Next Jump was described by Inc magazine as “the most successful company you’ve never heard of.” It numbers 70% of the Fortune 1000 among its clients and has sales of over $3 billion. And it has one of the most innovative cultures I have ever come across.
Here are some of the elements that make it a unique place to work:
1) No fire policy: Several years ago founder Charlie Kim said that he regarded his employees as like family. One responded by asking if he would fire a member of his family if they behaved badly. Charlie came in the next day and announced that, from then on, nobody would be fired from Next Jump for poor performance.
“It has had some unintended consequences,” explained Tarun Gidoomal, Co-Head of Next Jump’s UK Office. “First, it means you have to be very careful in who you hire. Virtually the whole team now has to agree before we appoint somebody as we know it’s a job for life.
“Second, people have opened up more, and been prepared to share their stories, their faults and failures because there is no risk of getting fired. And its led to people being more prepared to take healthy business risks.”
It can still happen that a hiring doesn’t work out but the person has to agree to leave. “If we’re not happy, then generally they aren’t happy either. We ask them directly ‘do you really want to be here?’”
2) Hire for humility: Many companies now say they “hire for attitude, train for skill.” At Next Jump they hire for one specific attitude. “We used to screen for skills. And we ended up with a lot of brilliant jerks”, explains Tarun. “So now we hire for humility.”
In the two talks I’ve seen Next Jump executives give that has been very evident. What has stood out has been both the humility and vulnerability they were prepared to show.
3) Talking Partners: Everybody at Next Jump has a “talking partner,” who they see several times a week and share their challenges and thoughts with. It is similar to a mentoring relationship but Next Jump believes that conventional mentoring, where a senior person helps a junior member of staff, fails 95% of the time.
Talking partners is instead co-mentoring. “Start at the top, and partner with somebody different to you,” suggests Tarun. “You push each other to go to the places you don’t want to go.”
“The idea is that your partner’s success is almost more important than your own”, explained Henry Searle at Happy’s 2016 Happy Workplace conference. Henry is Co-Head of Next Jump’s UK Office with Tarun and also his Talking Partner.
At both conference speeches I have heard the Next Jump speaker came with their Talking Partner, whose role was totally supportive. Imagine having somebody in your organisation that is 100% there for you.
4) Direct Feedback: When I ask people at most companies how often they receive feedback the most common answer, depressingly, is once a year at the annual appraisal. At Next Jump you receive feedback from colleagues, via their internal app, after every meeting.
The feedback app is the most widely used app at Next Jump. It gives everyone in the company the opportunity to give and receive feedback (in real time) to or from anybody else in the company.
5) Situation workshops: The person brings two situations and they explore common patterns and possible blind spots. The role of a manager here is much more that of a coach, to help them see these patterns. “These have replaced most management meetings,” explained Kevin McCoy (Vice President and General Manager at the London office).
6) Elected leadership: As well as CEO Charlie Kim, Next Jump has a key group of leaders, who are responsible for growing the business and for developing the culture of the company. Known as MV-21, these key leaders are selected by a vote of all staff. (The name comes from the fact they meet annually at an investors’ house in Marthas Vineyard and there are 21 of them – this being the number of bedrooms in the house.)
7) Fun: This is a company that believes in enjoying itself, from the summer outing to the annual dance battle. For the latter each office practices relentlessly for the big showdown. Remember that the core job is coding, people not known for their extrovertism, and flick through the video of the 2015 event below.
The new New York office is being built with a swimming pool on the roof, open all weekend with staff encouraged to bring their families.
8) Purpose and giving back: Every branch of Next Jump is asked to adopt a local non-profit organisation. A particular focus is on schools. The New York office adopted PS119 in South Bronx, a school where 75% of the kids live below the poverty line. They funded the re-opening of the after school program (at a cost of $300,000 a year) to enable parents to continue to do their jobs uninterrupted, allow teachers to earn extra income, and students to have the extra support to grow and learn. Next Jumpers have been participating directly in the program, with every employee in the New York office spending a day a month helping build and teach a curriculum.
I have long argued that companies should be using their core skills to help others and Next Jump does just that. With “Code for a Cause,” three people can take two weeks out to make a difference and scale and build a charitable project.
One member of staff had a relation who had been in juvenile prison. She got together with two colleagues and spent the two weeks building tools for a charity helping ex-offenders.
9) Health and wellbeing: All Next Jump staff are encouraged to go to the gym twice a week, and supported to eat healthily. And the dance battle, above, certainly helps too.
They have a fitness competition where every Next Jumper is put into one of 5 Fitness Teams. The team that collectively go to the gym the most in any given week, receive a monetary incentive which is split between the team. “We went from 25% of the company working out twice a week to 95%!”
10) Peer evaluation: The key award system at Next Jump are the Avengers, of whom twenty are nominated by their peers. The aim is not to nominate the best salesperson or the best external performer. Instead it is for the people who have helped others succeed the most.
The underlying principle is clearly stated: “Alone we can do good. But together we can do great.”
11) Experimental culture: “We try stuff out,” explains Tarun. “Some of it works and a lot of it doesn’t. To be honest, 60% of what we have done has failed. We have a saying that there are no OMGs, no mistakes … only lessons learnt.”