As the CEO and founder of Wodify, I’m used to talking about technology; about how we built a fitness platform that empowers gym owners, coaches, and athletes across the world. But not today. Today, I want to show you how and why we created a culture of innovation that supports our digital transformation initiatives. And to explain how we got there, first I need to rewind a few years.
Bringing CrossFit Into the Digital Era
The year is 2011 and I’m about to try my first CrossFit class. If you’ve never tried CrossFit, it looks a lot like this: a fitness group whose backbone is its community. It’s about pushing your limits and winning together as a team.
During that first CrossFit class, my coach approached me, asked me my name, and proceeded to write it on a whiteboard. Odd, right? That was just the beginning. When I finished the strength exercises, he yelled out my name, asked me how much I’d lifted, and recorded it on the whiteboard. And then again after the conditioning component of my training. Quickly I realized what was going on: I was competing.
You see, CrossFit is about competing against each other in a healthy-competition kind of way. That gives you tremendous power and motivation while you’re working out, but as soon as you erase the results on that whiteboard, that competitive feeling goes with it. It’s great—you should try it if you haven’t yet. And that’s how Wodify was born, initially an app that tracked athletes’ performances bringing the worldwide CrossFit community into the digital era.
In the beginning, we were a small company. We moved fast, built features, and worked long hours, but we loved it. We didn’t worry about culture, we didn’t even talk about culture. It was something that was just part of our environment, developed through osmosis because we were all just a bunch of friends working in the same room, wanting the same thing.
And over the next 5 years, we grew, expanded internationally, and even launched some new products. Today, besides tracking performances, Wodify also manages gym memberships, schedules, waivers, contracts, and finances. We process over a half a billion dollars of transactions around the world. But even though everything was going great, there was something wrong. We didn’t have that feeling of those early days anymore.
To make matters worse, we had some unhappy employees. I needed to fix that, and so, like many before me, I went to the one place in the world where you can solve all of your problems: Las Vegas.
Creating a Culture of Innovation & Happiness
Months before, I’d read a book about a small shoe company called Zappos. This company had an interesting story: the not-so-secret for its creativity, innovative services, and success was their amazing culture. So I went to their headquarters in Vegas and realized that at Zappos, all the business decisions were made based on their core values and culture.
In fact, a little bit of advice, if you ever decide to go to an interview with Zappos, be nice to the driver that picks you up at the airport. He or she’s a Zappos employee, and they will debrief after your journey from the airport to the office. They told me that in some instances, they have taken candidates and sent them right back to the airport because they were rude to the driver and, therefore, not a cultural fit.
When I heard that story, something occurred to me: we used to do that at Wodify, too. Years ago, I interviewed a young sales manager perfect for the job. He had all the skills, he’d been there and done that. And we did everything we could to care for his needs: picked him up at the airport, made sure he had a Starbucks in hand, we had lunch together, cocktails together. But there was one thing he failed to do throughout that day: say “thank you.” In those days, I refused to hire him.
It wasn’t even lunchtime on my first day at Zappos training when I realized the mistake I’d made. I needed to define our culture through our purposes and core values. Because we had grown, we had offices worldwide, so our culture wasn’t something people were going to learn through osmosis anymore.
Weeks later, we invested half million dollars to bring the entire team together in the U.S. for what we called our “Culture Week.” We had three goals:
- Build personal relationships.
- Define our company purpose.
- Establish a set of core values that would drive all of our business decision-making.
Building on Our Core Values
Through the week, we laughed, we cried (quite literally), we shared experiences, and we defined our 10 core values:
- Serve with a caring heart.
- Be open, honest, and respectful.
- Lead like a business owner.
- Inspire “Why” thinking.
- Be humble and grow from failure.
- Do the right thing.
- Invest in yourself and others.
- Keep calm and collaborate.
- Be authentic.
- Stay positive and have fun.
Immediately we felt there was a sense of optimism in our office. People went out of their way to help one-another; new leaders began to emerge. In the months that followed, we noticed a couple of behavioral changes. For example, one of our senior engineers felt he wasn’t investing in others, so he started to train and educate the new engineers that joined our team—value #7. And sure enough, others followed. Today, senior engineers in our company take great pride in showing the younger engineers the way we work.
We also had a small team express their concern with a new member that was having a hard time accepting feedback. So, the leadership team decided to help coach this individual, and that individual self-selected to leave Wodify. And that’s okay. We have our core values, our culture; it’s not an incorrect or correct culture—it’s ours, and it won’t be for everyone.
Now, those core values weave into our operations. We revamped our hiring and recruiting processes to include our culture and core values. We do both skills and culture interviews and prioritize the latter when it’s time to make a decision. Why? Because I can teach you the skills, but culture and core values involve your personal history, and that’s something no company can change. All of our new employees go through culture training and onboarding, much of this training is done by other employees from every department of the company—not just HR.
Over a year after our “Culture Week,” here are some of the lessons we’ve learned:
- If you wait, it’ll be too late. Your culture is something that will erode over time; it’s not something that happens in a single point and place. So, I highly encourage you to act now and save yourself from the mistake that I made. You can start by sending out a survey asking your employees what your company’s purpose and core values are.
- Everyone needs to be involved. This is not the job of a single person or management team. In our instance, when we held our “Culture Week,” we invited every team member, key customers, and partners to join us and provide us with their insights into our purpose and core values.
- There is no finish line. This is not something you can check off a task list. We will continue to evolve our culture and evolve our processes and strategy.
It’s not easy, but if you can create a company culture that people love, you will create a lasting differentiator and, like Wodify, live a fulfilled life.
If you want to know more about how you can create an environment that boosts innovation and supports your digital transformation initiatives, don’t miss our on-demand webinar, CIO Panel Discussion: Building a Culture of Innovation.