People First, Perks Second: A Refocused Approach to Benefits and Culture

Authenticity, mental wellness and professional connections are just a few examples of the people-first priorities at these local tech companies.

Written by Kim Conway
Published on Feb. 22, 2022
People First, Perks Second: A Refocused Approach to Benefits and Culture
Brand Studio Logo

What makes a company stand out? What propels its growth, change and success? 

For many organizations, the answer is simple: the people.

That’s why so many leaders are implementing practices that give employees sufficient resources and the support needed to embody that driving force. At West Monroe, being people-first is integral in the mission to “build the next generation of leaders.” 

Gordana Radmilovic, director of people strategy and experience at the professional consulting firm, explained how the process begins with recognizing that team members are all different: “A one-size-fits-all solution will never enable everyone to achieve their full potential.” By investing in its staff’s well-being and creating space for them to be their authentic selves, West Monroe is not only putting its mission into practice, but also offering a safe, welcoming work environment to team members. 

Similarly, in order for financial services company SoFi to properly help its customers, the company first has to care for its employees. Ana Recio, senior vice president of talent and diversity, explained how that care begins with listening to feedback. “We have built our benefits and perks programs around what they need to bring their best selves to work,” Recio said. From mental wellness services to monthly support on student loan repayment, benefits have the flexibility to change as the needs of employees evolve.

To explore how local companies engage with employees from a people-first perspective, Built In Seattle sat down with leaders from West Monroe, SoFi and Blue Nile. The conversation revealed what it takes to foster a people-focused company culture and how team leaders are adapting their support strategies in response to the changing needs of their teams. 

 

Gordana Radmilovic
Director, People Strategy & Experience at West Monroe • West Monroe

 

What steps has your company taken to foster a people-first culture? 

Being people-first is one of our core values that underpins our broader mission to build the next generation of leaders. We know that inspiring leaders need to be fulfilled and inspired themselves, so we have invested heavily in our peoples’ feelings of belonging and well-being, and their ability to grow and make a meaningful impact.

To do this, we create spaces for our people to be their authentic selves. One example of this is our employee resource groups and the open dialogue and vulnerability this program fosters. The safe space cultivated through these types of initiatives recently led to an employee who identifies as transgender to feel confident and inspired to share her transition story during an all-company listening session held by our WMPride ERG. Before West Monroe, this employee did not feel comfortable sharing this big part of her story or bringing her full self to work. And what a shame that was for so many reasons! We are so lucky to have this accomplished data scientist working for us.

 

What offerings help support a people-first company culture?

Being people-first requires recognition that employees are humans with differing experiences, needs and desires. We are not only managing the employee experience at work, but also helping our people be the best that they can be physically, mentally and emotionally. We subsidize gym memberships and regularly host physical wellness activities such as SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp classes. We also provide various Maternity Maven benefits including gender confirmation surgery, adoption process support, breastmilk shipping, fertility treatments and daycare benefits. This is all in addition to our existing health, dental and vision benefits. Headspace is available for free to all of our employees, and we also provide free access to counseling through our employee assistance program. We know emotions can run high during big life events, and we encourage our people to take the time they need to process — whether it’s three days off after a loss or 20 weeks of parental leave after the birth of a little one.

We create spaces for our people to be their authentic selves.”

 

How do you gauge the effectiveness of these efforts and ensure employees feel valued and supported? What are some ways you’ve adapted your strategy in response to employee feedback?

We have an extensive listening program that includes pulse surveys, ongoing conversations and formal check-ins throughout the year. An example of this is our “moments that matter” survey — this gauges how we are delivering on key and pivotal moments such as our onboarding experience, annual review process or major milestones including switching roles within West Monroe.

We have made many changes stemming from formal employee feedback. For example, we conducted a deeper analysis on our compensation and rewards package and added various enhancements, including a dramatic increase in our inclusion and diversity investment and the creation of our fulfillment index dashboard to better measure the employee experience. We are constantly adapting our strategy and the goals tied to it — and most importantly, our leadership is held accountable against these goals. We know this accountability is critical to enacting real change.

 

 

Ana Recio
Senior Vice President, Talent and Diversity • SoFi

 

What steps has your company taken to foster a people-first culture?

One of our company values is “get to the truth.” We do this by listening to and acting on feedback from our employees on a regular basis. For example, a key finding from our annual employee survey was the desire for the opportunity to provide input into some of our strategic decisions as a company. To make this process more inclusive, we now have leaders from our employee resource groups — called SoFi Circles, internally — attend monthly meetings with our leadership team. 

Our greatest differentiator is our people.”

 

What offerings help support a people-first company culture?

We believe our greatest differentiator is our people. If we take care of them, they will take care of our members, so we have built our benefits and perks programs around what they need to bring their best selves to work. A few that really stand out are our student loan reimbursements, which allow eligible employees to receive up to $200 per month to pay back educational debt; SoFridays, where non-exempt employees can start their weekends at 2 p.m. every Friday; and our overall flexible approach to the workplace. We allow employees to choose whether they would like to be full-time remote, hybrid or full-time in office. We also just shortened our initial vesting cliff, so employees who receive stock benefits only have to wait six months — rather than a year — to access their liquidity.

 

How do you gauge the effectiveness of these efforts and ensure employees feel valued and supported? 

In addition to an annual employee engagement survey, we recently implemented a quarterly pulse survey to check in with employees on a more regular basis throughout the year. We look for positive change in engagement scores to ensure that the programs we’re rolling out to support our people-first culture are resonating and use the data to learn, iterate and innovate — another one of our core values at SoFi.

 

 

Blue NIle Office
Blue Nile

 

Kevin Blum
Director of Human Resources • Blue Nile

 

What steps has your company taken to foster a people-first culture?

We use communication to increase awareness and recognition across the company. For example, we start every meeting with recognition. This goes for departmental meetings all the way up to the company’s all-hands. Through this communication, our employees have more awareness of each other’s accomplishments and what other people and teams are working on.

Another way we foster a people-first culture is ensuring we are living our values — or our  “guiding principles,” as we call them — by incorporating them into all of our people programs. We apply our values to how we evaluate our individual performance, interview and select candidates, and recognize each other. The recognition we offer at the start of our meetings is always tied to one of our values.

We apply our values to how we evaluate our individual performance, interview and select candidates, and recognize each other.”

 

What offerings help support a people-first company culture? 

We align our benefits to support a people-first culture. We cover 100 percent of our employees’ health coverage and subsidize a majority of costs for their families. In today’s environment specifically, we find that supporting family coverage can be a differentiator in benefit plans. We also provide a stipend to support employees in where they choose to work, whether they’re commuting or have home office expenses. 

We’ve started building out ways for people to connect, both in-person and virtually, as another perk to support our people-first culture. We host lunch and learns twice a month, giving internal experts a chance to share their knowledge with the rest of the organization. This allows people an opportunity to both teach and learn from one another in a casual setting. We also host a series of other activities to help people connect, such as artificial intelligence-powered virtual coffee connections where you get paired up with someone in a different department based on mutual interests.

 

How do you gauge the effectiveness of these efforts and ensure employees feel valued and supported? What are some ways you’ve adapted your strategy in response to employee feedback?

Engagement surveys are nothing new — most companies do some type of employee survey to gauge their effectiveness. For us, it’s all about the actions coming from that feedback. Rather than trying to focus on every category or theme of feedback, we limit ourselves to just three themes or actions. We could try doing a lot, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, those efforts would be mediocre. So instead, we focus on doing just a few things really well. Our actions to foster communication, live by our values and create connections are the specific efforts that resulted from our latest engagement survey feedback. When we do our next survey, we’ll gauge how our employees feel we did in those three areas and adapt our strategy based on the results.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

Hiring Now
Monte Carlo
Big Data • Cloud • Software • Big Data Analytics