We talked a few days ago about how one of the biggest success factors for startups — a motivated, empowered workforce — can be imported to a more established small- or medium-sized business. We ran some of our thinking past Joshua Warren, whose web design firm, Creatuity Corp., both hires contractors and provides its services through oDesk's marketplace.
The Dallas-based design house has nine in-house developers and four steady oDesk contractors, and has been facing with the happy challenge of rapidly increasing demand for its services. Fortunately, being able to quickly hire skilled contractors helps the company scale up quickly.
We asked Josh how he approaches the issue of empowering his workforce, and how important it was to his business model overall. Pretty darn important, it turns out.
Q: You've told us that you ask your oDesk contractors to commit to as many as 30 hours a week. That means that retaining good people probably becomes increasingly important to you. How do you make a faraway developer feel engaged, part of the team, or otherwise enthused about sticking with Creatuity?
Josh Warren: Retaining good people is vitally important — oDesk is great because it makes it so easy to find and work with talented contractors, but it also makes it easy for those contractors to move on to what they may feel are better offers.Corporate culture — for all employees, including contractors — has always been very important to me, and especially so after reading Tony Hsieh's (CEO of Zappos.com) book, Delivering Happiness.
After reading that book, we went through a values-setting process for our company that involved everyone — myself, our permanent staff and our contractors. Everyone gave their input and we developed a set of eight Core Values that we post publicly. All potential employees, contractors and even clients are given this link and asked to read our values before working with us, to ensure a great fit and help everyone feel like part of a cohesive team.
We also use Skype, IM, etc. to keep in touch with everyone, and have established a series of group chat rooms using the service Jaconda.im, where we encourage everyone to post not only project-related talk, but personal, random, off-the-wall chat as well. When we find someone that's a good fit for our culture, retaining them is usually a snap because they feel right at home with us.
Q: What do you look for in prospective contractors, beyond just their skills, that makes you think they have real long-term potential with Creatuity?
Josh Warren: Of course, things like how quickly they reply to our initial email or two are a great indicator of how interested and engaged they might be — I've learned that if a contractor doesn't take the time to reply to my emails within a day or two during the hiring process, they're not going to be very responsive afterward, either. Beyond that, I look for someone who really enjoys the work, who takes the time to understand our company culture and seems to focus on more than just a paycheck.
Q: Do you do anything to make them feel invested in Creatuity's vision, or do you trust their personal visions, as independent contractors, to motivate them to do their best?
Josh Warren: One of the things that really helps is the fact that because we look for contractors who can dedicate at least 30 hours per week to our work, in many cases we're the only company they're working with. The best way for them to succeed, then, is to help us succeed!
We really emphasize the fact that by doing solid work, each contractor helps us maintain our reputation as a web developer and ecommerce provider, which helps us have even more work for them in the future. As part of the culture we've built at Creatuity, I also try to involve every employee and contractor as much as possible in every aspect of our business. We collaborate on quite literally everything, which helps contractors feel like a vital part of our team and connected to our vision as a company.
Q: A lot of companies enshrine their vision in a mission statement. Since I know that was part of your empowerment/values process, what's Creatuity's mission statement?
Josh Warren: Here it is: "Creatuity creates quality ecommerce tools and websites that are affordable, fun and easy to use, enabling the smallest new venture to compete with the largest established company. We strive to make the world a better place by empowering individuals to build successful companies by giving them the knowledge and tools that they need to level the playing field between all companies, allowing those with the best ideas to succeed."
Q: I understand you're expanding your services. How do remote contractors play into a fast-growth scenario?
Josh Warren: We're about to launch Ordster.com with Magento and Amazon.com integration, but plan on supporting quite a few additional shopping carts by hiring oDesk contractors with experience with each specific cart to help us integrate with that cart. Trying to learn 10 to 20 different cart systems well enough to produce the type of integration we need would take our team quite a bit of time, and oDesk allows us to quickly hire someone who already has that knowledge and can get right to work!
Josh and Creatuity are just one practical example of how a small business can make intangible concepts like empowerment and values a key part of its success. Readers with thoughts on how to make in-house and remote workers share your corporate vision ... the comments are open!