Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: In this evening, we will be taking a trip to 433 California Street in San Francisco to meet with some of the employees at Education Superhighway. They’re removing the roadblocks to high-speed and high-capacity internet for America’s schools and paving the way for digital learning in every classroom.
Let’s hear why the members of the team think Education Superhighway is such as special place.
Brad: We really connected on a personal level on a very short period of time. When he shared my story and highlights about my background and how I came to EducationSuperHighway, it was a chance for the entire staff to hear from a trusted voice, from a perspective of someone who may know a little bit about me much below the, this is my resume, this is where I worked before, this is how I got here. It made me feel great and I thought Charlie did a great job communicating things about my past that I might not have thought to share myself but that he latched on to, and he connected with. So, he got the chance to reflect back to the people that he knows aspects about me.
Lindsey: How would you describe the corporate culture at EducationSuperHighway in a single word phrase? What stuck out to me was the word iterative. I think our mission is iterative in a way. So is all of our work. Our goals are iterative. We’re constantly building. We have the same main goal, the same main mission but things keep changing which I really appreciate. I think we keep iterating to, pivot is too strong a word. But we keep iterating to meet the next goal and do what’s actually going to connect us to students, and I find that our culture has iterated a lot to, and I’m really grateful for how flexible our culture turns out to be. I think that’s a core element of our culture.
Jeff: We also have something here called Thursday Thrill which to me was fantastic when I joined because what I realized that is, it’s the third Thursday of every month. The premise is pretty simple. You get some funding which is great but anybody can step up and step in and just say this is something that I am passionate about, and I want to share that with the organization, and we’ll do this every third Thursday.
Yubana: What is the role that you want to do? What do we need to help you learn or achieve to get to that goal? As well as all the workshops that she holds not just for work life but also balancing both home and work life. Thinking outside of just what’s your day-to-day at work. Other things, being able to just jump into projects you might not be super familiar with but it’s something that you want to work on and just having the ability to grow professionally in a way that you’re learning but you’re actually being part of a team and having results for whatever projects you’re working on. It’s definitely one of the greatest perks here, professional development.
Evan: There’s such a strong emphasis on employee development not only maximize outputs of the workforce for ESH’s goal but really to help people grow and improve their experiences for careers after that. We’re really encouraged to have candid conversations with our managers, with the VP of Talent on a fairly regular basis on checking in. How are you working or how is your actual work going but also how is your personal development plan going? What are some clear steps that you can take in order to reach those?
Christine: To touch on a bit about genuinely caring for one another, I love that at the start of a lot of our meetings or one-on-ones or even group meetings, we take the time to ask how are you. It always comes very genuinely not as, “How are you?” “Okay, but let’s actually get the work done right now.” It’s more like, “How are you?” And then a pause. You can really get to reflect on that question and to answer authentically and know that you’re being heard. I think that’s a really big thing for me and something that I so appreciate about our culture here.
Brad: When I thought about that, and I think it also speaks to what’s the reason that people want to join ESH? What is it that compels people to be part of this and the very fact that EducationSuperHighway will end, and it has a finite point in time and that our mission is very specific, and we know that there’ll be a point where we won’t have a job anymore. So, nobody’s reason to join ESH is so that I can rest on my laurels and have a paycheck indefinitely and what I’ve I seen is that attracts very courageous people who are willing to take an opportunity to have a job that they know isn’t going to last forever and to solve a problem together as a team on something that’s very tangible and real.
Lindsey: Every now and then, we do documentary nights, and this is just time completely outside of our work that we stick around together and watch and discuss documentaries and maybe that’s not everybody’s idea of fun. It’s never all 70 of us watching documentaries together but there’s a fair few people attend each time, and the documentaries have ranged from all kinds of topics from the history bees and how bees work to Timothy McVeigh or things like that much more heavy. Just the fact that we all sit around in this very room actually and have pizza together and watch these things, it shows the commitment of each of us to this mission and to getting this done I think in a collaborative way together in very communicative setting. We’re having difficult conversations, and we’re not afraid. It’s really lovely.
Jeff: These are things that I heard many different social impact organizations talking about and trying but really not getting as far. I think is what EducationSuperHighway has been able to do in a very short amount of time. I give a lot of credit I think just for – I think it’s so huge to me it’s just like how big this has forced me to think. Sometimes it’s not enough to just be like, I think I can get this much done. I think maybe we can get the three states. We’re trying to get to all 50 in a meaningful way.
Yubana: We also have this gong moment. We actually have a gong in the office. Every time there’s a big thing on, we actually try and a get a state match for schools passed legislative, we’ll hit the gong and everybody celebrates, so it’s often times just celebrating each other’s successes. Because we’re all just a big family and all going towards the same goal even though we each get different angles.
Solomon: I went through the interview process where I interviewed cross-functional members that would interact with. I interviewed with my entire team and at the end, I was really in awe of how amazing of an interview process it was because, honestly, I probably said more or less the same answers to questions across all of them but I really got a sense of who EducationSuperHighway was to all of those interactions, and I was completely sold. I loved every single person I got to interview with. They were all unique. I got a good sense of the culture. It was such an amazing process.
Evan: I would say that EducationSuperHighway is very anti-complacency. We’ve talked a lot about being iterative and the strong, constantly valuing change and reexamining what our best practices are and just not taking the status quo. A couple of examples of this being that we have a diversity and inclusion counsel. Already we are a very open and welcoming organization I would say much more than our tech rivals or relative companies that are for profit. We already have that advantage but we are doubling down and making sure that people are constantly feeling welcomed and figuring out what are those implicit biases that we experienced, and let’s confront them and talk about them both in small group sessions and company-wide. The ability to have that safe space to constantly bring up, hey, that actually made me feel uncomfortable, or this is something that I think that we don’t think about enough. Being able to raise that flag really at any moment is just refreshing, and it’s really healthy to grow both personally and as an organization.
Christine: To touch a little bit more about the success stories that we share, we have a Slack channel. We communicate through Slack. It’s called Heroes. Here on Heroes, we post when we’re out on the fields, oh this is something we heard about how a school district was able to get access to broad bands and what it meant for teaching and learning in the classroom. Sometimes, we get these heartwarming emails about how we were able to help school districts during the E-Rate process. They sent a very heartfelt thank you and we copy and paste that into Heroes. It just a ringing-the-gong kind of moment of like, look what we were able to do together, I think is a really big deal for us.
Lindsey: I would say that there’s a form for everybody to get their conflict resolved whether it’s in the moment. It depends what the conflict is of course and what kind of, if you’re on the same team or you’re working across teams, you might need to pull extra people in to figure it out. But there’s always a return to the data. We can obviously argue about the data. We’re very good at that. What does this data mean? What does this data mean? How did you get that number? How did I get my number? But there’s a return to our data-driven mission to solve these kind of things, and if we’re talking about personal conflicts, that’s slightly different of course. But I would say that I think every individual here has a relationship with their direct manager that they can take conflicts to if they had to.
Solomon: I love this company so much that I would recommend my family to work here, and I actually did. I have been here for about eight months and a position became open, and I call her kid sister because she was always my kid sister. Her being much younger, I saw the position, I’m like, you have to apply to this. It is such a great company. Culture’s great. You would fit in so well. She did, it worked out, and she now works here.
Denver: I wanna thank Nell Hurley for organizing my visit and to all those who participated in this segment: Brad Weiger, Christine Bediones, Solomon Delos Reyes, Yubana Pulido, Evan Shea, Jeff Kang and Lindsey Stevenson. To hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants in the offices of Education Superhighway, simply go to denver–frederick.com.
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