5 Austin CEOs share how individual employees make a difference

by Kelly O'Halloran
May 9, 2018

There’s plenty of stories out there about how CEOs turned companies around, but game-changing ideas can come from all levels of the business. We asked CEOs at five Austin tech companies to share moments of genius born outside the C-suite that impacted the entire organization.

photo provided by trendkite

To teach its employees how to lead within a fast-growing company, TrendKite recently launched management training program for everyone from first-time- to long-time managers. This is just one way TrendKite empowers individuals to make a difference, no matter where they fall on the executive ladder. CEO Erik Huddleston filled us in on how else TrendKiters make an impact.


How has an employee helped shape your company's direction?

One TrendKiter who had an impressive impact on the company’s bottom line recently was Lacey Miller, our senior marketing manager. In order to reach customers and prospects while in town for SXSW, Lacey led the conception and execution of an event called #OwnYourPath. The event featured eight leaders in marketing and communications — all women at the CMO or VP level — participating in a panel discussion on empowerment and mentoring. In addition to delivering a standing-room-only group of over 100 attendees and major social traction with the #OwnYourPath hashtag, the event paid off with multiple sales opportunities, proving to be one of the highest-converting events for TrendKite.


How does TrendKite recognize or celebrate employee contributions?

We celebrate our successes in many ways, including a shoutout channel on Slack, with heavy daily use, and a weekly town hall where individual or group achievements are celebrated. My favorite way we recognize individual impact on our business is at our yearly all hands meeting, where six awards are handed out for outstanding achievement in each of our core values, as well as our (TK)2 award. This award is named after our late VP of customer success, Tracey Kaufman, who succumbed to cancer after building our initial team. These awards come with stock grants, highlighting our commitment to living our values.


photo provided by outboundengine

OutboundEngine CEO Branndon Stewart said the company has a long history of encouraging everyone to make an impact, whether culturally or economically. This has translated into employee-led recreational leagues, charity events and a series of advocacy groups for historically underrepresented populations called TRIBE. OutboundEngine also has a middle management group dedicated to keeping communication open across all levels and to funneling news ideas to the execs, as well as an employee advocate group to better improve everyday life at Outbound.


How have employees helped shape Outbound’s direction?

We recently had a manager from our customer success team, Alex Siebel, convince the company that we absolutely needed to launch a new product for our customers in the mortgage industry. We have something similar for other industries we support, and he was able to put together a great case for what the financial opportunity looked like and how the product would need to evolve to serve those specific customers. We launched it earlier this year.

We also had one of our content editors, Tina Orosz, step up and guide us through a recent regulatory change affecting the real estate industry. She’s a writer by trade, but, prior to joining us, she spent some time working directly for a major real estate brokerage, where she picked up some great knowledge about real estate regulations. She raised her hand, did the research, and came back with a recommendation for a product change and training materials for our staff. We’ll be implementing her work later this month.


How does OutboundEngine recognize or celebrate employee contributions?

We set aside time for recognition at our monthly all-hands meetings, when our department heads speak to an individual’s accomplishments in front of everyone. We also have annual employee of the year awards for every department and a company-wide employee of the year, nominated by department heads and voted on by senior leadership. All of these awards have prizes associated with them, including trophies, cash, or, for our employee of the year, a custom portrait painted by a local artist that is hung in our break room for everyone to see.

It’s also very common for managers, team leads and department heads to host events or parties to celebrate a major milestone or the completion of a big project. Like most things here, all it takes is someone willing to organize. We’re always happy to invest in celebrating our individual and collective wins.


photo provided by headspring

Headspring CEO Dustin Wells said employees outside leadership impact the company's bottom line on a regular basis. Wells said the company’s project teams have more control over business outcomes than anyone else, as they are the ones identifying new business opportunities from existing clients. Here’s how they’ve recently made a difference.


How have employees helped shape your company's direction?

Not that long ago, one of our clients came to us with an urgent request for a security audit on an existing system, which isn’t something we advertise among our services. One of the project team members happened to have a background in security analysis, so he got with the account manager, put a plan together, did the full analysis and shipped it all back to the client within 24 hours. The client was blown away by our commitment, execution speed and the quality of our work. That small engagement’s led to multiple long-running engagements with that client.


How does Headspring recognize or celebrate employee contributions?

We built a recognition system for ourselves that we call “The Bragboard,” where people can highlight great work someone else is doing in real time. The whole company gets to see these brags as they happen because it’s integrated with our instant messenger system. On Fridays, we also do a 30-minute all-hands meeting right before lunch celebrating team and individual efforts.

Quarterly, we also collect what we call “HVA” nominations which stands for “Headspring Value Awards.” These are peer-nominated recognitions of when someone has clearly demonstrated one of our five core values. Plus, this year, we started giving people LEGO bricks and a custom minifigure to celebrate their anniversary with the company. You can always tell who some of the “old timers” are based on their LEGO towers.


photo provided by activeprospect

At ActiveProspect, one way the team empowers everyone to contribute is through a new employee training program called “Freedom of Ideas.” This program encourages employees to share their ideas by providing them with a framework for doing so in a productive manner. CEO Steve Rafferty said it’s often the employees working on the front lines who are most exposed to opportunities for the company to improve, and this is one way the company can ensure their feedback is heard.


How has an employee helped shape ActiveProspect's direction?

A prime example of this process improvement from an employee on the front lines is Jonathan Perkins. He joined ActiveProspect a year and a half ago as a junior implementation engineer and helps our clients configure their lead flows for managing online lead generation campaigns. He quickly recognized opportunities for improvement by noticing where our clients needed the most help. He took the initiative to create an interactive “getting started” guide to both help clients get up to speed more quickly and scale the support we could offer. This guide reduced the time needed by implementation engineers to help clients get set up by 50 percent.

We also recently launched self-service account plans, which allow companies to use our products for $10 per month. Again, Jon identified the need to improve the onboarding of these customers. This is a rapidly growing segment of our business. The combination of the strategic importance of this initiative, and Jon’s initiative analyzing the data to identify problem areas, led us to create an entirely new role for Jon at the company. He is now our product engagement manager. We expect big things for Jon moving forward.


erelevance ceo
photo provided by erelevance

Toward the end of 2017, client success managers from eRelevance shared critical feedback about their platform’s client-facing portal with CEO Bob Fabbio. Fabbio said that in response to this conversation, the dev team re-implemented the entire portal with a new version just three weeks later. As a result, the company saw increased portal usage along with a positive customer response.


How does eRelevance empower individuals at all levels to make a difference?

Walk into our office and you’ll see our core values prominently displayed on the walls. I’m proud to say these aren’t merely words at eRelevance. I see these cultural tenets demonstrated every day. Be courageous. Be creative. Be collaborative. These are three cultural values that empower our employees to make a difference. 

I learned long ago that identifying the best people for a team is not a matter of checking skills off a list. A cultural fit is equally important. You have to recruit and retain people who fit and thrive. We look for people with shared values who are not afraid to take risks, think creatively and respect and learn from each other. As a result, we quickly implement good ideas from people throughout the organization, hire supervisors from within and publicly recognize individual success and leadership in a variety of ways.


How does eRelevance recognize or celebrate employee contributions?

Every month in our all-hands meeting, we recognize an employee chosen by his or her peers who has best exemplified our core values and gone above and beyond to make an impact on our internal or external customers, and our business. This person receives a financial reward. We also reward employees for exemplary individual achievement by surprising them with additional equity grants in the company.


Jobs from companies in this blog

Austin startup guides

Best Companies to Work for in Austin
Coolest Tech Offices in Austin
Best Perks at Austin Tech Companies
Women in Austin Tech