Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
How Backstop Intentionally Manages Its Company Culture to Scale

How Backstop Intentionally Manages Its Company Culture to Scale

February 26, 2018
Charlie Judy

When Beth Hayden joined fintech firm Backstop Solutions Group as chief human resources officer two years ago, she was pleased to see that the company’s values were well defined. The team valued learning, excellence, community, getting stuff done, communication and celebration. Those signposts seemed like enough to keep the company aligned as it faced a major growth period.

But each person saw those values differently, and the team was pulling in different directions. The company needed clarity on what its culture really was — and what it would be as the company grew. “Culture is everyone’s responsibility, not just leadership and not just the grassroots,” Beth says. Here’s how Backstop has ultimately kept its culture strong, even through big growth.

Align Everyone’s Efforts

Beth says that while people were working hard on important things at Backstop, some of the products or services weren’t necessarily aligned to customer needs. And focusing on the end user — consultants, pensions, and private equity — could sometimes result in cynicism about “helping rich people get richer,” Beth says. Something had to change.

“We started talking about the end-user community and what might be inspirational to them. We went to the mantra of ‘every minute matters,’” she says. Helping people save time is motivating, and the company aligns roles around that goal while keeping in sight the core value of community. “The person whose time we’re optimizing might be managing funds that hospitals count on to provide services, or that teachers count on for retirement, for example,” Beth says, “Their time could be better spent making better investments that support those mandates.”

Act, Don’t React

To keep a culture strong during growth mode, you’ll need to be proactive. “People can’t be aligned if they don’t know what your culture is,” Beth says. Communicate the company’s values and mission clearly, and connect people’s work to those values. Keep in mind that even if you have well-defined values that drive your culture, people may prioritize them differently, as Beth found at Backstop. “Managers love the ‘getting stuff done’ value, but we’ve found it’s the least motivating for everyone else,” she says.

So while company values can serve as benchmarks for culture, allow room for variations among employees. Beth recommends embracing the journey of learning about how different people experience your workplace, and being mindful about those differences when trying to reinforce your organization’s culture. For Backstop, this journey begins and continues with better data, workforce analytics, context and color, around those nuances and how they play out in their organization’s sub-cultures (and they use our Workplace Genome for that). “Your culture is centrally vital to the success of your organization,” she says. “It impacts how employees behave and leads to the results you want. But it won’t happen on its own.”

Discard What Doesn’t Work

In the heady early days of a startup, culture can feel like controlled chaos. Beth says Backstop had many holdover traditions that made sense in a startup period, but didn’t translate for a more mature company. As a result, cultural touchstones could feel like private jokes, and newer employees felt excluded.

“We had to evolve and drop some of those traditions, but we were really purposeful about getting back to ‘celebration,’” one of the company’s values, Beth says. A grassroots “culture club” helps build camaraderie across the organization. The “Wall of Awesome” helps peers recognize one another’s successes. And Too Hot to Work is a spring outing on the first day with a temperature above 70 degrees (which in Chicago happens sometime in June). These new touchstones aren’t just for fun, either, she says. “They provide useful, timely and relevant communication, identity, and artifacts that reinforce and clarify what’s truly valued at Backstop”

The efforts have gone beyond company culture, Beth says. For example, it’s changed how the company recruits: “Instead of looking for people who fit the culture, we think about how they could add to the culture,” she says. “We’re on a journey and are still learning, but we’ve learned that a strong culture means better alignment. There’s a better balance with the growth goals of the organization and growth of our people”


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