23 Jul Five Ws with the TIAs Finalists: Tech Culture of the Year
Absolute Software, Amazon, Copperleaf and Thinkific at the 2020 Technology Impact Awards Finalist Announcement on April 28th, 2020.
In the lead-up to the 2020 Technology Impact Awards, BC Tech is profiling all 38 finalists in 11 award categories. Today, we look at four companies whose cultures accelerate growth and profitability, and deepen the positive impact they have on the ecosystem and community. The 2020 “Tech Culture of the Year” award is presented in partnership with SAP.
Who: Absolute’s 500-person workforce, half of which is based in its Vancouver head office, was “overjoyed and honored” to receive a TIAs nomination for Tech Culture of the Year, says Karen Reynolds, Chief Communications Officer.
Absolute pioneered Endpoint Resilience, which empowers devices to recover automatically from any state to a secure operational state without user intervention. “Our goal is to become the world’s most trusted security system,” Karen says. “It’s a bold statement, and one we believe is very achievable.”
What: Absolute’s culture rallies employees around the values of passion, innovation and trust to address challenging and urgent issues involving endpoint security. These values inform Absolute’s global initiatives and recognition programs such as employee awards, social impact programs, ongoing training opportunities and company culture-building activities ranging from weekly yoga to annual retreats. No wonder Absolute made British Columbia’s Top Employers of the Year list in both 2018 and 2019.
The company also believes in sharing its culture with the community. By participating in the CEOx1Day program, a global initiative founded by executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, Absolute gives local students the opportunity to learn business and leadership skills from top executives including CEO Christy Wyatt.
When: Through this past year, Absolute invested significantly in remote working capabilities, such as standardized online collaboration and video conferencing platforms. So when the COVID-19 crisis hit, it was able to quickly support the remote work and distance learning initiatives of businesses and educational institutions. “It’s been so satisfying to receive thank you letters and calls from our customers, saying that without our technology, they would have not been able to be as successful as they were,” Karen says.
Where: “Our Vancouver team serves the community in which we live and work,” Karen says, pointing to holiday traditions such as providing gifts for needy families and feeding the homeless. Absolute also hosts an art gallery on the 13th floor of its head office that showcases a rotating roster of local artists.
Why: “Our culture of passion, innovation and trust is directly linked to the innovation we deliver to the market,” Karen says. “These values are not measurements of device health or a marketing pitch. They represent who we are as a company, and the technology we pioneered. When we build things, we’re thinking about how to heal things when they break. We enable the ability to recover, respond, and bounce back.”
Who: Calling itself “the world’s most customer-obsessed technology company,” Amazon chose Vancouver as one of its Canadian tech hubs because of the city’s great talent pool. In fact, Amazon expects its Vancouver corporate workforce to grow to 5,000 employees by 2022.
The 800-plus open roles in Vancouver and surrounding areas encompass everything from software development and e-commerce to human resources and sales and marketing. The company says that its biggest challenge involves getting the right candidates through the door. Amazon is known for valuing candidates that reflect its unique culture and evaluating potential hires according to its famous 14 Leadership Principles (LPs).
What: Amazon Canada’s vibrant downtown office is a place for employees to share coffee and play soccer, foosball, board games, and participate in local charitable events. Every month, “Amazonians” find reasons to celebrate co-workers’ successes, and host sessions to share best practices and learn about new areas of emerging technology and how to leverage it for their customers.
Amazonians continuously work together to streamline processes and eliminate defects to drive a better customer and employee experience. Amazon uses systematic methods to make work processes easier and more efficient with their “Kaizen” program which got its name from the Japanese term which translates to “change for the better”. Through the program, Amazonians participate in small teams and identify waste and streamline processes. They also bring this systematic thinking to the communities where they live, work and play by helping nonprofits apply this systematic approach.
Recently, another priority has involved keeping employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon invested USD$800 million worldwide in its fulfillment centres on safety measures like masks, hand sanitizer, thermal cameras, thermometers, sanitizing wipes, gloves, additional handwashing stations, disinfectant spraying, testing supplies, and hiring more janitorial staff.
When: Amazon Canada has also supported the community during the pandemic by donating $3 million to support those most affected by COVID-19. That included USD$1.5 million for Canadian Red Cross, United Way Centraide Canada, and Food Banks Canada, and an additional $1.5 million to support local organizations including the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Backpack Buddies, and the Surrey Food Bank.
Then there’s the Audible Stories collection of full-length audio books, hundreds of which have been made available for free in seven different languages. Designed to give children and families a screen-free entertainment option, the collection has doubled in size since March.
Why: How has Amazon grown from a garage outside of Seattle to offices in more than 30 countries around the world? Part of it is about design: Each of Amazon’s corporate offices, including the Vancouver location, have their own unique designs, incorporating touches like whiteboards in the elevators, open areas that encourage spontaneous meetings, and door desks. All this creates environmentally friendly workspaces with a great energy that help inspire collaboration and innovation. The famous “Day 1” approach on thinking scrappy and remaining true to their mission in the early days. Amazonians culture is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. All across Amazon their culture is rooted in thinking big.
It also has to do with supporting diversity and inclusion in myriad ways, such as Amazon’s 10 employee-led affinity groups that reach 40,000 employees in over 190 chapters globally. The company has found that diverse and inclusive teams have a positive impact on its products and services, and help them better serve customers, selling partners, content creators, employees, and community stakeholders from every background.
Who: Copperleaf’s team was “super-excited to be nominated because culture is so important to us and we have been applying for this particular category for years,” says spokesperson Stephanie Fung. “Culture isn’t something that’s left to chance. It’s intentional.”
What: Copperleaf’s culture is rooted in diversity and inclusiveness, Stephanie says. “What I was shocked about when I joined the company was you could talk to any of the VPs or the CEO directly. You don’t feel shy to voice your opinion and know that, even if they don’t agree with you, they’ll listen to you.”
Copperleaf’s decision analytics software solutions leverage operational and financial data to help enterprises managing critical infrastructure make investment decisions that deliver the highest business value. Two decades after being founded, “we have 100 percent retention of our clients,” Stephanie says. “Any company who’s ever implemented our software is still with us today. Copperleaf is helping manage over $1 trillion of infrastructure globally.”
When: In 2016, Canadian Business magazine named Copperleaf one of Canada’s Top 20 Fastest-Growing Software Companies. No wonder CEO Judi Hess took home the 2018 TIA for “Person of the Year.” Less than 12 months later, the investment arm of the UK-based National Grid utility acquired a $10 million (USD) stake in the company. Judi also walks the walk when it comes to culture and has said “culture over strategy” as she knows the value it brings for an organization.
Where: “The amount of talent and innovation in Vancouver and in B.C. have been really strong the past few years,” Stephanie says. “To us, it’s like we’re all helping each other. When every company helps to grow talent, it just makes us all better.”
Why: “Culture is really what drives our success,” Stephanie says. “It’s something we work hard to support because it helps us embrace change, be tolerant of mistakes, and promote innovation. It’s more important than strategy here.”
Copperleaf also applied a unique approach when building their culture and removed the power structure. This means every single employee was involved in the process so it was written down leveraging the power of co-creation. This co-creation is integral and part of the reason Judi spends time onboarding new employees on Copperleaf’s culture.
Indeed, CEO Judi Hess spends at least three hours with every new hire explaining Copperleaf’s culture, and leads seminars to reinforce the subject with all team members. “In the early days, we spent eight months working to truly define our culture, and it was the best team-building exercise you could ever hope for,” Judi says.
Who: Thinkific’s culture includes people from more than 25 different countries, with half of them identifying as female. The latter also applies to half of the company’s leadership team. “Our people aren’t only incredibly talented, but diverse as well,” says spokeswoman Dalena Nguyen. “This shouldn’t be rare in the tech industry, but unfortunately, it is.
What: As benefits a software platform that enables entrepreneurs to create, market, sell, and deliver their own online courses, learning is ingrained in Thinkific’s cultural DNA. From sharing books and articles to cross-team collaboration to internal leadership development programs, the company constantly pushes its employees to strive for growth and improvement as they pursue a mission of revolutionizing the way people learn. “We recently surpassed 65 million courses taken on our platform, which is a huge milestone for us,” Dalena says.
Creative input and feedback from the team is embraced at every level, leaving the team with a sense of pride and accountability in their work. “One of our values, ‘Passionately debate,’ encourages open and honest communication, and allows us to look at problems from all different perspectives. If you believe in something worth fighting for and can back it up, we love to see that,” says Tia Fomenoff, Director of People and Culture.
When: With so many businesses affected by the global pandemic, Thinkific launched an “Entrepreneur Growth Fund” designed to stimulate the small business and freelance economy by pairing entrepreneurs with mentors to guide them through the process of setting up a course and committing $1 million to cover the cost of these services.
Where: Members of the B.C. tech community are “super-supportive of each other,” Dalena says, pointing to Thinkific’s past experience with BC Tech’s HyperGrowth program. “At the time, we were six people in the corner of the BC Tech hub. Now we’re 160 with new team members joining us each week!”
Why: “Being fanatical about customer success is one of the core values of our culture,” Dalena says. “Seeing customers sell hundreds of millions in courses and educate tens of millions of people has been incredible. We regularly share user stories with our team, and being able to see the impact that we’re able to both help create, while helping course creators impact their students as well, is something that drives our whole team.”
For CEO and Co-Founder Greg Smith, it’s about putting in place the right processes that nourish creativity and personal accountability within the team: “So much of modern successful business theories boil down to creating an environment where people can succeed through rhythms and habits.”