Written by Ashley Wilson Tuesday, February 12 2013
Snapshot: Amy Buckner Chowdhry, Founder and CEO of AnswerLab
For Amy Buckner Chowdhry, the co-founder and CEO of AnswerLab, the measure of a successful company has as much to do with outside client wins as it does with internal company culture. That’s why this leading user experience research firm in San Francisco has developed a unique and noteworthy approach to facilitating employee happiness.
Since AnswerLab’s founding in 2004, Buckner Chowdhry and her team have regularly gauged employee satisfaction through the lens of four key areas – career development, learning, wellness and giving back to the community. Subscribing to the belief that happy employees produce the best work, they are steadfast in their commitment to thinking about each person holistically. It's also a priority to be transparent with company goals and finances and to put a set of core values that everyone can recite from memory into practice.
The results? Very minimal employee turnover and the honor of being named to the 2012 list of the Top 25 Best Places to Work in the U.S by the Great Place to Work Institute and Fortune Magazine.
Womenetics recently sat down with Buckner Chowdhry to learn more about the importance of user experience, why AnswerLab has chosen to measure employee happiness and how you can implement a similar program for your organization.
Womenetics: At AnswerLab, you're very focused on your internal company culture. Can you speak about the holistic approach you've taken to ensuring employee satisfaction within the company?
Amy Buckner Chowdhry: We think about our team members’ happiness from four key facets:
- Career: We set clear development plans, role-specific scorecards and competencies, and conduct annual and quarterly reviews to track against those plans.
- Learning: We foster an environment of continuous learning through monthly learning lunches, formal presentation skills training, AnswerLab University for new hires and a $400 tech annual benefit that encourages the team to explore new digital technologies.
- Wellness: None of that matters if our team isn’t healthy, strong and active. We reimburse for gym memberships, give every employee a FitBit and encourage walk-n-talks outside.
- Giving Back: Our employees feel a great deal of social responsibility. We offer a conduit for that through our Giving Back program, which is entirely employee-driven and involves pro bono work, financial contributions, group volunteer events and teaching in the community. We've installed solar panels for disadvantaged families and completely refurbished a garden at a troubled local school.
Womenetics: What metrics do you have in place to determine employee happiness? And what have the results been?
Buckner Chowdhry: We look at three key things: 1) bi-annual employee engagement surveys, 2) the Great Place to Work Institute Survey and 3) employee retention metrics. I’m thrilled to say that last October the Great Place to Work Institute and Fortune Magazine named AnswerLab as one of the Top 25 Best Places to Work in the U.S.
Womenetics: What experiences led you to decide that employee happiness would be a key part of the company culture at AnswerLab?
Buckner Chowdhry: Fundamentally, this kind of focus is just immensely rewarding for me. My personal fulfillment comes from seeing our teams thrive and be the best they can be. I love that everyone at AnswerLab can grow and develop as the company matures. Also, when you build a company that cares about customer experience, you naturally feel an extreme sense of commitment to the experience of your employees.
But, I’ll also note that I grew up with a family who cared about this very much. My mother runs an organizational development consulting firm and was the CEO of a behavioral health organization. I learned the importance of culture, great leadership teams and working styles simply through osmosis.
Womenetics: Why is cultural fit and employee happiness so important to AnswerLab, specifically, and companies, in general?
Buckner Chowdhry: From an ethics and integrity standpoint, it’s a no-brainer to care about employee happiness. But it’s also good for the business overall. If our team is happy and contented, those feelings will reflect in our client’s experience. An employee who isn’t feeling her best won’t have the energy to bring her best to the office every day. Employee happiness is also the key to retention, particularly in an extremely competitive job market like in Silicon Valley.
Womenetics: What advice would you give entrepreneurs who also want to implement a similar program around employee wellness/satisfaction?
Buckner Chowdhry: Think holistically about your employees – not just about their careers but about their fulfillment as human beings. How can the company contribute to that? Can you be more than place to work, a place that enables the team to achieve their best possible selves – healthy, active, engaged, giving back to the community? Then, get started on a program by understanding what your employees need and want (just as you should with your customers). Survey them. Spend time uncovering what would enable them to thrive in your company. As you grow, work to implement their requests and constantly measure your progress.
Womenetics: Tell us about what AnswerLab does.
Buckner Chowdhry: AnswerLab delivers trusted customer insights that help the world’s leading brands build outstanding digital products and services. We focus exclusively on user experience research to understand what people see, do, think and feel when using websites, mobile applications and other digital products. Fortune 500 companies depend on our recommendations about product concepts, features, design and messaging to create more engaging customer experiences that drive results.
Womenetics: Why is user experience so important for both emerging and established companies?
Buckner Chowdhry: Time and time again, studies have proven that companies with outstanding user experiences win in the market place. Look at Facebook vs. MySpace, Netflix vs. Blockbuster, Amazon vs. Barnes & Noble. Facebook, Netflix and Amazon won because they had an unrelenting focus on superior customer experiences. In the digital world, your user experience is your brand.
A great online user experience can also be the difference between your customers getting the right message versus having the wrong understanding of your products. Automotive manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and retailers understand that user experience can be make or break. Competitors are just a click away, which means switching costs can be very low.
Womenetics: You've been in user experience for a very long time. Have you found that companies are focusing more on user experience and customer engagement in recent years?
Buckner Chowdhry: Without a doubt. User experience is no longer just a differentiator; it’s now a barrier to entry. Most companies clearly recognize that user experience is the key to customer adoption and retention. Many of our clients who have a huge investment in digital are now beginning to build their own teams, labs and user experience practices. We’re delighted to see them mature in their capabilities and skill sets, often as a result of our consulting and training.
More on creating a happy workplace:
Beverly Kaye, author of "Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go" offers easy-to-implement practices for managers to increase employee engagement and, consequently, retention.
“If bad meetings were a virus, the Surgeon General would declare a state of emergency in most organizations,” says Michael Wilkinson. Learn how you can stop this epidemic.
We've heard about the value of diversity time and time again, but what about inclusion? Shirley Englemeier argues that this strategy is the new competitive advantage that benefits both employees and their employer's bottom line.
Ashley Wilson, a freelance writer, is also the marketing and community manager for Sauce Labs, a small tech startup located in San Francisco. A graduate of Indiana University, she has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has worked for various publications, including Atlanta Magazine, the Champion Newspaper and Inside Magazine.