TINYtalk: Spokeo CEO On How To Align Employees with Company Values

6 min read
Jun 2, 2020

Harrison Tang, the Founder and CEO at Spokeo wrote a guest post about How Core Values Can Help Guide Employees During the Pandemic. For this week's TINYtalk, we invited him to share how they let employees define their company core values and navigate through the pandemic by listening and acting on employee feedback. 

Don't miss TINYtalk: Step Up For Students - Boosting Culture During COVID-19.

Click the video above to watch the full interview with Harrison Tang, Found and CEO of Spokeo. Or enjoy the edited transcript below.

The Pandemic Made Us More Open to WFH 

There are two kinds of impact. One is just operational impact because one of the things that's interesting about Spokeo is, about four years ago, we had a no work-from-home policy. Very similar to what Yahoo was under Marissa Mayer's tenure 10 years ago. Even when we made it flexible, 95% of all our teammates still go to the office.

When COVID-19 happened, there were many things that we have to figure out operationally. For example, how do we coordinate the IT equipment to help our employees work from home more productively. Fortunately our team figured it out within a week, which was quite impressive. 

The second aspect of it is the culture aspect. Most of our employees work on-site and we are like a family in many ways. They spend more time in the office than at their homes. While going to the office is no longer an option, how do we maintain our culture of transparency. So this is another challenge that we have to figure out.

We have a dedicated team focus on furthering our culture. They have done a phenomenal job to get us from all on-site operation to all remote within a week or so. It stood out to me how smoothly this experience has been. We use a TINYpulse to get employee feedback every month. But the most recent question that we asked was:

"'How does the remote work arrangement affect your performance? Do you see it as a positive, negative or neutral?' Surprisingly, 60% of people see it as positive."

I think we had a realization that the future of work is going to change. I think we're more open minded now. When the pandemic's over, we're going to have a more flexible work schedule for sure.

How to Maintain a Culture of Transparency When Everyone Is Remote

Transparency is the theme of our company culture because of our mission: make the world around us more transparent. To help our employees understand that, we took quite a few steps to define what does it mean to be transparent and how do we achieve transparency.   

The definition of core values is how we should behave.

"So we use the core values to outline how people can build a more transparent culture. They are: listening with empathy, asking why, clarifying with data, innovating to learn, collaborating to achieve more, and insisting on quality."

Employees Define What The Core Values Are and How Should We Achieve Them

We took a page from a data driven approach called ETL (extract, transform, and load). How this process works is after you collect the raw data, clean, standardize, and map it using business logic, so you understand how you want to use it and present it. 

We surveyed our entire team: "What do you think our core value and core values define how we should behave?" Using one or two words and up to 10.  Then we started cleaning them, which means grouping synonyms and clustering them by association. 

In the end, we clustered it down to about 10 groups and came to a clear theme. Surprisingly the core values that we extracted from the employee feedback roughly maps to problem solving techniques. For example, the sixth value called insists on quality, which mapped to the control concept in Lean Methodology.

"So this is how we came up with the core values--by listening to our employees and clustering their feedback. "

It's Easier to Evangelize Our Core Values When Employees Were the Ones Who Shape Them

It took like six months to come up with the core values. But evangelizing core values was quite easy because everyone has added their input. That's the cool thing about data driven approach. You cannot say, I don't agree with this because you do have a voice.

One of the problems with the top down approach is when I say, these are the core values. Some people will be like, well, I don't agree.

"So evangelizing core values using the data driven approach is actually quite easy because everyone's voice was considered from the very beginning."

Having Core Values Helps Align People With Company Priority and Navigate Through the Pandemic

The importance of having clear and succinct core values is that it aligns people. We all played a game of like me say something to you, and you say something to John, and John said it to like Eric. In the end, what I say will be very different from what Eric said. So, simplicity helps make the communication a lot easier and more robust. 

Core values highlight and emphasize what people care about the most.  I always tell people that you're telling me a good idea, the problem is usually not whether the idea is good or bad, but whether it aligns with our priority.

"Having a set of clear-defined values simplifies communication and  highlights what we care about the most. You prioritize what we care about the most."

The sixth value of Spokeo-- "insists on quality and continuous improvements". So in my opinion, culture needs to be calibrated constantly. We use TINYpulse to calibrate our culture and core values on a regular basis. And it's not that hard because once you have like six things that everyone agree on most of the time, you're just changing that one thing. 

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A More Frequent AMA Session Empowers Leadership to Avoid Blind Spots

We had a monthly all-hands company meeting for employees to ask my anything, but we moved it virtually because of COVID-19. However, our team proposed having it weekly in May so that we have more information to navigate through uncertainty in the beginning. So we did it because our first value is "listening with empathy". The reason why listening is very important is because how do you solve the problem if you don't even know what the problem is? 

I think having the AMA is great because now I can actually hear exactly what are employees' concerns. For example, people were asking if they could get internet reimbursement, which I didn't even think about since I had good internet for a long time.So we reacted and say let's do the internet first.

There was also a lot of questions about what will happen when the office opens up. Do we have to wear a face mask? Should we have a plexiglass between us and things like that. So I think about a lot of these concerns, the truth is if we don't listen, I wouldn't be able to solve it. I wouldn't even be aware that they exist. And if I'm not even aware, how do I even solve them?

"So I think it is quite a good thing to have an AMA session on a weekly basis. Whenever there are concerns, we can hear it firsthand."

The Best Tips I Can Give to Fellow Leaders

I think it comes down to listening. AMA just one way of listening, we have other ways too. We ask for employee feedback through TINYpulse. We have Slack channels for employees to voice their concerns. We also have a dedicated team just focus on culture. The events and initiatives they organize are all connected to our core values. 

Every company has different cultures. Because at the end, the culture is a reflection of who you are, which is very different from company to company.

"So I don't think there's a one size fits all solution, but I do think it all starts with listening. "

About Spokeo

Spokeo is a leading people intelligence service that helps about 15 million users a month to search and connect with others. We organize around 14 billion records into easy-to-understand profiles. So that people can connect, such as help them find their long lost families and friends, or help small-to-medium-sized businesses find new customers or protect themselves against fraud. One of the things that people don't realize is 8% of searches online are about people. So we're trying to serve that market to fulfill the needs. 

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Harrison Tang, the Founder and CEO at Spokeo

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