Two years ago, entrepreneur Bryan Hansel was at a crossroads, his business was stagnant and they were struggling to move forward. “We stood still for a year, we couldn’t hire talent and we were getting in our own way,” Bryan says, “We weren’t moving the needle.”

Transformation came in the form of a major cultural reform for the company. Bryan was working with his long-time executive coach when it occurred to him that drama was a big part of the problem. Bryan realized that the same personal development work that he was undertaking would benefit everyone in his organization. “That’s when the shackles came off,” says Bryan.

The Ultimate job perk – personal development

Bryan is the CEO of Chanje (pronounced Change) and their business is electric trucks and energy services. What is most unique about them is their culture. Every team member spends 20% of their working hours on continuous self-improvement.

Team members participate in an intense and on-going program that involves professional coaching, meditation, giving and receiving difficult feedback, overcoming personal weaknesses and more. Each individual also develops their own coaching abilities by helping their peers navigate the typical pressures of business. The philosophy is: by building trust and creating an atmosphere of honest feedback, individuals will grow and the business will perform at a higher level.

“Most companies run like internal combustion engine vehicles – a lot of noise, pollution, and not a lot of work getting done,” says Bryan. “Our culture is like a technology upgrade so that the organization operates like our electric vehicles – quiet, clean, and highly efficient.”

A Strong Commitment to Culture Helps Attract Top Talent

I started working with Chanje shortly after they decided to make their culture a cornerstone of their corporate strategy. The company made the tough decision to recruit for who would fit with their unique culture first and considered their technical skills after.

What I saw is that candidates have a real hunger and appetite for companies that will invest in them on a deeply personal level.

Chanje was signaling to candidates that “we care about you beyond just work.” This is a significant benefit because many people do not want to lead a double life, like being a different persona outside of home. Chanje encourages team members to integrate their personal and professional selves, because living authentically is beneficial to the business too.

In the words of Ian Gardner, Chanje’s president, “Imagine a work culture where people care deeply about each other, not just about technical capabilities, but as human beings. We are building a culture focused on finding the best ideas, not rewarding the best politics.”

As you might have guessed, a meditating truck company is not for everyone, and that is a good thing. A company culture is not strong enough if people do not self-select out of it in the hiring process.

It is much easier to find the right people when a company is crystal clear on its culture. In the case of Chanje, it allowed us to attract even better talent. In the tech industry it is a candidate’s market right now and this was their differentiator. As Bryan says, “using our culture as our lead hiring strategy allowed us to get talent we couldn’t otherwise get.” Chanje provided a premium offering that was more than money can buy, without taking away pay.

Culture is a Top down exercise

One of the most important reasons why Chanje has been able to implement this unique vision is because the executive team leads by example. For starters, they visibly work on their own personal development and openly discusses their personal struggles.

This self-development journey involves open communication at all levels. The topic of radical candor has become quite popular lately, however I always caution companies to be very careful. As we all know, the truth hurts. Too often employers encourage their employees to be transparent, but do not give them the tools necessary to communicate effectively and to handle difficult feedback.

Not only does Chanje use professional coaches to teach team members these new personal development skills, they also provide monthly forums to put what they have learned into practice. During these monthly meetings, any team member can deliver difficult feedback to anyone in the company, even Bryan.

This is where executive buy-in is extremely important. If you are going to ask people to be honest and open, they cannot be criticized for calling out their bosses. Employees need to know they are in is a safe environment. At Chanje, the only necessary response to criticism is “thank you.”

Takeaways for any company

This is a huge and expensive investment that Chanje is making in their organization, but there are lessons that other companies can learn from them. In my HR career, I noticed that a vast majority of workplace problems could be dealt with using better communication – if only people felt safe enough and knew how to communicate properly.

A simple step I recommend is that companies hire a coach and teach employees how to communicate more effectively to solve conflicts. This is better handled by a professional, or things could go wrong leaving people holding grudges.

Another takeaway is to carefully craft your company’s culture. Many employers say on paper or in interviews that they prioritize culture. But when pressed for details, few can articulate the specific and unique work environment they want to build.

And finally, a word of caution. A hiring strategy based on culture might mean passing on a seemingly exceptional candidate who does not have the right mindset. However, overlooking how a candidate fits within the company is an issue that could rear its ugly head later.

Fast forward from two years ago and Chanje’s business is booming. Chanje now has top talent with experience from Tesla, Mercedes, Boston Consulting Group and many more. Establishing an empowering company culture and bravely sticking to it has allowed Chanje to take control of its destiny.

Chanje was a client of Silicon Beach Talent in 2017.