The BetterUp Culture Story
Based in San Francisco, a start-up, known as BetterUp, is the first leadership development platform to connect coaching to sustainable behavior change. The company has the noble mission to enable all professionals to live with greater clarity, purpose, and passion. They work toward this mission by offering a video-based coaching platform to companies that makes individual coaching available to mid-level managers and up to senior leaders.
Lola Viggi is Manager for North America Coaching and Strategic programs. In 2019, Lola recruited me to offer communication expertise a few hours a week to their members, which is how I found out about this inspiring company.
Through BetterUp, I have helped leaders from companies including American Express, Marriott, Salesforce, Genentech, Capital One and many other leading enterprises. The company has 260 full-time employees and 2,000 part-time coaches the world over.
This is the story of BetterUp’s culture, from Lola’s perspective.
1. How would you describe your company’s culture in 3 words?
Gritty, Curious, Brave
2. What are your company’s core values and how do these manifest in the culture?
We have six, and they are:
- Courage: Dare often and greatly.
- Craftsmanship: Our work ennobles us.
- Playfulness: The best ideas come from a happy heart.
- Grit: Effort and perseverance turn talent into results.
- Empathy: Innovation Starts with understanding.
- Zest: Live with enthusiasm, energy and personality.
We do a lot of things internally to reflect on our values often. We have a weekly check-in tool called 15Five that asks us about how our behaviors and values are coming through on a weekly basis. It’s a productivity tool with culture values baked into it.
Also, we have nominations and awards for putting each value into practice. The Culture Awards actually physically embody the quality they represent. Our award for Playfulness is a toy zebra, for example.
We frequently talk about our values and behaviors in feedback and performance conversations – we sort of make them a part of our growth and behaviors daily.
3. Do you consider culture a strategic imperative, why or why not?
Yes, both for me as a manager and for BetterUp. As a company, we make commitments to improving our culture regularly through our Culture C’s, which are canvas (through surveys); caucus (through offsite retreats twice annually); and commitments, which they call “commits”, from senior leadership.
The caucuses are cross-functional ad-hoc groups that review the culture survey results and present recommendations for senior leadership to act upon, or commit to.
As a professional, I think company culture should be at the forefront of most conversations. These conversations shape who do you hire, how do you retain, how do you behave, how do you improve, and how do you know if a work environment is ultimately going to be right for you.
Caveat – everyone has their own experience, and you can’t really “make” anyone do anything and no one is perfect.
4. How are you teaching your people to be good listeners?
I think at BetterUp this hasn’t been an immediate priority, we take the coaching angle instead.
All employees at BetterUp are offered 1.1 coaching with a BetterUp coach – this is the best perk ever.
By offering unlimited individual coaching sessions, every employee has the keys – they are in the driver’s seat of their own development, informed by performance feedback.
Even better than focusing on one skill, like good listening, people can tune into what they need to, or want to work on, which could be this, or something else like emotion regulation or resiliency.
5. What is your company’s approach to keeping the lines of communication open in all directions?
We use Slack, private and shared channels. As a remote company, we encourage coffee chats and virtual meets. As a team, we have standups. And leadership always encourages top down and bottom up communication – it’s a part of our onboarding training: no matter where you are in the organization, you should feel empowered to speak up!
Recently, there has been another exciting development of hearing new ideas across the org. All employees are encouraged to submit suggestions for improvement, and a committee selects one winning idea each month. The winner is awarded $5,000.
We have a fresh slack opportunity where our CEO and COO offer all employees the chance to “ask anything”. Definitely people appreciate this and have not held back from asking hardball questions.
When leadership embodies this openness, you see it transpire across the company.
6. What is your approach to team building?
We work on this at the team and company level. At the company level, we have annual retreats that bring us together for strategic conversation but also playfulness and dancing.
At the team level, teams have smaller onsite or offsites where they meet regularly to discuss quarterly goals, what’s working well, and what needs to be improved.
7. How does growth challenge your company’s culture?
For us, growth is a constant challenge. It requires individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole to be really agile and adept. What I see happening is that there are instances where certain company values or behaviors can play really well, and other instances where they can hinder or confuse.
I think the hardest part of growing at the pace we are growing at is knowing when to leverage specific strengths, and knowing when to leverage others.
As with anything, the same reaction or working style will not apply time and time again, so for us it’s learning how to use what we know and have historically done to take the best path forward in a new situation. And from a culture perspective, it’s knowing when some cultural value or behavior is no longer serving us, or adding a new element to make sure it’s pushing us in the right direction.
- What’s a story that shows your culture in action?
Twice a year all employees go on retreat for three days. At the end of the last day, we have a celebratory dinner with our value of Playfulness as the theme. Everyone shows up dressed in a onesie. After dinner, everyone dances the night away….in their onesie. It is so hilarious. This shows how we can be serious and work hard, stay on our edge, but also be playful and not take ourselves too seriously!