Create the culture, add a great service, and you have a recipe for success. In this episode of The ROI Podcast, listen to Counterpart's Chief Strategy Officer, Drew Linn, on how their culture and innovation has helped them become one of the most successful software development companies in Indianapolis.
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Shane: Welcome in, everyone to another episode of The ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus in downtown Indianapolis. I’m your host, Shane Simmons. I’ve got the associate dean of academic programs for the Kelley School, Phil Powell, with me once again – and today, we’re going to jump into company culture – and the critical role it plays to innovation.
Phil: You're right and here is the irony. In a technology company, we think the fundamental driver of value is things like artificial intelligence, the coding, the electronic circuity, but it's not. In the end, it's people, just like in any other organization. And what motivated people is the culture that they work in.
Shane: Today – you’re going here from Drew Linn, chief strategy officer at Counterpart – a custom software development firm based in Indianapolis.
Phil: And what Counterpart does is they help organizations around the state to innovate… That’s their job – and software is that vehicle.
Drew: There are a couple different things: companies need to innovate, and software can help make that happen very quickly.
Phil: But as the Chief Strategy Officer at Counterpart, Drew says the company has been so successful throughout its existence because of the culture it has created. It’s a tech company – and as we know – tech companies are really disrupting the traditional work environment – and that works for Counterpart which helps them deliver a better product. And that starts with the right team.
Drew: The first is we've got to have the right team: personalities aren't all the same, but we all rally around a common goal - some of us are closer than others, but we all have a mutual respect for each other. So the members of the team are a challenge, and what's interesting is we have several that are founder-level age, [who are] a great resource and they all spend time mentoring, and then we have this new, younger, under-30 group that looks at things differently but mesh well.
Phil: The right people are in place. There’s a mix of age groups which bring experience and new ways of looking at projects, issues, and solutions. And one of the ways they’re able to keep up that culture that works for them is through flexible work hours – which Drew says only enhances the quality of work they produce.
Drew: You've got to make sure that the dynamics, the chemistry that's in our environment is solid. We also not only check the time but other than client meetings, you can work from anywhere you want. We're about to move into a brand new office that we hope will create that environment that would encourage the collaboration and the time together, but if you want to work from home, because that's what works for you -- in fact, we have a couple that comes in once every week. Dealing with that dynamic, it's hard to build relationships when you aren't together. What we're trying to do is allow each individual to, Yes, whether it's how much they're going to deliver to this client every week, it gets down to when you're hired, you're just given a budget, and you go buy whatever technology you want. Then every two years you get another allotment to go upgrade it or replace it, and then it's yours. It's how you want to do it - we try to embrace the personality because not everybody's the same. I'm typically in the office around 8 until late, and we've got some that come in at 11, and then they work until 7, 8, or 9.
Phil: Shane, we’re starting to see this type of environment more and more – the freedom to work from home or on your own schedule, but making the employees hold themselves accountable to completing their projects. And Drew says that’s a big selling point and why people want to work for them.
Drew: One of the biggest things has been just embracing the talents, strengths, and expertise of the members on your team, and not trying to control them - you hired that person, you brought them in to do a responsibility on your team, let him/her do it. The culture is really what I'm talking about, you've got a team that's willing to do what you need them to do, and you want them to do it well, otherwise, with us being so close to our team and community, it's going to go around town and that's not going to be helpful with your business model.
Phil: We’ve flexible work hours, letting the employees manage themselves and their areas, and bringing in a mix of people from different age groups and backgrounds – but Drew says just as important as all those factors are transparency. And we’ve seen this with other companies we’ve interviewed like One Click Ventures in Greenwood – and what Drew said about transparency was really interesting to hear.
Drew: Like I said earlier, transparency on all levels [is important], the company does well if everybody knows how it's doing. You can be running a marathon, but if you don't realize you're going to end halfway through because you're out of energy, you're not going to survive. What we've done is not only on the financial transparency from the salary-standpoint, where everybody can have access to know what everybody's making, it's also on the company performance. Not only do we do fully transparency P&L balance sheet performance sessions every week, over-arching all of this, we also have an employee profit-sharing program. Everybody benefits this quarter because we invested [and] brought on a couple new people - we also chose to invest in one particular client project that won't have profit-sharing. Now second and third quarter, we're primed for significant profit-sharing, so everybody's aware of what's going on and where the money's being spent, it just brings you a sense of a common goal. We understand what sacrifices are going to happen - some get involved in all of it, some don't, I think that's been a real motivator to keep us all aligned. And it's not a money thing, it's also the impact thing.
Phil: Impact – remember when we discussed social impact investing in last week’s episode? We’re seeing this reoccurring theme. More companies are considering the impact their making on the community, in the case for Counterpart, helping other companies innovate and grow, while having a positive impact on their employees and being completely fair and transparent with them. And Drew says their main goal is community impact:
Drew: I know that sounds cliché, but you know, we're in this community together - we can do great things, but if the community around us isn't thriving and surviving, then we're not going to thrive very long.
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Shane: Close out the podcast