How one entrepreneur built a culture of ownership without spending tons of money
The holy grail of any company is for every employee to act like an owner, going the extra mile for the good of the organization. Many companies have ‘ownership’ somewhere in their values, but few have successfully built a culture to promote, sustain, and grow a sense of ownership among employees – and a lot of transparency at work. Marie Chevrier successfully built that culture at her company, Sampler.
On a mission to change retail, Chevrier built a serious business over the past five years:
- The company has been through 20 startup incubators, accelerators, and corporate innovation programs (including L’Oreal’s global innovation accelerator)
- Sampler has raised millions from top tier investors
- The Sampler team is set to double in 2019, from 15 to 30 employees
But her favourite word in the office isn’t “revenue” or “churn” as other marketing-focused founders may hold dear. It’s “ownership”. I got the chance to connect with Marie to talk more about how Sampler built a culture of ownership (with almost no cost), and how other companies can emulate her.
Transparency at work: Leverage technology to help sort candidates at the top of the funnel
From the application stage, Chevrier vets candidates for how well their attitude would fit company-wide, not just in their role. Of course, it’s difficult to do that just by reading a cover letter. So Sampler tried out Plum.io, an AI-powered platform where you input the kind of person you want, candidates fill out a profile, and the platform matches them to any of your open roles.
“There are two ways to use Plum,” explained Chevrier. “Apply and then test as a last step, or do a personality quiz. We wanted to find unique strengths for people,” leading to Sampler choosing the personality quiz route.
It helped them find Cynthia, their latest hire, whom Chevrier said originally applied for customer success. Through Plum’s personality assessment, however, they figured out she may be a better fit for PR and communications, the role she ultimately landed.
Have candidates meet people company-wide to generate a sense of team investment in a new hire
“When we’re ready to move forward, when we think this person is going to be a pretty good fit, we have 3-5 people on the team meet the candidate,” said Chevrier.
Chevrier’s secret sauce behind final-round interviews is to have candidates meet people across the organization over a fairly long period of time (about 3 hours), not just meet folks in their potential department. While this is partly due to Sampler’s size, Chevrier credits the cross-company team meetings as the key for fostering employee ownership in the recruiting process.
“I find getting people involved in the hiring process makes them engaged in the candidate’s success,” she said. “It empowers everybody to feel their opinion matters – which it does.”
Clear actions from manager meetings show everyone what goals to strive for
Since Sampler’s early days, Chevrier has held weekly Monday management meetings. The meetings are Chevrier’s chance to hear team updates, set new goals, and address bubbling problems.
“We have a weekly PPP meeting – Progress, Plans, and Problems,” she said. “Every department has to present a few slides with their KPIs.”
Initially, these meetings were closed-door. But something became glaringly obvious: the office would be half-empty every Monday and non-managers had no idea what was going on. In a company that was under 10 employees for much of its history to date, this lack of transparency was a problem. Non-management employees had “no idea” what went on in meetings.
So Chevrier made a change. While only managers attend the meetings, there is a dial-in for anyone in the company who wants to listen. Further, Chevrier sends out an update to the whole company after each meeting with the key takeaways and key actions to take that week.
The transparency, she said, keeps everyone on track and also gets employees understanding what managers are accountable for delivering.
Transparency at work reminds everyone what they are marching towards
While on a flight during the holidays, Chevrier wrote a letter detailing the things she “would feel proud showing my bosses, Sampler’s investors.”
This letter, dated for one year after the letter was sent, outlined everything she committed to accomplishing for Sampler in the upcoming year. (If you got confused by that sentence, don’t worry. Basically, she wrote the letter at the beginning of 2019 but wrote it from the perspective of if it was 2020 and she was looking back on a successful 2019.)
But more than hoping to impress investors, Chevrier ran the letter by her management team, got their commitment, and ended up publishing the letter to the entire company after investors saw it.
“The letter ultimately helped the team understand where I would feel proud of their department,” she said, adding that the letter was not things like “sales growth 100 percent year-over-year,” but instead integrated goals for the whole company as it pushed on towards its vision.
This letter, for Chevrier and Sampler, “turned into our hiring plan to get to that goal. It stems into how we get there. Which then stems into KPIs. The hard numbers are being developed, so it’s actually quantitative in the end as we get towards our end goal.”
Recognizing and rewarding ownership behavior reinforces action
Chevrier said that encouraging ownership and transparency at work is crucial for Sampler. But at the same time they don’t have huge budgets – the millions they raised will go into company building, not random perks.
So they leverage a recognition app within chat platform Slack called Hey Taco.
When someone does something great in the office or for the company, other employees can give them a ‘taco’, a fictional digital token. At the end of each month, the employee with the most tacos gets to choose which snacks fill the company snack cart for the upcoming month.
(Side note: I saw chips and candy bars on the snack cart, but no tacos this time around.)
The recognition system offers a legitimate perk to employees for a low cost (if you love candy, you’re going to fight to get the most Tacos so you don’t have to put up with chips on the snack cart). Further, it showcases that ownership doesn’t need to be boring. And there’s even ownership built into the recognition mechanism.
“There’s a limit of 5 per day,” explained Chevrier. “Again, ownership. You can’t go nuts on the tacos.”
Aligning ownership actions with company needs
Fresh off the heels of their multi-million dollar fundraise, Sampler has a lot to do. Chevrier’s hope is their culture of ownership pushes the team through the aggressive vision she has for the company.
“This year is all about growing the number of brands we work with and the impact we have on their business,” she said. “We’re also growing our tech team to really start leveraging the power of the data we’ve accumulated.”