Dec 192013

5 Ways to Get Your Staff on the Same Page

5 Ways to Get Your Staff on the Same Page

[This post first appeared as an article in Entrepreneur Magazine as part of a new series I’m publishing there in conjunction with my book, Startup CEO:  A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business]

When a major issue arises, is everybody at your company serving the same interests? Or is one person serving the engineering team, another person serving the sales team, one board member serving the VC fund, another serving the early-stage “angels” and another serving the CEO? If that’s the case, then your team is misaligned. No individual department’s interests are as important as the company’s.

To align everyone behind your company’s interests, you must first define and communicate those goals and needs. This requires five steps:

  1. Define the mission. Be clear to everyone about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there (in keeping with your values).
  2. Set annual priorities, goals, and targets. Turn the broader mission into something more concrete with prioritized goals and unambiguous success metrics.
  3. Encourage bottom-up planning. You and your executive team need to set the major strategic goals for the company, but team members should design their own path to contribution. Just be sure that you or their managers check in with them to assure that they remain in synch with the company’s goals.
  4. Facilitate the transparent flow of information and rigorous debate. To help people calibrate the success, or insufficiency, of their efforts, be transparent about how the organization is doing along the way. Your organization will make better decisions when everyone has what they need to have frank conversations and then make well-informed decisions.
  5. Ensure that compensation supports alignment (or at least doesn’t fight it). As selfless as you want your employees to be, they’ll always prioritize their interests over the company’s. If those interests are aligned – especially when it comes to compensation – this reality of human nature simply won’t be a problem.

Taken in sequence, these steps are the formula for alignment. But if I had to single out one as the most important, it would be number 5: aligning individual incentives with companywide goals.

It’s always great to hear people say that they’d do their jobs even if they weren’t paid to, but the reality of post-lottery-jackpot job retention rates suggests otherwise. You, and every member of your team, “work” for pay. Whatever the details of your compensation plan, it’s crucial that it aligns your entire team behind the company’s best interests.

Don’t reward marketers for hitting marketing milestones while rewarding engineers to hit product milestones and back office personnel to keep the infrastructure humming. Reward everybody when the company hits its milestones.

The results of this system can be extraordinary:

  • Department goals are in alignment with overall company goals. “Hitting product goals” shouldn’t matter unless those goals serve the overall health of your company. When every member of your executive team – including your CTO – is rewarded for the latter, it’s much easier to set goals as a company. There are no competing priorities: the only priority is serving the annual goals.
  • Individual success metrics are in alignment with overall company success metrics. The one place where all companies probably have alignment between corporate and departmental goals is in sales. The success metrics that your sales team uses can’t be that far off from your overall goals for the company. With a unified incentive plan, you can bring every department into the same degree of alignment. Imagine your general counsel asking for less extraneous legal review in order to cut costs
  • Resource allocation serves the company, rather than individual silos. If a department with its own compensation plan hits its (unique) metrics early, members of that team have no incentive to pitch in elsewhere; their bonuses are secure. But if everyone’s incentive depends on the entire company’s performance, get ready to watch product leads offering to share developers, unprompted.

This approach can only be taken so far: I can’t imagine an incentive system that doesn’t reward salespeople for individual performance. And while everyone benefits when things go well, if your company misses its goals, nobody should have occasion to celebrate. Everybody gets dinged if the company doesn’t meet its goals, no matter how well they or their departments performed. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it also important preventive medicine.

Oct 172013

Lean In, Part II

Lean In, Part II

My post about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In a couple months ago created some great dialog internally at Return Path.  It also yielded a personal email from Sheryl the day after it went up encouraging me to continue “talking about it,” as the book says, especially as a male leader.  Along those lines, since I wrote that initial post, we’ve had a few things happen here that are relevant to comment on, so here goes.

We partnered  with the National Center for Women & IT to provide training to our entire organization on unconscious bias.  We had almost 90% of the organization attend an interactive 90 minute training session to explore how these biases work and how to discuss these issues with others.   The goals were to identify what unconscious bias is and how it affects the workplace, identify ways to address these barriers and foster innovation, and provide practice tools for reducing unconscious biases.   While the topic of unconscious bias in the workplace isn’t only about gender, that’s one major vector of discussion.  We had great feedback from across the organization that people value this type of dialog and training.  It’s now going to be incorporated into our onboarding program for new employees.

Second, as I committed to in my original post, we ran a thorough gender-based comp study.  As I suspected, we don’t have a real issue with men being paid more than women for doing the same job, or with men and women being promoted at different rates.    That’s the good news.  However, the study and the conversations that we had around it yielded two other interesting conclusions.  One is that that we have fewer women in senior positions than men, though not too far off our overall male:female ratio of 60:40.  On our Board, we have no women.  On our Executive Committee, we have 1 of 10 (more on this below).  On our Operating Committee, we have 8 of 25.  Of all Managers at the company, we have 32 of 88.  So women skew to more junior roles.

The other is that while we do a good job on compensation equity for the same position, it takes a lot of deliberate back and forth to get to that place.  In other words, if all we did was rely on people’s starting salaries, their performance review data, and our standard raise percentages, we would have some level of gender-based inequality.  Digging deeper into this, it’s all about the starting point.  Since we have far more junior/entry level women than men, the compensation curve for women ends up needing to be steeper than that of men in order to level things out.  So we get to the right place, but it takes work and unconventional thinking.

Finally, I had an enlightening process of recruiting two new senior executives to join the business in the past couple of months.   I knew I wanted to try and diversify my executive team, which was 25% female, so I made a deliberate effort to focus on hiring senior women into both positions.  I intended to hire the best candidate, and knew I’d only see male candidates unless I intentionally sourced female candidates.  For both positions, sourcing with an emphasis on women was VERY DIFFICULT, as the candidate pools are very lopsided in favor of men for all the reasons Sheryl noted in her book.  But in both cases, great female candidates made it through as finalists, and the first candidate to whom I offered each job was female – both superbly qualified.  In both cases, for different reasons I can’t go into here, the candidates didn’t end up making it across the finish line.  And then in both cases, when we opened up the search for a second round, the rest of the candidate pool was male, and I ended up hiring men into both roles.  Now my resulting exec team is even more heavily male, which was the opposite of my intention.  It’s very frustrating, and it leaves us with more work to do on the women-in-leadership topic, for sure.

So…some positives and some challenges the last few months on this topic at Return Path.  I’ll post more as relevant things develop or occur.  We are going to be doing some real thinking, and probably some program development, around this important topic.

May 232013

Book Not-So-Short: Not Just for Women

Book Not-So-Short:  Not Just for Women

At the request of the women in our Professional Services team, I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and while it may seem like dancing the meringue in a minefield for a male CEO to blog about it, I think it’s an important enough topic to give it a shot.  So here goes.

First, given the minefield potential, let me issue a few caveats up front.  These are deep, ages old, complex, societal issues and behaviors we’re talking about here.  There is no quick answer to anything.  There is no universal answer to anything.  Men don’t have the same perspective as women and can come across as observers (which in some respects, they are).  Working moms don’t have the same perspective as stay-at-home moms, or as single women.  We try to be good about all these issues at Return Path, but I’m sure we’ve only scratched the surface.  </caveats>

Perhaps most important, my overall take on the book is that it’s a very good business book that everyone should read – not just women.  I have a strong reaction to the reactions I’ve read and heard about the book – mostly from women dismissing the book because Sandberg has immense financial resources, so how could she possibly know the plight of the ordinary mom, and how could she understand what it is like to be a stay-at-home mom?  That reaction is to dismiss the dismissals!  I found the book to be very broadly applicable.  Of course things about life with a two-working parent family are easier if you have more money.  But that’s completely not the point of the book.  And Sandberg doesn’t once criticize stay-at-home moms for that choice – in fact, she acknowledges feelings of guilt and inferiority around them and admiration for the work they do that benefits all families and kids, not just their own.

Here are a few of the biggest areas of thinking, AHA, or questioning, that the book gave me:

  • One of Sandberg’s underlying points is that the world would be a better place with more women in leadership positions, so that’s an important goal.  It’s interesting that few enough of our leaders are women, that it’s hard for me to draw that same conclusion, but it makes sense to me on the surface, and there’s some research about management teams and boards to back it up.  As far as I can tell, the world has yet to see a brutal female dictator.  Or a fair share of political or corporate scandals caused by women.  There are definitely some horror stories of “tough boss” women, but probably no more than “tough boss” men.  It’s interesting to note that in our society, leadership roles seem to be prized for their power and monetary reward, so even if the world wouldn’t be a better place with more female leaders, it would certainly be a more fair place along those two dimensions
  • I felt that a bunch of Sandberg’s points about women were more generalizations about certain personality types which can be inherent in men and women.  Maybe they’re more prevalent in women, even much more, but some are issues for some men as well.  For example, her general point about women not speaking up even if they have something to say.  I have seen this trait in women as well as more introverted men.  As a leader, I work hard to draw comments out of people who look like they have something to say in a meeting but aren’t speaking up.  This is something that leaders need to pay close attention to across the board so that they hear all the voices around their tables.  Same goes for some of the fears she enumerates.  Many male leaders I know, myself included at times, have the “fear of being found out as a fraud” thought.  Same goes for the “desire to be liked by everyone” holding people back – that’s not gender specific, either.  All that said, if these traits are much more prevalent in women, and they are traits that drive attainment of leadership roles, well, you get the point
  • The fact that women earn 77 cents on the dollar in equivalent jobs for men is appalling.  I’ve asked our People Team to do a study of this by level, factoring in experience and tenure, to make sure we don’t have that bias at Return Path.  I know for sure we don’t at the leadership level.  And I sure as heck hope we don’t anywhere in the organization.  We are also about to launch an Unconscious Bias training program, which should be interesting
  • Sandberg made a really interesting point that most of the women who don’t work are either on the low end or high end of the income spectrum.  Her point about the low end really resonated with me – that women who don’t earn a lot stop working if their salaries only barely cover childcare costs.  However, she argues that that’s a very short term view, and that staying in the workforce means your salary will escalate over time, while childcare costs stay relatively flat.  This is compounded by the fact that women who lean back early in their careers simply because they are anticipating someday having children are earning less than they should be earning when they do finally have children.
  • The other end of the income spectrum also made sense once I parsed through it – why do women whose husbands make a lot of money (most of whom make a lot of money as well) decide to off-ramp?  Sandberg’s point about the “Leadership ambition gap” is interesting, and her example of running a marathon with the spectators screaming “you know you don’t have to do this” as opposed to “you’ve got this” is really vivid.  See two bullets down for more on this one.  But it might not be straight-up Leadership Ambition Gap so much as a recognition that some of the high-earning jobs out there are so demanding that having two of them in the household would be a nightmare (noting that Dave and Sheryl seem to have figured some of that out), or that moms don’t want to miss out on that much of their children’s lives.  They want to be there…and they can afford to.  Another related topic that I wish Sandberg had covered in more depth is the path of moms who off-ramp, then re-on-ramp once their youngest children are in school, whether into the career they left or a different one.  That would be an interesting topic on many fronts
  • Societal influences must matter.  The facts that, in 2011 – Gymboree manufactured onesies that say “smart like Daddy” and “pretty like Mommy,” and that JC Penney teenage girl t-shirts say “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me” are more than a little troublesome on the surface (unless Gymboree also produces “handsome like Daddy” and “wicked smart like Mommy,” which somehow I doubt).  The fact that women do worse on math and science tests when they have to identify their gender at the top of the test is surprising and shocking
  • I am really fortunate that Mariquita only works part time, and it’s unclear to me how our lives would work if we both worked full time, especially given my extremely heavy travel schedule, though I am sure we’d figure it out.  And there’s no way that I carry 50% of the burden of household responsibilities.  Maybe 20-25% at best.  But I was struck by Sandberg’s comments (I am sure true) that in two-working-parent families, women still carry the preponderance of household responsibilities on their shoulders.  I totally don’t get this.  If you both work, how can you not be equal partners at home?  A quick mental survey of a couple of the two-working-parent families we know would indicate that the parents split household responsibilities somewhat evenly, though you can never know this from the outside.  This should be a no brainer.  Sandberg’s point that men need to “lean into their families” is spot on in these cases for sure
  • On a related note, Sandberg’s comment that “as women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home…moms can be controlling and critical…if he’s forced to do things her way, pretty soon she’ll be doing them herself” made me smile.  I have definitely seen this “learned helplessness” on the home front with dads quite a bit over the years
  • One really good point Sandberg makes is that younger employees who don’t have kids should be allowed to have a life outside of work just as much as women who do have kids.  And that she pays people for the quality and quantity of their output, not their hours.  These are principles that match our values and philosophy at Return Path 100%
  • Probably the most startling moment in the book for me – and I suspect many other men – was Sandberg’s vignette about the young woman at Facebook who was starting to “lean back” because she might someday have a family – before she was even dating anyone!  This really gave me a lot of pause.  If widespread (and I assume it is), there are clearly societal forces at work that we need to do more to help women early in their careers overcome, if they want to overcome them
  • Sandberg’s point that a rich and fulfilling career “is a Jungle Gym, not a Ladder” is spot on, but this is true for men as well as women.  It matches our philosophy of Scaling Horizontally perfectly
  • Another very poignant moment in the book was when Sandberg talked about how she herself had shown bias against women in terms of who she called on in meetings or lectures during Q&A.  Again, lots of pause for me.  If female leaders have the same societal bias against women, that’s a sign that we all have real work in front of us to help level the playing field around giving women air time.  Similarly, her example of the Heidi/Howard study was fascinating around how women with the same characteristics are perceived differently by both male and female co-workers gives me pause (for the record, I know the Heidi in question, and I like her!).  Likewise, the fact that female leaders are often given unflattering nicknames like “The Iron Lady” – you’d never see something like that for a man in the same position.  At least Thatcher wore the name as a badge of honor

I hope this post doesn’t end up as a no-win piece of writing where all I do is touch a few nerves and inspire no ongoing dialog.  “Let’s start talking about it,” the ending theme of the book, is a great way to end this post as well.  As with all tough issues, articulating the problem is the first step toward solving it.  Women need to allow men (as long as the men are open-minded, of course!) to think what they think, say what they think in a safe space, and blunder through their own learnings without feeling threatened.  And men need to be comfortable having conversations about topics like these if the paradigmatic relationship between women and leadership is going to continue to shift instead of avoiding the topic or just calling in HR.

Hopefully this blog post is one step towards that at my company.  Return Path colleagues – feel free to comment on the blog or via email and share stories of how we’ve either helped you or held you back!  But overall, I’m glad I read this book, and I’d encourage anyone and everyone to read it.

May 032013

Firsts, Still

Firsts, Still

After more than 13 years in the job, I run into “firsts” less and less often these days.  But in the past week, I’ve had three of them. They’re incredibly different, and it’s awkward to write about them in the same post, but the “firsts” theme holds them together.

One was incredibly tragic — one of our colleagues at Return Path died suddenly and unexpectedly.  Even though we’ve lost two other employees in the last 18 months to cancer, there was something different about this one.  While there’s no good way to die, the suddenness of Joel’s passing was a real shock to me and to the organization, and of course more importantly, to his wife.

The second was that I came face to face with a judge in the state of Delaware for the first time around some litigation we’re in the middle of now.  While I can’t comment on this for obvious reasons, you never think when you decide to incorporate in Delaware that a trip to a courthouse in Wilmington is in your future.

The third, which can only be described as bittersweet, is that we had our first long-time employee retire!  Now THAT’S something you never think about when you run a startup.  But Sophie Miller Audette, one of our first 20 employees going back to 2000 and the sixth longest tenured person at the company today, has decided to retire and move on to other adventures in her already rich life.  A quick search on my blog reveals that I’ve blogged about Sophie three times since I started OnlyOnce 9 years ago (as of next week).  The first time was in 2004 when I quoted her memorable line, “In my next life, I want to come back as a client.”  The second and third times were in 2005 and were about the company’s commitment to helping to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, which Sophie was diagnosed with almost 10 years ago now.  Sophie has been an inspiration to many of us for a long time, and while we’ll miss her day-to-day, she’ll always be part of the Return Path family.  Picture of her, me, and Anita at her “retirement dinner” earlier this week below.

Sophie retirement dinner

I always say that one of the best parts about being in this job for this long is that there are always new challenges and new opportunities to learn and grow.  The last couple weeks, full of firsts, proved the point!

Jan 242013

How to Wow Your Manager

How to Wow Your Manager

Last week, I talked about how to Wow your employees.  Now I am going to discuss the converse of that – How to Wow your Manager.  Why Wow your manager?  Even if you are senior leader in an organization, the Wow factor is still important.

What impact does a Wow have?  It sends the signal that you are on top of things.  Symbolism is important.  It also advances the cause further and faster.  Why do you want to foster Wow moments with your team?  High performing teams have a lot of Wow going on.  If all members of a team see Wow regularly, they are all inspired to do more sooner, better.

Here are my top 10 examples on how to WOW your manager, along with the intended impact:

  1. Show up for every check-in with the full agenda – send it a day or more ahead (Give your manager time and space to prepare)
  2.  When you are asking your manager to communicate something (an email to the team, a reference letter, etc.), draft it for him or her (Editing is much easier than creating)
  3.  Do a start-stop-continue analysis once a year on all of your key activities (Make yourself as efficient and effective as possible – that’s your responsibility as much as your manager’s)
  4.  Own your own development plan and check in on it at least quarterly (Those who own their own career paths progress more quickly down them)
  5. Read a relevant business book and ask your manager to discuss insights with you (Staying current with best practices in your field – books, articles, blog posts, videos, mentors, lectures –  is key in a learning organization)
  6.  Dress for success – even casual can be neat and “client ready” (Your presence has an impact on those around you.  There’s no reason anyone should ever have to comment on your clothes, your hair, or any aspect of your personal hygiene)
  7. Respond to every email where you are on the TO line within a day, even if it’s to say you will respond longer form later (At Return Path,  you have to be in the jet stream of communications. Otherwise, you find yourself in the exhaust of the jet stream)
  8. End every meaningful interaction by asking for informal feedback on how you’re doing and what else you can be doing (Again, part of being in a learning organization…and taking more tasks on is always a sign that you are ready for more responsibility)
  9. Do something that’s not required but that you feel is a best practice (This shows you’re on top of your game.  One example:  I send the Board a summary, the details, and the YoY trending of all of my expenses every year.  I don’t have to, but enough CEOs out there have high profile expense problems that I decided it’s a good practice.  They all LOVE it)
  10.  (If you have staff reporting into you) Show up for every check-in with  your manager with a list of all staff issues and highlights (You need to bubble things up, both good and bad, so your manager is on top of his or her overall team and (a) is never surprised by events, (b) knows how best to handle skip-level communications, and (c) can think more broadly about resource deployment across the organization)

 

Filed under: Culture, Leadership, Management

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Nov 202012

Not Just About Us

Not Just About Us

When we updated our values this year, we felt there were a couple critical business elements missing from this otherwise “how” series of statements.  One thing missing was our clients and users!  So we added this value to our list:

Not Just About Us:  We know we’re successful when our clients are successful and our users are happy.

This may be one of the most straightforward statements of all our values, so this will be a short post.  We serve lots of constituencies at Return Path.  And we always talk about how we’re a “People First” organization and what that means.  I suppose that inherently means we are a “Client Second” organization, though I’m not sure we’d ever come out and say that.  We do believe that by being People First, we will ultimately do the best job for our customers. 

 That said, we aren’t in business just to build a great company or to have an impact on our community.  Or even our shareholders.  We are also in it for our customers.  Whether we are producing a product for mailers, for ESPs, for ISPs, for security companies, for agencies, or for end users, we can’t forget that as an important element of our success every day.

Nov 082012

Two Ears, One Mouth

Two Ears, One Mouth

Brace yourself for a post full of pithy quotes from others.  I’m not sure how we missed this one when drafted our original values statements at Return Path years ago, because it’s always been central to the way we operate.  We aren’t just the world’s biggest data-driven email intelligence company – we are a data-driven organization.  So another one of our newly written Core Values is:

Two Ears, One Mouth:  We ask, listen, learn, and collect data.  We engage in constructive debate to reach conclusions and move forward together.

I’m not sure which of my colleagues first said this to me, but I’m going to give credit to Anita, our long-time head of sales (almost a decade!), for saying “There’s a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth.”  The meaning?  Listen (and look, I suppose) more than you speak.

This value really has two distinct components to it, though they’re closely related.  First, we always look to collect data when we need to understand a situation or make a decision.  To quote our long-time investor, Board member, and friend Brad Feld, “the plural of anecdote is not data.”  That means we are always looking far and wide for facts, numbers, and multiple perspectives.  Some of us are better than others at relying on second-hand data and observations from trusted colleagues, which means often times, many of us are collecting data ourselves to inform a situation.  But regardless, we always start with the data.

Second, we use data as the foundation of our decision-making process.  I heard another great quote about this once, which is something like, “If we are going to make a decision based on data, the data will make the decision for us.  If we’re going to use opinion, let’s use mine.”  And while I’m at it, I’ll throw in another great quote from Winston Churchill who famously said “Facts are stubborn things.”  While we do have constructive debates all across our organization, those debates are driven by facts, not emotion.

Finally, when this value says that “we move forward together,” that is the combination of the points in the two prior paragraphs.  People may have different opinions entering a debate.  Even with a lot of data behind a decision, they may still have different opinions after a decision has been made.  But we work very deliberately to all support a decision, even one we may disagree with, and we are able to do that, move forward together, and explain the decision to the organization, because the decision is data-driven.

Nov 012012

Job 1

Job 1

The first “new” post in my series of posts about Return Path’s 14 Core Values is, fittingly,

Job 1:  We are all responsible for championing and extending our unique culture as a competitive advantage.

The single most frequently asked question I have gotten internally over the last few years since we grew quickly from 100 employees to 350 has been some variant of “Are you worried about our ability to scale our culture as we hire in so many new people?”  This value is the answer to that question, though the short answer is “no.”

I am not solely responsible for our culture at Return Path. I’m not sure I ever was, even when we were small.  Neither is Angela, our SVP of People.  That said, it was certainly true that I was the main architect and driver of our culture in the really early years of the company’s life.  And I’d add that even up to an employee base of about 100 people, I and a small group of senior or tenured people really shouldered most of the burden of defining and driving and enforcing our culture and values.

But as the business has grown, the amount of responsibility that I and those few others have for the culture has shrunk as a percentage of the total.  It had to, by definition.  And that’s the place where cultures either scale or fall apart.  Companies who are completely dependent on their founder or a small group of old-timers to drive their cultures can’t possibly scale their cultures as their businesses grow.  Five people can be hands on with 100.  Five people can’t be hands on with 500.  The way we’ve been able to scale is that everyone at the company has taken up the mantle of protecting, defending, championing, and extending the culture.  Now we all train new employees in “The RP Way.”  We all call each other out when we fail to live up to our values.  And the result is that we have done a great job of scaling our culture with our business.

I’d also note that there are elements of our culture which have changed or evolved over the last few years as we’ve grown.  That isn’t a bad thing, as I tell old-timers all the time.  If our products stayed the same, we’d be dead in the market.  If our messaging stayed the same, we’d never sell to a new cohort of clients.  If our values stayed the same, we’d be out of step with our own reality.

Finally, this value also folds in another important concept, which is Culture as Competitive Advantage.  In an intellectual capital business like ours (or any on the internet), your business is only as good as your people.  We believe that a great culture brings in the best people, fosters an environment where they can work at the top of their games even as they grow and broaden their skills, increases the productivity and creativity of the organization’s output through high levels of collaboration, and therefore drives the best performance on a sustained basis.  This doesn’t have to be Return Path’s culture or mean that you have to live by our values.  This could be your culture and your values.  You just have to believe that those things drive your success.

Not a believer yet?  Last year, we had voluntary turnover of less than 1%.  We promoted or gave new assignments to 15% of our employees.  And almost 50% of our new hires were referred by existing employees.  Those are some very, very healthy employee metrics that lead directly to competitive advantage.  As does our really exciting announcement last week of being #11 in the mid-sized company on Fortune Magazine’s list of the best companies to work for.

Oct 262012

Exciting News for Return Path

Exciting News for Return Path

If you’ll indulge me in a quick moment of company self-promotion, we are so excited at Return Path to announce that we have been included in Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the Best Places to Work — we are ranked #11 in the Medium Size Company category!  Our official blog post/press release are here.

This is really exciting and a testament to all 360+ of our talented team members at the company.  When we talk about one of our core values as being Job 1 — a shared responsibility for championing and extending our unique culture as a competitive advantage — this is one of those examples of where the theory becomes reality!

Of the many things I may have had in mind for the Return Path of the future on December 6, 1999, winning what is probably the most prestigious “employer of choice” award in the world certainly wasn’t one of them, but it was wonderful to receive the acknowledgment.  Congratulations to the whole team here on this great achievement!

Filed under: Culture, Return Path

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Oct 252012

Think Global, Act Local

Think Global, Act Local

At Return Path, we have always had a commitment to community service and helping make the world around us a better place.  We ratcheted that up a lot in the last year, which is why we added the following statement in as one of our 14 Core Values:

Think Global, Act Local.  We commit our time and energy to support our local communities.  

We feel strongly that companies can and should make the world a better place in several different ways.  Certainly, many companies’ core businesses do that — just look at all the breakthroughs in medicine and social services over the years brought to market by private enterprises, including my friend Raj Vinnakota, who I blogged about here years ago. 

But many companies, including Return Path, aren’t inherently “save the world” in nature, and those companies can still make a difference in the world in a few ways:

  1.  Allow employees to take a limited amount of paid time off for community service work
  2. Organize projects in the local community for their employees to help out/work at
  3. Provide matching gift programs so employees’ donations are enhanced by the company
  4. Donate money or services to charitable organizations they believe in

As a relatively small company, we have had to pick our battles here.  When we were smaller, we had a policy for #1 above that allowed employees 5 days per year of paid time off for community service work in addition to vacation.  We organized projects here and there for employees, including various walks and races and drives, and multiple Habitat for Humanity projects, including one that our employees blogged extensively about after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (see Tom Bartel’s final blog post of 7 here.  We never had a specific policy around matching donations, but we were always quick to support one-off employee requests.  And we did have comprehensive program for #4 above to donate cash and in-kind services to one particular charitable organization that fought Multiple Sclerosis, which was inspired by a long-time employee who was diagnosed with MS. 

Over the years, our approach has evolved around service.  When we moved to an Open Vacation policy a few years back, we effectively eliminated the Community Service time off benefit since people can just go do that now under the umbrella time-off policy.  We do still organize some projects for employees from time-to-time, but those are done on an office-by-office basis.  The biggest change in our approach was to stop doing company-run projects, stop responding to one-off requests from employees, and stop supporting a single organization.  We felt that those things, while good, were diffusing the impact that we could potentially have.

So this year we launched something called the Dream Fund.  Once each quarter, we invite self-forming teams of employees to submit applications for a $10,000 grant to help make some corner of their community a better place.  There are some loose guidelines around the use of funds (e.g., they can’t be a straight donation, they have to include some hands-on work), and we have a panel select each quarter’s winner.  So far, we have had two projects run very successfully: 

  • Sistas Against Cancer which supports the Avan Walk for Breast Cancer.
  • Tennyson Center for Children. This charity supports kids suffering from abuse, neglect, emotional crises and other traumatic experiences will get the help they need while finding healing and HOPE in a safe and caring environment

There’s no right way to do community service as a company.  Bu t we feel strongly that part of our “mission” (an overused word if there ever was one) was to have an impact on the world around us – not just on our customers and fellow employees, but by using our time and money to help those who need it most in the many communities where we operate around the world.