Every company has growing pains, especially as they reach certain size thresholds. When you reach around ten to fifteen employees, in-person status meetings are no longer tenable. I want to share the story of how a successful organization used technology to overcome their growth challenges.
Influence & Co., a content marketing agency that creates engaging content to fuel the marketing efforts of their customers and positions their key employees as influencers in their industries, has grown from a team of two to over eighty full-time and part time employees in just five years.
When a distributed team grows so rapidly, one of the biggest challenges that they face is in scaling communication in pace with company growth.
For example, when co-founders Kelsey Meyer & John Hall were leading a team of ten, a weekly in-person meeting was sufficient to surface and address the most important issues facing the business. Once they hit about fifteen employees, that meeting was no longer efficient or effective. They needed a tool to keep up the flow of information.
In addition to scaling communication, Kelsey wanted to get ahead of certain other issues by finding a lightweight internal communication solution. As is typical in a growing company, Influence & Co. created leadership roles in different departments. With hierarchy now in place, passing information up the ladder was critical to prevent information bottlenecks.
Kelsey now directly manages seven people, but employee feedback trickles up to her via her direct reports through 15Five’s pass-up feature. For example, during an intern’s first week she sent her manager a great idea that then travelled through the layers to reach the highest levels of management, where action could be taken.
Managers at Influence & Co. also take an active role in crowdsourcing great ideas from the team. For best results, they often change up the weekly questions they ask in 15Five, but this one is often repeated:
What’s something in our industry that we should be covering in our content?
Everyone helps to provide fresh ideas for growing the company, not just the marketing team. The head of marketing regularly pulls and exports a report with all of these answers, and the team uses those ideas for inspiration in their brainstorm sessions.
In any type of agency that works with clients, learning can get stuck in limbo. At Influence & Co. there have been situations where one account team tested an initiative with a client that worked really well. They may not have otherwise shared that information with other account teams working with different clients that could also benefit from that learning. So department heads explicitly ask this question:
What are you testing this week with clients? What’s going well?
Those responses are passed-up so the whole company can benefit from what an individual team learned.
Each department completes their 15Fives on a different day of the week and Kelsey reviews all of the senior leaders’ responses on Friday morning. She then submits her own 15Five with all the pass-ups and notes, and shares that with the entire team. That serves as the weekly status report that gets shared company-wide.
Not every company uses the software in this specific manner or has this level of transparency, but the Influence & Co. team loves getting their weekly update. It includes everything from new clients that came onboard to message-board-style updates about company events.
Another powerful (and unanticipated outcome) occurred with a team member who could not prioritize her tasks because of difficulties with time management. She began using the Goals & Accomplishments feature as her to do list. When the company was smaller and Kelsey was still reviewing that employee’s 15Fives, she could see that she was making updates to her accomplishments on a daily basis.
Looking at priorities in weekly increments is really useful for the team and helps them to stay productive. When they are not sure how productive they were in the whirlwind of “being busy”, Goals & Accomplishments also reminds them of all of the progress they made over the prior week.
15Five allows for information to reach the right people automatically, instead of via expensive weekly all-hands meetings. By using the software, Influence & Co. has cut down their weekly meetings dramatically which has had a measurable impact. At an average of $50 an hour for 80+ people each week, that adds up to over $200,000 in savings each year.
Not only do they save money by not paying eighty people to mostly sit and listen, but the opportunity cost for that hour each week is high. During that time, those people perform incredibly valuable work for clients.
So many companies underestimate how difficult it can be to have transparent, effective commuication with a team of eighty compared to a team of ten. Kelsey doesn’t know of another way they could have scaled the company and their internal communication without 15Five.
David is Content Manager at 15Five, a lightweight weekly check-in that delivers a full suite of integrated tools – including continuous employee feedback, OKRs, pulse surveys, and peer recognition. David’s articles on talent management have appeared in TNW, TalentCulture, and Startups.co. Follow him @davidmizne.