Picking a tool or vendor

Over the years, I’ve realized just how much my views on the ideal workplace impact how I select the vendors I work with. I remember selecting one of my first vendors at my last job and the CEO (a hugely-influential mentor of mine) suggesting I add a few questions to my vetting process. They stick with me today.

How big is the company? How quickly are they growing? There’s something to be said for selecting a vendor who is facing the same challenges you are as a business. For us, it was being a budget-conscious start-up trying to scale our team and culture quickly. I always felt just a bit better when working with a company our size or a little larger who had been through some of the challenges. It meant that any employee I spoke to – from sales-to-success-to-support had likely faced the same challenges our sales, success and support teams did. Their managers had the same demands. I just felt some level of comfort knowing my vendor knew my pain points really well.

How many customers do you have? What’s your target market? I tend to like start-ups with a solid base of customers, but not so many that I worry that once the sale is closed, they’ll vanish into the abyss and we’ll be up a creek for implementation and support. I also like to know that we’re in the market they are targeting or aiming towards – I don’t want to enter a relationship with a company if they are looking to move upstream from where I see my company in the near-future. If they are looking to really crush the market I’m in, I’m more likely to get service and see features related to my challenges.

Talk to me about your culture? What types of companies choose you? This is concert with me doing some research on my own about a company’s culture and values. I want to work with companies that care about creating a great experience for their employees, because I think it’ll mean better service for me and a product built to help me support an amazing culture. It cuts again to: “How can you serve me well if we’re trying to solve different problems or don’t align philosophically?”

I still look at tablestakes things like pricing and features, but with so many amazing HR Tech solutions on the market, I try to focus in on those supporting a similar purpose. I’m in the midst of selecting a performance management tool. There are dozens of solid options out there – each solving the problem a little bit differently and all potentially presenting a ton of value to my organization. The leading candidate, though, has about 150 clients and their content is really focused on culture more than performance management. Their tool does really neat things on its own, but it sure is reassuring to know that they are thinking about it as a solution not just to help with comp reviews or exiting people, but as a key component to building a high-performing culture.



Saying goodbye … to a company

I’ve been talking to a number of people lately about the emotions that come along with a job transition, and I can’t help but compare it to a break up. No, they aren’t always bad and painful things. And they can be necessary to grow yourself and your career. But even on amicable terms, they can often hurt. Here are some of the ways they are similar:

Stay together for the kids. Ok, not literally. But it seems that most people I’ve spoken to were trying to hang in there for something. Maybe it’s vesting options. Or a co-worker or team they really adored. Or clinging to hopes that the good ole days would return, or that horrible boss would be fired. If you get to a point where the work isn’t getting you out of bed in the morning and exciting you – it’s probably time to consider moving on or figuring out if there’s a way to reinvigorate things before your partner (aka your employer) ends the relationship for you.

Sometimes it hurts so much to lose the one you love. Boom. I worked in a 90’s reference. Bonus points if anyone recognizes it. I’ve talked to very few people who didn’t feel some sense of loss when leaving a job. Maybe it’s for one of the reasons above, but it’s not uncommon for people to feel a loss of some part of their identity. This is magnified 10x if someone isn’t ready to leave a company. There’s some research that indicates death, divorce and job loss are the most stressful things people have to endure.

Moving on takes a while. I still say “we” when talking about my last company, and I need to be very cognizant of not saying the wrong name when I’m talking with others about where I work. It’s not that I’m not excited about my current role, it’s really as simple as breaking a 4.5 year habit and ritual. It’s easier when you know the landscape and your company. It’s harder when you are feeling something new out, and it can really magnify reminiscing about the last role.

You look back either too fondly or too negatively. There are break ups where you look back and you miss everything, conveniently forgetting there was a reason you left. There are break ups where you look back so angry about everything that you forget there was a lot good (at one point) about the relationship. The same can be true when you leave a company, particularly in the short-term.

What’s the worst break-up with a company you’ve had?

Core Values – My Influences

At work, we’re working on figuring out what our values are and who we aspire to be. It’s a critical project for any company (I think) because your values should drive everything from hiring/firing to recognition and promotions. They should be so engrained in everything that you do that people always know the right behavior or decision to make, based on what you believe in as a company. Once we have our values, we can start to build out performance management, recognition, events, etc.

Because I have the pleasure of being one of the executive team sponsors of the project, I’ve been immersing myself in all things culture and values. I get myself pumped up. I share with others. I geek out. There are a lot of companies identifying and leveraging their values in a very effective way to differentiate themselves (and their talent) from the pack. Here are a couple companies that have inspired me:

Netflix: This company took culture and values to the mainstream with the release of their culture deck. Not only did they share out their values and illustrate with examples, they talk about their culture so openly and honestly, knowing that it’s not the right fit for everyone. They flat out share that average players will get terminated with a generous severance package to hammer home just how important being exceptional is to them. My favorite example is “picking up the trash” … there’s really no better way to encapsulate a set of behaviors and attitudes you want than with that example. If I can help produce something anywhere close to as articulate as this deck, I’ll have a drop-the-mic moment and feel like I’ve done something special.

Amazon: Their Leadership Principles make their expectations crystal clear. I love calling out a bias for action and frugality. One may assume a company as large and successful as Amazon wouldn’t see either as a filter through which decisions should be made, but it is an integral part of their DNA. When you look at all of their principles, you can start to see how they’ve grown and innovated in the ways that they have. Their “think big” and “Customer obsession” also start to shed some light on how they’ve taken on so many different markets and innovated in ways that have transformed the expectations of customers around the world when dealing with online retailers. Zappos is really high on my list too, but I can’t call out two Amazon companies without feeling like I’ve stacked the deck!

Valve: When I first started at Buildium, one of the co-founders sent me Valve’s handbook. “Maybe we can do something like this?” Yeah, maybe Dimitris! They don’t call out their values as explicitly as others, but if you read through their handbook, you can tell what matters most to them and why they think it gives them an advantage in the market. My favorite part of the handbook is the end, when they are blunt about what they don’t do well. I think every company would be wise to take a look in the mirror and acknowledge what they don’t do well.

BambooHR: Anyone who works with me or talks shop with me knows how much I idolize this company. I have put two companies on their platform because it’s just so damned useful and intuitive, but I’ve always admired their culture and ability to push out useful product updates at a blistering pace. The Bamboo Way is clearly articulated and I’ve never had an interaction with their team that seemed at odds with what they say is important. This company is going somewhere and it seems like the people are happy to be driving the ride in part because of their values-oriented culture.

Atlassian: I’ll end with a simple one. They have a “mere” five values, but articulate them quite well and give their team context as to why they matter.

How does your company do with core values?