Automation Logic is recognised as one of the UK’s Best Workplaces™ in 2018
Earlier in the month we headed over to the Great Place to Work® awards ceremony in London to find out that we placed 3rd in the Small Business Category. It is extremely rare for a first-time entrant to be awarded such a high ranking. Our commitment to empowering people and our supportive, family culture are just some of the reasons AL employees choose to go to work every day.
After attending the Great Place to Work™ ball and celebrating with the whole team to thank them for making AL a Great Place to Work®, we wanted to speak with our Co-Founders Kris and Norm to see what this incredible achievement means to them.
So, how does it feel to win Great Place to Work™?
Kris: Surreal. It’s like having an out of body experience. It highlights that culture is no longer solely about Norm and me, which it was in the early days. Now I see the value in values, going through the process of writing down what it is that’s important to us in terms of behaviour, then watching it take on a life of its own. We reinforced the vision by leading by example, to begin with, now our culture is what defines us. It’s amazing to see, it’s gone in a direction I never could have guessed, for example, half my staff are obsessed with puns, but it’s great.
Norm: It’s encouraging for me because I can remember the best company I ever worked for (Loudcloud, with CEO Ben Horowitz); after winning this award it’s motivating to see we’re creating a place that’s also such a positive experience for all who work here.
Back in 2010 when you founded AL, did you have a clear vision in mind for the company culture you wanted to build?
Norm: I believe I had a good appreciation for the importance of culture. From past experiences I knew that a strong company culture would differentiate us from our competitors; a strong culture would reinforce our operating values in all interactions with our clients and peers; a well-defined culture helps us identify new employees that fit with our mission and values, and equally when it comes to qualifying which clients we choose to work with.
Kris: I’m not sure I ever had a clear vision that culture was even a thing you worked on, it’s only now when I look back I realise it was vital. The plan for me was a focus on how to help deliver better business through automation. My main goal was that I wanted to deliver a better service than our competitors and predecessors, I remember thinking there must be a better way of doing this. I think it was only when we grew beyond 50, and we had to put in place a leadership team that I learnt the importance of culture. The leadership team are there to help support our staff and guide them to deliver on our mission, so it’s essential that they are setting the tone as to how we will do that.
What is the impact of putting ‘people first’ and focusing on wellbeing?
Norm: Putting people first means giving them autonomy. Trusting they’ll do the right thing for the customer. This makes for happy staff which makes for happy customers who want to do more business with us.
Although you mention ‘people first’, I actually prefer the phrase ‘mission first, people always’ — taken from the US armed forces if I recall correctly. Those that join AL do so because they are attracted by our mission: free people to realise their creative potential, by delivering an automated world. It is because our mission is first we all have a sense of purpose. Achieving this mission has, and always will, require people. If we always look after our people and trust our people, then they will achieve the mission.
Kris: You have to be prepared for putting people first to cost you money. It can also lead to difficult decisions, for example only working with clients that align with our values can be tough. But for a short-term discomfort, it leads to a long-term positive effect.
What do you think it is that makes AL such an amazing company to work for?
Kris: There’s a small number of times you get the opportunity to work with people with whom you genuinely believe you could achieve anything together. It’s a rare and intoxicating feeling, that makes it quite special.
Norm: We all believe in our mission, we all share our values, we all want to sustain our culture, we know it’s always going to take great people to achieve our objectives, we celebrate our victories, and we learn from our mistakes. I believe it’s a great recipe for a positive work environment.
What has been your greatest achievement in making AL a great place to work so far?
Kris: I’d hope it’s creating an environment where people can attain glory through the success of others. That’s definitely what our DevOps Academy is all about, giving people a chance to realise their potential. Other than that, it was hiring an amazing leadership team who are going to take us to 100 people. Then knowing when to get out the way and watch the business grow as our people take the lead.
Norm: Enabling others to realise their creative potential. When people know they can operate in a trusting, blame-free, continuous learning environment, they continuously amaze us. When people join AL from a previous organisation that does not operate in this manner, it can be a bit of a surprise to them. I am equally surprised, probably more shocked, that organisations can continue to function and retain their people by operating any other way. I appreciate the achievement when new joiners realise the positive work experience and freedom to realise their creative potential.
How have you maintained an awesome culture while growing significantly over the past 2 years?
Kris: By visualising it. Then making it a priority and something that’s discussed and worked on continuously as a business objective. A third of our OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) focus on people.
Norm: By working really hard to avoid “The Law of Crappy People”. This is another term coined by Ben Horowitz, the CEO of my old company. It’s based on the concept that A-caliber people hire B-caliber people who in turn hire C-caliber people. This is a spiral of death, and extremely bad for a growing company.
The Law of Crappy People states “For any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title.” Succumbing to The Law of Crappy People, a high performing team very quickly descends into mediocrity. To avoid this death spiral, for every hire we ask ourselves, ‘Does this person increase the talent level in the team? Are we raising the average and continuously improving?’ This takes focus and dedication and is especially difficult when teams need more people to get the job done. But in the absence of this focus and dedication, the consequences are disastrous.
Does growing the business come with its challenges?
Norm: Of course. Although for me, those challenges are far more enjoyable than the challenges of working for a bad company. Coming from an engineering background, I found it comforting to continue as an engineer. But for the curious mind always wanting to ‘build, measure, learn’ I have really enjoyed the challenges of transitioning into a leadership role.
Kris: Yeah. Saying no is still one of the hardest things. It’s a difficult decision to know when to turn down work, which we have to if the potential client doesn’t align with our values. As we get bigger, we’ll get even better at saying ‘yes, if…’ to ensure the conditions are right for our team.
The two biggest risks we took were building the AL Cloud Platforms and launching the DevOps Academy because they required heavy investment. Now our only regret is not doing it sooner, but we’re cautious with money because we’re responsible for the people we employ. Being able to afford to take risks feels great after 7 years of building the business.
What impact do you think AL’s culture and values have on the clients you work with?
Norm: We use our mission, values, and culture as a guiding compass to identify the clients we work with. We would not risk damaging that by agreeing to work on a project that was counter to our mission, values, or culture.
Kris: It’s actually sometimes a barrier to get going, but it’s also the reason most of our clients stay with us for years. Our engineers are humble, and that lack of forcefulness can mean they are not immediately demanding the clients’ attention, but in time they prove themselves to be trusted advisors by doing rather than saying.
What advice would you give to other business leaders on how to shape a company mission that their people feel passionate about?
Kris: To remember why you first started.
Norm: That’s a good point, your reason for being has to be one you feel passionate about. We knew there was a better way and that’s what we’ve created. ‘The AL Way’.
Have you got any future plans to ensure the AL culture remains strong as we continue to grow?
Norm: Never forgetting why we’re here. Continually reinforcing our shared values. We are a people business, so preventing the “The Law Of Crappy People” from causing problems. Enable other to realise their creative potential, to eclipse and go beyond what we’ve created so far.
Kris: It’s always going to be a major part of our OKR’s to help others carry the responsibility. It’s a shared project.
In the future, everyone here will achieve amazing things they never thought they could have achieved before AL. That’s the culture we want, one that lets people grow.
To see Kris and Norm talk about the history of automation and its impact on every business and individual, take a look at AL’s recent business video here filmed at London’s Science Museum.