I Took a Workplace Culture Field Trip

I published a blog post a couple of weeks ago titled, “Do Hefty Payouts for Employee Referrals Work?” I specifically targeted a Waterloo-based technology company called TextNow, and was pretty critical of their announcement to pay $13,000 to employees for each successfully hired referral that they make, and another $13,000 to the new hire for being referred. I clearly laid out my argument, and in my summary paragraph I said the following:

Of course I don’t know their full story and how they operate as a company. They could be the greatest organization ever and what I wrote is nothing but inaccurate b.s. If that’s the case then I will gladly take this post down. But I am simply reacting to what I read… that’s it.

The argument that I made was simply from what I read, and my 17+ years of experience in HR.

Then Something Cool Happened…

Throughout my blogging career I have received maybe 10 comments directly on my blog. A couple of days after I published the blog post I received 4 comments from TextNow employees. Before reading the comments I sincerely thought I was going to get lambasted for writing a rather critical article about them. To my surprise they didn’t lambaste me. Instead they each formulated amazing responses that were constructive, collegial, positive and supportive. I encourage you to read the comments for yourself.

I was so impressed by how these TextNow employees responded I emailed them (including their CEO Derek Ting) directly and took them up on their offer to drive out to Waterloo and spend a couple of hours with them. And that I did. On Monday, August 21st I met with Lindsay Gibson, Valeria Kolomiets, Kevin Cogliano, Derek Ting and Carolyn MacDonald. We toured their amazing office, had a pint of beer, checked out the solar eclipse and talked about everything from employee engagement to employer branding to HR strategy to employee referrals. I had an amazing time with this group of highly engaged and prideful TextNow employees. We had such an honest conversation about their experiences working at TextNow, who by the way, are rapidly growing and you need to check them out — www.textnow.com.

Here’s What I Learned

First, in order to be successful you need to take chances and risks. By coming out with an employee referral program like TextNow did, that is pretty risky. They are so confident in who they are and what they reperesent as a company, rolling out a program like that has a good chance of working.

Second, what you see online does provide a pretty good perspective of what it may be like to work at an organization because it’s the most popular and common way to generate first impressions… but… nothing will ever, EVER, beat hearing the stories of employees themselves. You can’t always “judge a book by its cover”. You need to open the book and dig into it.

Third, one of my long-time beliefs has been, “you need to go into any situation giving people the benefit of the doubt”. For some reason during the past few years this hasn’t always been my MO. Even though Derek, Lindsay, Kevin, Valeria and Carolyn were positive about my blog post, upon reflection, I think I wrote that post with a little chip on my shoulder. I need to change this.

Fourth, TextNow is an amazing organization with employees that absolutely love working there. They know they’re not perfect, but tell me any organization that is perfect. There are none. They’re so humble, while being proud of who they are and what stand for, it’s truly awesome to see.

So I’ve decided that I am not taking my original blog post down. I still stand by the things that I said because my argument would likely hold true for the majority of organizations today who have a large percentage of their workforce disengaged. But TextNow is different. They have data from their employees that indicate they are on the right track and doing the right things to provide an awesome employee experience. I’ve worked with so many organizations during the course of my career, and what TextNow has is truly unique and special. I hope they continue down the amazing path that they’re on because it’s a pretty awesome one.

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