Creating a meaningful employee experience at BigPanda
BigPanda’s Chief People Officer describes how the AIOps leader has built a purpose-driven business that prioritizes personal development
When I started searching for the role that led me to BigPanda, I had a few things I was looking for to support the vision that I wanted to build at my next job. First was a values-driven organization, second was a big market so there would be lots of opportunity for career growth, and the last was to have a partner in the CEO who could help me make this vision even better.
Just over 18 months later, BigPanda’s CEO and I continue to collaborate to create the environment for a great culture. The market has spoken and made BigPanda a $1B+ valued-company, and our values are even stronger than I could have hoped. We have a long way to go to achieve our goals, and to become the company that our earlier selves would appreciate. As a mentor of mine with decades of start-up experience said to me many times, “Would the start-up we were, be proud of the company we’ve become?” At BigPanda, I think the answer is “yes”.
Our vision is to build a big, global company that is defined by its values and has promotion and development opportunities at the core of its employee experience. Let’s dive into the core components of that strategy, why each of them is valuable, and how they work together.
1) Reward people who demonstrate and live by company values
In a company like ours, there are very few established guardrails around how to operate. Everything we’re doing is new, and there is lots of trial and error. This is a product both of intention and necessity in that we want to move quickly and innovate, while still building the infrastructure to support our growth. In all cases, having a strong, real set of values is critical to aligning the organization and ensuring clarity.
Your culture is determined by who you recognize and who you reward. We want employees to feel our values, not just know them. At BigPanda, we give out HEART Awards for employees that live by our HEART values of Hunger, Excellence, Active Transparency, Relentless Focus, and Treasure the Journey.
In addition to recognition, we incorporate our company values into our performance practice. Our practice is centered on annual 360s for all employees. For both individual contributors and people managers, we ask all reviewers to provide feedback on how employees are living our values. In our most recent round of 360s, we found that the area we were highest in was Active Transparency, and the area in which we had the most to grow was Treasure the Journey.
As we collect more data, we’ll be able to tailor our engagement with employees in a more precise and targeted manner, and ensure we’re reinforcing the pillars of our culture in all we do.
2) Build structured career development
When I was in my 20s, I was fortunate to have landed at a startup in Silicon Valley. Over my four years there, the company grew from 125 employees to 325, went public, grew to 550 employees, the stock cratered, the company was bought, and then shut down. It was a wild ride. I may not have been rewarded with life-changing financials, but I drew some valuable lessons that showed me that the killer app of employee experience is development. People don’t remember the perks of the job or even the money they made. They remember what they learned, what new skills they developed, and the thrill of autonomy and accomplishment when given the opportunity to try new things themselves.
That company didn’t do anything formal around career development. We didn’t have reviews or organized promotion plans. We were 500 people just running to build a business, and still I look back on that experience as transformative. Imagine if they had invested in career development in organized, strategic ways.
At BigPanda, we give each employee a 360 each year, as well as Game Plans to drive their learning. We offer many senior leaders coaches, and we run an impressive management training curriculum for a company of our size. At this point the strategy is nascent, but for companies like us that create hundreds of new jobs each year (at BigPanda our net new hiring plan for ‘22 adds 154 roles to the company, double our plan in ‘21), we have an opportunity to focus on employee development and growth—filling the most exciting of those new roles each year with internal moves. We seek out that growth for people and are always looking at how we can offer career growth internally before someone else offers it externally.
I want people to look back when they leave this company, which they all will at some point, and say, “That place skyrocketed me.” That is the ultimate gift you can give an employee, and they will return it back to you ten-fold.
3) Foster trust and accountability in managers
One of the most frustrating things about being a leader in any organization is that others often don’t do things the same way you would. We ask leaders to trust those at the front lines to make core decisions around their work. We have to balance the business metrics we’re looking at as senior leaders with localized, human-based decisions and rely on the experts we’ve hired to do their jobs.
At BigPanda, we use the 9-block tool to encourage a conversation among leaders about their teams. This is a simple 3×3 table, with leadership on one axis, and performance on the other. We use this tool to help leaders to take a step back and look at both the individuals on their team, as well as the team as a whole, and assess them on two critical drivers of value: leadership and performance. This data, and the conversations around the data, help our managers make decisions on performance, recognition, job assignment, or compensation. Even though front-line managers might make decisions some of our senior leaders wouldn’t, we aim to let local leaders make their own decisions and lead their own teams. We create a framework to create data, and then let managers make decisions. It supports our values and also drives their development.
Balancing data with human input helps us make the right decisions about employee growth and instill confidence in our managers to go outside the box when necessary. It’s important for managers to experiment with hiring and giving employees opportunities—and it’s also okay for them to fail. Limited failure has to be a part of growth. We aim to create moments of accountability that allow those involved to learn and grow. None of us are our best yet, so we are all on a journey together.
4) Think about exiting and change differently
I think most of the world has gotten the idea of exiting an organization wrong. First, let me state that I believe every person can be a star somewhere. It may not be at this company right now, but there is a place for everyone somewhere. Companies are living, breathing organisms that are constantly changing. What companies need from their employees—and what they are able to offer them—will change as the company evolves (and the same goes the other way – what organizations can offer employees will evolve over time).
So often people want to look at those who leave companies either as traitors or failures. Neither is correct. Every employee has an arc at a company—a part of the story of that organization. There is a value-exchange on both sides, and when one side starts to not get the value they feel they need out of the relationship, it’s time to make a change.
At BigPanda we try to embrace change and career growth. We want to help everyone be a star somewhere. Because that is living our values: treasuring the journey we are all on together.
When you bring strong values together with a structured approach to employee development—and pair that with an environment of trust for managers as well as a celebration of growth and opportunity for all employees—I believe you can build a company that will beat its competitors in the market and continue to create value for all its employees.
BigPanda has a great start on building this vision, but we aren’t even 1% done yet. As a builder, I couldn’t be happier to have part of my career arc take place at BigPanda.