For Axonify, Culture Starts at the CEO Level
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The primary role of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is to motivate employees, drive visionary change and make key strategic decisions to meet an organization’s goals. If you are curious to hear how the leader of a serial ‘Great Places to Work’ certified company created an environment where employees to do their best work, successfully established a self-reinforcing culture, and built a company worth over $350 million US, look no further than Waterloo based Axonify.
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Waterloo-based Axonify, which provides a training and communication solution for frontline workers, has long prioritized culture as an important part of building the company. It’s why, every year since 2017, Axonify has been recognized as a Great Place to Work. Great Place to Work certifies workplaces based on internal benchmarks, and against other companies around the world with strong cultures.
For 2021, Axonify was recognized for being among the best workplaces in Canada for three categories: 100-999 employees, women and startups. CEO Carol Leaman tells SAAS North that this isn’t an easy feat as a company scales.
“The CEO should be imparting culture to the rest of the team,” said Leaman. “The further away from the front line of our workforce that I get — part of it is to help impart your culture and values directly from Carol.”
“When you have a strong, healthy culture, it becomes self-reinforcing.”
With a strong culture and sense of values in place, it is easier for companies to give potential new employees a clear sense of what it feels like to work with them on a daily basis.
In this interview, Leaman talks about some of the ways Axonify — which recently announced that U.S.-based equity firm Luminate Capital Partners would take a controlling stake in the company for US$250 million — maintains its healthy company culture as it scales.
Transparency is key
Axonify employees are always on top of what’s happening in the business, and engage the executive team with questions. “We are constantly communicating our business successes, business failures, and financial metrics to everybody in the business,” Leaman says. “Our culture is very transparent.”
Every two weeks, the company runs an all-hands virtual meeting with an Ask Me Anything portion, where employees can ask questions and Leaman answers. These replaced the in-person lunches Axonify had to put on hold due to COVID-19. Outside of these town halls, Leaman encourages employees to book time in her calendar, so she can get to know them on a closer level.
“It's not just about your paycheck. It is about your lifestyle; it's about the contributions you make; it's about your ability to be heard and have a voice within the business.”
“I leave it up to them if they're comfortable doing that, and turns out, most people are, which is fantastic,” says Leaman.
Over the last year, Axonify adapted their diversity and inclusion efforts to a more intentional focus. They initiated a survey to understand the current makeup of the organization, if any barriers existed and the perception of inclusion. Based on the survey results, they developed their strategy for long term impact. The company has employees score how they think the company is performing when it comes to diversity and inclusion, and say it has several initiatives related to diversity and inclusion. While they found there were some areas that they could improve on, they weren't surprised that the scores were extraordinarily high.
Building a self-sustaining culture
“When you have a strong, healthy culture, it becomes self-reinforcing,” says Leaman. That’s why Axonify likes to get every new hire off to a strong start: whenever Axonify makes new hires, Leaman personally spends time onboarding each person — part of Axonify’s philosophy of culture starting with the CEO.
“We promote from within and we give lots of career opportunities for folks to try new things. We allow very open, honest, transparent communication.”
Axonify also encourages flexibility at work, which many businesses talk about, but don’t always execute in the right way.
“We promote from within and we give lots of career opportunities for folks to try new things. We allow very open, honest, transparent communication,” says Leaman. Employees have been able to request relocations across Canada, and they have a more dispersed workforce from BC to PEI.
For Leaman, allowing employees to fit work into the fabric of their life is an important part of retention.
“It's not just about your paycheck. It is about your lifestyle; it's about the contributions you make; it's about your ability to be heard and have a voice within the business,” says Leaman. “It's about that kind of feeling you get when you come to work.”