This is a guest post by Robert Barnes, a long time culture champion and Country Manager, Asia-Pacific at Higher Logic.
Higher Logic helps associations and membership organizations build tight-knit communities around the world. Through a transition to virtual & hybrid engagement, our innovations have powered our customers’ success. As Asia-Pacific Country Manager I needed to build my remote team’s community, and I turned to Align to keep team cohesion during rapid growth. No matter what’s ahead, I trust Align to keep my team working on what matters.
Scaling up your business in the middle of a coronavirus-induced economic slump is a tough task. The Higher Logic Asia-Pacific team has managed to do just that — growing our customer base by more than 250% year-over-year. My team headquartered in Sydney, Australia manage to grow while most businesses across the globe have had to shrink. I attribute our success almost entirely to the team culture. We’ve continued to grow this year because we’ve worked hard to create a culture of honesty, accountability, and transparency. I think it’s something any team can attain as long as they have the right mindset and the right tools to help with implementation. My team was experiencing success thanks to our focus on culture as early as 2019, but things really exploded for us in 2020 — just as COVID-19 created an unprecedented crisis for the associations we work with.
In our case, those priorities are centered on helping our customers achieve a specific kind of growth of their own. Higher Logic’s customers are predominantly associations and the growth these associations are trying to achieve is a growth of membership. It’s that membership that associations rely on to help spread their product, service or ideas to a broader audience. Members are the lifeblood of our customer organizations. Membership dues are an important source of revenue. Suddenly associations couldn’t bring members together in-person, and that’s an emergency because if they don’t engage their members, they’re in danger of losing them.
Higher Logic provides an online community platform that allows members to remain engaged with other members, as well as the association that bonds them. Through my team, our customers were able to continue and thrive, even if they couldn’t meet in person. Our customers needed us and because we were able to continue growing our business throughout the year, we were ready to help them.
The Align platform was a central part of that growth. There’s been no better suite of tools to help create an unstoppable company culture for my Higher Logic team than what’s provided by Align — the growth management software that helps companies ensure the daily work done on the ground floor of our organization is laser-focused on the organization’s longer-term priorities. With Align, everyone on our team understands how our tasks fit into the company’s goals, mission and vision. Our staff understands what’s important to Higher Logic, and that’s essential — especially now that we’re unable to work together in a traditional office.
I was first introduced to Align when I was using it at another organization years ago. Everything, from the macro to the micro — from our values and our longest-term goals for the company, to each team member’s daily tasks and the things they’re stuck on that week — it’s all on Align in one place. Every employee on our team can access it anytime and anywhere they have our phone with them.
In order for Higher Logic to be successful, I believe my staff members need to understand the company’s big picture goals and mission to build successful solutions for our customers. Equally important, though, is that my employees understand how our individual tasks fit into that mission. Otherwise, they could fail to see the value of our work and lose motivation.
Making those connections between daily tasks and larger goals was nearly impossible for my previous teams before I was introduced to Align. I was basically using Word Documents — a lot of them. When I felt that a team member lost track of how our weekly tasks fit into our goals, I’d have to refer them to several places in order to make the connection. It wasn’t effective. Fortunately, that’s what Align does so easily for us now.
As I start to set my plans and budget for next year, the first thing I do is input them into Align. I translate it into Align as a plan, strategy and priorities for my team. This helps us see and understand how our work fits into the organization’s broader plans and strategy — how what we’re doing on a daily basis will fit into the vision, mission, values and goals. And it’s all in Align! There, I can easily share our progress with the individuals on my team, as well as with Higher Logic’s leaders at headquarters at any time.
A Culture of Accountability and Transparency
As early as 2019, we had already begun having the Higher Logic team work remotely for part of each week. One initial worry was whether our Daily Huddle — a daily, 22-minute full-team check-in — would be effective if they weren’t done in person.
During every Huddle, each team member quickly shares something interesting in our personal life, our top priorities for the week, and a specific challenge they are stuck on. Align made it possible to hold productive Huddles whether everyone was in the same room, or spread out across Australia.
We all have access to Align’s dashboard on our phones, so we can update progress on tasks in real-time and in our Huddles. Because we’d spent months practicing the process, we really haven’t had to change anything now that COVID has forced us to go remote full-time. Being able to see up-to-date information while meeting each day has been a key to the team’s success creating a culture of accountability and transparency.
It definitely adds a layer of accountability when your manager and coworkers are able to track progress in such a transparent way. Even more importantly for me is that Align helps to add a layer of self-accountability and discipline. It’s easy to push the daily tasks you’ve planned aside in favor of what feels like unexpected little emergencies. Align is masterful at drawing a direct line from each employee’s daily work to the company’s largest goals. When they understand how integral our day-to-day work is, they’re more likely to stay disciplined and to hold themselves accountable.
Accountability Is Fun
I think there’s sometimes a feeling that accountability is a scary thing. As a team, though, we’re learning it can also make work enjoyable. My sales team list our sales target for each quarter as a critical metric on the Align dashboard. Each time someone logs a new deal, the dashboard is updated in real time for everyone to see. The whole team loves to see the progress for the sales team. The visibility Align provides also improves our output.
Some quarters we look at the graphs on Align and we see we’re already in green after a single month. Other quarters we’re into the third month and are still in the red. What Align ensures is that the whole team sees those numbers every day so we can come up with a plan. It adds a sense of ownership and makes it impossible to hide from the truth.
I believe this kind of consistently transparent workspace can feel safe, rather than threatening. Too often, we see offices in which employees try to hide failures from the boss for fear of looking bad at their job. At Higher Logic, on the other hand, I encourage the team to share something they’re stuck on — or falling behind on — every day during our Huddle.
Some of my favorite moments are when a team member shares where they’re stuck, and one of our coworkers offers to help. They’re willing to help because they can see on the dashboard how integral this task is to our own work, and to the success of the entire organization. In that sense, Align also makes us a better team.
A Better Place to Work
That teamwork also extends to members’ challenges and success in our personal lives.
During the “What’s Up” portion of the Daily Huddle, everyone is encouraged to share something going on in our life outside of work. I use it as an ongoing opportunity for the team to get to know one another on a more personal level. Sometimes we share successes — maybe someone just hit a fitness goal or something– and other times we share challenges.
In one Huddle at Higher Logic, a key employee mentioned to the team that he was upset he could no longer speak French. He knew the language when he was a child because his family spoke it, but he stopped using it as an adult and now regrets being unable to communicate as well with extended family members.
The employee actually logged personal targets about learning French into Align so everyone could see his progress and encourage him toward his goals — just as they would if it was a work task. He’d share successes and failures during Huddles and the rest of the team felt invested in my journey.
When you have a team member excited to share our personal challenges with coworkers, and you have coworkers who are that supportive, I know that employee feels comfortable and happy at Higher Logic. Happy employees are more likely to stay with us for a longer time, and that makes our entire company better.
Return on Investment
Align’s greatest strength is that it allows my team to reinforce our values and culture each day. In our Daily Huddles — but also constantly at our fingertips — team members can relate our office’s big goals, values, mission and vision directly to our daily work.
Align allows us to translate our strategy into operations, and our operations into all kinds of metrics. Daily metrics, weekly metrics, monthly metrics, quarterly metrics and so on. I see so many organizations that hold big strategy meetings and write lofty things on documents they rarely ever look at again. They might have a budget for the year, but they don’t know how to translate it into something that’s meaningful on a daily basis. Align solves that problem more effectively than anything else I’ve seen.
When the pandemic hit, I knew our business was going to be more important than ever. And while offices across the world struggled to adjust to the new reality, Higher Logic Asia-Pacific was ahead of the curve and has actually grown to meet our customer’s needs.
That introduced a new worry. Would new team members understand the culture if they weren’t able to learn it in person? Would virtual onboarding weaken the accountability and transparency Align had helped them put in place?
It turns out my fears were unfounded.
It became obvious that it’s impossible to miss what our team’s culture is — even when you experience it online — because Align supports us to live and act on that culture every day. It’s been incredible for our team in Australia and, in 2021, I’m going to try to get the rest of Higher Logic to use the software, as well. I believe in it that much.
photo by Joao Vitor Marcilio