Impossible honoured as Best for the World for Employees!

Earlier this month Impossible was honoured as the Best for the World company by B Lab. We hit the nomination in the Employees category, and thus were recognised as a company that creates the most positive impact for its people.

This nomination was particularly flattering to us, since people have always been at the core of Impossible’s existence. We are a company that operates in a knowledge based economy. We make products that we want to be using tomorrow. Useful products are always born out of one’s imagination, ability to identify and solve problems, and collaboration. If our people are not fulfilled they cannot create. Creativity is a function of individual happiness in a team context.

We got the nomination by scoring high on the Employee’s category of the B Impact Assessment we went through last year (you can read about it here). This 2-month long assessment pushed us to make a critical reevaluation of all our processes, decisions and areas of focus, including the one of employees.

Impossible team in the Azores islands, Portugal.

In the Employees category our performance was measured against criteria like employee compensation, benefits, training, ownership opportunities and others. Things like overall work environment, management/employee communication, job flexibility, corporate culture, employee health, safety practices and many, many more were taken into account as well.

These quantifiable metrics serve as the extended checklist that any company should start with when it sets on to build a culture that nurtures its employees. But what do we do once the basics are covered?

We tried to identify a couple of seemingly intangible, invisible practices that we’ve been carrying on to keep our people happy and encourage them to become their better selves.

1) Hire for fit

Though not very well documented, Impossible’s culture is easily palpable. Culture takes on the function of a structure which doesn’t really exist in our management-free, flat company. Culture acts as a glue that keeps us in touch with each other. That’s why, when inviting someone to join our family, we pay so much attention to the cultural fit. We believe that skills are acquirable and transferrable, while attitudes and values usually have to come from within.

Impossible company gathering in Monchique, Portugal

2) How do you feel?

Every 6 months we make one on ones where we simply ask each other “How do you feel?”. What follows can go into every possible direction, but the intention is to regularly scan our colleagues’ emotional well-being. At Impossible we do care about the journey. Meaningful work, challenging projects, growth, recognition — go without saying. However, if one of our team members is on low spirits, all that doesn’t matter. If the company is a moving train, we do want our passengers to get a window seat, meet interesting fellow travellers, and have delicious refreshments served on a silver tray every hour. We want them to feel good during the journey. So…how do you feel?

3) Fun in the workplace.

Fun is what helps us get through the intense (not to say stressful) periods, to work with colleagues whose opinion we don’t necessarily agree with, or just to decide how we can keep our office kitchen tidy. Fun doesn’t mean constant laughter, or water gun games around the clock. For us it means having space for some spontaneity, and allowing ourselves some healthy detachment from our daily work.

Victoria and Kwame aiming high at the Book of Possibilities launch party

4) Trust.

For good or bad, there is no such thing as classified at Impossible (unless it’s under NDA). We know each other’s salaries and how much profit the company made last year. We know the status of all current negotiations with prospective clients and we know what’s in the pipeline. We know each other’s projects, challenges, problems, and pets. One might say it’s “over sharing”, but for us it’s an essential part of our culture. We create a system of mutual trust to cooperate better, which helps us be more empathetic towards each other and combine our efforts for a common goal.

5) Differences are welcome.

Great ideas are born at the intersection of fields, cultures and disciplines. This diversity stems not only from the difference in genders, ages, or countries of origin (although that certainly helps). Diversity is about different opinions and ways one tackles a problem. It’s the cognitive diversity that allows different points of view to coalesce and give way to something completely new. Managing and being part of diverse teams is not easy at all — we are constantly challenged to get better at communication and work on our empathy. Diversity pays off only in the environment where people are ready to listen to and willing to understand each other. Are we there yet? Not at all. But we keep trying.

This is not to say we have it all. Building a strong company culture and keeping each other happy (especially when there is no single person responsible for employee happiness) is challenging and still a work in progress for us. However, receiving recognition from B Labs in the Employees category means we are on the right path.

We are happy to be part of this inspiring community of changemakers which includes such prominent companies as patagonia, Seventh Generation, National Co+op Grocers, Business Development Bank of Canada, and others. We never really aimed as high as “set a new standard” in how companies should take care of their employees. Sometimes we are not even sure we’re doing it right ourselves. However, being part of this international community means our ideas can reach so much more than 60+ people that work at Impossible. We would be happy to see more people and companies join the conversation.

If you enjoyed reading this, check “Certified B Corporation: making the world a better place?” and Creative Healthy Lifestyle: from culture to the way of life