How We Got Named “The Best Place To Work”

Briana - Trainual

Briana Francis

August 20, 2021

We’ve only been around for three years. And we’ve already distinguished ourselves as one of the best places to work. Nationwide.  

Phoenix Business Journal named us a finalist for their Best Place To Work award in their Micro Company category. Twice (2019 and 2020). We made the Inc 2021 Best Workplaces list (1 of 5 in Arizona). And just this year, we were named Arizona’s Top small business to work at by AZCentral.

But this recognition doesn’t just happen. We put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get us here. And now, I’m pulling back the curtain and showing you what it takes to make your small business an award-winning workplace. 

👉 Want to join our award-winning team? See open positions and apply today!

Our humble beginnings

From day one, the OG Trainual team had a mission to create a company that didn’t feel forced. One that was filled with genuine people that wanted to make running small businesses easier.

We want all of our people to feel like they found their own people!

So, we developed our core values, put the right people in the right roles, invested in them, and made sure feedback was always available. Or, as our CEO Chris Ronzio likes to say, we built the bones of our business. 

That’s where a lot of businesses fall short. Kind of like building a house, you need to build the foundation of your business before building up to ensure it doesn’t collapse. Early in his consulting days, Chris realized that the businesses that don’t scale tend to follow similar patterns: 

  • No clearly defined core values or mission
  • People wearing too many hats
  • Employees don’t feel valued 
  • Feedback only goes one way, if it exists at all

Meaning, he knew what his company needed to do to stand out. And by building the bones, he created a precedent for how the business would grow. 

So, how exactly can you build a business with good bones?

Clearly define your core values

Before hiring anyone, you have to establish your core values (AKA the ideals everyone at your company shares). But if you’re past that point and have been operating without these for years, don’t worry! Late is better than never. 

Better late than never to define your core values!

To create your core values, sit down with everyone who currently works at your company (whether that’s just you or a bunch of you). Give everyone a pad of Post Its. And ask them to take 10 minutes to write down what your company stands for and what makes your company unique. One idea per Post It. 

When time is up, hang the Post Its on a wall so you can see them all at once. And kick off a conversation about which Post Its everyone feels is true about themselves, and you want to be true of new hires moving forward. This is easiest if you first group likes with likes. Jump the conversation off those groupings. 

You’ll want to take away Post Its that don’t feel genuine or don’t need to be true for everyone. For example, maybe everyone needs to make ideas happen, but not everyone needs to remove red tape. So, take the latter down. When you have roughly five left, those are your core values. 

Then, make sure your team not only upholds them but knows them. Roughly 33% of employees don’t believe their company’s core values align with their personal values. And 19% don’t understand their core values or simply don’t know them. Meaning, their company core values are just words to them. 

But they shouldn’t be. For example, we’re a team of creatives, pet lovers, adventurers, coffee enthusiasts, gamers, athletes, teachers, taco aficionados, and so much more. But we’re all united by our core values (like “collect experiences”).

That’s because we make it impossible for our employees (new or old) not to know them. We talk about them in our hiring process, have them hanging in our office, posted on our website, and inside our team’s Trainual content.

Hire the right people

Like any other business, we’re always looking to hire approachable, kind, and empathetic humans. But we’re specifically looking for people who fit that fold and can help us level up our business. And sometimes, this means bringing on roles that you don’t think you’re ready for. 

When our team was only 20 strong, Chris decided to hire a head of people. This decision was unheard-of for a company our size. But it ended up being a major differentiator. 

Chris hiring a head of people turned out to be an absolute gamechanger

Enter Sasha Robinson, Trainual’s head of people. 

Within a year, Sasha implemented a scalable hiring process and an equitable compensation program. She doubled down on great benefits that go beyond the typical health with dental. (An annual experience fund, remote work option, 5 weeks PTO, the latest tech, 401k matching, and more included.) And she built a top-tier people ops team that rolled out incredible diversity and inclusion initiatives, like affinity groups. Just to name a few. 

And when we closed a $27M Series B round last quarter, it seriously paid off. Because as we raised, every team of investors we talked to reinforced how amazing our culture is. 

We would hear, “most teams don’t have this kind of infrastructure this early in the game.” And “93% employee retention? That’s 200+ employee stuff, and you’re doing it with 50-something!” 

That’s because we hire the right people. By “right people,” we mean folks that fit our core values and come with the skills and experience our team needs – rather than hiring culture fits. This is critical because while culture naturally changes over time, values remain static. 

Then, we invest in their careers, wellbeing, and development. 

Put your people first

We call ourselves a people-powered business. Meaning, we know that we wouldn’t be where we are today without our team of high-caliber individuals. So, we’re super intentional about supporting each team member and empowering them to do their best work. 

We always look to empower our team members to do their best work

Of course, this means the obvious, like offering great benefits (some of which I mentioned earlier). But it also means going above and beyond with how we set people up for success and reward hard work. 

Let’s start with setting people up for success. We send every person we hire through the same onboarding process. One which we hear again and again from everyone we hire is “the best onboarding experience of their career.”

And this comes down to investing big in three main components: 

  1. Engagement – Nothing is more awkward than sitting in an office, not knowing anyone. So, we provide tons of opportunities for new hires to meet the team. This includes quick meet-and-greets with other departments, biweekly Donuts (AKA coffee dates that are randomly assigned), and team outings (like cooking classes where we learned to make paella).
  2. Training – No surprise here, but we use Trainual for this. That way, new hires can learn all the information they need for their job at their own pace. And as a result, they retain more and feel more confident when they step into their projects! Plus, new hires don’t have to remember everything because they can resurface the information whenever. 
  3. Setting expectations – We set every new hire up with a job scorecard and a 30-60-90 on day one. The job scorecard clarifies exactly what’s expected of each role. Complete with the metrics they’re being measured against. And the 30-60-90 gives them a clear three-month game plan to ramp them up to full speed, based on that scorecard. 

But investing in people doesn’t stop once they’re onboarded. We also make sure everyone has employee development opportunities available. For example, we’ve done everything from covering the cost of conferences to hosting company lunch-and-learns to buying business books to hosting 90-day challenges. All of which are opt-in opportunities, so our team members are in their career’s driver seat.

And we provide bi-annual reviews with opportunities for promotions or raises. Because while money and title shouldn’t be the main reason people join your company, it might make them stay or leave. But more importantly, we want to make sure that people are recognized (and compensated) for the value they drive. 

So, twice a year (every Q1 and Q3), leaders review their direct reports. And in the process, we distribute sizable raises to our highest performers (upwards of 15% in some cases of annual pay in some cases). That way, people know, for one, that they’re valued. And two, there is no cap to what they can earn or the value they can provide. 

👉 Want to be on a team that puts you first? Good news – we’re hiring! Apply today.

Solicit feedback constantly

All that’s to say, we spend a lot of time and resources recruiting and retaining the right people. So, we want to confirm that our efforts are actually making Trainual a rave-worthy place to work. Especially because we know, even as an award-winning workplace, that there’s always more room to grow. 

So, rather than taking our best guess, we ask. Once a quarter, we send everyone an engagement survey to collect feedback via Culture Amp

We always want to check in on what our employees think about working here!

Two of these annual surveys focus on how well we’re supporting each person (these are not anonymous). The other two focus on our company-wide culture (these are anonymous). And we take what our team says to heart. 

In these surveys, we ask questions like: 

  • Do you feel you have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to be successful at Trainual? If not, what are you missing?
  • What would you change if I had a magic wand that would make our company experience 10x better?
  • What is your favorite benefit or perk that we offer? 
  • Which benefits do you wish our company offered?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our company? Why?

We set due dates that hold people accountable for getting it done promptly. And once the responses are in, we actually read them all. After our last culture survey, our leadership team spent eight hours synthesizing the information. Then, they came up with eight focus points (based on the most common responses). 

For each of these points, they analyzed in-depth how we’re doing (the good, the bad, and the ugly). From that, they provided clear next steps to reinforce this aspect of our culture or improve it. 

All of this information was then covered in our quarterly state of the union. And it was sent to each employee afterward, so they can hold us accountable.

How to apply for workplace awards

There’s a couple of different ways you can find awards to apply for. One, you can simply search Google for “best workplace awards” or “best awards for marketing campaigns,” and so on. Or two, you can subscribe to publication newsletters, because chances are good that they’ll let you know what awards they’re hosting. 

Chances are good the award company will keep you in the loop!

For example, when you sign up for Inc magazine’s emails, they send out announcements when it’s time to apply for their annual Best Workplaces list. Complete with directions on how to qualify and apply. 

Every time we stumble on an award we might qualify for, we add it to what we’ve unofficially dubbed our “Awards spreadsheet.” Basically, it’s a sheet with everything we need to know about awards we’ve applied for or are planning to apply for. Such as the award name, the deadline to apply, where to apply, assets needed, where we are in the process, and more. 

That way, it’s super easy to track. And when it’s time to apply, all the information is in one place and ready to go, so there’s no excuse to miss the deadline. Once you hit “Apply,” the award company will follow up with any next steps and let you know if you won!

Quick heads up though: Most award companies will ask your team everything you should have already asked on your engagement surveys. And you have no control over how your team responds. In fact, for a lot of these awards, you never see your team’s responses, and if you do, you have to pay for them. 

Luckily, with engagement surveys, you should already know what kinds of answers are coming. And you should feel confident about what team members will say about your company. 

But if you neglected to do anything about their feedback, know that your team will likely turn around and give the same feedback to award companies. And if you didn’t get ahead of that feedback, it could cost you the award. 

That’s why we really can’t stress the importance of transparency enough. Especially around your core values, what roles you need, how you’re investing in your people, and the efforts you’re making to improve your workplace. It’s honestly what’s gotten us this far. 

Don’t get us wrong – we love being recognized for the work we do. But honestly, it’s just a bonus. Because even if we never won any award, we’d still be building Trainual the exact same way! 

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