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Purpose, autonomy and learning — meet the Birdie culture

October 17, 2018
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In a bid to isolate the worthiest candidates, Facebook would ask this soul searching question: “On your very best day at work — the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world — what did you do that day?”

It’s a tricky question for many to answer. But whether you’re a surgeon saving lives on the operating table or on the frontline at the customer service desk dealing with the usual tedious grievances; a ‘good day at the office’ probably ensued because these intrinsic ingredients energised you:

1. a sense of worth and purpose for the job at hand

2. recognition from managers, peers and “clients” for your efforts

3. a sense of autonomy, achievement and continuous learning along the journey

Emotional well-being dictates whether we are able to perform to the best of our abilities. According to one landmark study, money is no less effective at motivating staff than the three highest-rated non-financial rewards: that of praise, leadership attention and engendering a sense of ownership.

Yes, establishing a true company culture of ownership, purpose and learning is a “must-have”. And yet, it is no easy task. Developing the culture and values upon which the team breathes, honour and defends is something that takes collective thought and debate, as well as a rigour and commitment.

The ‘Why’ Of Work

Our company started off in July 2017 with a few of us determined to radically transform the way society deals with ageing. We were appalled by how society struggled to deal with the issue and decided not to accept the status quo. For some of us, it’s a very personal experience, having seen our own loved ones suffer.

Having that sense of purpose and mission compels us to do our jobs well, every day. But, of course, a work culture driven by that sense of vocation is not enough. When we set up Birdie, we not only had a strong vision to become a pioneer in social innovation; we wanted to create a new kind of organisation that prized mutual respect, trust and full transparency above all else.

So, what does this look like in terms of company approach?

Living The Values, Leading By Example

the birdie team defining culture and our company values during a workshop

Defining our values, together

At the start of this process, we really wanted to consider closely what having a great company culture really meant. So, we upped sticks as a team one day and took to Alban’s apartment (our Head of Ops) to thrash out and define our core values over a 2-day workshop. We chatted, we ate, we drank, we laughed. We drew inspiration from many startups to frame a culture and values that truly resonated with us. Then we mapped these out, reviewed and then voted on the ones that would define us a team, providing a code for how we work together, how we hire, how we make decisions, and how we treat each other.

Autonomy has shown itself to be the key to work place happiness, with academic studies backing the hypothesis that freedom from micromanagement lifts morale. At Birdie, our hierarchy is flat; team members are treated as coaches, not managers, and everyone is perceived as an entrepreneur, held accountable for their own successes and personal development. We start from the basic assumption that if you joined Birdie in the first place, that you’re good at what you do and that you’re smart. Personal objectives are always defined and clear, and the results of the work delivered are apparent.

the birdie team working hard during a hackaton

Everyone’s an entrepreneur, even more so during our Birdie hackathons

Birdies — that’s how we call ourselves — define their development plan at Year 1, identifying where they want to be in a year’s time in terms of expertise and leadership and promotion — they’re in charge of their growth. Personal and professional development is pursued with rigour. Team members are given what they asked for to ensure their ambitions are realised — from coaching, training, external mentorship to additional workstreams and side projects.

We’re fully transparent on salaries and compensation packages everybody knows what everyone earns in the company. Such radical transparency is one of the most exciting things to do as a company. We strongly believe it will strengthen the trust we’re building and the motivation to work for a cause we believe in and for a company with amazing values.

In addition to such transparency, we function according to the philosophy of ‘radical candour’, which helps you care personally for your peers but challenge them directly as well. We apply it everywhere. We never wait too long to say what we believe works well or not well, always in the spirit of helping the other grow. We want to foster humble, honest, continuous feedback to give guidance, not criticism. Transparency on all levels fosters trust and open dialogue.

We’re conscious of how happy we are at work and we share this openly. We conduct weekly staff happiness surveys and consolidate these results monthly, discussing attention points and actions at our monthly All Hands meetings. It’s embedded in our quarterly Objectives and Key Results as well.

Together, we have also chosen several sustainable organisation initiatives, one of which is including Health and Wellbeing in our outcome plan. This means that Birdies are held accountable, in terms of performance, to take care of their own health and wellbeing, and must dedicate the right time and resource for it (which is subsidised).

Our “flock” programme is an initiative that facilitates the creation of skill sharing in the company — be it cooking or guitar lessons to rock climbing. We’ve also committed to calculate and offset our environmental footprint — direct and indirect.

the birdie team volunteering in a care home to help older adults

Birdies visiting care home residents for Christmas

Volunteering is an important part of contributing to causes that mean something to us. As a company, we aim to have completed 500 hours of volunteering work by the end of 2019, and everyone in the team should have gone on site with a client within two weeks of joining Birdie in order to gain understanding of our social mission and the impact we can have on people’s lives.

And, of course, we’ve also elected a “Minister of Social Affairs” to organise weekly socials and bigger events, and we also go on company away days to bond, reflect and share ideas so we can become better as a team.

These are just examples of what we can do to shape the business of the future. We have recently submitted an application to become B-Corp certified and do hope to create our own label to adhere to the strictest responsibility principles.

We believe that culture comes from deep within and radiates far beyond the walls of our offices. It establishes who we are as an organisation and as individuals in the eyes of the external world. We want to be responsible employers, a role model for other businesses and considerate citizens of the world. We repeat our values each month, ensure that we review each other against them every week, and hire according to them. Our first value, “We Care”, is even written on our company t-shirt.

the birdie ski trip with the whole team
Riding the slopes at the annual — and now famous — Birdie skip trip!

What is the point of all this, you might ask?

We started with the ambition to radically improve the life of 1 million older adults. We took that ambition and built a new model for working that enables each and every one of us to become the best that we can be, personally and professionally, and as part of a collective.

We all play an important part in bringing our culture to life, everyday at work. At Birdie, we’re proud to have defined these values that we live out and play to with integrity, passion and grit. Our work lives, in every aspect, are all the better because of it.

birdie team having dinner in the mountains

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