Effective Communication | Strategy

How We Improved Our Company Culture [& You Can Too]

February 17, 2021 | by eleanor o’connor

People and Profits – what is it and how did it come to be? Alex Villafranca, CEO & Co-Founder of Arbeit shares all the details on how we’ve evaluated and improved our company culture through a new strategic vision, and how you can do the same.

How People & Profits Came to Be [1:50]

Internal Factors

Internally, we were disconnected on the idea of who we are and what we do. As a result, decision-making was impacted. The lack of a core vision understood by everyone at Arbeit caused confusion.

We also had difficulty communicating the “why” behind our decisions at every level of our organization. We started with only four people making all of the decisions back in 2014. It was easy to have everyone on the same page. Now we’ve grown to a team of thirty people making decisions, and it’s much more difficult!

We realized our vision needed to be clearly communicated at every level of our organization, ensuring informed decision-making by every team member.

As our CEO & Co-Founder Alex says, we needed a “north star” to guide our decisions. Our new strategic vision, People and Profits, is that for us.

External Factors

When COVID-19 began, it was disappointing to see the sheer number of layoffs that came as a result. We saw companies that were still profitable, but laid their employees off to mitigate losses. The fact is, those employees helped build those companies. To put it simply, we believe that immediately laying those employees off was not fair.

Alternatively, we did not layoff any employees during the pandemic despite incurring a revenue hit.

We realized that we have the power to promote “fairness” and inspire other businesses to follow our example.

Especially in larger corporations, we’ve seen a huge income disparity amongst workers, primarily between CEOs and entry-level employees. We’ve been appalled by this, leading us to believe that every employee deserves to make a living wage. If you expect an employee to make a career out of their job at your company, t you should offer them compensation that allows them to do that.

The “profits” portion of our vision was brought on by debt collection agencies, our largest industry. As Alex puts it, “there’s just simply a lack of simple, effective, and efficient communication software for businesses, and specifically collection agencies to use to communicate with their customers.”

Much of the technology in the debt collection space is outdated. Our sales and marketing teams use a lot of different software packages. We can confidently say that there’s a giant discrepancy between the quality of software that’s available for collection agencies versus other industries. We view this as an opportunity, and that opportunity is a part of the “profits” side of our new vision.

The Meaning Behind People & Profits [9:05]

People and Profits means that people should be valued as much as profits. Decisions that better the lives of employees don’t have to have a tradeoff of more profit. Of course, a company needs to be profitable in order to offer benefits, perks, raises, and PTO. The “People and Profits” philosophy means that the intention behind offering these should not solely be to increase profit.  We believe that these decisions should be based on doing the right thing for your employees, not on the additional profit it will bring.

Essentially, we want businesses to value people as much as profits. In the words of our CEO & Co-Founder, “It’s like a scale and if they ever get tipped out of line, you’re in trouble. People and Profits is a great way to summarize what our purpose, mission, and vision is.”

Our Purpose

“Empower people to work to live.”

Our Mission

“Inspire businesses through our actions to value people as much as profits, while empowering collection agency, business, and organization to communicate efficiently and effectively with customers and consumers.”

Our Vision

“Make it normal for people to work to live, and value people as much as profits.
To change business culture to value people as much as profits while being the way every collection agency, business, and organization communicates with their customers and consumers.”

How We're Implementing This to Improve Our Culture [15:50]

To be transparent, we tried implementing something similar a few years back, but it didn’t work out. That was due to a lack of follow-through internally. We learned that saying our purpose, mission, and vision is fairly easy. Applying it in real-life is the real challenge.

“We realize what we did the first time didn’t work and we’ve tried reorganizing the company a little bit,” says Alex. We needed someone that could promote the follow-through of People and Profits across Arbeit. Someone that could focus on the details of the strategy. For us, that meant promoting our Director of Administration and Human Resources to Chief Operating Officer. We felt that she would be the most effective in ensuring this follow-through.

We’ve planned and mapped out three initiatives to implement this year that are directly aligned with our new strategic vision:

  • Company-wide salary & benefit analysis will ensure that everyone is being paid what they need to be paid.
  • Strategic spending – anything we spend money on will tie into our strategic priorities that are directly aligned with our new vision.
  • Creating an internal knowledge base so knowledge can be transferred between people, allowing team members to fully check-out of work when on vacation.

Work to Live vs. Live to Work Culture [20:45]

The idea of working to live is another part of our new strategic vision. In the words of our CEO & Co-Founder, work to live means “what you do for a living should empower you to enjoy the rest of your life.” Alternatively, live to work means that working is consuming your life.

From our experience, the majority of companies operate on a live to work mindset. We want to see a shift to a work to live mindset.

When our four founders started Arbeit, their purpose was to achieve a better life. That purpose is still the same today, but has expanded to empowering everybody in the company to achieve this.

“There’s 26 other people here now. Those 26 other people contributed and built Arbeit into what it is today. it’s only fair for us to empower them to work to live just like we wanted to empower ourselves to work to live,” says Alex.

What We Want to See Happen at Arbeit [15:55]

We might not have these all planned out just yet, but this is what we want to see happen at Arbeit in the long-term.

  • Everyone fully embracing the work to live concept.
  • A culture where everybody understands how valuable they are to the company’s success.
  • A company-wide minimum salary.

What We Want to See Happen Outside of Arbeit [35:15]

To put it simply, we want to see our vision in real-life. We want to see business culture change to value people as much as profits. We want other business owners to realize that while they might have built something, their team also built something, and therefore they should be treated accordingly. “Why? Because it’s the right thing to do,” Alex says. “Without me Arbeit would be fine, but without the other 29 people, it would vanish.”

Advice for Evaluating & Improving Your Company's Culture [26:40]

Here are some practical steps from our CEO & Co-Founder to get you started:

  1. Write down your purpose, mission, and vision (get to the core of what your business is doing).
  2. Don’t make your purpose, mission, and vision only about your customers. Your team is equally important in the success of your company, which brings success for your customers.
  3. Work backwards from your purpose, mission, and vision. Determine strategic priorities, goals, and actions for each department that you can trace back to these directly or indirectly.
  4. Ask your customers, people in your industry, current employees, and past employees what they think your company struggles with and what they think it’s good at. Be aware that most people won’t be forthcoming with constructive feedback, you need to make them feel comfortable doing so.

Thank you for following us on this journey!