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Great Companies Start With Great Culture

By
September 06, 2017

Startups,

You’re probably looking to ramp up your product AND find great market fit, AND implement policies and processes for the first time, AND work towards blowing past your sales numbers. You have A LOT on your plate.

You’re faced with huge objectives, but are working with limited resources. Your team is probably small, and every individual needs to add value and wear many hats. So what do you do when expectations are through the roof, but your team is spread thin? Find the best team members possible and build a workplace where they can thrive!

Here at Codility, we’ve been fortunate to hire strong team members, and we do our best to empower them to do great work. But it hasn’t always been easy, so I checked in with Andrew Knowles, the People Operations Manager here in Codility’s San Francisco office, to learn how we’ve maintained hiring momentum and created our work culture.

andrew knowles.png

Full disclosure - Andrew and I sit next to each other. This interview was conducted from our desks.          

Jeff:  Hey Andrew, thanks for being willing to share your thoughts and experiences.

Andrew:  I’m nervous - I’m usually the one asking candidates about their experiences.

J:  No worries at all. What do you do at Codility?

A:  I’m the point person for People Ops - my responsibilities range from facilities management, to recruitment, to onboarding, and even things like employee retention and engagement.

J:  When did you start with Codility?

A:  I started July 2015 as a sales development rep (SDR), and did that for a year or so. I then left for a bit to travel around Asia and think about what I wanted to do next but ended up returning to Codility in November 2016 as the office manager.

J:  Why did you rejoin Codility?

A:  Back when I was an SDR, I loved the company, but decided sales wasn’t for me. I left to pursue other ventures like a career in real estate. Natalia (Codility’s COO) reached out months later about an opening as office manager, and I was ecstatic because it sounded like a role I would enjoy. I looked forward to contributing to the culture too, which is everyone’s favorite part of working here, aside from the product itself. The trust, autonomy, and values the executives built were absolutely worth coming back for.

J:  How many employees were there in San Francisco when you started as office manager, and how many are there now?

A:  Well, Codility has over 70 employees overall, but in the San Francisco office specifically? Maybe 9 or 10? Let’s go with 9. Now there are 19.

J:  How have you seen Codility change?

A:  The vibe of the office and the feeling of excitement across the company has grown so much. When I rejoined the company late last year, our first objective was to find a great workspace to both keep current employees happy and attract new candidates. We’re very focused on employee well-being, and the office environment plays a huge role in employee motivation and collaboration, so it was important to find a new space people would love. This was a big project that was both challenging and fulfilling for me, and I think the new workspace has been a huge success.

J:  What part have you played in Codility’s growth?

A:  My focus is to help recruit great people. When you’re small, hiring individuals who get along with the team is huge. It’s a game-changer when you come into work to collaborate with friends, not just colleagues.

J:  What does a typical day at work look like for you?

A:  It really depends on the day. When I first started, I spent 90% of my time looking at workspaces and organizing the move. Now, recruitment is super heavy, so I’ll spend a large part of the day sourcing candidates or setting up interviews. Sometimes we have big People Ops initiatives or systems changes that take a lot of focus to handle. I need to take everything in stride.

J:  What gets you up in the morning?

A:  *laughs* Early meetings with Poland! Good communication flow between offices is essential, so our schedules reflect overlap when necessary. I also come in early to prepare the office because I want to make sure everyone is happy to start their day. We encourage collaboration between individuals, departments and even remote offices, so Hangouts, Skypes, and conference calls happen every day.

J:  What tools help you do your job better?

A:  We use Greenhouse for recruitment - it lists all the interviews happening each day and informs my recruiting to-dos. We use Process Street for onboarding and offboarding calendars. When we have new hires starting, it helps organize everything that needs to happen in a checklist format. We also use Trello for intra-team alignment between our three recruiters in Poland and myself. And, of course, Gusto manages our payroll, benefits, and other HR functions. Given we build solutions to enhance tech hiring, we understand the value platforms like these provide.

J:  What role do you play in office culture?

A:  Anything from planning events to making sure the office is functional and people have what they need to be productive and happy. Again, culture is a huge part of employee satisfaction, so I try to amplify that. I like to connect with people and make sure they know they can come to me on a personal level. As I get to know everyone and understand their comforts, backgrounds, and desires, I’m better able to create a space where they can work with ease.

J:  What do you like about your job?

A:  Back when I was job searching, I wanted to figure out what my dream job was, but honestly it was difficult for me to find my passion. I wouldn’t necessarily say technology is my everything, but I think a cool part of my job is that I'm helping other people get closer to their dream job. Hitting my quota means I’m improving people’s happiness.

J:  What do you dislike about your job?.......sitting next to me?

A:  *rolls eyes* Other than desk arrangement, I think the only part that I've disliked is people leaving. It’s tough to see people go even though we know they’re doing cool things and advancing their careers. I guess every job has something.

J:  What are the advantages to having one person doing several functions?

A:  I think as a startup, it’s good to have one person you trust to work so cross functionally and have so much ownership. I’d like to think that people trust my understanding and devotion to our mission and values. I try to infuse them into everything I do.

J:  What’s some advice you have for startups regarding office management, recruiting, and HR?

A:  Culture is the #1 thing - the people you hire. When you’re connecting with candidates, pay attention to their values because your company becomes who you hire. Many places offer free lunches and give you tons of swag, but sometimes they lack core values to frame the way they work. Codility’s executives baked our mission and culture into the company first and then we grew. In the end, great people are going to stay because they like who they work with.

J:  What’s some advice you have for the person in a role like yours?

A:  Roll with the punches and take things as they come. It can be overwhelming at first, but there are things you can do to make it easier, like staying organized and focused. When you start, try to absorb and keep your head above water, but be flexible because there’s always stuff that’s unexpected when it comes to People Ops. There’s going to be things like dress code violations. There’s always going to be something new.

J:  So, any final thoughts?

A:  There was a shift in thinking when HR departments started calling themselves People Ops. HR went from having a negative connotation to being one of the most important functions in a company. People Ops is what’s going to build your company as strong as it is. Obviously if you have a strong product that’s one thing, but hiring great people and getting them to stay happy, well, that’s the most important part.

Summary

It can be challenging for startups to gain the traction they need to thrive and establish themselves due to limited resources and lack of prior process. Startup team members spread themselves thin and take on a ton of initiatives to give their company the best shot at making it. For this all to be possible, one thing is clear - people and culture are the most valuable assets in a startup’s endeavor to become a great company. And having someone like Andrew to exude core values, cultivate workplace culture, and bring everything and everyone together, can help take your organization to the next level.

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