who plateau typically tend to be resistant to change. They may really dislike a shift to a results-only work environment.

You'll notice when deadlines aren't met and when excuses pile up. You can't rely on being "seen" arriving early, staying late, sending emails on the weekend. Those things no longer matter.

Start

"Don't wait. Pull the Band-Aid off." – Michael

Don't wait until you have your results nailed down 100% or until you feel like you have the perfect team who can handle it. Don't wait until you have all the rules and regulations written up in the employee handbook. 

You will find the square wheels once you do it.

Make sure you have communication systems in place; as we discussed above, we use Slack and GoToMeeting, but there are tons of options. Look into the different choices, and find the one that suits your needs. 

Create some basic guidelines and high level results: how to make clients happy, emails aren't for fire drills, communication guidelines, etc.

Tips

  • Want to nudge performance and productivity? ROWE will weed out low performers and encourage higher productivity and efficiency when people have control of their own time.
  • Cut out meaningless tasks, time-wasters, "busy work". Tim Ferriss calls this 
  • Still get together so you don't feel disconnected
  • Check out this episode of SpinRadio;  Michael and Abby discuss how we create a great company culture here at SpinWeb. 

SpinRadio - The Weekly Radio Show - click here to listen to episodes

Topics: culture, productivity

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