Street Culture: SproutLoud’s Reinvention Requires Collaboration

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Channel marketing automation company SproutLoud had a circular problem: the turnover was bad, which was bad for employee morale, which was causing more turnover.

The company’s internal culture was deteriorating—a point at which many startups have struggled to reset their environments, and a point at which SproutLoud’s leadership team took responsibility.

“Four years ago, the leadership team took an intentional approach and sat down with the employees to try to figure out what was going on, what was happening,” says Bill Cronic, VP for People and Organizational Development. “From then on, they worked to give the employees a sense of empowerment. If there were issues or problems going on, the idea was: don’t just identify the problem, but also try to help present a potential solution. It became more of an atmosphere of collaboration and working together to move the company forward.”

What came out of that initiative was a new structure in which managers now meet with employees at least twice a month to talk about performance progress, impediments, and possible resolutions.

“One of the questions we ask is, ‘How happy are you? What’s your satisfaction level like?’” Cronic says. “All this has taken place because the leadership team knew that we needed to do things differently.”

SproutLoud’s leadership team is five people: Jared Shusterman, CEO, Gary Ritkes, President, Anjan Upadhya, CTO, Dave Kinsella, COO, and David Spinola, CFO.

“They’re the ones who have really been driving the company,” Cronic says. “I’ve worked with managers and bosses in the past where they had the approach of it’s their way or the highway. They weren’t necessarily open to hearing ideas that weren’t their own ideas. What’s very refreshing for me with this executive team is that they work from the belief that the best ideas come from a team approach, a collaborative approach.”

When this group of leaders saw the issues emerging around too much employee turnover, they believed it was partially natural company growing pains, but also knew that listening to the employees would provide more insights.

The company has seen measurable changes since it started listening more and being open to feedback. The SproutLoud Glassdoor score is still low, but Cronic says the company’s net promoter score recently reached 37 on a scale of -100 to 100.

“We know there’s always room to improve, but when we got the survey results back and saw that the company scored a 37, we were very happy with that,” he says.

SproutLoud was also named one of South Florida’s Top Work Places this year by the SunSentinel.

Cronic joined SproutLoud less than a year ago but has ardently taken on the tasks of reshaping the culture.

“Part of my job is opening the line of communication with the employees, and asking the question, ‘What more can we do to make sure this is a great place to work?’” he says.

Employees have affirmed that positive change is afoot at SproutLoud, he says, with two topics coming up repeatedly: salaries and discipline.

“We’ve taken a look at making sure we’re paying our employees competitive salaries, and we now use outside vendors to help make sure what we’re paying is aligned with what the market is paying,” Cronic says. “We started that process about a year to 18 months ago.”

Explaining reasoning around leadership decisions can sometimes be a little more difficult to address.

“We typically get some comments from employees when there are times when we take disciplinary action,” Cronic says. “When we do take disciplinary action, we do it in a closed-door situation. There are times when employees tell us that they want more communication around that, and want to know why we took the action we took. We end up explaining to them that sometimes there are things that we’re not going to be able to share, but that when we can share we will do the best that we can. We always want to respect peoples’ confidentiality, their privacy.”

SproutLoud has two primary locations, just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and in Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia. Between the two main locations and about six employees working remotely around the U.S., the company employs about 150 people total. Much of the original turnover issues took place in the Florida headquarters, and that’s also where some cultural support initiatives are having the biggest impact.

“There’s one brand new initiative that I’m pretty excited about,” Cronic says. “We launched ‘Sproutloud & You,’ which starts everyone off with training for an hour, and then it’s followed up with a survey. The survey is basically asking the employee to put themselves in a group. Are you a high aspirations employee where you’re saying you want to grow your career and you have discretionary time that you’re willing to put into your career, and you want to challenge yourself?”

High-aspiration employees might be interested in expanding their career into a different area, or they might be willing to take on a challenge that would require a different skill set.

There are two other groups, for “motivated” employees, who want to continue to grow their careers in one way or another, and for “stable” employees who are motivated when they’re at work, but, for example, might have a work-life balance situation that doesn’t allow them a lot of extra time for work.

“We’re creating career plans for them,” Cronic says. “It’s letting us know which employees might be interested in moving into management roles. It lets us find out what they’re interested in doing and how we can help them grow their careers. We’re putting together a resource library and giving them opportunities to mentor others.”

This new initiative has already identified 39 employees who are willing to mentor others, Cronic says.

“We have so many talented people here,” he says. “We want to approach this from a philosophy of not that, ‘This is my place to teach you,’ [but] that this is a place to learn from each other. It’s an environment where we’re all constantly learning and growing together.”

April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.