CV #7 Think Company: Building a Culture That Eliminates Uncertainty, Prepares the Next Generation of Leaders, & Cares for Employees
COMPANY AT A GLANCE:
Founding Story: Think Company was founded in 2007 by Brian McIntire and Carl White in Philadelphia, PA. The business was born out of the ideas that great software products start with careful research and evidence-based user design. Currently just over 100 employees, they have three locations in the Philadelphia area and are outgrowing their spaces. In January, Brian McIntire and Carl White recently transitioned into board members and longtime employees, Russ Starke and Bruce McMahon transitioned into the CEO and COO roles.
What They Do: Think Company creates optimal experiences for customers and employees through research, strategy and vision, UX/UI design, and technology development.
Purpose: To envision, design, and create experiences that enhance people’s lives.
Revenue: $14 million | Employees: ~100
Values: 1). Be excellent. 2). Be nice to people. 3). Be honest. 4). Work together. 5). Continuously improve. 6). Be of service.
Community: Every employee has 16 paid community service hours per year. On their work anniversary, Think Company donates $100 per year of employment to an employee’s charity of choice. They also open their space to the community to use for local events and work closely with organizations like Broad Street Ministry, which practices radical hospitality to the city’s most vulnerable populations.
LET THE TOUR BEGIN:
Executive Vice President Phil Charron went above and beyond in making sure I got a 360 view of Think Company’s culture. He planned a jammed pack day (8 back to back meetings) with different people from all levels of the organization including: new employees, long-time employees, department leads, a company founder, and members of the leadership team. I especially appreciated this holistic view in understanding their recent leadership transition (more on this later). We joked about the intensity of the day, but as I told Phil, I’d much rather have lots of people to talk to, than no one at all. As you can imagine, I learned a ton, but I’ll focus and dive deep on these four main takeaways:
1. Eliminate All Uncertainty in Onboarding
Think company has an incredible on-boarding process with the main goal of eliminating all uncertainty. As HR Manager, Nora Leco said, “There’s already so much uncertainty when you start a new job, we want to make employees as comfortable as possible.” Here’s how they do it:
1. Equipment Ready to Go: In addition to having all of the new hire’s computer and technological equipment ready to go, they actually make sure to log into every application that the new hire will need and even set up their Gmail signature for them. Although it’s a small gesture, it’s totally unexpected and delights new hires.
2. On-Boarding Buddy –Like Harpoon, they assign new hires an on-boarding buddy so that they’re able to ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their manager, such as “Where’s the bathroom?” or “What’s the name of so and so?” However, this on-boarding buddy is assigned to them for a year. They start by having a coffee their first week and can meet as often as they like afterwards.
3. Lunch O’Thon: Think Company intentionally plans lunches and coffees every day for the new hires so that they have lunch plans, can learn all areas of the business, and meet people quickly. This includes a coffee with their onboarding buddy, a lunch with founders Brian and Carl, where they learn the founding story & the values of the company, a coffee with EVP Phil Charron, and a pitch meeting with CEO, Russ Starke. Russ pitches Think Company to new employees so that employees are better equipped to sell to clients. Lastly, employees have a meeting with COO Bruce McMahon, to understand how the financial side of the business works, so that they understand the company’s revenue model and use time efficiently.
4. Let the Check-In’s Continue: In addition to regular bi-weekly one-on-ones with managers, managers schedule three intentional check-in points to discuss how employees are doing. These check-ins are at week 3, week 6, and 6 months.
5. Where Do You Want to Be?: Starting with the interview process (and especially during onboarding) leaders ask new hires--Where do you see yourself in the future and how can we help you get there? From an employee perspective, this is a huge indicator of how invested Think Company is in them.
6. The Welcoming Continues: Think Company hosts monthly happy hours and quarterly all-company meetings. At these gatherings, they make it a point to recognize all new hires. This is especially important, since it’s rare to have all employees in the same location.
2. Leadership: Build a Team That Can Replace You
1. Build a Team That Can Replace You: This mentality was present in all levels of leadership throughout the company. Leaders were thinking about who they could grow to replace them. This makes sense if you if you think back to their on-boarding process where they ask employees, where do you want to be and how can we help you get there?
In my conversation with Co-Founder Brian McIntire, he shared some words of wisdom: “We’re often measured by how much we produce within a 40-hour work week, but as leaders, we should be evaluated by how we helped someone grow, and whether we’re building a team that doesn’t need us.”
2. Be in the Role Before You’re Promoted: When I asked Russ how it’s going as CEO, he shared with me that, while he was officially given the title six months ago, he was performing the functions of the role for at least a year leading up to the transition. That’s how it works at Think Company: you do the role and show your capable, before you’re given the title.
3. Know When It’s Time to Move On: Brian and Carl had been talking with and preparing Russ and Bruce for this transition for quite a while, so it didn’t come as a shock when they decided it was time to make the shift. Furthermore, while Carl and Brian originally kept their offices, they realized it was causing confusion for employees, so they decided it was better to have a different, more fluid presence not tied to a specific location.
4. Stay on the Same page: Brian and Carl have weekly check-ins with Russ and Bruce to provide a sounding board and high-level guidance, but the autonomy of their leadership team is extremely important to them. They’re very supportive of the decisions of their leaders, who remain closer to the day-to-day workings of the company. These “getting on the same page” meetings have also been instrumental in Brian and Carl’s relationship over the past ten years. They’ve always made it a point to go on a walk with one another once a week for a few hours and talk about business and life.
3. Building Culture for Employees and Their Families
It was clear that one of the employees’ favorite things was seeing who their co-workers were when they were surrounded by friends and family. For this reason, when Think Company plans events, they consider their employees in the totality of their lives. Events include:
- Monthly Employee Events: Employee-led lunch & learns, happy hours, and “The Leisure Club” where employees plan fun events for the office.
- September Family Picnic at Co-Founder Carl’s House: Thinkers and families gather for an outdoor picnic at Carl’s house which includes: blow up slides, food trucks, stand up paddle boards and guides to the waterfront.
- Bring Your Child to Work Day – A morning of teaching design thinking to Thinkers’ children through fun projects.
- Employee +1 Annual Event: Dinner, drinks, and dancing for employees and significant others.
4. How to Define Your Core Values
Think Company has six core values and their process for uncovering them was influenced both by Zingerman’s Co-Founder, Ari Weinzweig list of “prouds” and author, Jim Collins, core values questions. Here’s how they uncovered their values:
Led by Co-Founder Brian McIntire, they asked their leadership team to first make a list of the things they’re proud of both personally and professionally. This set the stage to be in a positive set of mind. Then, they asked employees to think about who they already are and asked Jim Collin’s core values questions:
- What values do you bring to work – values that you would hold whether or not they are rewarded?
- How would you describe these values to your loved ones?
- Can you envision these values being as valid 100 years from now as they are today?
After the leaders wrote down those answers, they asked them to sit with them for a couple months and see how they still felt about them. Once employees felt good about the list they had, they gave it to the leadership team. From there, they created themes and narrowed it down to six.
To keep values top of mind, they also give out the “Uncle B.” award at every quarterly meeting. Three weeks before the quarterly meeting, employees can nominate others by sharing stories of how they lived out the core values. These stories are then printed out and read out loud before the winner is announced.