Don’t Let A Communication Gap Derail Your Company Culture By Dan Caffee

Full Article on

Just talk to people. It sounds so easy. But for my co-founder Shaun Ritchie and me, learning to communicate better was a tough lesson. Now, we’re a much better company because of it.

We started Neutron Interactive in 2005 with big dreams as Internet marketing gurus of creating a company that would give “smart people the room to do what they love best”—in other words, a place we’d want to work for. We were scrappy and fearless. We achieved Inc. 500 recognition. Turnover, in our company, had never been an issue.

Then it hit us like a sucker punch. Five years in, and our company’s turnover became a problem.

On paper, our growth looked fantastic as we passed $20 million in sales. But in 2013, our turnover had skyrocketed. It wasn’t just a matter of employees who weren’t a good fit and left on their own steam (or not). What really hurt was that many people who’d been with us from the start, people we really respected and valued, were suddenly gone.

Departures are a normal fact of business life. People leave for better opportunities, more money, boredom, or a spouse who gets transferred, for instance.

This felt different—as if I were missing something key that was corroding my control of the company I’d started. What was happening to our thriving startup culture, the kind of company Shaun and I had always wanted to work for? We’d gone from a place where people were really enjoying each other to enjoying just the snacks or the slide or the ping-pong. (There was a lot of ping-pong being played.)

Communication was the key

We decided to reach out out to a handful of employees we really liked, but who’d left us. The feedback we received was actually refreshing to me. I realized that people felt like they didn’t know whether they were failing or succeeding at their job. This really boiled down to one main issue: communication. I felt like everyone already knew what was going on, therefore there didn’t need to be much formalized communication and interaction. But after talking to others, I realized that communication does make a difference.

We knew there were endless studies, articles, white papers, books and videos on how to communicate better within an organization. But, in the end, we chose four easy steps.

1. Breaking down barriers.

More than just a metaphorical term, we had groups physically separated by walls and floors. So we broke down the physical barriers by rearranging the lay out of our office space, moving people into places that made more sense to deliberately encourage more collaboration and communication. For example, we put the technology team in the middle of the company, where they were central to all. A project that had been stalled for two years suddenly began to make rapid progress. We felt alive again.

2. Open stats.

Yes, everyone talks a good game of transparency, but we took the step of actually posting our core statistics online. It allowed everyone in the company to see how we were pacing. Teams began to set better goals. Friendly competitions started. Suddenly, the energy was back.

3. Company meetings.

Believe it or not, they work. We started to hold company-wide meetings every other week. We had teams reporting on what they’re working on, more communication on numbers, we also added a Q&A section for anyone to anonymously ask me a question they had. We also created an orientation process to give current employees a chance to learn more about what the other teams were working on.

4. Rediscovery of fun.

When the turnover climbed, we realized our attention to company activities had declined. It wasn’t that we were actively trying to not have fun activities, we just didn’t have a good process in place and someone really in charge of making them happen. So our activities essentially became non-existent for a while. We recommitted ourselves to making those activities a company-wide priority—and also let teams select and hold monthly activities together as well.

These changes may seem small and they certainly didn’t dent our P&L. But they’ve made a huge impact on the company with an important ROI. In 2014, our turnover decreased by more than 40 percent. We were back on the Best Companies to Work For list for our state.

It was not an easy lesson to swallow. But talking to people—especially your employees, past and present—has made us a better company.

About Neutron

Neutron Interactive is a lead generation company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The company's innovative solutions have been used across a wide range of industries, including recruiting, insurance, interactive media, and education. Neutron's success has earned the company recognition on the Inc. 500 in 2010 and 2011.

More About Neutron