"Creating a great company culture is an example of 'mind over matter,' a particular type of magic trick," says Tomas Gorny, the charismatic CEO of fast-growing Nextiva, a communications company headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. "It starts with a single person's mindset that you build into a shared mindset, and then sustain and grow that mindset through the behaviors that can feed it."
Whatever Gorny and team have done seems to be paying off, judging from the energetic, close-knit culture the company has nurtured and maintained. Even for a steady-growth company in a slow-paced market this would be notable, but Nextiva's situation is more exciting and, no doubt, stress-laden than that. The Scottsdale-based company is one of the fastest growing in Arizona as well as nationwide, as ranked by the Deloitte Fast 500. Things are made more complex for the company by the geographic distribution of the Nextiva operation, with satellite offices in Southern California, Silicon Valley and Europe (with more on the way), in addition to the company's headquarters building in Scottsdale, which is packed to the rafters with the company's Arizona-based employees. [Disclosure: I do ongoing professional work in this space, including for Nextiva, which is how I got the inside story to share with you about its culture.]
Yet, through all of this, Nextiva has maintained a company culture that is the envy of many. Happily, I was able to pin down CEO Gorny as well as longtime CMO Yaniv Masjedi on the factors that have created the Nextiva cultural difference.
"We Don't Do Inertia"
"Want to know what the biggest thing is, Micah?" the soft-spoken Masjedi asks me. "It's that we don't do inertia. Everything here is on a fast track. Working here is like four years of college squeezed into a semester. You get exposed to a massive number of inputs, a massive number of chances for learning and for doing."
This fast-track mentality leads to the creation of roles within the company that didn't even exist this time last year. For example, the recent formation of a dedicated product launch team, handpicked from within the organization, to launch the company's new communications solution (NextOS) and spearhead other upcoming projects. The fast-track mentality also leads to the opportunity to open new offices overseas and across the Western U.S.; employees who may never have been outside of Arizona can find themselves suddenly navigating a new location and doing everything in their power to make the office launch a success. "By stretching ourselves like this, we stay entrepreneurial, agile, nimble," says Masjedi, who has been with Nextiva from the start. "Although we're now a 1000+ person company, it still feels to me like we're a startup, just as much as it did when we actually were-when we were a couple dozen people crammed into a couple rooms."
"Not just the best, but willing to help you become the best."
"Another aspect of our culture," says Masjedi, "is the chance to be surrounded by brilliant people with stellar attitudes-people who are the best at what they do and are willing to share with others how to become the best at what they do. We try to select from our applicant pool not only the best and the brightest, but also the most enthused people, when we're considering folks to join our team, people who want to make a difference, and who are open to sharing with other employees how to make that difference happen."
Solving the communication challenge
With a company growing this fast, the challenge of internal communication can be particularly acute. It gets progressively more difficult for everyone, at all locations, and even on the various floors of the same building, to remain on the same page. Masjedi explains: "Our situation has changed a lot in a very short time." It wasn't long ago, says Masjedi, that all Nextiva employees could easily fit on a single floor of their headquarters space, a substantial office building in Scottsdale; now, "we've pretty much filled up all floors and areas of our Scottsdale building, and we're growing like a weed internationally as well."
The solution for internal communications that Nextiva came up with was, well, a bit unorthodox. "Want to see our secret?" Masjedi asks me, conspiratorially. "Go over and look at whatever Max, our videographer, is working on. Because video is one of the key ways we stay connected throughout our organization as we grow."
Max turns out to be Max Anderson, whose Energizer Bunny-level enthusiasm and drive are infectious in the extreme. What he's working on turns out to be the 271st episode of NextTV, a weekly feature that Anderson's team has faithfully delivered now for five years. NexTV is a weekly video production driven by the goal of keeping a sprawling company updated on the goings-on, both serious and less-so, that they may not find out about for themselves otherwise, due to the mundane realities of geography. "Without NexTV," says Masjedi, "you'd tend to mostly know about what's going on in, say, the eastern corner of the third floor of our Scottsdale building, because that's where your desk is. But through the power of video, you now can know just as much about what is going on in, say, another department on the third floor, or across the ocean in our new European office." NexTV features interviewers who roam the company halls seeking out employees to interview on a variety of topics, including a long-running feature called, "The Would You Rathers," where the interviewers solicit employee responses to such stumpers as "Would you rather have a pet dragon or be a dragon?" or "Would you rather live a thousand years or live ten different lifetimes of 100 years each?"
"When we're putting together NexTV each week," says Anderson, "we cast a wide net for people to interview on camera. Employees watching NexTV like to "meet" people on the screen who they've never run into in their daily routine, and once they see them on video, they're a whole lot more likely to start a meaningful interaction with them in real life as well."
Internal Customer Service
Video also figures prominently in what I'd call "internal customer service"; specifically, it's used as a tool within Nextiva to show appreciation from employees for their co-workers. A longstanding Nextiva ritual is Appreciation Day, which each month spotlights a different department. Take, for example, "Channel Ops Appreciation Day." For this, Anderson and his video team will gather on-camera appreciations from departments that interact with and depend on the Channel Ops department and edit them into a video to show Channel Ops how much they are appreciated. This is particularly powerful, says Anderson, because for some who work remotely with other departments, it will be the first time they see the faces of the people in these departments with whom they may work every day. In such a case, "can you think of a more positive way to be introduced?"