You can't force happiness: how 3 LA companies are keeping their employees engaged

June 18, 2015

Keeping your employees happy — or keeping them at all— can be a difficult hurdle for many startups and tech companies. In an industry with an unprecedented turnover rate, three LA companies (that are hiring right now) shared with us their retention strategies as they look to expand their teams:

Founded in 2008, Instantly provides researchers and marketers with immediate access to consumers and automated insights tools to make faster, better decisions. Director of Tech Recruiting Drew Greeley shared insight into how they keep their 76 LA employees engaged day-in and day-out.

Laying the foundation of a company culture

“The way that we’re looking at how we’re retaining employees here is like the age old expression of building a house. A lot of the reasons we keep employees happy and keep them here is because of the hiring process — that’s the foundation. We build a collaborative culture here that starts with the hiring process. Not only are we looking for great engineers but we’re looking for team players. Even if we went through a rigorous interview process with an engineer and they were amazing and totally capable, if they didn’t have the right culture fit, we would not move forward.”

Breaking down the wall between business and tech:

“One of the biggest problems a lot of companies deal with is a giant divide between business and tech. And the business people just throw things over the wall to tech and ask them to deal with them. Here tech is considered a trusted business partner, they have a lot of say about what goes on in the company. For a lot of engineers here, that makes them feel really close to the company.” 

Rewarding accomplishments with a spin:

From using the CEO’s restroom to winning a trip to Vegas for a week, Greeley has created an engaging reward that gets everyone involved. “It brings people together. It’s like a boardgame. You play it with strangers and as the game goes along you become closer with people. Every time someone spins, they get the spotlight and the whole team goes over and cheers for them. It’s a great way of making people feel welcome.”

Being competitive in the LA tech space:

“The biggest thing to be competitive in the LA tech space is to be a relaxed culture. New York is more suit and tie, we are more board shorts and flip flops. Of course, the biggest thing here in LA is the traffic so our flexible scheduling and work life balance are huge for us.”

 

Founded in 2012, Retention Science has 39 employees in their Santa Monica office. They specialize in targeting, engaging, and retaining existing customers. Using machine learning algorithms, they predict customer behavior and automate retention campaigns. We sat down with Matt Glickman, Retention Science’s People Architect, and Happiness Engineer Keely Avery to uncover their keys to keeping employees invested and happy:

Don’t plug holes, find long term solutions:

“The biggest trend I’ve noticed is a lot of these tech companies and startups don’t care about the actual person doing the job as much as getting the job done. They just find someone with a skill set to fix the problem. That employee might be initially excited if there is a high salary or some equity, but at the end of the day, 3-6 months down the line, when they’ve worked on the project and finished it, unless that company is actively doing things to keep that developer excited and keep them happy, they’re going to get bored and start looking for a new challenge and a new project somewhere else.”

“Our CEO feels personally responsible for the happiness of his employees”

“We have a happiness engineer. That is literally Keely’s title. And the main guts of her job is to get the overall zeitgeist of the office and make sure, on a daily basis, people are generally happy. Something cool we have over here is a physical set of buttons right by the front door of office. A red one and a green one. And the purpose is that, at the end of the day, you hit the green button if you’ve had a good day or the red button if you’ve had a bad day. And we’re tracking all the data on Celpax: Daily Pulse to create reports at the end of the week and the end of the month on the overall happiness or moods of people in the company.”

Personal investment is organic:

“A lot of companies make assumptions about that or map happiness with perks or get togethers and consider that a good culture. But really you have to get more strategic than that. We like to cultivate the feeling of family here and, when we hire, we make sure it is people we want to spend time with. For me the challenge is finding potential family members.”

Understanding the LA mindset:

"Being in LA, we’re always going to be a little more (and I hate to use this word) 'laid back' in comparison to the east coast. Its so important to know the feel of your employees here in LA. The whole idea of finding the right 'fit' is something Los Angelenos really take to heart.

They have this expectation of all the bells and whistles that go along with a startup like a flexible vacation and a dog friendly office and a cool looking office — for us we have those but those aren’t the things we are selling to candidates." 

West Hollywood-based Talenthouse, is the largest global platform of artists and art lovers online, hosting and managing creative briefs with brands and celebrities. If a company is looking for imagery on their phones, they find engaging artwork from the creative community that can be featured. Liz Culley, Talenthouse’s Director of Content & Community explained why Talenthouse takes a unique approach at company culture:

Keep open lines of communication:

“Talenthouse is unique because we’re a global family. We’re talking to the London and Berlin office every day. We also encourage our employees to express themselves. I’ve worked at companies where you have to submit ideas to a manager and that manager would have to bring it to a higher level. At Talenthouse, we literally sit around one table so everyone’s voice is heard.”

Avoid the idea hierarchy:

“We aim for concrete trail and error. If it’s coming from a CEO or an intern, all ideas are valid. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but as long as it was tried. This weekend is our Senior Vice President's husband’s birthday and we’re all going, literally from CEO levels down to intern. And that doesn’t happen normally.”

Don’t force team chemistry, it can happen naturally:

“For me, I hated all that team building stuff when I worked at a big company. I wouldn’t want to be there. I had to drive two hours to get there, and then sit with some dude I’ve never talked to and pretend to have a good time. The good thing about Talenthouse is that we all really get along and just support each other. For example today we’re all exhausted, so we’re going to LACMA to hang out.”

Find people who can engage with your brand on a personal level:

“In LA you aren’t going to have the run of the mill thought process of ‘this is my job and the one thing I’m doing’ we’re really looking for somebody that has other interests that can become relevant to the job because we work with artists all day long. Because a lot of us embody the same attributes and have the same background as our community, it helps us with management and retention.”

 

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