The Culture Book Excerpt: Autumn Manning of YouEarnedIt
By Autumn Manning, Co-Founder and CEO, YouEarnedIt
The Culture Book — a project in partnership between Culturati & Weeva, is a professional anthology of stories and advice on corporate culture building. We’re featuring a select group of leaders, entrepreneurs, investors & experts who have agreed to open up about what they’ve done right and wrong. The Culture Book is being published this month. First copies will be distributed to Culturati Summit attendees. Pre-order your copy at GetTheCultureBook.com
Culture Just Is
You can’t separate running a company from building a culture. Culture is. Period. When we decided to hire the first person, culture was. And while you can’t decide whether or not to have culture, you can decide what you want it to be. We made the decision early on that YouEarnedIt would have the culture we wanted and not one that accidentally happened to us.
Just like any other initiative that is important to the health and growth of the company, it takes a lot of work to build and maintain a strong, healthy culture and it starts from the top. I firmly believe that a CEO’s role is to build and maintain a place where people want to work, where people can be successful, and where people achieve their goals.
Our executive team knows that culture is a strategic priority and an operational practice they influence heavily. We regularly discuss contributors and detractors to our culture; we measure and communicate where we are with the health of the culture; and we have practices in place to ensure alignment with employees around these objectives.
While executives might set the tone, everyone at YouEarnedIt spends time on culture.
All employees are asked to take part in shaping and supporting it, managing it, communicating the principles around it, and holding each other accountable for living it out. It’s a key reason people decide to join us and sometimes it’s why we part ways with smart people. We attract better people because of our strong culture, and it allows us to more quickly assess strong or weak performers.
Navigating Culture Hires
Recruiting and hiring can be tricky when you have a strong culture. You want the team to be actively involved in the hiring process to screen for culture fit, and at the same time you want to hire talent with fresh qualities that would add diversity. The challenge is, people already on the team can feel threatened by a shift away from the status quo. Sometimes they need to see a new element in action before understanding how it works in the grand scheme of things.
We’ve certainly made mistakes in hiring for function rather than fit. Once you can evaluate the real business cost of this kind of mistake, you’ll see why hiring for culture is necessary. You have to connect culture to operational success or failure. If you realize an individual is not collaborating or not sharing information, you can start to quantify the impact of culture. How are their actions affecting the team, how are they holding up work, and what effect has that had on overall performance? Understanding your culture thoroughly enough to use it as grounds for termination means you are making the connection between culture and operational growth.
Making the right hires is especially critical when you place a high value on autonomy.
Open Book is one of our core values and we work very hard to give everyone the information they need to make smart decisions without always being told what to do. YouEarnedIt is a fun, connected place to work, fast-paced and ever-changing, but that commitment to openness and transparency is what makes our culture really special.
Hiring at the executive level has its own challenges. As the CEO, you’re trying to determine if these leaders want to run through the same walls that you do. Figuring that out takes a long time. It’s like dating: you’re feeling it out, trying to understand the energy of the relationship. You take your time getting to know who this person is as an individual and as a potential business partner. Functionally, will they be able to fill in the blanks of their area and truly own it? Culturally, are they proactively working to get to know people in the culture and asking to get involved? You find out quickly if someone at the executive level is not the right fit. It comes down to chemistry.
Never Stop Training
At YouEarnedIt, we want new employees to understand the company, where we’re going, and the role they play in our overall success. Within the first few weeks, we train everyone on our core values. We reinforce them in all-hands meetings to ensure everyone, no matter how long they’ve been with the company, is on the same page. I also do 90 day check-ins with every new team member to get valuable feedback, understand our strengths and weaknesses as an organization, and where I as well as the company can do better for our overall success.
One of the most difficult challenges for any company is managing through change. We’re growing and evolving and any time a company is heading somewhere really big, it requires a lot of conversation and communication.
At a high level, everyone needs to understand where we are going and how we are going to change to get there.
It’s also challenging to keep people motivated through difficult growth times. Whether it’s a low quarter for sales or the loss of a big customer, open and authentic communication is the only way to keep people motivated and moving forward. They need to know why: why are we doing this, why did we choose this direction, why did we let someone go. Giving people real answers allows them to focus on growth and company success.
The Tie That Binds
Business is hard. Sales go up and down, people miss quotas, engineers deploy a bug, good people leave which shakes the nerves of others on the team.
Culture serves as the tie that binds everyone together and gives them a greater reason for working hard, sticking it out, giving their all, and helping the organization solve problems in creative, innovative ways.
Right now, our culture drives our day-today interactions; we all recognize how important it is to our success. We’re all drinking the Kool-Aid, so to speak. As we grow, my fear is that our culture will somehow take a back seat to more pressing issues in the business and employees will think we don’t live by our culture anymore. I strive every day to to combat this by being personally connected to the expression of our culture to customers, new hires, and tenured employees alike.
I want other team members to own our culture as passionately as I do. At the same time, we have to strike a balance between being cultish and inclusive if we want to create a strong foundation for success.   We don’t want to exclude changes to our culture that serve long-term success, but we also don’t want to lose what we have now. Culture has to grow and evolve as our company grows and evolves.
Autumn is co-founder and CEO of YouEarnedIt, a leading HR SaaS company that improves bottom-line performance metrics by enhancing the employee experience. With a background in human capital management and expertise in enhancing corporate culture, she carries out the company’s vision to improve the lives of employees everywhere, one company at a time. She has appeared in The New York Times, Huffpo, Inc., Business Insider, and Entrepreneur. Under her leadership, YouEarnedIt was named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s list of Best Company Cultures in 2017.