A Culture of True Transparency Has Helped This Company Soar

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Jun 25, 2018

I talk to and meet many companies on a daily basis. Each and every company is a special snowflake … or so they think. Your product or service might be unique, but the truth is that the internal structure of your company probably is not. So why do people lament they can not attract talented people to come work for their company. Why? Actually, that is not a question, it is the answer. The answer is knowing the why.

Question your business. Not your product, not your benefits, but your people. Are your people so engaged that they are maximizing the value back to your customers and ultimately your business? If you can not definitively answer “yes,” then you have some work to do.

I had the honor of meeting Ville Houttu, who runs a company called Vincit California, Inc. that engineers mobile apps, does user experience design, and more. During the first year of operations, Houttu built a team of 20 developers in Irvine and acquired OC’s hottest digital branding agency, XTOPOLY. (In addition to his passion for scaling operations without creating policies, he is one of the few Ironman triathletes who plays steel guitar on several albums on Spotify.)

What is unique about Vincit is that it has built a company from a totally different angle. It’s one of the most unique systems I’ve ever encountered. Vincit operates with a true transparency model, providing the tools for its employees to trust and thrive. Vincit promotes a proactive, bottom-up leadership approach and has created a ridiculously successful business with negligible attrition, incredible engagement, and blooming productivity.

Three simple but bold elements: Eliminated middle management, full transparency, and leadership as a service.

Middle Management Removal

At Vincit, it has done away with managers. Five years ago, the organization had 200+ employees with the standard director, middle managers, and employee model. The leadership conducted close evaluations and realized that neither the managers nor employees were happy with a middle management layer’s existence. Most managers were merely developers who were promoted to leadership positions, while most employees were self-motivated and didn’t work well with a manager channeling their workflows. What Vincit did was move all their managers into value-creating roles. Removing the barrier between leadership and staff created a more productive environment by dramatically improving communication.

Vincit’s employees collaborate in teams to solve problems and build their solutions. These teams encourage people to ask questions and feel safe as they share ideas. Their engagement is their self-management as the team all works toward the same goals, which everyone lives.

My first thought was, “Doesn’t this create more work on leadership?” No. But we will come back to this.

Open Information Season — Transparency

Vincit needed to shift to enable its employees to make big decisions, allowing them enough responsibility and access to the information required to do so. This is where transparency comes into play. And this is what I find really interesting: employees were given access to everything. All information, including salaries, are made available to all employees.

This is the part where I and every other business owner cringes, expecting to hear of the impending disaster to follow. Of course, Vincit’s leadership prepared for the disaster as well. They cleared their calendars for two days to address any employee backlash regarding compensation … but only two employees asked for meetings to discuss concerns. Employees started to nominate their co-workers for raises and promotions for their colleagues based on their performance.

Mind blowing, right?

This transparency helps to remove the cost of being seen — there’s no guessing, and it’s all about the individual’s performance. It’s also easier to benchmark yourself against your peers, especially if your goal is to earn yourself a raise. Peer nomination quickly became the policy in which employees get raises, thus eliminating antiquated annual performance reviews.

Bottom-up Leadership

This unique culture stems from a belief that every employee is an individual with unique needs, dreams, and visions for their future. The leadership at Vincit, therefore, listens to its employees and reacts to what they have to say, rather than implementing policies or restrictions. They created a “leadership-as-a-service” platform (like an internal SaaS platform) where all employees take the initiative in a role or performance-based conversation, including what used to be a dreaded annual performance review. There is a menu of services offered, and employees can schedule time from their leaders. In this model, employees are proactive in their career.

So many people in jobs don’t speak up when they have things to say, and the most significant thing a leader can do is harness the intelligence of those he or she brings into the fold.

Hiring Process With True Transparency

Vincit believes the best possible interviews involve an equal exchange between candidate and company. It is transparent in its approach by taking the perspective that the person is there to interview the company as well. Everything that will happen in the interview is shared up front.

Cultural fit is by far the most important thing on both sides of the coin, and setting up the hiring process to blatantly embrace that kind of honesty works wonders for its success rate. The key here is the thought it puts into developing an interview process. It answers the why and has a clear picture of what a successful person looks like to fit in its organization.

Vincit follows a three-step interview process that removes all guesswork. It screens for skills, problem-solving, and then culture. Skills are the easiest to gauge. It looks for transferable skills that can be applied to its business. This is not a wish list of mythical components that are irrelevant to the actual work that needs to be done. The bulk of the interview time it spends with each person is centered around their fit into the organization. The mindset: It never hires for a project need, but it always hire a good person to fit into the culture and find them a project. This continuously raises the bar of talent throughout the company life cycle … proactive recruiting at its finest.

Too many hiring managers come up with silly reasons not to hire. If your focus is growth or revenue, you should focus on things that facilitate that growth — and this means hiring the best for your business. And when Vincit measures its KPIs of success, it looks at employee satisfaction and client satisfaction, which are intertwined. This is what real growth means: providing more value to everyone and not just the shareholders!

A genuinely transparent culture doesn’t fit every worker. But it sure seems that people want this inclusion. Now, some people prefer to have a direct report, don’t do well with free flexible work time, and so on. That’s why we have large corporations where people can hide. Let those institutions absorb these people. What Vincit has created is a flourishing place that retains employees like no other.  Now, I challenge you and your company to beat what Vincit is living.

True transparency is the future of a thriving business, and Vincit has proved the model: promote proactive leadership and a bottom-up leadership approach. The results: a ridiculously successful business with no attrition and incredible engagement, productivity and customer satisfaction.

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