September 27, 2019

Building a Continuous Improvement Culture to Enable Smart Growth

As a mission-driven company, the TripActions core values are critical in guiding our path to success. From day one, we’ve worked to build a continuous improvement culture that’s constantly learning to make the TripActions experience better and more rewarding for our customers, our users, our partners, and our employees alike. We think about it in terms of always raising the bar -- at every opportunity, in all that we do.

Managing a startup is always complex with different periods of growth bringing unique sets of challenges and opportunities. No matter where entrepreneurs are in their organization’s growth trajectory, it’s important that they are driving smart growth while staying true to their mission and core values.

At TripActions, we’ve seen tremendous hyper growth over the last four years. Early on as a smaller startup, it was relatively easy for everyone to stay connected and learn from each other and together. Regular course of business coupled with all hands meetings of a smaller number of employees enabled us to celebrate our successes and share in learning opportunities together. But as we grew rapidly from 100 to 400 employees last year (and now more than 800 today), we became more globally distributed across nine offices, and as a result less connected as a team and a culture. Our continuous learning was happening, but in isolated pockets.

To empower that spirit of always raising the bar, we recently launched a debriefing process, first among our executive team and then more broadly across the organization, in partnership with Shamayam. The approach encourages individuals to reflect on their successes and where they fell short alike, asking three simple questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. Why did it happen?
  3. How can I improve?

In answering these questions, we deliberately focus on what’s within our own control to drive individual accountability. But through an easy-to-use desktop and mobile app, we can share our debriefs with others -- whether peers, direct reports, key stakeholders, collaborators, our team, department, or the entire company -- to ensure the insights uncovered in the individual debrief benefit everyone.

It seems a relatively simple methodology, but in practice this type of debrief is extremely powerful, particularly when integrated as a regular part of daily business. I’ve personally experienced the positive impact on individual, team, and company performance as we implemented this practice of debriefing at TripActions. It is positively impacting our ability to scale globally and achieve 5X year over year growth -- all while maintaining and building upon the core ingredients that have made the TripActions culture so compelling to our customers, partners, suppliers, employees, and investors. I think of it as smart growth as it is enabling us to build on our mission-driven culture and core values while helping us improve and evolve to scale and better serve our users all around the world.

Our partner in this process, Shamaym, has helped our team focus on learning quickly, efficiently, and continuously. They are helping us reinforce a culture of always raising the bar, striving towards excellence through personal responsibility, and continuous improvement -- exactly what any company needs to become and remain a global leader.

Shamaym’s founders developed the model by adapting the organizational learning culture of Israeli flight training, which trains pilots at the highest quality standard within a short period of time. Rather than focusing on the technicalities of operating a plane, the approach equips pilots with a methodology and culture that promotes continuous learning.

In a short time, Shamaym enabled us to build the foundation for continuous learning at scale. Here’s how: During the first few months, Shamaym team members closely accompanied our managers to ensure successful implementation across all teams. At our weekly All Hands meetings, just like at every meeting in our company, an individual shares a learning opportunity: what happened, why it happened, and how they will improve for the next time.

Over a period of 5 months, more than 4,000 debriefs have been written and, more importantly, openly shared and discussed. Support reps debrief after a chat session receives a less than positive rating. Sales reps debrief after a customer call. SDRs debrief after demos. Recruiters debrief at the end of the recruitment cycle. Product and R&D teams debrief after sprints. And they are sharing those debriefs with their team members who can benefit from the learning while also holding each other accountable to implement their learnings. Manager visibility helps ensure the learnings are integrated into coaching conversations to support individual growth and development.

With buy-in and participation from the executive team, team leaders, and every employee, I’ve seen firsthand how the debrief and continuous improvement methodology has transformed the way we learn and grow at TripActions. The process has endowed us with a new language, management methodology, and culture of excellence, transparency, and personal responsibility that are all helping us live our mission and build upon the values we put in place on day one to continue to drive smart growth today and in the future.

-- Ariel Cohen, Co-founder and CEO, TripActions