Creating a culture that makes for a great place to work.
Kicking off 2022, we are honored to be recognized as a Best Place to Work by Built In Colorado and Glassdoor. We appreciate these recognitions, especially since Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Award is based solely on anonymous input from our employees.
Pax8 has received a lot of attention from programs like this since we began, and that’s by design. By that I don’t mean we set out to win this type of award, rather we set out to create an organization and a company culture that works for our people. We’re glad our team and others recognize the work we’ve done to accomplish that. The awards are a great reminder and icing on the cake.
Building our culture from the ground up was critical to our purpose of serving our channel partners by helping them digitize their clients’ business and build IT infrastructures around best of breed cloud-based products. That purpose, which is bigger than any of our individual goals and aspirations, helped us craft our culture the right way.
Serving our partner community, managed service providers (MSPs), who are more collaborative than any market I have served in my career, strengthened our sense of purpose. This united the early founders and employees to jump on board for the journey of a lifetime.
Our MSP partners’ success is our success, and I am happy to share some of that journey, along with lessons learned, challenges faced, wins, and advice on what to do – and not do – while building a company culture that works for your people and partners.
This work has been more than worth the effort for us. We have seen results from the start, and I expect that any organization that has a purpose and a team that fulfills that purpose will benefit.
Planning and Creating Culture
The reason behind intentionally creating the Pax8 culture was simple — to choose to do business with us, our partners had to trust who they were dealing with. If we were not genuine in our purpose of being the world’s best place to buy cloud products, our partners would sense that lack of belief. From the start, we had to find employees who wanted to be a part of this purpose who shared the gut-level calling to what we were trying to deliver.
With this alignment, our early partners and vendors described a unique “vibe” that we had. When they visited us or talked to us, they sensed some “thing” that was hard to describe, but that set us apart in a compelling way.
Capturing the Intangible
We were traveling in the right direction. Now we had to nurture that vibe along the way. At around 30 people, we needed more room. We discussed how to stay on the right track as we grew. While preparing to move to a bigger office, we decided to capture the values we thought contributed to the feeling we gave our customers and vendors.
A cross-functional group worked on naming these values. We captured and grouped 37 values into categories and pulled four values that encapsulate the sense of who we are. Those values are:
These set the foundation for our culture-building journey and reinforce who we are today.
Maintaining Culture Through Change
Growth and scaling to accommodate that growth was challenging. How could we maintain the feeling our partners got about Pax8?
At first, we thought simply hiring the right people and passing the torch and culture to each new team member would accomplish that. We quickly learned there is more to it.
We had to intentionally reinforce our values constantly by demonstrating them and recognizing those who embody them. We started with paper forms – “props” – posted on the kitchen wall for everyone to see each “shout out” praising the team member demonstrating one of our four values.
Then we went digital, an improvement over paper because everyone saw them without visiting the kitchen. We elevated the props callouts by selecting a few to read in every monthly company-wide meeting. This worked well, reinforcing to everyone how important it was to live our values, not just post the words on the wall.
As we grew, we formed a group of employees from across the organization to work in teams to periodically refresh those values. They met regularly to clearly articulate definitions and examples of each value to ensure we are always clear about what each meant. Small groups provided some intimacy and allowed every team member’s voice to be heard.
This was one of the most rewarding exercises I have experienced. Once they refined the definitions, they shared them company-wide so everyone was part of elevating our values.
Beyond our shared purpose and values, we recognized that we needed more than great benefits. We had to build programs around growth and belonging. When we were small, with everyone in the same office on the same floor, it was easier to feel a sense of belonging.
With multiple offices and locations, physical presence was not enough. We built programs to help employees understand they belonged to something. We noticed promoting personal and career growth was important to everyone, so we added mentoring, leadership, management training, and a deliberate career path program to support each person’s sense of growth.
The P Word, Remote and Hybrid Work
As we navigated the pandemic and the uncertainty and transition it brought, we spent time finding ways to digitally connect people and bring them together. It started with zoom calls, virtual happy hours, virtual coffee hours, and virtual activities like word games. We started weekly emails from company leaders that captured something personal and a unifying message from our executive team.
We also paid extra attention to everyone’s mental well-being. We supported self-forming community groups and clubs. We would seek opportunities to gather when it was safe. We asked everyone to look out for one another to recognize when a team member is down or suffering from isolation or other challenges.
The need and opportunity to support rural and work-anywhere hiring has been a huge win for us. We have found amazing, talented people we never would have considered before the pandemic and remote-work era.
Pre-pandemic to today, our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion has been a significant culture enabler for us and connected us to broader issues companies face worldwide. I am particularly proud to make this investment and embrace the opportunity to strengthen this part of our cultural fabric.
Pandemic Challenges and Wins
As every organization around the world experienced, the sudden, significant changes of the last two years brought problems, growth, and opportunity to Pax8. Here are some of the key challenges we overcame and wins we experienced during that time:
•Moving to remote work
•Addressing the strain of isolation through the pandemic
•Supporting/maintaining aggressive growth by hiring and retaining employees
•Maintaining Pax8 culture and its positioning as a “best place to work”
•Continuing value shout outs during our all-hands meetings
•Meeting every month to celebrate our wins
•Refreshing our values by clearly articulating their definitions and examples of behavior associated with each of our four values
•Implementing executive-team all-company emails
•Evolving activities that promote growth and belonging
•Creating career advancement and progression planning, including programs like competency mapping
•Earning recognition as from Glassdoor, IT World, Outdoor Magazine, Denver Business Journal, and Built in Colorado as a Best Place to Work
My Key Lesson Learned
The biggest takeaway I can share is that culture can start organically, but it must be proactively nurtured. Hiring the right people is important, but it is not enough. You must nurture and keep a watchful eye on your culture and never take it for granted.
While the “vibe,” the “thing,” that feeling our partners sensed when meeting and working with us is ethereal, the results we have seen are anything but. They include:
•Best-in-class employee net promoter scores and retention
•Successful hiring to support growth in a challenging resource-constrained market
•Best place to work honors which help reduce hiring expenses from inbound inquiries
Dos and Don’ts
If you plan to create a new company or want to improve an existing organization’s culture, here are some guidelines to consider:
•Start with a purpose bigger than any one person and use it to unite your culture
•Start defining your values early, shout them out and recognize employees when they demonstrate them
•Build a company where everyone becomes “HR” by nurturing and watching out for one another
•Focus on employee growth, defined in a blended way that incorporates all aspects of employees’ lives: personal, career, mental well-being
•Assume culture can be maintained without ongoing, intentional effort
•Define culture programs around compensation and medical benefits only
•Miss the importance of individual growth and well-being in your culture
•Let anti-value behavior persist — weed your garden often so toxic behavior cannot take root
What’s to Come
I expect our organization and team members — in fact, all companies and employees — to continue to encounter challenges and find opportunities around:
•Focusing on engagement
•Giving respect and attention to mental well-being – continuously through organizational growth and evolution
•Building trust and growth into your culture
Thank you for reading, and for contributing to Pax8’s success. We are thankful daily for those that partner with us to improve their businesses and better serve their clients.
Building and maintaining a healthy company culture is a passion of mine. I hope you have found something useful here to apply within your current organization or as you plan a new venture.
If something here inspires you to act, I am grateful and would love to hear from you.