A great book by Farai Chideya – Kiss the Sky is worth a short listen to her intro… how to be yourself when faced with challenges … love, drugs, music, etc…
The classrooms inside General Assembly (GA) are nothing special. Rows of chairs fill undecorated rooms. Visit any of the company’s 15 campuses across the globe, and you’ll find the same utilitarian aesthetic—which is the point.
Jake Schwartz, General Assembly Founder, isn’t shooting for sexiness at this for-profit coding academy. He’s going for substance. And at the heart of this Tiny Titan brand is humanity—even in a high-tech, fast-paced industry like web coding. “Our vision is to build a global community and give people the power to pursue the work that they love,” Schwartz says.
What began in 2011 as a micro-skill sharing clubhouse in the New York startup scene is now a burgeoning empire with a macro-reach of over 25,000 global alumni and 250 expert instructors, who distribute their knowledge with fellow members of the community.
Behind the hard-coding operation’s success are disciplined soft skills. “Empathy is your secret weapon,” Schwartz says. That mantra underpins both how General Assembly staffers design curriculum for students and how they work with each other.
Schwartz himself isn’t exempt. He uses Slack, a fluid communications platform, to invite anyone within the company to ask him a question on any topic, at any time. He also holds open forums where the entire company gathers to discuss challenges and concerns, ambitions and opportunities, and recent successes.
And, while General Assembly offers generous benefits to its employees—including free access to GA classes and a paid sabbatical after three years of service—it’s the people and the purpose that Schwartz say are most impactful when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
At the end of the day, benefits are great—but giving people the autonomy, purpose and direction to actually succeed at their jobs and enjoy their jobs, those kinds of things actually matter a lot more to people long term.
- Jake Schwartz, Founder, General Assembly
General Assembly has embraced candor and humility (“keep getting better” is their motto), key traits that can connect impact brands with consumer values and expectations for brand leadership.
Brand your culture and wellness
Part of the allure of a startup business is the energy it spawns. It’s cool and invigorating to be part of the “next big thing”—a truism that holds for millennial workers and boomers alike. Yet sustaining that energy can be a challenge. As business expands, jobs can feel rote and employees can feel underappreciated. According to Gallup, less than one-third (31.5%) of US workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. This ratio has been largely stagnant for more than a decade.i
But many startups we spoke with are trying to preemptively avoid the red flags of employee burnout, which is known to drag down morale and dampen productivity. From progressive time-off policies to internal well-being exercises, these companies’ human resource practices are also a new force of public relations. Consumers who learn that a company treats its workers with dignity and empathy become attached to their brands.
At an Amsterdam design studio called Heldergroen, employees are physically forced to find a healthy work-life balance. Every evening at 6:00 p.m., the company’s desks, tables, and other work areas—with computers and chairs—automatically retract into the ceiling. And just like that, “closing time” has never been so literally conveyed!
With the turn of a key, work is over—and life begins. Employees can progress with their evening as they see fit, and, if desired, can use the open space for activities of their choosing—whether that’s a dance floor, a yoga studio, or some other inspired activity.
Many companies are nurturing employees as they would shareholders. At the web design upstart Squarespace, wellbeing is a top priority, facilitated by the People Team, which creates an environment that enables employees to do their best work. But the company isn’t just concerned with great work in the moment—they want their employees to remember those great work experiences. Their Experience Team offers “positive and surprising experiences” for staffers because studies show that surprise unleashes dopamine, creating conditions for the memory to be stored more effectively—and helping to keep the spirit and energy of startup Squarespace alive and well, even as it booms.