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Happy employees make customers happy #MySuccessMetric

shutterstock_150555248Popular wisdom would suggest having happy customers takes priority over happy employees. I think it’s more nuanced than that.

At Udemy, the answer was very simple at first. Any startup has to focus on market fit, growth, revenue, and customer satisfaction almost exclusively at the beginning, when survival comes before all else. However, it wasn’t long before we also figured out that employees know customers best, and happy, empowered employees lead to satisfied customers. We hired our first HR lead in 2014 when we hit 30 employees (earlier than most startups) because we had already invested heavily in our culture and wanted to ensure employee success and happiness would continue to grow along with our other metrics.

Hitting the 10-million-student mark earlier this year was a huge milestone, but we look beyond revenue and enrollment numbers to gauge our success. As CEO, I’m now focused on scalability and sustainability, and we’re tracking other critical signals to measure our success, such as course reviews to measure quality and minutes of consumption to measure engagement.

Similarly, I’ve shifted how I evaluate our success as a company internally and want to make sure our mission of helping people build the lives they imagine also applies to everyone who works here. That’s why my metric for success is employee engagement as a holistic measure of company health. When the people at Udemy are engaged, rewarded, challenged, and supported, they perform better — and that’s directly reflected in the company’s overall performance. Innovation happens at the edges, where employees touch customers directly, so it’s critical to empower people in ways that make them feel good about their roles at work and, in turn, foster positive customer interactions.

There isn’t an exact science to fostering employee satisfaction, especially at a company that’s moving and evolving so quickly, but we have a few foundational practices that ultimately drive our business success too.

  • Show me the data: We conduct engagement surveys every 6-12 months viaCulture Amp and compare our responses to other “new tech” companies through Culture Amp’s benchmarks. When I see that 96% would recommend Udemy as a great place to work (versus 83% average at other “new tech” companies), as our most recent survey showed, I know we’re doing something right. From there, we dig into the details and how we can get all the metrics upon which we base employee happiness up to that rate of approval.
  • Hire the right people: Anyone we bring on board has to identify with Udemy’s values, mission, and expectations. People who are deeply invested in the value of lifelong learning feel connected to our mission every day and that translates into superior job performance. In fact, 88% of Udemy employees say our company vision motivates them. Commitment to our mission raises student satisfaction, as they learn skills and achieve their goals, and drives employees, who value the real impact they’re having on people’s lives. Sometimes, however, we get it wrong and bring on someone who doesn’t work out. They’ll be great for another team, just not ours. The key is to recognize and fix it quickly before the rest of the team starts grumbling.
  • Go above and beyond to retain them: It’s crucial to foster an environment that supports growth and development from Day One. Millennials are an ever-increasing presence in the workforce, and they cite training and development opportunities as their number one factor in job selection, and that’s certainly an area where a learning company like Udemy can really shine. Figuring out how we can improve employee satisfaction and retention is so important to me I personally review all exit interviews. These reports contain the most truthful insights into managers and culture. Another crucial part of retention is empowering managers to move employees around to make sure every team and team member is functioning at the highest level.
  • Don’t keep them in the dark: Getting frequent feedback on job performance and transparent communication keep employees engaged in their work and the company. Our process is called the “Udemy Conversation.” It’s an ongoing dialogue between managers and workers that helps teams make on-the-fly adjustments to goals and priorities, rather than waiting for a once-a-year review period. Employees are encouraged to set ambitious goals but have support from their managers to shift focus as needed and not worry about “failing.” Our business moves fast, and our people appreciate having open channels with their managers to revisit, revise, and reprioritize their work. The flip side of this is identifying and moving out low performers efficiently.

So, sure, I check our revenue numbers and track our growth all the time, but these days, I’m really watching employee happiness as a metric of Udemy’s success. With a strong workforce and low turnover, we can continue working toward meeting our goals and helping more people access high-quality online learning resources. The impact a company makes on the world will always be its true bottom line — but it all starts with our employees being happy and deeply committed to what they do.

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