In the 2.5 years I've been at Onfido, we’ve grown from 12 people to around 150.
We deliver next-generation background checks, helping businesses across the world verify anyone, anywhere. We work with companies such as TaskRabbit, HelloFresh, and JustGiving.
We’ve gone from 1 geographic location (London) to 3 (London, Lisbon and San Francisco). In London, our once-tiny office in Aldgate has transmogrified into a fabulous Covent Garden pad, and a team that could once be fed on a couple of pizzas is now so large that we’ve decided to introduce Donut to help people get to know each other.
It’s been quite a ride.
From a People standpoint, the challenges have been numerous. But I start with this story of scale to contextualise perhaps the biggest - and most rewarding - challenge we’ve tackled so far: how to get feedback working at Onfido.
Why was it necessary?
6 months ago, we were up against some meaty challenges. Our product was evolving fast, with big implications for the people working with it, and we were taking part in important and competitive client trials.
Whilst some of that was going well, some was not - and frustration was starting to build.
Given the pace we’d grown at, our systems for gathering feedback were in their infancy. Much relied on personal relationships; people who knew one another well simply initiated a conversation to air difficulties and brainstorm ways to make improvements.
Of course - that was precisely the problem.
‘People who knew one another well’ accounted for a tiny proportion of the company. In the absence of well-established feedback protocols, information flowed in many different directions, through numerous channels - and often got lost, mistranslated or forgotten. Some flowed into the People Team who became bottlenecks. Some flowed onto external platforms which was not only bad for our brand but also difficult to action, since the detail and real-life examples that flow from face-to-face conversation were lost.
All in all, we needed to take action.
What did we do?
In Q4 of last year, we set a company OKR to ‘Improve the Frequency and Effectiveness of Feedback’ at Onfido. In the spirit of our ‘Find a Better Way’ value, we set up a plethora of experiments - then sat back to watch them run and evaluate their impact.
To name a few, we set up or designed:
a whole company survey which went out every 2 weeks, and allowed us to track frequency and effectiveness of feedback - as well as some key stats around engagement (happiness and challenge);
a PollEverywhere account which we used to gather feedback data on company presentations;
a PollEverywhere account for our team to up- or down-vote questions for our cofounders. The most popular questions are now regularly answered at our Friday company meetings;
a ‘Team Lead Development Survey’ (and CoFounder equivalent) allowing us to gather anonymous data from team members about their team lead’s performance and hence prompt tailored coaching; feedback workshops for the whole company - in groups of 10 to 12 people. We covered techniques for structuring feedback effectively, for planning difficult conversations (including Johari’s window for understanding, in advance, how somebody might respond to our comments) and looked at techniques for responding constructively to feedback too.
What were the results?
At the start of the quarter, an average of 78% of Onfidoers were involved in a feedback interaction in a 2 week period. By the end of the quarter, that average had jumped to 91% (we’d set a target of 90%) and, in our first survey of 2017, we hit 95%.
Likewise, at the start of the quarter, Onfidoers gave the feedback they received an average usefulness score of 3.9 out of 5. By the end of the quarter, it had jumped to 4.2 (we’d set a target of 4.5).
Whilst both are statistically significant, what has been just as rewarding is the qualitative feedback we’ve received. One team lead said that he’s finding performance reviews more rewarding because “people don’t see feedback as snitching any more”! Another team member told us “it’s great to see how management have worked to maintain internal transparency as the company’s grown...they’ve made huge headway in how they collect feedback as part of day-to-day life”. A recent Glassdoor review even mentioned the “regularity and effectiveness of feedback” as a key benefit of working for Onfido!
What have we learnt?
1. Go deep - not broad - with culture change. Create focused messaging and ensure it's regularly high on the agenda (in company meetings/ company comms/ team discussions etc). Roll out a whole range of supporting systems, and get buy-in from senior leadership. Model what you're expecting and talk about what you're learning. Dedicate serious focus, courage and resource.
2. Always work backwards from your desired outcomes. Figure out (and measure) what you want to achieve and use that to plan what you’re going to do;
3. Be bold. If people are given the tools and encouragement necessary to change behaviours, they can and they will;
4. Treat people like adults. Whilst it’s tempting for People Teams to take a huge amount on themselves, the only truly scalable thing is for adult: adult conversations to happen throughout the business every day.
As a startup scales, it falls upon the People Team to be constantly vigilant about aspects of its culture that are no longer working. Whilst I’m confident our feedback systems have improved,
I’m also sure that there’s plenty of room for further improvement - and that what works today may not be fit for purpose in 6 months.
This continuous need for iteration can sometimes feel like a treadmill, but it’s the inevitable outcome of success. No startup culture can stand still; as more people join the business, so its systems, processes and even assumptions must flex.