Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: It was only a couple of months ago that Raj Kumar, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, came to the AM 970 Studios, so I thought I will return the favor and visit the offices of Devex, which I did on my last trip to Washington. We’ll start the segment with Raj telling us about Devex, and then we will hear from some of the members of the staff of what it is like to work there.
Raj: We’re a lot like the Bloomberg of the global development field… meaning we’re this media platform; we’ve got all different ways that journalists and analysts around the world could get information about what’s going on in global development to the people who are actually doing that work. So our audience are people who work at the World Bank or the Gates Foundation or the UN System or lots of NGOs, charities– small and big– all over the world.
Carine: The staff is really young in comparison to other development organizations, or other media companies even, and I think this is a place where ideas are really valued both by the staff and also by the senior management. So if you have an idea for something, whether it’s like totally bananas and crazy or actually just something to improve the way that we’re doing things, you can take that idea to anyone in the team and people are willing to help even make that come to life.
Margaret: And so what we did was we implemented this thing called “Small Improvements,” and we do reviews every two months and it makes it a lot easier. And instead of calling them reviews and thinking of them as these big reviews, we talk about it as coaching. And I think that’s really integral to Devex’s culture. It’s this idea that we’re all coaching each other, and the teams are coaching their team leads and the team leads are coaching their teams. Everyone is allowed to give feedback to whomever they want and the teams are specifically guided to give feedback to each other in a coaching way. And I think a really good way to think about our culture and one thing that makes us unique is that we’re a high-performing team.
Colleen: One of the “Wow” moments for me working at Devex–and a lot of us here have come from other companies–is related to these reviews. And even at the time when we were doing them semi-annually, one of the questions that always gets asked is “What do you want to do within your profile that’s outside of what your job description is?” And I think that it’s a unique and special thing to be asked what more do you want to do, maybe not necessarily specifically within your role, but what are you interested in.
Nina: We don’t make a practice of extending office to people we’re not 100% confident in. So in summation, it is definitely at the core of our hiring process to consider if someone is going to add to the Devex culture, especially as we’re growing.
Carine: Every Friday at Devex, you will find “Frine,” which is Friday plus wine put together. We created our own word called Frine. And I think that’s one of the pillars of Devex culture and being able to every Friday afternoon–for some of the different offices, it’s a little bit later–but we take time to just kind of put our computers away.
Allison: Another way we use Slack is by posting on our new business channel, so anytime someone has a new business win, you can share it with everyone and everyone reacts with emojis and it’s really exciting to sort of get that praise. And it also helps just with other teams so other teams can know what new business is going on across team. So I think that that’s another thing that I find really valuable because I’m a words-of-affirmation person. I need a lot of praise. It’s my love language. And so I think that I absolutely feel supported because I have that from my colleagues and I really value their opinion.
Colleen: Another perk that I think is pretty unique to Devex, and it’s relatively new, but it’s something called the YAY! days. So twice a year–and you’re meant to use them in the first half of the year, and then your second one in the second half–you have a day where it’s not a sick day, it’s not a vacation day, it’s just a day where you take off and you do something really fun, and the only requirement is that you take a picture of yourself doing it and you post to everybody in Slack.
Nina: So that’s a big part of it, the Devexplain. I explain how we operate as a flat organization, what that means, how that will kind of come to bear in their time at Devex and how they can navigate certain situations. A lot of people are coming from organizations that are more bureaucratic, so telling them, “This how it’s different. These are the words we use.” We don’t use the word manager, we use team lead. We sway away from even the word company because we serve a sector that is about social impact, so we like to think of ourselves more of an organization or a social enterprise. So really imparting to them the language that we use, our values, our culture, and really spelling it out so that there’s just no ambiguity. They understand that this is the culture, and we’re really setting them up to succeed here and what that looks like.
Margaret: I will say that all the things that we’ve mentioned are because our leadership across the board thinks that it’s important to be constantly changing and evolving. And while the focus is always helping the people who are doing good work do it even better, we are constantly looking at ourselves and evaluating the data that we’re—we collect data on ourselves, on how people connect to the mission, on how people are feeling. We’re data driven. We really are. And so, when leadership looks at the data, when anyone looks at the data and says, “What about this idea? What if we add wellness walks because people are feeling like they don’t have enough—they’re not pushing themselves to work out? So what if we just all get out of the office?” or “What if we really try to focus on getting diversity in this area?” Anytime that people look at the data and have ideas, they’re taken seriously.
Denver: I want to thank Margaret Richardson for organizing this and to all those who participated: Margaret Richardson, Allison Punch, Colleen Casey, Nina Takahashi, and Carine Umuhumuza. Podcast, transcript, and pictures of the participants and the Devex offices can all be found at denverfrederick.wordpress.com.
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