As the CEO of martech SaaS ion interactive, I was big on accountability and transparency. My co-founders and I managed the organization around the ideas that everyone pulls their own weight and everyone else is entitled to see that. Of course when someone or some team didn’t make it happen, it was obvious to all. Here’s how that played out in our performance, recruiting, employee retention and culture.
Dashboards Showing Everything, Everywhere to Everyone
At ion, we had dashboards for every department (except for engineering). Sales, marketing, customer success, creative services and technical services all had their KPIs — and all were visible for everyone to see. They were visible online and they were visible all around the offices — in real time on big-screen TVs. They were in the lounge, café, and conference rooms.
On top of the department-specific KPIs, we ran a leadership-level company dashboard that gave top-line performance against goals for all to see. And, in some cases, even individual performance was broadcast (specifically in sales).
As a side road, for those of you interested in how we actually did the dashboarding… we used Geckoboard (following much experimentation, trial and error). It was lightweight and low overhead (in resources and expense), while giving us access to all the data we needed from a myriad of internal systems. We accessed all of those dashboards securely for TV display using Enplug for digital signage.
Accountability to Each Other, Not Just to Management
From the first time we chatted with a recruit, it was about culture. We were a team of passionate people working together to achieve high-minded goals for all the right reasons. Natural and open accountability to each other is a big part of what made that culture into a family. And the familial nature of the environment is what helped it acquire and retain top talent.
We were competing with bottomless pits of funding in the South Florida and Boston markets. Our recruiting differentiation was authenticity and culture — with accountability and transparency having a lot to do with how we were perceived.
Yes, our teams were accountable to their managers. But, perhaps more powerfully, they were accountable to one another. When we made the Inc 500 list of fastest growing private companies, I was quoted as saying “hire slow, fire fast” and I have to say that was true because of culture.
We had to make sure that every hire was a good fit. Everyone needs to buy in. And that takes time. If we made a mistake, it often showed up quickly. Transparent accountability means everyone knows when a teammate is sub par. And, when people are making sacrifices to be part of something together, they can’t work next to a slacker. It doesn’t work. The slacker has to go — fast. So it sounds harsh, but I stick by “hire slow, fire fast.”
The Performance Value of Objective Accountability
People often think they’re doing a better job and adding more value than they actually are. That’s human nature. And most are working hard, so it’s only healthy for them to believe that work is productive. Accountability combined with transparency makes a significant portion of everyone’s value pretty damn objective. Played out over time (and with the benefit of 25 years of entrepreneurship) I can tell you that objective measurement improves performance across the board.
Of course there are personalities that shrink in the face of objective evaluation. And those who believe their value can’t be quantified. But for the most part, motivated, passionate people working in the tech space seem to respond well to truly seeing and knowing how they’re doing. There aren’t many surprises at review time when everything’s been on the wall and on the screen the whole time. At that point, the variables are intangibles and interpersonal — work product is known, company performance is known, and compensation becomes a straightforward conversation.
Accountability for Employee Retention
I’m often asked how we retained top talent when we couldn’t pay as much as some others could. The answer is that the vast majority of our people loved coming to work every day. It’s that simple. As a leadership team, we did a lot to cultivate that environment. But the truth is, part of what made it so effective was that they all contributed and participated in creating that environment.
When everyone feels like they’re rowing together in the same boat, amazing things happen. The boat moves faster. When someone gets tired, someone next to them pumps them back up to row harder. The folks to starboard can’t back off because then the boat will turn as the folks to port keep the pace. It’s truly a beautiful thing, and management can almost just sit back and watch it happen. Culturally, it’s team building at its best and it’s only possible when everyone can see how everyone else is rowing.
And you know what? No one wants to get out of that boat. Not for themselves. And not for their boat mates. They want to stay in that boat and make it go faster and faster across the water — together. When my co-founders and I were at the helm of ion, we enjoyed extremely low turnover and exemplary Glassdoor ratings. We were and are very proud of both, but in truth, they weren’t really our doing. We just provided the boat and the oars.
Culture as a SaaS Building Block
I like it when everyone benefits — employee, employer and customer. Culture is one of those epic ideals that should benefit everyone. A culture built on accountability and transparency is one that attracts talented people, to do their best work, at a job they’re passionate about. They keep at it because they can’t get the same level of personal satisfaction elsewhere. They love working side by side with others who share those same values, and bring that passion, positivity and energy to their work every day. SaaS growth comes from these people. And culture is what brings them together under one roof.