Building Good Company Culture
Amy Langer has been tested several times. She not only survived but grew stronger and more committed to her vision of building a more authentic company culture for internal and contract workers alike.
But this journey hasn’t been without its challenges. After sailing through her academic pursuits, Langer was stopped in her tracks by the CPA exam. It was her first time to fail a test. She took it again. And failed. Where some might retreat, Langer stayed at it and passed the third time, but it took a toll that she would learn from.
In Structural’s Resilience podcast, Episode #4, “Building Authentic Company Culture and the Innovation of Gig Work,” hear how Langer co-founded a company (while simultaneously starting a family) that rapidly grew into a multi-million dollar talent acquisition firm, which then got hit by a recession, challenging Langer to take a step back and focus on people and building a good company culture.
Listen to "Amy Langer on Building Authentic Company Culture and the Innovation of Gig Work" on Spreaker.
Obstacles or Challenges
Amy Langer’s career is remarkable in so many ways. For starters, she was wildly successful leading her growing company, despite the fact women are still disproportionately underrepresented in executive leadership roles. She also launched said company at the same time she became a mother. These experiences taught Langer that resilience depends on seeing obstacles more as achievable challenges.
Learning on the Job
Langer and her business partner John Folkestad co-founded Salo in 2002. Nine months later, Langer had her first child. Two years later, she had twins. All told, Langer was pregnant for 18 of the first 36 months of Salo's rise. The double shift of the office and home was excruciating.
At the same time, Salo went from nothing to $21 million in revenue, and just before the recession, they hit a high near $47 million.
That’s not to say there weren’t bumps along the way, as Langer freely admits:
“We were making mistakes left and right. One of them I thought about a lot over the last couple of weeks is we thought... John and I kind of thought we had to shoulder all of what was going on. You know, we don’t want to necessarily tell people because it’s not their responsibility. It’s ours. And again that kind of lack of communication creates huge, huge gaps in understanding what’s happening.”
Turn to Your Values When the Downturn Comes
Even as COVID-19 has changed the world as we knew it, Langer feels like she’s been through times like this before:
“Over these last three or four weeks, I feel like I continually have flashbacks to the last recession, and so we went from a company that was, again, $47 million in revenue — had never even seen a down week or a down quarter. I mean it was constant growth, lots of awards, lots of media, they loved it. We loved it. — to really a 47% drop over two years, 28% the first year and then continued down. And so that stark challenge and stark difference… It’s like we never even had a flat period to get used to it. Really proposed a challenge. It was hard professionally, just not having lived through it before. And it was hard personally.”
Salo managed to survive, and Langer refocused on bridging the gap between aligning professional values and personal values.
Why Company Culture Matters for Gig Workers
Langer saw the potential growth in gig work back in the early 2000s and wanted to change the way temp agencies work, especially in terms of treating contractors as employees.
“Yes, in 2002, there wasn’t even the term the gig worker,” she recalls. “People didn’t talk about doing contract work as a profession.”
In her previous jobs, Langer saw people caring about quality work, companies investing in their people, and delivering that just-in-time assistance that businesses needed. Langer noted there were two basic kinds of gig work: you either worked at a large consulting firm or you had an in-between-jobs job.
“There seems to be a gap between those,” Langer recounts. “And if we could get and create an organization that really thought about the relationship over the transaction, that really thought about how do we treat people and invest in them, whether it’s health care, benefits, continuing professional education, and have this be something that they can do as a career. But then deliver it in a just-in-time manner, we thought it could work and it is working! Which is awesome!”
This led Langer to form her vision about what motivates gig workers to be happy in their jobs.
“I always feel when people are in the right spot and properly motivated, it’s not necessarily about hard work,” Langer says. “You’re more motivated to do it, and so I think two things happen: 1) Are you naturally in a place that you belong? So for example, for us at Salo, one of our biggest values is natural connectors. Connecting of people. It’s just something we naturally do. And so when that aligns, in any role at Salo, because that’s such a big part of our mission, in any role, it matters. It’s not just our salespeople who are natural connectors; it’s like everybody who values that, and so when your personal values align with the values of the organization, that’s one thing."
With values in place, a company can then determine how authentic their culture is.
“The more companies and individuals can get to ‘who’s here we are,’ I feel like the better they do as an organization,” Langer explains. “I don’t think there’s one culture that works or one pinnacle that we’re looking for or striving for. It’s who are we authentically? Like really, who are we? And who fits? Who adds to it? What kind of diversity and thoughts and things can add to this place of who we already are? That to me is what I think is really important about culture.”
Ask for Help Along the Way
The benefits of creating an authentic culture in a temp agency is paramount if you want to attract employees who are a good fit with the companies who need them, but you also have to think about what that might cost you personally and how to handle that. In hindsight, Langer offers this advice:
“One, I always tried to prioritize the health of my physical body, so I’d get up at 4:45 or 5 am every morning and either run or work out or do something for myself every day. I would say that was one thing I did really, really well. One thing I did not do well is really ask for help and be okay putting up some boundaries and limits. And I actually think it would have been better if I would’ve done less."
Amy Langer’s perspective on authentic, transparent company culture applies today. Like the Great Recession, the pandemic impacts everybody with new concerns and worry, but as this McKinsey study points out, even in the midst of tragedy, there are opportunities for positive change:
“The crisis also represents an opportunity. If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace — and there are signs that this is starting to happen — they can retain the employees most affected by today’s crises.”