The Enplug Blog profiles how companies of all sizes build their team culture – from small teams to international organizations with enterprise internal communications needs.
This post looks at how Bhavin Parikh, CEO of a 30-person company called Magoosh, has built a successful company culture. He should know; Magoosh was named the Happiest Culture in Education in 2015.
Magoosh makes test prep more accessible by creating web and mobile apps to prepare students for standardized exams like the GRE, GMAT and SAT. You can find Magoosh students in 185 countries around the world. They have watched over 1.5 million hours of lesson videos and answered over 50 million practice questions on the platform.
All questions answered by Magoosh Founder and CEO Bhavin Parikh.
I’d sum up Magoosh’s culture, mission and people as accessible and authentic. At our company, we hire down-to-earth, friendly, and hard-working people. We love what we do and that’s evident in our work and the way we interact with one another and our students. The Magoosh mission — to provide accessible and enjoyable test prep to people everywhere — is a worthwhile goal that allows us to see our work impact and improve real lives around the world. We all feel fortunate to work here and we’re passionate about what we do. I think that’s what makes the whole environment feel as authentic as it does.
If someone were to write a feature on Magoosh, they would have to include a link to our Core Values. They are represented by a list of inequalities (in true test-prep nerd fashion). For example, we value “wowing” our students over making a profit. Therefore, “Wow > Profit” is on the list. We try to weave those Core Values into our everyday work, which is we take time during every monthly meeting to give shout-outs to our colleagues when we think they exemplified a particular Core Value in the previous month.
For every candidate, we look for two things: 80%+ competency and 80%+ culture fit. We want the candidate to be successful in the role but also have room to grow. For competency, we ask them to tackle sample tasks so we can see how they’d perform and so they can see how much they’d enjoy the role. For culture, we try to get a sense of how well a candidate’s values align with our company’s values (e.g., Are they willing to go above and beyond to help customers and teammates? Are they comfortable with ambiguity and change?).
As an education company, learning is a core part of everything we do. In fact, “Learning > Knowing” is another one of our Core Values. Employees are encouraged to ask questions — we don’t know everything and that’s okay. Our managers and team members are happy to work with anyone to arrive at the knowledge and answers they need to get their job done. In addition, Magoosh offers monthly class stipends so employees can go out and take classes on anything under the sun. They don’t have to be career-related at all. For example, people have taken classes on skiing, krav maga, improv, ceramics, and ballet, just to name a few. We want to make it possible for our employees to get out there and broaden their horizons by doing and learning everything they possibly can. We’re all about promoting lifelong learning.
Scaling communication has been one of the biggest challenges as we have grown from 5 to nearly 25. We want all employees to understand what changes are happening and to not be surprised by those changes, but that’s easier said than done. We’re continuing to think about ways to engage and communicate with employees early in the process. We’re working on improved communication during employee/manager 1:1’s and more regular communication via email but there’s no silver bullet.
Employee feedback is critical for improving our company and culture. Our managers don’t need to act on every piece of feedback, but they do need to make sure they listen to all feedback. We use employee surveys and weekly 1:1’s to get rough sense of how things are going, but these channels only give you part of the story. It’s challenging for employees at any company, including ours, to provide upward feedback. We’re continuing to look for ways to encourage feedback, and we recognize there’s work to be done.
In addition to the class stipend I mentioned earlier, we also offer a Team Event stipend that employees can use to get to know their colleagues outside of the office. If you can wrangle just one other Magoosher, you can use your stipend funds for the event. Archery, karaoke and NBA games, and skydiving are just a few of the things we’ve done together. We also have regular team dinner outings, a flexible work-from-home schedule and a flexible vacation policy.
Many companies with vastly different values are successful, so there’s no single set of values that are essential. For instance, employees who thrive at a small startup may not thrive at a large corporation. However, the leadership teams should be intentional about their culture. An intentional culture helps employees understand what the company stands for and what’s expected of them, which leads to better employee engagement and employee happiness.
Lack of consistency is the most fatal issue I’ve seen with company culture. For employees to truly believe in the values, the leadership team needs to adhere to the values. The leadership team also needs to encourage values-related feedback in all directions.
The people! I work with some of the most passionate, talented, and ego-less people. Everyone on the team genuinely cares about our students and their success, and we use that as our north star when making decisions. Everyone also actively tries to help each other with all types of tasks ranging from copywriting to putting together new desks.
Our thanks to Bhavin Parikh for sharing his insights with us for this article.
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