Driving New Employee Productivity at Compose

It’s now two weeks since I joined Compose as one of their newest employees. In those two weeks I’ve discovered the three things that they do differently to make new employees more productive from the start. Getting new employees to be as productive as they can be is a real challenge. If your company is prepared to make a “leap of trust” and believe in investing early in new employees, you can implement these three things and reap the rewards too.

The first thing a new employee does is also the first thing they’ll find different at Compose… getting equipped to work.

Make set up fun and familiar

Compose gives every employee an initial $3500 tech budget plus $2,000 every year after to build and bling out their work station. It’s your pick of computer, monitor, keyboard, ergonomic accouterments, noise canceling headphones, apps, pepper spray or just about anything else you need/want to be productive. It's aw geek-happy productivity shopping spree. And did I mention it’s annual? Your 2015 Core i7 processor too slow? Don’t worry, there’s likely going to be a new processor for 2016 you can snag to get faster access to your Spotify account.

Building your ideal work station is a faster path to productivity than working with the standard issue set up at most organizations. Companies spend a lot of money investing in people, but often skimp on the hardware and software that make people productive. Buying for the lowest common denominator is suboptimal. As people who spend nearly all of their working hours online, having an ideal set up aids personal productivity.

For Compose employees, whether you’re located in one of our offices or working out of your home office, the same deal applies. We want you to work well wherever you like to work. Interestingly, few people use up their entire allotment. For most, it’s not so much about spending the money as building the right set up to maximize productivity.

And when it comes to the software you work with, it’s your choice too. In fact, for devs, the choice of tools and programming languages are left up to the developer, rather then mandated from above. There is no 'you must use Java of a specific version,’ there is only 'we trust you to choose the right tools to solve this problem.’ For non-devs it’s the same: it’s entirely your choice for software or services to get the job done, and the company puts its faith into people to make the right choices.

While there are new faces and names, new processes and products to learn, there’s one less thing to work around so all your time can be spent on getting more fully integrated into the job.

To get fully integrated, you’ll need to know, or be able to find out, everything connected with your role. That's where the second thing Compose does differently comes in.

Provide transparency across the company

The company has more than half-a-dozen apps to help with collaboration and team productivity including Slack, Hackpad, Confluence, Trello and others. When you join, you get access to everything and everyone. Having a workforce peppered around the world has helped the company get good at remote collaboration quickly.

With access to real-time and legacy info, new employees can get up to speed almost immediately. It’s overwhelming at first, it makes your head swim just thinking about the data, but it’s all there to use when needed. Past projects and conversations, work in progress, a list of what people are working on, the company’s metrics dashboard, everything is laid out to give as much or as little as one needs to get an understanding of the company and people.

The motivation to work this way is in part due to the remote nature of the company. With great distance comes great responsibility to make the extra effort to stay connected, be open and transparent about work, and communicate regularly. This kind of transparency is one of the most powerful ways to enhance productivity in any organization, and easily one of the best things for a new employee.

Knowing that productivity is best focussed with commitment, at Compose, we make commitment something employees new and old do in public, which brings us to the third way of work.

Make public commitments from day one

A handful of new companies have embraced a more open, agile and non-hierarchical way of work. Compose is among those companies who have built their businesses on flat, self-organizing teams.

The flat organizational hierarchy means that people at all levels of the org are expected to put in the same effort, including publicly committing and voting on work (more on that below). There are many advantages to flat organizations, but because orders do not typically come down from on high, it requires that people be internally driven. Coupled with being flat, the transparent org makes it possible to see what others are working on to determine how your work can complement it.

One homegrown tool that helps the team focus and prioritize on getting the right work is called Fizz, and it includes a feature called Commitments. Every employee commits to a work project and updates their work to report on progress. As someone new to the company, I could see at-a-glance what people were working on, and Fizz forces everyone to commit to one project at a time for maximum focus and productivity.

Fizz also has a scoring algorithm composed of commitment updates (how often you update your work), deed votes (number of times coworkers upvote your accomplishments) and votes issued (how involved you are with upvoting other people's work). Great ideas and great work are publicly recognized on an internal leaderboard (and also shared automatically via Slack) so everyone is kept in the loop. Whether you're a founder or the latest new hire, your commitments are public and open to comment.

Powered by trust

Set up, transparency and commitments all contribute to helping new employees become productive faster and get some quick wins. Add to that open dialogue and self-organizing teams, it becomes apparent quickly that this is a participatory culture in which everyone is driven to help each other succeed.

Which brings me to the final point: this company puts a lot of trust into people from their first day. It’s not just the founders, it’s everyone. For all this to work, we need to trust each other to get it done. Trust is the little magical ingredient that makes the whole thing fire on all cylinders — you’re trusted to invest in a set up that makes you productive, engage in the open company culture and set your own commitments. And that’s just the first day.

Daniel Pink, author of Drive, talks at length about the importance of giving employees autonomy to build on their natural, intrinsic motivations. Typically, intrinsic motivation is pushed out of way as managers wrest autonomy away from their teams, but at Compose intrinsic motivation is the default mode of operation. For sure, the perks mentioned above are perks, but built into them is the notion of autonomy -- that if we give you the keys to the kingdom you’ll be more motivated and productive.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any standards or processes for the group to follow. We can’t all choose our own own communication tools; we have just one IM tool and everyone is on Google for Work. We also require people to take proper security measures to keep the company’s information and our customers' data safe and secure. Where it makes the most sense, there are agreed upon tools and processes to help us work.

The open nature of the company ensures there’s some crowdsourcing to help move projects and ideas in the right direction, so even though the nature of this extreme trust can be a little daunting, it ends up being empowering.

If any of this sounds like something you’d want to be a part of, check out our jobs page.