What Makes Geonetric a Cool Place to Work?

Geonetric was named one of the Coolest Places to Work this morning by the Corridor Business Journal along with 23 other companies from the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor. Before each company accepted their award, a one-minute video played highlighting the culture of that company. The video below was played before Ben got up to accept the award on behalf of Geonetric.

The video does a great job highlighting was makes Geonetric cool. It could easily have gone longer than one minute. Especially when it listed the part about the employees being what really makes the company rock. Here are some other things that we didn’t have time to include in the video:

Sound like you’d fit right in? Check out our current job openings and browse the site to learn more about us. If you don’t see a job that matches your talents, send us your resume anyways! We’re always looking for bright, dedicated employees.

Schema.org, Structured Content and VitalSite 6.7

The recent announcement from Google underscores the growing importance of structured content on the Web. This is not a new trend, but it’s one that has definitely been gaining more and more momentum recently. I expect this to continue to increase, which is why I’m excited to talk a little about how our upcoming VitalSite 6.7 release will begin supporting schema.org microdata.

Based on the enhancement requests I’ve seen since schema.org was launched by Google, Yahoo! and Bing, I know that a fair number of clients will be excited by this support. If it’s a new concept for you, hang in there: I’m about to give a quick overview describing what it is and why you should care. At the end, I’ll also share some helpful links.
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Q1 2013 Client Satisfaction Results

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you know we’re relentless about measuring Client Satisfaction and posting it here.

Last quarter, and most of 2012, the primary pain point our clients revealed in our Client Satisfaction survey was issues with deployment of our software. So for the past few months we’ve been implementing our new push button automated deployment system, which takes a single click to do, is more reliable, and much faster.

We looked with anticipation to the Q1 2013 survey to see if the changes had any effect. The results are in, and we had the highest overall score we’ve ever gotten: 5.27 on a scale of 1-6.
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How Metrics and Transparency Will Make You a Better Digital Marketer

Site Analytics

“You can only manage what you can measure.”

– Peter Drucker

It’s easy to get obsessed with numbers and metrics when you’re working with the Web. There’s no shortage of information about what’s happening with your website, app or campaign. The cup of data overfloweth.

For a certain set of people, and I count myself in this category, data is just fascinating. I find myself getting lost in spreadsheets and databases while attempting to tease out just one more insight.

But the point of data isn’t in the data. It’s often not even in the insights that come from the data. The point is the act of measurement itself.

Measurement creates focus. This is really the reason why we do it. This is really why it matters.

If you’re doing your metrics properly the process starts with defining goals. Aiming only matters if you know what your target looks like. So you start with goals and the goals lead to metrics.

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No Hiding Here: What We Do with Client Satisfaction Feedback

Yesterday I posted the key takeaways from our quarterly client satisfaction survey. Some questions we hear about it is: where does the data go? Who sees it? How do you use it?

It’s an interesting set of questions, because the answers have evolved a lot in the past few years.

It used to be that we’d collect the data and then just a couple of us would pick some action items to be done and distribute them through the organization. This had the advantage of letting us hide anything we didn’t want everyone to know about, or we didn’t want to deal with yet. But now it’s a bit different. We’ve matured a lot as a company, and we’ve been eschewing top-down management methods and empowering teams to solve problems. Sharing the data widely forces us to face candid feedback even if it’s uncomfortable. Therefore, we share the data very widely within the company, and only in a few cases make it anonymous when we feel it must be.

Who Sees it and Takes Action Based on it?

The data from the client satisfaction survey is:

  • Viewed in its entirety, verbatim, by the entire Geonetric leadership team – 12 people and discussed and debated for a couple of hours. We want to make sure that the team charged with guiding Geonetric forward is 100% clear on whether we’re accomplishing our mission to “Wow!” clients. We identify trends and propose possible ways to address shortcomings or pass along kudos to teams doing things right.
  • Client-by-client scores and most client comments are shared with the Account Managers and Project Managers to give them feedback on areas they’re excelling or failing to meet expectations. AMs and PMs tend to have the closest relationships with clients and often can best address issues. In almost every case, the surveys are confirming what the AMs and PMs already know, but the survey helps us stay focused on resolving any outstanding issues, or illuminating exceptional work that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
  • Teams, like our software development team or design team, are given the scores for their respective areas of influence through the company meetings, where we present the aggregate scores in each of 12 categories in front of everyone. Depending on the feedback, they might choose to take action within their realm of control.
  • The monthly company meeting after the survey closes includes a discussion and rank of every client from best-scoring to lowest scoring: everyone knows where every client stands at that point.

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We’re a Bit Obsessed with Feedback: Client Satisfaction Q2 2012

We’ve been having a great year at Geonetric and we’re making huge strides in a number of areas. One thing we hold constant is our focus on client satisfaction. In fact, though we’ve consistently surveyed clients every quarter for about five years, we recently updated our mission statement to include “To ‘Wow!’ our clients.” So as you can imagine, we don’t just strive for average. Mediocre survey results simply won’t do.

We share the compiled results every quarter with our entire team. We pat each other on the back for successes and talk candidly about opportunities for improvement. We also share the results with our clients – especially in instances where we changed a process or enhanced a feature due to their direct feedback.

We don’t always post the scores publicly. But every once in a while something interesting comes out of the survey that makes me think… this is blog worthy. This is one of those times.

Overall Score

The primary measure we watch is the overall satisfaction score. This quarter’s overall average client satisfaction improved slightly over last quarter, with score of 5.06, up from 5.00 in Q1. This is on a scale of 1.0-6.0, and our goal is to be at 5.0 or better – intentionally a difficult measure to achieve. For example, we need to be getting a bunch of 6.0s – perfect scores – to keep ahead of our 5.0 mark in the event any individual client ranks us less than 5.0.

In short, the Geonetric team has been working exceptionally hard this year to ‘Wow!’ clients, and the scores reflect that, overall, we’re doing very well by our clients.

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From The Department of Redundancy Department

At Geonetric, we build some amazing stuff. But sometimes, we put our engineering talents to use to break things.

In the last year or so, we’ve custom-built a new approach to redundancy for our entire Web hosting infrastructure. The idea is that we can hit the system with any type of failure or disaster and every one of our sites will keep humming along like nothing happened.

During that time, we have completely overhauled our entire hosting infrastructure to provide greater performance, security, and uptime to our clients. First, our design and configuration was carefully planned and implemented to include automatic redundancy from the get-go. We spent months selecting components and working with hardware and software vendors to find the right combination of parts. Then we tested in our pre-production lab. Once everything was finally in place this past spring, we repeated the tests monthly by gracefully failing the systems.

Everything worked like a charm.

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Getting Rid of Performance Appraisals

Two men holding up signs with the number 10 on them.Every company has them. At Geonetric, we call them “huddles” – a chance to sit down, one-on-one with your manager to discuss your performance, your role, your goals, and areas for improvement. They usually happen every few months, or in some cases, annually. Overall, they foster great conversations, and often bring about resolutions to problems that have festered for a while. They’re the perfect time for managers to deliver a “thank you” for a job well done.

And that’s why we’re getting rid of them.

With about five years of consistent data from huddles across the company, I can say pretty confidently that they don’t directly improve organizational performance. In fact, I would argue that performance appraisals are detrimental to a high performance culture. They’re a crutch for managers, and an enabler of poor communication.

Let me tell you why.

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Where Should Performance Improvement Come From?

Image of salt and a saltshaker on a tableI belong to a number of CEO peer groups, and I have the opportunity to learn from some brilliant small business owners, and they learn from me. Last week we had a fascinating conversation about a fairly well-known concept called The Saltshaker Theory, which apparently inspired a book called Setting the Table.

The Saltshaker Theory goes something like this: it is the role of the business founder/CEO to apply constant, gentle pressure on the organization to set the standard and vision for the company. The author illustrates this point by clearing a table, and asking his friend to put the saltshaker in the middle of the table. The author moves it slightly off-center. The friend must move it back. Again, the author moves the saltshaker, and gives this sage advice:

“Your staff and your guests are always moving your saltshaker off center. That’s their job. It is the job of life. It’s the law of entropy! Until you understand that, you’re going to get pissed off every time someone moves the saltshaker off center. It is not your job to get upset. You just need to understand: that’s what they do. Your job is just to move the shaker back each time and let them know exactly what you stand for. Let them know what excellence looks like.”

At first blush, this seems elegant and obvious. Of course the leader’s role is to define the level of excellence for the organization and continually demonstrate it by nudging the organization back toward the target.

While I concur that the leader’s role is to articulate the vision, there are two things subtly wrong about the analogy:

  1. It reinforces a cynical view of the team and treats them as children. Apparently, it is the “law of entropy” that your team will fail to live up to your expectations. “That’s what they do.” Always. Without you, as the magnificent leader, to put the saltshaker in the right place, your team will clearly perform poorly.
  2. It perpetuates a culture of reliance on the leader to define and continually reinforce the standard. Why is it that you must move the saltshaker back? Is your team apparently incapable of understanding your intent – that the saltshaker should be in the middle of the table, and move it back there, should it somehow get off center? They must rely on you to tell them it’s not right.

So, in my view, the Saltshaker Theory is an interesting concept, but ultimately it doesn’t work for a high performance, professional team.

In fact, I think it’s completely wrong.

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Six Ways to be Transparent in Company Meetings

In addition to celebration, our monthly all-hands company meetings focus on incredible levels of transparency.

We’ve been very deliberate about weaving transparency across the company in ways that are rare in corporate America. In my view, that reflects our belief that we treat our team members as responsible professionals. Most companies keep even basic data about performance a secret – as if executives are the only people qualified to hear and understand it, or do something about it.

There are six categories of information we share at company meetings:

  1. Client satisfaction survey data. Every company pays lip service to the importance of their clients or customers, yet most companies don’t even ask, or care, about feedback from them. And of the ones that do ask, how many share the results with the entire company? Client satisfaction is so important to Geonetric that every quarter we survey all clients – either electronically or by phone, for feedback on how we’re doing. The cumulative scores and summary comments – good or bad – are then shared with the entire company. Sharing this information makes it crystal clear to everyone that our jobs are ultimately focused on meeting our clients’ needs and making them happy. Without that – profitable or award-winning as we may be, we’ve failed. It also reinforces the idea that we’re all in the same boat together – our clients’ success is dependent on everyone at Geonetric performing optimally.
  2. Employee satisfaction survey data. Twice a year, we ask our team members for feedback and input on what’s going right, and what’s not. The survey gives us a way to push team members to effect change by identifying areas that need attention. Being a fairly outspoken group, the feedback we get is often enlightening and eye opening! I would like to think that, as a small business CEO, I have my finger on the pulse of the company every day. But sometimes the survey identifies areas that I might not have realized were in need of attention. Or maybe something I don’t want to acknowledge is an issue. Sharing the aggregate results of the survey publicly reinforces accountability for me – I can’t exactly duck an issue I’m not comfortable with if it’s presented publicly for all to see.
  3. Financial data. Some executive leadership teams seem to think that it’s OK to incent employees to accomplish financial goals (e.g. profitability) but then hide all of the pertinent information from them of how to get there. Especially when it’s bad news! In my view, this is a failure of typical American management. At Geonetric, every month we’re pretty much doing Open Book Management, sharing revenue and EBITDA information with the whole company. And yes, everyone is expected to know what EBITDA is – not necessarily how to calculate it, but what it represents to the business.
  4. Sales data. Because we’re growing so fast, it is critical for us to keep everyone on the same page. We find that we need to regularly scale up new processes as new clients or types of work are added. Keeping everyone apprised of the various “waves” we might hit is one way we’ve absorbed a constant growth rate and maintained excellent client satisfaction rates and a 94% client retention rate for the past 13 years.
  5. Process improvement metrics. Sometimes we’re working on challenges with a particular process, and so we focus on “what hurts” by highlighting an appropriate measure in front of the whole company – a painful exercise! For example, two years ago, we had significant challenges in having too many defects in the software released into the finished product each quarter. We undertook a painful but very successful effort to utilize Behavior Driven Development and other techniques to eliminate defects; we showcased defects per release in company meetings – until the number got so low it wasn’t important enough to include any more. In other words, acknowledging and focusing on problems company-wide works to steel the resolve of the team and keep problems front and center until they’re gone. It also forces accountability – we don’t have the option to simply ignore difficult problems when they’re publicly known and visible.
  6. Community efforts. Unlike many large companies, we have our entire staff headquartered in one location: Cedar Rapids. So we take our Cedar Rapids community outreach efforts very seriously. We donate to local charities, we sponsor local events, we marshal teams for fundraising efforts, and we even knit hats for babies in local NICUs. We highlight these efforts in our company meetings to reinforce that – like our clients – supporting our local community is a goal at the highest level – as worthy as EBITDA or client satisfaction.

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Five Things to Celebrate in Company Meetings

At Geonetric, we have had all-hands company meetings every month for about 10 years. These meetings are a linchpin in reinforcing our award-winning Geonetric culture. The constant, rapid change of our company and the open, transparent culture we have makes it almost impossible to not hold them.

Meetings that pull together 70+ employees for an hour (or more) to hear the CEO drone on for awhile cost a lot and takes people away from directly productive work. But they’re worth it to us, because celebration is a key aspect of our culture.

At every meeting we have the opportunity to celebrate in five ways:

  • We celebrate our clients’ incredible successes. Our company meetings showcase the latest site go-lives, show off major projects that we recently completed, and talk about what exciting things clients are doing with Geonetric. We truly are blessed to have smart, innovative clients with great ideas. This is our chance to showcase how, together, we turn those ideas into reality.
  • We celebrate our clients’ results. We’re here to do revolutionary work for our clients – and that work only matters when our clients are successful. We happen to have the ability to see across all of our clients’ efforts and the results of our collaborations in aggregate. We’ve started tracking the total impact we’ve had for our clients – an astounding $275 million in total downstream revenue for them as of June 2012 – and we’re excited to watch our impact grow.
  • We celebrate our teams’ successes. Not everything we do is as high profile as a new site launch or a million-dollar client savings. The “behind the scenes” projects are just as critical to Geonetric’s (and our clients’!) success. Sometimes it’s celebrating a new process improvement. Sometimes it’s celebrating a new idea that was implemented.
  • We celebrate each other. Geonetric’s culture puts a lot of emphasis on peers providing feedback to each other. When was the last time a coworker told you that they appreciate something you did, publicly? Our company meetings give team members the chance to “kudo” a peer (yes, with a Kudos bar) by telling everyone how they live the Geonetric values, and do revolutionary work for our clients. We go through about 40-50 Kudos bars at every meeting!
  • We celebrate particularly notable efforts. One team member is publicly acknowledged as being “Spot On” in exemplifying Geonetric values, and gets recognized by proudly displaying Spot, our stuffed dog mascot, on his/her desk for the month.

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Your Feedback Matters When You’re a Geonetric Client

Ever wish you had more of a voice with your current content management system vendor? When you work with Geonetric, your input shapes future versions of our VitalSite content management system.

We release a new version of our product every quarter and many of the enhancements we make are based on the client feedback we receive. In fact, we’ve decided to take that process to the next level and make it even easier for users to share their ideas with our product team.

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Every Client, Every Quarter

When was the last time you spoke to your vendor’s CEO? (When was the last time your vendor’s CEO called you about anything?)  As the CEO at Geonetric, I’m available to take a client’s call just about any time. And as I mentioned in my ‘This is the CEO Calling…’ post, I initiate a call to every client every quarter to get their feedback.

Client Satisfaction is the overall measure of Geonetric’s performance from the client’s perspective. We ask three questions, with time for open-ended comments. And the results aren’t just something for the executive team to review behind closed doors. Nope. We compile and trend the data and present it at an all-company meeting. Every quarter. Because it’s just that important.

And in the spirit of transparency, I’ve been sharing the scores in blog posts with readers throughout the year.

The results

We measure client satisfaction on a scale of 1-6, with 6 being “exceptional” and 1 being “poor.”  Our goal is to average 5 or higher – so a single low score can really hurt!

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What David Letterman Can Teach Us About Crisis Communications

In case you’ve been out camping for the past few weeks and missed the hubbub, David Letterman has been wrapped up in a blackmail scandal. Perhaps “wrapped up” is a bit strong of a term as he’s handled it quite well from a public relations perspective (and certainly not for lack of trying on the part of the paparazzi).

Are there lessons here that we can carry into our own crisis communications? Yes—

  • Get ahead of the story – It was clear that this was going to come out, so Letterman put it right out there. Stories that dribble out little by little often get more interest due to the anticipation of the next revelation. By putting all of the information on the table, the Late Night host was able to cut the media life of the story far shorter than if he’d held back.
  • Tell the story on your own terms – By using the controlled setting of his show, Letterman was able to tell the story the way that he wanted it told.  If this had been revealed in an interview, or if someone else had controlled the editing of his comments, he may not have been portrayed in the manner that he wanted.
  • Avoid being the bad guy – This one isn’t always possible, but this was Letterman’s net benefit of getting ahead of the story and telling it on his own terms.  While a big piece of Letterman’s saga involves highly inappropriate actions on his part, he had the opportunity to portray himself as the victim – a risky strategy that can backfire if your audience doesn’t accept it. Doing this successfully, Letterman was able to buy himself a lot of a lot of latitude in admitting his misdeeds.  You can’t always present your organization as the victim, but you can often find ways not to be the bad guy.

However, Dave made one big mistake in his initial apology.

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This is the CEO Calling…

This is the CEO calling...Every quarter, I call each client to get feedback on where we’re doing well, and where we need to improve. (If you recall, this past June we publicly posted our Client Satisfaction scores for the world to see.) As a CEO, the feedback is always fabulous, even if we’re discussing a problem. I still want to hear it from my clients in an unfiltered way.

We measure this every quarter, across every client, and try to include client representatives from every perspective: executive stakeholders, project managers, software users, etc. This isn’t a Web survey, either. I call each client every quarter to ask for the good, the bad, and occasionally, the ugly. It’s all dutifully recorded, compiled, and presented for everyone in the company to see at our quarterly meetings.

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