Why Employee Obsession Matters: An Introduction

Every business has different and often competing, interests. Each business, whether consciously or by default, end ups prioritizing the following three interests:

  1. Shareholders
  2. Customers
  3. Employees

Deciding which one to prioritize is an important decision. When Bryce Maddock and I started TaskUs in 2008, we bootstrapped the company with our life savings and were resource-constrained in terms of capital and experience. To put that in perspective, we both had just finished college, were living at home with our parents, were spending the last of our $20k life savings on a TaskUs website. But what we lacked in resources was offset by our grit and perseverance. We built what we thought was a great culture, and we had a highly-motivated team whose work ethic was unrivaled. We did everything we could to win clients, and worked hard to deliver on our promises. As a result, TaskUs grew rapidly. We won new clients, met and exceeded our service level agreements and continued to push forward with a singular focus on growth. This landed us on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies four years straight. As we grew and had success, we also started to notice some things in our culture that were troubling - high attrition, lack of trust and, at times, a negative attitude. We were so focused on growth that we were losing sight of the effect that would ultimately have on our employees.

 

The Uh-Oh Moment!

Being a data-driven company, we wanted to know if our employees were being impacted, so we decided to do what customer experience professionals always do - we surveyed our customers! In this case, our customers were our employees. So in 2014, we sent out our first employee survey. We asked employees to tell us how satisfied they were working at TaskUs, and the results did not reflect the great culture we thought we had built.

When we survey our employees, we take the same approach as when we survey our clients. We ask questions on a variety of topics, but judge our overall performance with a simple Net Promoter Score (NPS). Using a 0-10 scale, we ask "How likely are you to recommend TaskUs as a place to work with your friends and family?" Once we have the responses, we take our 9-10s (Promoters) and subtract them from our 0-6s (Detractors). The scores of 7-8 are Passive and are not included in the final number. The range for NPS is -100 to +100, and in our first survey, our score was a 4. We were disappointed and embarrassed. We thought we had built a great company. We assumed our people were happy. But when it comes to employee experience, perception is reality, and our reality was a 4.

Simultaneously, there were other forces in the business that concerned us. Like many businesses, we initially tried to win new logos by being the lowest-cost provider, and with this strategy, we won new business but quickly realized we were headed nowhere fast. Waging a price war and saying yes to every opportunity that popped up was a losing proposition. Another company was always willing to charge even less, and we had no interest in a race to the bottom to be the cheapest provider.

Automation was also coming on the scene and we started to see some of our early business be affected. Business processes like receipt and voicemail transcription, image recognition and sentiment scoring made up the bulk of our revenue. Over time, the companies we worked for found ways to automate some or most of these processes. We knew that this trend would only accelerate, and if we didn't move upmarket and offer more complex services, TaskUs may not have long-term viability as a company. Wanting to see our venture thrive and be a long-term success, we took a hard look in the mirror and set ourselves on a path that would radically change TaskUs, our lives, and the lives of the now 10,000+ people who have been employed by TaskUs.

 

The Ah-Ha Moment

Treating employees well seems to be conventional wisdom today. Data shows that companies with better culture outperform the market. We had also seen the Silicon Valley giants, the ones that were providing catered lunches and outlandish benefits like dry cleaning and wifi busses for their employees, enjoying a culture where employees loved to work.

Wanting to create a culture where employees wanted to work and were happy, we looked to these examples and to other successful entrepreneurs, like Danny Meyer and Tony Hsieh, who have built great companies by focusing on culture and employee experience.

We knew at our core this was the right approach, and that focussing on people would serve us well in the long run. We also knew we hadn't gotten it right the first time and we needed to give this issue the same intense focus we gave revenue and profitability. So we started making employee Net Promoter Score (ENPS) just as important as revenue and profit. We believed that if we measured it, we could manage it - and if we focused on it, we could achieve the same great results in this area of our business as we had in others.

 

The Employee Experience Journey

In 2014, we committed ourselves to a different stakeholder: The employee. We became absolutely employee-obsessed and remain so today. Employee experience is our North Star, and with every decision we make in the company, we ask ourselves "How will this impact our employee experience?"

Our ENPS, which we can proudly say is most recently a 63 is a 16X improvement from our baseline of 4 is reflective of our culture. Our ENPS has risen steadily quarter-over-quarter and is comparable to great cultures like those at Harley Davidson, Apple, and Lego. Our hypothesis that focusing on eNPS like revenue or profit would drive a better culture for our employees has proven to be true. More importantly, we now have the data to show exactly why this approach has also led to better business outcomes.

We hire the best people, treat them with respect, listen to and value their opinions, coach them firmly but kindly and truly invest in them. In turn, they perform better for our clients than our competitors' employees do. Our happy employees have higher attendance, significantly lower voluntary attrition, better productivity, and quality. Putting people first really does work, and it gives us a distinct advantage. Today, we rank our stakeholders as 1) Employees, 2) Customers and 3) Shareholder, because our happy employees deliver exceptional customer experiences, which increases revenue and gives us happy investors. This ecosystem is thriving at TaskUs.

 

What You'll Learn in the Next Six Weeks

Our goal is for this series to be both informative and thought-provoking. We want to help you become employee-obsessed, too. Over the next six weeks, Bryce will be covering a variety of topics related to employee satisfaction and employee happiness that we hope gives you a fresh perspective on why businesses should be putting employees first to achieve long-term success. Our topics will include:

  1. Job Complexity & The Employee Obsession Matrix
  2. The Correlation Between Employee NPS & Performance
  3. The Five Factors That Make Employees Promoters of Your Workplace
  4. Gourmet Lunches & Compensation Do NOT Affect Employee Satisfaction. What Really Does?
  5. We Have Happy Employees. So What?
  6. How to Create an Employee-First Organization.

I hope you will join us on this six-week journey, make sure to follow Bryce and check in next week for our first section.

Jaspar Weir

President and Founder
June 22, 2017