Treating Culture as a Business Unit

A case study of Blink UX's award winning approach

Sam Kalk  •  Published on March 02, 2021  •  5 min read

Blink UX is an award winning, customer experience research and design consultancy with clients across the globe. They have employees and offices in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Austin and Boston. The quality and complexity of their research and design has helped them build a remarkable client list, including NASA, Apple, Amazon, Moen, Facebook Oculus and more. Blink consultants work in close collaboration with their client partners to ensure they meet their business objectives of end to end excellence in customer experience.

Headquartered in Seattle, Blink faces significant competition for design and research talent. Because it cannot compete with the giant tech firms in salary and benefits, it must rely on other means of attraction. Their strategy includes offering the opportunity to work with highly recognized clients on high-end project work, gifted colleagues, and an employee growth centered culture.

Great Culture is a Business Advantage

Great culture and people development begins at the top. Blink’s CEO, Karen Clark Cole, has emphasized the critical importance of continually working to build a diverse, thriving company where employees bring their whole, authentic selves to work every day and go home feeling fulfilled. This hard work has been rewarded. They recently won the Powderkeg national award for the best culture in a tech firm outside Silicon Valley. The culture performance isn’t merely tied to employee satisfaction. They are ranked by Puget Sound Business Journal as one of the top 10 fastest growing businesses in the Pacific Northwest. 

KarenClarkColeBioPhoto-2018-630x947.jpeg

As a consultancy, Blink depends on billable hours for their primary revenue. The result can be felt pressure for practitioners to dedicate their time to project work, even as they advance into management positions. This emphasis can override the equally important role that managers have in developing their people and providing them with a clear career development pathway. Blink’s dual awards from Powderkeg and PSBJ illustrate that company performance and positive culture fit hand in glove. This was at the core of Clark Cole’s leadership philosophy as she grew the company.

Blink's dual awards from Powderkeg and PSBJ illustrate that company performance and positive culture fit hand in glove.

Blink was naturally well equipped with tools, processes, and resources to manage projects given the skills of the practitioners. But people management was often piecemeal with no clear system for organizing and tracking employee growth and development.  Clark Cole recognized that giving her managers solid tools and processes for the people side of management was critical if she truly wanted to have an employee growth centered culture.

Setting a Path for Career Development

Motis Grow was the tool that provided the solution. In a single software, Grow gave the Blink managers and their direct reports a platform to chart skills development, goals, feedback received, routine manager check-ins, action items, and performance reviews. All of these features are summarized in the Timeline, a single view which provides a snapshot of the employee’s career path and portfolio over their time at Blink. 

 

Grow fosters a collaborative relationship between the manager and direct report. Both the employee and their direct manager have access to the information, making it easier for the manager to stay on top of employees’ skill level progression and goal attainment. Feedback & action items as well as any notes regarding the employee are housed in a single application with easy access. 

Grow fosters a collaborative relationship between the manager and direct report.

In addition to efficiently supporting the growth and development of managers’ direct reports, Motis Grow solved some other troublesome issues in people management:

Year in Review:
Career Tracking:

Motis Grow is particularly appealing to Millennial and Gen-Z employees, who are eager to progress in their career. The skills tracks, developed in partnership with leaders within the practice areas and aligned with professional standards, add clarity and objectivity for junior designers and researchers. Each of them has a clear picture of and access to the skills needed to achieve their next level of competency. When performance issues arise, as they do in all careers, the clarity and insight provided by the skills, feedback, and performance factors allow for more focused training and development to help employees overcome the challenges.

Equity:

Blink put into place an objective and equitable process for decisions around raises and promotions using Grow. Salary ranges and raises are tied to skill development and mastery, ensuring a fair comparison across managers. Every employee knows when they are due for a raise or promotion and what they need to accomplish in order to qualify. This system supports Blink’s greater efforts in fostering diversity, equity and inclusion.

Using Motis Grow, employees are routinely receiving feedback, discussing goals progress, and working on new skills. Grow automatically pulls all development and performance information together into a single document. There is no time or energy wasted on the subjective task of collecting data for a performance review. Having this kind of exchange regularly with their manager means that the year in review takes on a new function. It becomes a time to reflect on and celebrate the accomplishments of the past and look forward to the possible accomplishments in the upcoming year. The energy in these conversations is very different from the systems of the past that felt like a dreaded, check it off the list, meaningless task.

In 2020, Blink UX won Powderkeg’s “Top-Rated Overall Culture”, and was #10 on the list of fastest growing private companies in the Puget Sound area, as tracked by the Puget Sound Business Journal. Although rapid growth can sometimes have a negative impact on a positive culture, it is clearly not the case for Blink. Employees give very high ratings to the question, “My supervisor is committed to my development.” Since implementing the initiative on building the raise and promotion process into Grow ratings of the question, “Decisions for promotions, raises and opportunities are made fairly” and “There is no bias in hiring, promotions, and rewards” have risen and are now considered a strength.

 

While a software solution cannot in and of itself create an employee growth centered culture, it will provide the foundation, structure and tools that make it possible for managers to do more than just manage projects. Consistency in employee development leads to greater consistency in performance and business success. Blink is rightly winning awards for both.

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