Tim Sae Koo: Culture, core values, transparency and feedforwards
In this episode:
Culture starts from the top, and while HR often struggles to get buy in, some CEOs have an attention to culture, core values, transparency and feedback ingrained. As founder and CEO of TINT, Tim is deeply involved in the employee experience and has established some forward-thinking initiatives to create a human-friendly workplace in which every employee can grow and succeed.
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About Tim & TINT
TINT is an innovative marketing SaaS that allows brands to leverage their customer stories. Although the mostly-bootstrapped company has its base in San Francisco, the 30-person staff is spread out all across the globe. Tim started TINT as part of an undergraduate class project at the University of Southern California.
Create a great working culture with remote workers
The TINT team has a headquarter in San Francisco but most employees are spread all over the USA and the world, from London to Dubai to Canada. Tim sees having a remote team as a fun challenge to continually fostering a culture. For him, “Culture is how your employees act when their managers/directors/bosses/cofounders aren’t there. How they make decisions, communicate and deliver goals without their immediate managers there to guide them.”
He actually sees a lot of TINT’s culture values as a direct reflection of his own. And what guides Tim’s values is the combination of 1) listening to what he would appreciate and enjoy in a company himself and 2) what his mother would be proud of. Having grown up with a single mother in Los Angeles, he will readily admit she has had a great influence on his leadership style.
Something else Tim has learned to see as a benefit is his lack of previous work experience. He founded TINT while still in college, and long was torn whether not having experienced working at another company hindered his ability to create a great culture of his own, but he has now embraced it. It has allowed him to have a clean slate and build something he truly wants and believes in.
“Culture is how your employees act when their managers aren’t there.” — Tim Sae Koo, Founder & CEO, TINT
Developing core values as a team
Imagine a cabin in Tahoe, the first six TINT team members, and one goal: Develop the core values for the company. This is how TINT’s initial five core values were born, and they were a great kickoff point. The method embraced one of TINT’s principles: It’s better to make a wrong decision than no decision. While choosing those five core values was great to start with, the team soon noticed that employees were interpreting values differently than they were meant. It was time for them to evolve.
This time around, they made it a company-wide effort, which was important since TINT prides itself on having, “A very collaborative and cultivating culture in that we make sure we get people’s opinions and thoughts.” A five-person committee was created who sent out surveys to everyone, which were then evaluated to come up with the new values. This system had the benefit of involving everyone, but leaving the final decision to the committee so there wouldn’t be too many chefs in the kitchen. One example of a core value that evolved in the process: What previously was, “Better ask for forgiveness than permission,” became, “Trust yourself. Trust others,” which allowed for less misunderstandings.
As important as the creation process, was the communication afterwards. Tim made it a point to share the reasons and decision-making process transparently with the team. They could so see their input was considered and reflected, which made them get on board easier.
Equally important was making the core values come alive consistently. Today, after their weekly all-hands meeting, TINT has “value shoutouts.” Choosing one of the six new values they have, team members give props to someone for practicing that value in the last week. This encourages the team to spot opportunities to congratulate others and keep in mind how they themselves can embody the core values.
How transparency empowers employees
One of TINT’s six core values is to cultivate transparency internally and externally. Tim shares that this was something they struggled with in the beginning, but eventually, he says, “We ultimately gave ourselves permission to say, ‘Hey, we don’t know everything.’”
Now, the leadership team acts with integrity and lets the team know that when sharing information, they are looking to inspire them to come up with answers together. And after any big meetings or decisions, the TINT leadership team shares the logical progression that lead to it.
Tim has found this not only keeps them accountable as leaders that they’re acting with highest integrity, but also helps employees, “focus on what they need to focus on and not spend time questioning the leadership team.” In fact, it empowers the team to pick up inspiration for their own processes and connect parts of the puzzle together. As Tim says, “You empower everybody to be informational resources for everybody. And that is really promoting this very much collaborative environment.”
Feedforwards instead of feedback
Another area where TINT has been a trailblazer is when it comes to feedback. Or better said, not having feedback but rather feedforwards. Tim observed people getting defensive during feedback sessions and coming out of them sluggish, disappointed and unmotivated. He believed they could be more empowering and that TINT was in need of a mindset shift. Cue the introduction of feedfowards.
Feedforwards are more focused on the positive, look into the future and are about things that people can actually control. Feedback on the other hand is about the past, things you did wrong and the wording is generally more negative. They are the same idea in essence, just framed differently. Something that Tim experienced was especially effective with millenials.
Now, in quarterly feedforward session, team members get asked questions like, “What worked in the past and are you more excited to work on again?” and, “What didn’t work well that you learned form that can be applied to the future?” This mindset has also promoted a shift in informal conversations from criticising to giving actionable advice for the future.
Interested in implementing feetforwards in your organization? Tim’s key advice is to get management to lead the effort and also show that they themselves are adopting it. HR plays an integral role in setting the process up, but when it comes time to roll out the initiative, leadership should share the reasons and motivations for it. Afterwards, Tim advises, “Do what you preach.” By making sure leaders implement good Feedforwards, they act as an example for the rest of the team.
Advice on creating a human-friendly workplace culture
TINT successfully created a human-friendly workplace through a combination of culture, core values, transparency and feedback. For other founders or CEOs trying to do so as well, Tim urges them to not get distracted by what others are doing or recommend: “You have this opportunity for a clean slate. Everything you read about best practices are just opinions. […] Give yourself this opportunity to listen and figure out what the core values are that you want permeated across the company. And once you do, create accountability exercises or activities throughout the week or month to keep fostering them.”
For the HR team, Tim advises them to ask CEOs what they want to be remembered for and what they want employees to remember about the organization. Because, “At the end of the day, when we’re in our deathbeds, we aren’t going to be remembered for the revenue or customers we close or the deals we made. […] What we’ll remember are the experiences that we were able to have.” Tim truly believes that is the driving factor for founders and CEOs to create a more human-friendly workplace: They don’t want to be remembered for their their company’s bottom line. They want to be remembered for putting people first, for creating positive experiences for them.
Keynote speaker, author and employee engagement consultant
Jason Lauritsen is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently.
A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits.