For young startups, company culture typically grows organically as more employees join the team. But after reaching a certain threshold, many companies will organize a group dedicated to ensuring their teams are happy and feel involved.
Four Austin tech companies shared with us the details of their respective culture groups and how they've made an impact on their team.
Social Solutions, a software company developing solutions to help nonprofits run more efficiently, named their culture group "Work Hard Play Hard Committee" or #WHPH. Frank Vanco, Social Solutions' recruiting manager, filled us in.
How many people are in it? Officially, everyone is part of the #WHPH Committee — we’re a decentralized group and anyone with an idea can lift it up and run with it! There is a core group of 10 folks who vet and oversee the details of the event and they volunteer for that role.
What are some of the best events/ideas the group has put into action? To drive excitement for the Super Bowl, we recently had a dip contest and also offered free entry into a Super Bowl squares contest, with prizes going to the winners.
We have set up a hot chocolate bar and people were able to build their own cups of warm cocoa with a variety of mix-ins.
In January, Social Solutions held a cultural potluck that allowed folks to bring in dishes that were important to their family heritage and facilitated interaction and interesting conversation.
There are regular in-office happy hours, birthday parties and seasonal events that people look forward to doing each month.
LegalZoom's Austin office has over 500 employees who help support the 3.6 million people using their tech platform for legal assistance. Internally, the office established a group called the LegalZoom Service Committee to help our local communities.
How many people are in it? Zoomers are driven by a passion to help, whether it’s helping our customers or helping our communities.
So it’s no surprise that the Service Committee draws a lot of interest. We currently count on 20 Zoomers as members and 10 additional Zoomers as volunteers who commit less time but who are available to help when needed.
Of course, the Committee is just one way Zoomers give back. LegalZoom supports employee efforts to make an impact in their communities by offering community service PTO (two days off per year for community service).
What is the group responsible for? The LegalZoom Service Committee is responsible for planning and executing monthly events that help people in need and make a significant and positive impact in our communities, both in and out of the office.
What are some of the best events/ideas the group has put into action? The LegalZoom Service Committee is always open to new ideas for giving back. Some of our most popular and successful events throughout the year include ping pong tournaments to raise funds for Austin Pets Alive; a Valentine’s Day card drive for beneficiaries of Meals on Wheels; a charity golf tournament; and an annual Christmas drive in which we sponsor several families through Austin Children’s Shelter and provide them with a Christmas to remember.
We also give back to our fellow Zoomers by holding a breakfast taco appreciation event to thank everyone in the office for supporting our community service efforts.
It can be hard to gauge when a startup is large enough to set up a formal culture committee — and even then, it's not always clear where to even start. We reached out to Katie Smith, HR manager at Digital Pharmacist (formerly known as RxWiki), for tips on how to get the ball rolling.
What are the steps to consider for rolling out a culture group? The first step in setting up a successful culture committee is to gather interest. Ask employees from every department within the company by email or in a team meeting to join your committee. This works much better than "handpicking" people who you think may make a good fit. Inclusivity will always be important in establishing your culture committee.
Second, set the ground rules during your first meeting. I always like to explain that I am not the "leader" of the culture committee; rather, I am the one who helps them fight battles, whether it be for time out of office to volunteer, funds for a donation, or any other charge where they need representation. This is important because it places the accountability on the group. Therefore, it will be up to them to decide how large of an impact they want to make as a culture committee.
Third, spur initial discussion. Sending a survey asking the culture committee about their interest in the club is important. Do they want to focus on internal events? Community service? Sports teams? It may be an even spread of all those things, which will lead the club's approach. Or, it could be that they want to focus solely on community service, which is great too. Establishing this early on will be important for defining the course of the group.
Lastly, schedule regular meetings, take notes and keep the energy of the group up. Like mentioned before, you are not the leader of the group; however, you can be a great proponent to their success. Keep the meetings short, meaningful and routine. Take notes and send them to the group until a natural leader in the group surfaces. Reaffirm their discussions, implicating how important culture development is to the company's overall success.
If these things are accomplished, your crew will be set up and organically develop over the lifetime of the club.
rateGenius offers an online auto refinancing platform and an insurance agency for various sectors including auto, home and life. With over 230 employees in their Austin headquarters, volunteers from every department join the company's "Culture Committee" to promote a healthy blend of community engagement and company participation. Dianne McCarty, VP of human resources, gave us the details.
How do people join? We get volunteers from each department and I have at least one department representative if not more. Each person participates on two committees, and everyone is on either the Mid-year or Holiday Event Committee. Then everyone is on one subcommittee: Active Lifestyle, Community Involvement or Employee Engagement.
What is the group responsible for? For the Mid-year/Holiday Committees, each group helps to decide the venue and what we are going to do, like themes, food, prizes and so forth. For the subcommittees, it is more specialized and often times two committees might partner together on an event.
The Active Lifestyle Committee comes up with events that encourage our employees to be out and active. Right now we are trying weekly dodgeball. They've done Shoot the Hoops playing basketball, and we've also held flag football on Thanksgiving Day.
The Community Involvement Committee creates events that encourage our employees to give back to the community. We did a Blood Bus for donations, we have walked dogs and participated in Blue Santa and Coats for Kids.
Employee Engagement finds ways to get the employees involved and excited about being at the company. They do things like encouraging the teams to dress up for Halloween and host a costume contest with rules and judges. They develop monthly and quarterly Employee Appreciation events like Fan Friday (wear your college or sports team shirt), and they are currently revamping our employee of the quarter process.
What are some of the best events/ideas the group has put into action? Both the Active Lifestyle and Community Involvement partnered for Team in Training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We had multiple people train for either the Spartan race or 5K, and we raised over $21,000 in 2016 for the LLS. We are excited about doing it again this year.
We also offered Spanish Class to teach any employee that wants to learn Spanish. We just finished the first 3.5 month session, and we are about to draw for a winner for an all-inclusive four-day, three night trip to Mexico. Your score and your attendance determine how many times your name goes into the drawing.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Images provided by companies.