CV #6 IMPACT: How IMPACT Turned Its Company Culture Around With a People-First Approach
COMPANY AT A GLANCE
Founded: In 2009 by Bob Ruffolo in Wallingford, CT. IMPACT is a privately-owned company that offers inbound marketing, strategy, and agency services.
Employees: 54 (24 in house, 30 remote) | Revenue: Run rate around $6.5M
Values: Passion, Helpfulness, Dependability
Purpose: To help people and their organizations succeed.
Community: Working on an official social impact strategy. Currently, they raise money at every holiday party and honor employee’s anniversary, by donating money to a charity of their choice.
HOW THEY GOT STARTED (WASN’T SUNSHINE AND ROSES)
IMPACT was founded in 2009 out of Bob’s condo. By the end of January 2015, they had grown to about 32 employees. While on the outside their growth seemed to allude to success, internally, their culture and bottom line were a mess. The short story is that they were growing quickly, with no pre-established purpose or company core values in place, so they did what many companies do—hire on skill, instead of culture fit. They ended up with a bunch of talented people who were going different directions and on top of that, Bob and the rest of the leadership team continued to focus on growth, rather than creating a good place to work. The environment was stressful and chaotic and the team felt overworked. Within 9 months, 17 people left Bob's team and he realized that the businesses’ bottom line was also in jeopardy. Culture became a top priority.
They let go of the folks who didn’t share the core team’s values and started from the beginning. Since then, they’ve made a huge turnaround. Today, they are 53 employees, $6.5M in revenue, and 100% committed to culture. They are highly selective about who they let in their organization (and you’ll get to read all about that in a moment). To read the full story on IMPACT’s turnaround, check it out here.
LET THE TOUR BEGIN
IMPACT was incredibly gracious with their time and resources. They planned a jammed-pack day full of meetings with employees from all levels. It began with a company tour from CEO and Founder, Bob Ruffolo, and Chief Operating Officer, Chris Duprey, followed by a deep dive into their core business and a candid conversation about culture. We then headed off to lunch at Pancheros, where VP of Talent, Natalie Davis, joined us and gave me the inside scoop on IMPACT’s hiring process and how they gather employee feedback. We wrapped up the day with a deep dive into their content marketing strategy with Content Marketing Manager, Ramona Sukhraj, and then met with Strategist, Kaitlyn Petro, to learn about the internal systems they use to keep everyone on the same page ( a little less than half of their team is in-house, the rest are remote). Here’s what I learned:
1. How IMPACT Defined Their Values:
A huge turning point for IMPACT was when they defined their company values. This gave them a clear idea of who they were as an organization and how they would do business. How’d they uncover their core values?
One by one, IMPACT made a list of the people in their company who set the tone for the IMPACT culture they wanted. They then asked themselves the question – what was it about each person, that they all loved? They listed the values up on a white board and when they were finished, they grouped them together by themes.
On the flip side, they also made a list of the people who were the most challenging to work with and had therefore been let go. They asked themselves the question – what was it about these people that made it so difficult to work with them? They made a list and grouped the themes together. With two strong comparisons in front of them, they whittled the list down until they had three values: passion, helpfulness, and dependability. Why three? Easy to remember and all encompassing. Which leads me to the next step in the turnaround…
2. Clarify Your Vision – And Make Your Team a Part of It
Once it was clear who they were as a company, it was important for everyone to know where they were heading. There are lots of approaches to doing this, one of my favorites — and the one that Bob was also inspired by—was Zingerman’s approach to visioning. Essentially, their approach is to write a positive narrative about your future, as if it already happened. The key point here is that it’s a clear picture of success, not a strategic plan. In other words, it’s where you are going, not how you are getting there. Ideally, you want the vision to be inspiring, strategically sound, documented, and communicated.
Though inspired by Zingerman’s approach, Bob and his team opted to use bullet points instead of a descriptive narrative. He wrote the 2020 company vision and then sent it to his team for feedback. The team critiqued it —asking clarifying questions and making recommendations until it was complete (check it out here!). Side note - If you’re interested in what Zingerman’s 2020 vision looks like – check it out here.
Knowing the 2020 company vision has had a tremendous impact on the company culture. Employees have a clear understanding of how their individual contributions impacts the greater vision and what success ultimately looks like.
3. Hire with Purpose: An Inside Look into IMPACT’S Hiring Process
With clear company values and a vision in place, IMPACT created systems that could build and sustain their culture. For example, their incredible hiring process, which ensures that they’re bringing the right people into the right seats. Here’s how they do it:
Round 1 | Phone Screen: The 15-minute phone screen is led by someone in the department that is hiring. This is very intentional because IMPACT has learned that when the department does the hiring, they’re more invested in the candidate’s success, since the success of the candidate becomes the success of the department’s.
In the phone screen, they’re vetting for things like, how do they sound on the phone, how much do they know about digital marketing, how much does the person know about IMPACT as a company/ why IMPACT?
Round 2 | 30-minute Video Call: Led by someone in the department that is hiring. In this video call, the person is given a one pager on IMPACT’s core values, the types of clients they work with, their team structure, and an insight into how the role they’re applying for works within the greater organization. This answers a lot of the question a candidate has in the early stages of the interview process. From there, IMPACT dives deep into the applicant’s experience: do they understand the role, have the right experience, and think it’s a good fit?
Round 3 | Activity: IMPACT gives the candidate an activity that is specific to the role. For example, if it’s someone is applying for an Account Executive role, then IMPACT and the candidate would do a client role play where IMPACT is the client and the candidate is IMPACT. They give the candidate all the context they need beforehand and then evaluate both how well the person does the assignment, as well as, whether the person can envision themselves doing this type of work. Natalie Davis, VP Of Talent, says this stage weeds most people out. “I can’t tell you how many times we’re ready to hire someone and then we have them go through this piece of the interview and they completely fall flat.”
Round 4 | Office Visit: At this point, it’s likely that the candidate is a good fit. For the office visit, the goal is to have the candidate meet as many people as possible, including the CEO, COO, members of the department they would be working in, and remote teammates. The goal here is to assess culture fit and whether the candidate could envision themselves working at IMPACT. Afterwards, IMPACT comes together as a team and discusses their experiences with the candidate. Throughout the process, they have a scorecard they use to remain as objective as possible throughout the interview. From there, they decide whether to make the offer.
4. The Power of an Employee Advisory Committee
IMPACT will be the first to tell you that their work with culture is never done. While they have strong values and vision, they strive to receive continuous employee feedback to keep a strong pulse on the culture. While IMPACT surveys employees on a quarterly basis, in the last six months they started an Employee Advisory Committee to gather in-person feedback and have open conversations about what’s working and what’s not. VP of Talent, Natalie Davis, leads the Employee Advisory Committee. They meet for monthly one-hour meetings before the monthly leadership team meeting. The reason for this is so that Natalie can come to the leadership team with real-time feedback about what’s going on. They’re continuing to figure out what works best for the format, but currently, they have seven folks from various departments and levels of seniority in the group and they rotate after six months. The first group took a few months before they felt comfortable about sharing feedback and this second group (having seen the confidentiality from the first group) jumped right in. An example of an idea that came from the Advisory Committee is to open jobs to employees internally first! Now IMPACT has an internal application for employees looking to grow their roles in the organization.
5. Maintaining Culture: Systems Matter when Managing an In-house and Remote Team
As a growing organization, IMPACT is now split 60/40 between remote and in-house teams. For this reason, their meeting cadences and workflow systems are extremely important in keeping the whole company on track. They use a framework called Scrum to keep track of projects and outline departmental goals. Like many companies, they do quarterly planning, but with Scrum, they break down these projects into two-week “sprints”, (things that need to get done in a two-week period to stay on track) and assign responsibilities. They also share this framework with clients.
To keep in-person and remote teammates on the same page, they have a mandatory meeting schedule which includes: 1) A daily 15-minute standup with each team where they report out on what they’re working on and any challenges they have 2) A two-hour team meeting on Thursdays (where they reflect on what worked that week and what needs to happen the next week) 3) A monthly company meeting where departments report out the progress and challenges they had that month. These meetings are instrumental in keeping everyone on the same page, addressing challenges as they come, and bridging the gap between the in-house and remote teams. These systems have also greatly increased transparency levels and accountability throughout the organization.
Turning your organization around is much easier said than done, but as IMPACT has shown us, it’s possible. While it may not have been as linear as depicted in this blog, it’s clear that these systems have had an incredible impact on their culture and overall well-being of an organization. What’s Bob Ruffolo, CEO and Founder of IMPACT most proud of today? Unsurprisingly, his people and their commitment to helping IMPACT become what it is today.