The challenges and opportunities of scaling a performance-driven culture
By Marty Parker
I’ve always said that you don’t want to change or transform your culture unless you have to. Often that happens in a crisis, but other times people get prescriptive about their culture for other reasons – growth being a common one. PointClickCare is a great example of an organization that has very deliberately built, assessed, and scaled their culture (and their approach to culture) in a way that not only recognizes culture as competitive advantage, but that also recognizes that organizational growth can necessitate culture change.
I spoke with Mike Wessinger, co-founder and CEO at PointClickCare about how their culture has evolved, and some of the challenges and opportunities of growing into an unapologetically high-performance culture.
The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.
Tell us a little bit about the culture that you’ve built, which is exceptional.
Culture at PointClickCare is one of the areas that drives our competitive advantage. We’ve always been very serious about culture and it hasn’t always been the same.
The first time we had recognized we had a strong culture it developed organically and this happens with bootstrap start-up companies. There’s a certain DNA that gets built in when you’re going to war with a bunch of early employees that you probably can’t pay a lot of money, that may have never done the job before and you’re trying to do it on a shoe string. We knew that as we started to grow quickly, that we really didn’t want the culture to change. We just said, “Look, how would we define this culture? Because we think it’s strong. We get a lot of positive feedback on it. We think it’s a competitive differentiator for us.” Really it was less of an engineering exercise and more of a discovery…So, we had come up with, at the time we called it, we take care of the customer and work shouldn’t suck. We had a very clear definition of what that meant for us. We went through the process of institutionalizing it, making sure that our executive team was the embodiment of that culture and that we did all the things we could do to continue to drive and support that culture.
That served us in the early days through the bootstrap era where survival wasn’t a certainty. Then it served us well through a tornado period where there is this period in hyper-growth where you write more checks than you can cash. Basically, you make a bunch of commitments and then you scramble like hell in order to meet those.
But then you get to the sort of the next evolution where you’ve gotten through a good bit of that tornado. You’re clearly successful. You don’t have a legitimate, strong competitor that’s threatening you and the idea of performance is no longer driven from something external. So, the idea of performance is no longer driven by the need for survival or by over commitments you’ve made.
I know the exact moment where I realized we needed to make a difference. We had a sales conference, I think it was probably 2015. We had this brand new bunch of reps that were showing up that day and maybe a dozen of them checking in at the Venetian, where we’re doing our sales conference. I remember one new 22-year-old account development rep came to me and said, “Wow, I just rolled into my room. It had a grand piano and a pool table. Is that how we roll at PointClickCare?” I went, “Oh, my God. Absolutely not.” But then, it struck me that the idea of sleeping in a van or having four people crammed into a Hampton Inn just was never going to be part of this employee’s experience. I recognized that, wow, if we really want to drive performance, we need to revamp the culture and make that part of the culture.
That’s where I went through this process of, let’s define not only the culture that we have and what we want to keep, but the aspirational piece, what do we want it to be? That’s when we came up with Passion, People and Performance and said, this is going to be our culture going forward and that’s the thing we’re going to institutionalize.
It’s been said that you spent up to, if not more than, 50 per cent of your time leading and sustaining this culture at PointClickCare. Why is it that important to you and to the business? Why would you dedicate that much time?
I’m not sure I spend 50 per cent of my time on culture, but I spend 100 per cent of my time living the culture and embodying the culture that we want. But here’s the thing. If you’re in a leadership position, if you don’t make it a priority and you don’t actually put time in your calendar to think about it, have meetings about it, do work on culture, it’s not going to naturally happen through the business cycle.
When I think of my job, it’s culture number one, team number two, strategy/vision number three and then the execution is the last piece. The reason I’ve put them in that order is I believe that if you really get the culture right, then you can attract the very, very best team and get the best work out of that best team. Then if you’ve got the right team and the right culture, they’re going to help you develop the best strategy and vision, you don’t have to be a single genius. You’ve got a great team of really committed people that can help you there. If you’ve got the right team and the right culture with the right strategy and vision, execution almost takes care of itself.
Let’s talk about the performance. Clearly people and culture’s important, but performance is another thing. So how do you define high performance at PointClickCare and what are the kind of attributes that you look for when assessing a high performance team member who’s already there or who you might be looking at to join the business?
For us, that was the aspirational piece as we went through, call it, Culture 2.0. We said, “Look, we want to have above average talent that’s producing above average results.” Then you go, “Well, how do you define above average talent?”
There’s traditionally IQ and you can test for that. I mean most of the people that will come into our offices, they’re all smart. But then, the second piece is you look at EQ. Do we have people who have a strong EQ that’s going to be a fit with our culture? And it’s like, yep, that’s great. But then the last one is, there are people, they’re sort of average on both of those scales, but somehow they are able to move mountains and they’re just rainmakers and it’s that grit quotient. When we look at it, it’s some combination or one area they’re going to be above average in EQ, IQ or GQ, grid quotient, whenever you want to call that.
We actually figured out because we were testing for EQ and IQ when we were sourcing candidates before, but we started to test it. I’m not sure how this is done but, my head of talent assures me that we’re now testing for grit and I think in the interview process, looking for examples of where somebody has shown grit before. That’s what we’re looking for. We defined it as people who have above average talents in EQ, IQ or GQ that are producing above average results and then we just started raising the bar.
And that meant for some people who signed up during a soft period, didn’t realize that was the expectation, they’ve opted out. And other people needed to be coached up or figured it out where if they’re in the wrong seat on the bus, we need to get them into the right seat on the bus. We’ve seen a pretty dramatic change. Didn’t happen overnight, but you can see that, quarter over quarter, we continue to raise the bar.
What do you see as critical to the future to aligning your current people to your culture, but also attracting new talent?
I think one of the things that we’re learning through this COVID-19 experience is that there’s a lot more self-directed work going on. I think looking at a generation of millennials that tend to want to work with the a little more self-directed, I think we’re going to see less hierarchical organizations, more people focused on just delivering the results they need to. Often cases, it could be from anywhere in the planet.
I think work’s going to change. I think the way we’re going to need to attract people’s going to change. We have lots of perks. We’ve got a great gym, golf simulators, all kinds of cool stuff at our office, but we never thought that was culture. That’s just a nice work environment. I think, for those people who relied on the foosball tables and snacks around the office, in a world where it’s going to go far more remote work than we’ve seen before, you actually need to focus on the culture of how you’re going to … the operating system of which your people are going to get in and perform in.
If you’re talking to a young entrepreneur or professional manager who says, “Look, I want to start my own high-performance journey culture in our organization. How do I do it?” What’s the one piece of advice that you would give them?
I would say that surround yourself with high performers, because high performers attract other high performers and they demand high performance out of the teams that they’re in. It doesn’t take very many under-performers to dilute that. Really try to surround yourself with people who have that high performance, whether it’s IQ, EQ, GQ, or some combination thereof, try to surround yourself with them because they will bring more people that are like them.