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The Secrets to Jawbone’s Company Culture

I recently had the opportunity to hear Randy Knaflic, the Vice President of People and Operations at Jawbone, speak at an excellent event hosted by HR 2.0, a human resources networking group headed by Robbie Peters from Sequoia Benefits.

Randy shared the three pillars he bases his People Operations upon: Philosophy, Data, and Simplicity. Although he spoke in the context of HR teams “Getting a Seat at the Executive Table,” I think his lessons are relevant to all elements of running a successful business.

Philosophy
Randy stressed the importance of developing an overall philosophy that focuses an organization’s approach to solving problems. Establishing a coherent philosophy fortifies organizational goals, and provides a reference point in case the a team’s efforts begin to stray from its stated objectives.

Jawbone prides itself on always being a trendsetter. The company’s stylish, bluetooth-enabled speakers offered a refreshing, innovative change from the clunky, old school portable sets that required docking. The rest of the industry caught up a few years later, but by then Jawbone had changed the market again with the release of its sleek, wearable tech — earpieces and wristbands that soon became ubiquitous. The major takeaway here: Jawbone’s core philosophy of risk-taking and cutting-edge, outside-the-box innovation established the company as a leader in its industry and set the tone for an entire product vertical.

However, when Randy first came to Jawbone, he found that this philosophy hadn’t spread to all corners of the company: the HR policies in place were far from innovative. It can be difficult for a new director to overcome institutional momentum, but Randy stuck his neck out and asked, “Do these policies reflect our Company Philosophy?” His initiative was rewarded, and he was quickly able to implement some of the progressive policies that make Jawbone such a great place to work today.

Data
Randy hails from Google, the birthplace of “People Analytics” and a gospel-like approach to data-driven company culture. He noted that because HR is traditionally stereotyped as a “touchy-feely” discipline, the integration of data and metrics into People Operations can lend more credibility to an increasingly critical area of business operations in today’s hyper-competitive talent market.

One of the first changes Randy made at Jawbone was updating the maternity leave policy, which was antiquated and inadequate by his own admission. He framed his pitch for the new policy in two ways. First, he asked, “What is our philosophy towards our HR policies? Do we want to be leaders on this team, just like the rest of the company?” Then, he showed a ranked table detailing the amounts of paid maternity leave, paternity leave, as well other monetary benefits that several leading technology companies offer their employees. He placed his proposal solidly in the middle of this range. The CEO, Hosain Rahman, took one look and accepted the proposal — but not before he increased the amount of paternity leave.

Simplicity
Randy spoke a lot about simplicity: how you can do more with less, and how you can be more efficient and productive. Gathering annual reviews and employee/peer feedback was a headache with the complicated system Jawbone was using, so Randy bribed an engineer with a six-pack to reduce the whole process to a three-question Google plug-in. Rather than nag everyone when compliance rates lagged, he simply posted compliance rates by department above the urinals and in the bathroom stalls to motivate departments to compete against each other. Instead of retraining recruiters when his team had problems getting them on the same page, they created a four-sided paper structure plastered with company information like exec bios, the mission statement, and the history of the company. The recruiters could play with it while they were on the phone, and thus had easy access to the information.

And there you have it, folks: a data-driven philosophy of simplicity and innovation is the secret to Jawbone’s successful products and company culture. What’s yours?

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