Soak it up, think it through, act it out

My thoughts on Operations Camp 004

Image: Bureau of Digital

In May of this year, I attended Operations Camp 004 in Seattle, Washington, created and executed by the wonderful team at the Bureau of Digital. I’ve been to a few Bureau of Digital events, and this was in fact my second Operations Camp (I attended the first one in Dallas in late 2014). Being somewhat of a Jack-of-all-Trades here at Dynamo, I’ve taken away myriad lessons and tricks from each of these events. As their website states, the people at Operations Camp are my people, they share my issues, my victories and my failures. In other words, I feel right at home there.

For three days, my fellow Ops Nerds from 26 agencies and I hunkered down in Seattle to share ideas, pains, tears and beers. As I’ve discovered over the years, I learn best when I focus on soaking up knowledge in the moment, putting together my thoughts later on, then taking the necessary time to let it percolate before finally acting on the changes or pivots that I think will benefit Dynamo. What follows are the highlights of the talks I took part in, as well as our experience with the changes they motivated here at Dynamo.

Company Culture

Culture isn’t beer, wine, and foosball — it’s vision and values

Since Operations Camp, we’ve been hard at work on solidifying our company mission and vision. Not an easy task, but when we unveiled our mission (work-in-progress) at our recent company retreat, the acknowledgement and excitement was palpable. People yearn for this type of purpose, goal, and metric even. We know this better than ever now, and we’ve been prioritizing the establishment of a clear Dynamo mission and vision ever since.

I became curious how each person at Dynamo would describe our company culture.

I‘ve been having many side conversations with people here about culture — how it’s changed for better or for worse, what’s great, and even what’s not great. As a result, we’ve made small incremental changes. I still yearn, however, for a better understanding of how people see the big picture when it comes to culture. I’ve queued up a new question in our Know Your Company schedule, so I’ll start getting a finger on that pulse pretty soon.

Shipping & launching should be celebrated much more!

We’re not half-bad at celebrating the shipping and launching of our clients’ digital products but we certainly have room for improvement. Our project managers and I have taken it upon ourselves to celebrate these in my weekly digest email, and I’ve recently been trying to ensure launch teams actually go out for a little 5 à 7 to grab a much deserved bite, beer and team high fives following a successful launch. Unfortunately, I think we have a long way to go until I’m fully satisfied with our level of celebration for new products. Among other reasons, I think there’s a healthy mix of the team being tired once the launch happens, the client wanting to roll directly into Phase 2 of said product, and jumping too quickly into the project retrospective. We need to remember to take pause, have a breath and give a jumping group high five in whatever format is best suited to the team (hula hula hoop night, beer and wine cocktail hour, paintball outing, etc).

Leadership Structures

It’s been said that in agencies like Dynamo, with a mostly flat structure, you won’t find the same kind of upward mobility as in other, larger companies.

This is perhaps an obvious point, but it’s worth mentioning since it’s not the whole story. Without upward mobility, it is each person’s responsibility to evaluate what success means to them career-wise. It is then our responsibility as leadership to do what we can to make Dynamo be the place to enable a different, less traditional kind of growth and career development. I think we do a pretty good job of this at the moment — everyone here has the freedom to scratch their entrepreneurial itches within Dynamo (to be an “intrapreneur” if you will). For example, two years ago, during regular working hours, Max Kaplun and André Valle created what would become a successful, multi-faceted business in DynamicMTL, and, during our last HackDay, François Bianchin and Beckii Adel created and released the Remindful App in the App Store. These stories are an example of the kind of fires that are lit with the right “freedom fuel”.

Suggestion: Build hierarchy & leadership boards on projects as needed, then disband.

I like this idea — we’ve begun implementing some similar measures. The core idea here is transparency and managing expectations. If we point to one person and say “She’s in charge of this project”, we kill any ambiguity and we avoid misaligned expectations. I like that. We haven’t yet gone the full mile and created a full hierarchy and leadership board on every project, but I like this little change and, so far, so does everyone else.

Idea: Create your own title and present it to the team

I’m not sure about this, or what form it would take, but I’d love to task each team member to create their own title and then defend it to their peers, or to leadership. Again, this thought is still percolating, I’m unsure whether I’d want them to create their title as it reflects what they actually do every day, or what they’d love to be doing every day. This could inadvertently open up a pandora’s box of some sorts — but even if it does, wouldn’t that be healthy in the long run? Like I said… still percolating.

Role of Operations

My role is seemingly never-ending, and I love that. A few of the common threads that came up repeatedly at Operations Camp that I embrace in my role are:

  • Making sure Dynamo is a place we all want to work.
  • Being the bad guy to the team for the greater good of our clients & Dynamo.
  • Being the bad guy to clients & Dynamo for the greater good of team.
  • Optimize optimize optimize. A.k.a. reducing bench time and creating more with our current team.
  • In reality, my areas of responsibility are endless.

Never forgetting that we’re people-people, people! Never lose focus of the HOW: how we do things, how we produce amazing products, and how we enjoy an amazing work life is 100% attributable to the people.

Compensation Strategies

A question that came up with regards to compensation was: “Have I made sure it is clear to each person at Dynamo what makes up their total compensation?”. It’s certainly clear what part of their compensation is salary, but have we done a good job at ensuring that all other forms of compensation are A) understood as being part of total compensation, B) competitive and C) well-received? I think, historically, we’ve always done a pretty good job on these points but over the past few months, we’ve done a much better job at highlighting, sharing and encouraging all other forms of compensation. Elements such as health insurance, voluntary retirement savings programs, profit sharing, gym memberships, yoga, and meditation, are all much more in the open now. As such, they are more visible, and being taken advantage of more by the team. Surfacing all of the elements that make up total compensation is my job. Taking advantage of them is up to the team.

Recruiting, Hiring & Retention (RHR)

Discussion: Should we offer a referral bonus for new hires?

It was an interesting topic and there were many opinions, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t feel very Dynamo. While some agencies at Ops Camp do this, there was no consensus on the effectiveness of this with regards to performance, talent or retention.

Discussion: Does producing more Dynamo swag have a positive impact on RHR?

Again, mixed emotions at Ops Camp, but this one I’m more open to. To be clear, I don’t think there are any long-term, or deep, benefits to more branded swag. However, I do believe that by having more of our brand floating around out in the wild, we start to have the same effect as an itch you want to scratch, so to speak. People may seek us out in order to know more about us, simply out of curiosity. And curiosity leads to serendipity. And serendipity leads to awesome.

Thought: Interns as open source humans

That’s the extent of this little thought I had. But it made me chuckle out loud.

Discussion: How does networking help with RHR?

Consensus: Outreach shouldn’t be seen solely as finding THAT one person — it’s about making connections, opening doors, and touching many people.

Interview & job posting ideas

A couple of fun ideas for interviews and postings that I noted due to intrigue or humour or both:

  • Tell us a joke.
  • During your interview, be prepared to teach us something not specifically job-related.
  • Tell me five things you’re not.
  • Write about something you’re passionate about.
  • Use the word banana in your cover letter.

Benefits

We have some pretty great benefits at Dynamo but that doesn’t mean we’re satisfied. There is a beautiful balance that we’re constantly after. Here are a few ideas that were brought up that I took note of to ponder/implement:

  • “Founders Day” — The company has the Dynamo Anniversary date off BUT you MUST disconnect and get outside.
  • Choose a random world holiday to celebrate every year BUT learn about that holiday/culture.
  • Pick a holiday to celebrate and do Good as a team (e.g. on International Women’s Day, we all volunteer with Ladies Learning Code).
  • If an employee volunteers outside of work, we should give them an extra day off.
  • We should offer real-life skills sessions such as retirement planning, mortgages, investing, etc. (update: one already done, 2 more in the planning stages).

Reading recommendations from fellow Ops Campers

As you can see, there are many opportunities for change and many nuggets that have been percolating for quite some time. Some may never see the light of day, and that’s ok. What I get out of Operations Camp is energy, ideas and commiseration. All the things that make me better at my job. And when I’m better at my job, my clients reap the benefits. And do you know who my clients are? Each and every employee at Dynamo.