Campaign Monitor is an email marketing firm with over 2 million customers at more than 200,000 businesses like BuzzFeed, Rip Curl, UNICEF, and adidas. Since its founding in 2004, the Australian company was built around a set of core values. One of them was to be profitable from Day 1. They stayed on this steady (but slow) path for nearly ten years before asking themselves: Should we stay the course, or place a big bet aimed at increasing our impact?

In 2014, Campaign Monitor decided to take a risk and grow their ranks. That risk paid off, in part because they gained this awesome guy Alex Bard, a former Salesforce Executive Vice President (EVP) and seasoned entrepreneur. I had the opportunity to talk with Alex about Campaign Monitor's path and how their values play into strategic and day-to-day decisions.

For a company so committed to culture and values, how did Campaign Monitor keep true to themselves and grow while making a massive investment and integrating new staff and leaders?

"A big part of our growth has been made possible by communication and transparency," Alex says.

Prior to his work at Salesforce, Alex was a career entrepreneur, having founded four companies, two of which were acquired. In all prior business experiences, he saw that people needed context to make the right decisions. "It's not my job to make all of the decisions. It's my job to empower people to make the right choices," Alex explained.

He believes a leader's most important job is to help employees understand the overarching goals and priorities of the business. That sounds simple enough, but for anyone in a leadership position, you know that consistent communication is both risky and time-consuming. It can feel like there's no finish line.

So, how does Alex do it?

Borrowing a concept that worked for him at Salesforce, Alex worked with his team at Campaign Monitor to implement V2MOM, or in its case, V2MUM, a simple list of reminders about the company's mission and approach to reach our goals. The cute acronym is grounded in serious concepts, and is used to anchor their strategic decisions and help put all communications in context.

V2MUM stands for:

  1. Vision: The ultimate end goal for the company
  2. Values: What are the core values of our organization that we live by?
  3. Methods: What detailed steps are we going to take to get to our Vision, without compromising our values?
  4. Unknowns: What future roadblocks could possibly hinder our path?
  5. Measures: How are we going to measure success?

Using these V2MUM values as a guide, the leadership team goes through a planning exercise each year. According to Alex, "It's an incredibly powerful tool to get people on the same page." The resulting annual work plan informs their most important actions and investments for the rest of the year.

So, what else do Alex and his team do that you could use to build a values-based culture in your organization?

  • Hire people who share your values. "People are hired for what they've done and get fired for who they are," Alex says. He and his team use a rigorous interview process and thorough reference checks to help ensure alignment.
  • Hold hack days. At Campaign Monitor, the team sets aside time for people to play with little projects.
  • Recognize big and little accomplishments. They have an internal tool that allows an employee to do a shout out to another employee "caught" demonstrating those values through their work and interaction with others. The executive team reviews every single shout out regularly and will recognize staff more publicly for their contribution.
  • Get comfortable being called out. At Campaign Monitor, people routinely call out one of their values if they think the conversation is veering off-track. If in a meeting, someone might say, "Hey, remember one of our values is to do less. How can we prioritize this better?"

With so much going right, Alex is quick to add that they're far from perfect in terms of communication and transparency. "You can always do better. We do our best with Slack, videoconferencing, and our wiki. We do everything we can think of with tools and systems. During our monthly all-hands (live and in real-time) employees can ask anything. Those are really good, but like any company, there is room to improve. We depend on employees to think about how they could do better," Alex explains.

I asked Alex if too much communication and transparency could be a bad thing.

Alex says, "It's not about not sharing, it's about getting the timing right." Degrees of freedom vary based on the type of company. Publicly traded companies, for example, must be more careful or risk leaking information that would influence investors. Clearly, you must tailor your approach to your particular environment.

Additionally, Alex noted that one of the things people have difficulty with is delivering bad news to employees- especially knowing that they'll worry about job stability. In his view, it's better to share news early so that the team can face challenges together. Involving more people in the solution is an advantage.

In closing, Alex emphasized his commitment to the idea of servant leadership. "It's about having the right environment, hiring the right people, and holding each other accountable. When those pieces are in place, the benefits of communication and transparency outweigh the risk."

Published on: May 23, 2017