There aren’t many companies out there with an employee NPS of 97 or above. Luckily, I was able to chat with one of those outliers in Front. Employee engagement and retention at Front is phenomenal — I wanted to find out how they do it.
Front reduces the complexity of communications by combining emails, apps, and teammates into a single view. In 7 years, the company has grown from 2 to 200 employees, with more than 200,000 customers.
I had the privilege of discussing company culture with Matt Klassen, Content Marketing Manager at Front. Matt oversees content marketing initiatives within the 10-person demand-generation team.
In this article you’ll learn:
- Best practices for onboarding (especially working remotely)
- How to operate in a non-hierarchical environment
- Reverse 1-on-1s: Feedback that flows upwards
- Perks of using your own product
🏡 Onboarding from home
Matt joined Front in April of 2020. At the time, the lockdown seemed like it was going to be temporary, but nonetheless Front implemented a comprehensive onboarding process that included informal meetings to get acquainted with the team, as well as a “Scavenger Hunt” for getting acquainted with the product.
The typical process upfront prior to pandemic times was everybody that starts goes to the San Francisco headquarters, even if you're in Phoenix or some other remote location. Normally at Front you would have meetings with Mathilde (the CEO) and the head of EPD. Instead, since I was by myself for those two weeks, I had 10-15 minute calls with a lot of people without any kind of agenda involved. I haven’t had one experience where someone was too busy or didn’t accept the meeting invitation just to get to know me.
In joining Front, the support team gives you a scavenger hunt that involves finding and using features in the product. Matt said the scavenger hunt was one of the best onboarding experiences he had, in particular, because of the positive attitude of the team: “You play around with our live Front instance, and if you make a mistake, for example, accidentally archiving an important email, people are like, “Cool, well you did it and now you know how to not do it and how to undo it.”
🙌 No hierarchy means no ego
Front has a role-based orientation, rather than a hierarchy. “This may sound like a cliche but the truth is you can’t have a great culture unless people are actively checking their egos,” Matt says. The model that is set by the CEO, Mathilde Collin, who was influenced by her parents, who had professional jobs they weren’t passionate about.
We have heads of things, rather than the traditional manager/director/executive titles. It fits my personality, but it’s not for everyone. In order to maintain a healthy culture, Front lives by its values of no ego, care, collaboration, high standards, and transparency. I think a lot of companies slap values on the wall, but at Front, we interact with those values each day.
Collin has set the tone in terms of prioritizing the experience of the employees and making sure that people feel their work is meaningful. The Front website boasts that 93% of employees find their work at Front meaningful. How many companies ask their employees whether the work is meaningful? Let alone those that score as high as 93% on a similar survey.
The devotion of the founders to a great experience provides an open environment where management considers it their job to constantly improve, not just for their investors and customers, but also for their employees.
🚀 Feedback that flows upward
One of Front’s most popular blog posts is about how the company does their one-on-one meetings. The CEO outlines three types of meetings: weekly, monthly, and bi-annually. If you take a look at the questions for the monthly and bi-annual meetings, what strikes you is that the manager is primarily soliciting feedback from the employees about how to make their job better and how the manager and company can improve.
This is the reverse of the process in many companies, where managers are in a “superior” position and feedback is about telling the employee how to improve.
Front is a pretty specific case because you can read all about the vision behind it, starting with the founders Mathilde and Laurent. It had a lot less to do with product-market fit or a growth scenario and more to do with: “How do we really make people's day-to-day work meaningful and happier and how do we bring transparency into business?” Mathilde talks about her parents and how they were incredibly professional people but generally didn't like or enjoy their jobs. The idea of having people enjoy their jobs resonates today and Front operates within those values. It’s not just some sign someone slaps on a wall.
🐶 Being your own customer
Front uses its own software on a day-to-day basis, which makes Matt’s job much easier. In previous companies, he had to spend hours every week talking to customers to understand how they were using the software and what content they needed. Now, he has exposure to the customer’s point of view on a daily basis.
Coming from Gainsight, we viewed our software as transformative, but if you're not in customer success, you aren’t using it day-to-day. The same thing is true for a lot of other software companies that are building something that isn't really tailor made for company-wide use. At Gainsight I would spend a large chunk of every day of every week talking to people in the customer success industry, finding out how they think and what their problems are. Now, I use the product all day, so anything that happens is like, wow, there’s an idea for a blog post right there.
There’s a clear correlation here between the tools that a company develops and the company culture. For example, at Hugo, we tend to use meeting notes and summaries for transparent sharing across the company. Slack works a lot with remote teams and uses a variety of chat channels for transparency. Trello finds it easy to work with cross-functional teams using their Kanban boards and other productivity tools from the Atlassian family. Employees at Front use their platform to have coordinated communication across channels.
While this might not be actionable for many companies, it’s worth thinking about how your own product development influences your company culture.
📊 Finding the right metric
Matt discussed the difficulty of measuring success when it comes to productivity software like Front. Typically, software companies want to measure how much time the software is being used, but if the productivity goes up, the idea is that customers will spend less time using the tools.
That’s the whole point of creating a tool like Front. “Creating a healthy technology process will have downstream effects on your culture.” I have to say, I agree.