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CEO Spotlight: Carol Leaman

 CEO Spotlight: Carol Leaman

When you’re a CEO, moments matter. It's amazing how the little things you do can impact the culture. These don’t just affect the culture of your company but also how individuals in your organization feel.

Great CEOs not only connect with the minds but also with the hearts and emotions of employees. Such leaders are able to communicate a compelling and inspiring vision for their organization’s future. The best CEOs understand that they’re always on stage and the mic is on.

In this CEO Spotlight, I sit down to chat with Carol Leaman, CEO at Axonify to learn all about how they’ve intentionally developed an award-winning company culture that has landed them a spot on the 2022 Best Workplaces in Canada list! Here’s how our conversation went:

Lauren: High-performing organizations make employee communications a priority. They know that an engaged workforce contributes to the company’s success but oftentimes, employees have a tendency to move in the direction that they think the people in charge want to go. At Axonify, how do you make your culture goals, objectives and priorities clear to everyone?

Carol: Consistent communications are absolutely critical to keeping our priorities clear to everyone, particularly as Axonify continues to enjoy significant organizational growth. We leverage brain science principles in the Axonify platform because we know reinforcement is key to helping people remember what they’ve learned. So we rely on those same tactics internally through a number of recurring programs focused on frequent communications and updates related to company objectives.

Specifically, each year we host an Annual Kick-off event that brings everyone together to establish a common understanding of the current year’s priorities. This sets us up for success right out of the gate by providing every single Axonifier with a clear understanding of our business targets and how their role adds value and contributes to the achievement of company objectives. This information is reinforced throughout the year during biweekly All Company Updates, as well as Quarterly Business Reviews, which are excellent forums for reflecting on recent successes and setting the stage for current/upcoming targets.

Lauren: Another pillar of successful culture management is the realization that your culture is always changing. Even if you ignore it, your culture will grow and evolve without asking you. So, how do you practice good culture management?

Carol: It starts with the top – and it takes vigilance. It starts with how people see me behave, how I speak about our culture and the actions all our leaders take to manage the non-negotiable aspects of the great culture we’ve built over time. The leadership team is critical for modelling behaviours that are reflective of the culture we want to promote and addressing those that do not.

Although culture does naturally evolve, it should continue to embody the values of the business. As long as the core values are accurate and anchored foundationally within the business then they shouldn’t change substantially over time. Keep the values in check and, no matter how big you grow, they should remain the anchor to pull people back to what’s important and what the organization represents from a culture standpoint.

Lauren: Culture becomes relevant when it directly connects to the business strategy. Ideally, your company's strategy should be informed by your mission and vision, which in turn guide your company's culture. How do you weave your mission and vision into your company culture at Axonify?

Carol: This is a tricky one. While our core values have remained consistent and represent the cultural foundation of Axonify, in a growing organization like ours the mission and vision set 10+ years ago is very different than today. We’ve refined our mission and vision to reflect our current strategy of providing frontline employees with a consistent, positive and effective learning solution to deliver business results for the organization, whereas 10 years ago we aimed to be a modern learning solution. Full stop.

In early-stage growing businesses today, the pace of change is so rapid that setting a mission and vision and thinking that that is going to last and inform culture for any length of time is a challenge. You have to be nimble and adaptive because your customers and the market are evolving at a rapid pace. Our core values of Collaborate, Be Bold, and Get it Done remain unchanged, anchor us culturally and guide our approach through the progression of our strategic direction.

Lauren: It’s repeatedly said that purpose is the backbone of a strong culture. It binds people working together, in all capacities, to realize rewards beyond financial performance. What are some of the ways that you make work meaningful for your employees?

Carol: From my perspective, candidates and employees place significant value on working for an organization with a purpose they can rally behind. More than ever they seek out purpose that aligns with their own value system. I do think that Axonify’s purpose to serve frontline employees, particularly during the pandemic, makes Axonifiers feel like their contributions are meaningful. It’s about feeling good about coming to work every day, knowing you’re adding value to the business and to the people the business serves. We lean into this by regularly sharing stories around the way actual customers are impacted by what we do. We recognize one another through our Values in Action program by acknowledging the contributions of fellow Axonifiers whose recent work efforts have embodied our core values. Through our culture of recognizing and celebrating accomplishments, we strive to reinforce company-wide that the team’s hard work not only adds value TO the business, but is also highly valued BY the business.

Lauren: Culture is reflected in both what people say and what people do. It’s shaped by how your employees talk about your company and the people connected to your company (e.g., customers, co-workers, managers, and leaders). Tell us what you do to strengthen your company culture?

Carol: I think we do an excellent job of hiring in the first place. In addition to welcoming diverse perspectives, we bring people into the business that exhibit the values and culture that we want Axonify to represent.

Externally, we are vocal and regularly spread the message about Axonify’s remarkable brand and culture, so we’re very public about the kinds of people we want to work here. We translate our talk into action in terms of supporting people internally. We have a large People & Culture team for our size of business and that’s intentional. It enables us to invest in our culture, proactively support employees and evolve our people-programs to ensure our external messaging aligns with the true end-to-end employee experience.

About Great Place to Work®
Great Place to Work® makes it easy to survey your employees, uncover actionable insights and get recognized for your great company culture. Clients apply our insights, advice, and tools to fuel the vision, decisions and actions that drive business performance. Learn more about Great Place to Work Certification.

Lauren O'Donnell
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