When Jessica Bogart Kasper joined Kalderos as manager of organization and culture design in the summer of 2020, one item on her long list of to-dos was to ensure that individuals throughout the organization would be able to have a direct hand in shaping the company's culture.
To that end, she founded the company’s Culture Club to make it possible for any employee to have a role in driving and influencing Kalderos' company culture. The club would play a critical role in maintaining connectivity in a new hybrid work environment with a deliberately bottom-up approach.
The Culture Club was exactly the type of engagement sought after by Kalderos senior copywriter Mark Kosin, who joined Kalderos in early 2021. He expressed an early interest to Bogart Kasper of wanting to meet people from across the company and have an impact on nurturing the company's nascent hybrid-work culture.
According to Kosin, the employee-led committee was instrumental in finding solutions to what he calls “a very difficult, complex problem space” of forging authentic connections in a highly digital age.
“We’re tackling this head on with intentionality, thoughtfulness and understanding,” he said.
Since the Culture Club's earliest days, Bogart Kasper has led the group to evolve beyond being purely focused on company events and having a broader impact on how employees work, communicate and engage. While club members rotate out, Bogart Kasper remains a consistent manager of the group's processes and direction.
Ava Ring, Kalderos’ data product manager of new market offerings, joined Kalderos two years after Kosin, but shared a similar goal of meeting more coworkers and shaping culture outside the focus of her role. She has joined the most recent cohort and is currently spearheading the club’s efforts to cultivate a sense of belonging, which will help break down the silos that can form across the organization in a remote-first environment.
For Ring, the Culture Club isn’t just impactful from a personal standpoint. She believes it also improves employees’ ability to collaborate with each other.
“As you get to know more people, you understand others’ roles and responsibilities much better, and you can call on more people when making a tough decision,” she said.
In a sense, the Culture Club serves as the backbone of the company, influencing how people build relationships and pursue their work. That’s why, when CEO Brent Dover joined the company in February 2022, he quickly became a member of the club and inspired the club to establish a framework called the Guiding Principles for Success, wittily coined “GPS” for its purpose in guiding the company.
To decide on the right principles, the club held various workshops, during which employees posed thoughtful questions, such as, “How do we balance autonomy with accountability?” and “What does it mean to be a customer-centric organization?”
“It was a pretty intensive collaborative process,” said Bogart Kasper.
Culture Club initiatives, coupled with GPS, help create a space that allows employees to leave their own mark on the company while forging real friendships.
Kalderos’ tech-enabled Drug Discount Management platform enables teams to maintain multi-stakeholder collaboration, unify data from multiple sources and break down data silos. The company currently has offices in Chicago’s West Loop and Brookfield, Wisconsin.
An Avengers Moment
Dover’s idea for GPS came from his experience seeing the benefit of operating principles at other organizations. Inspired by his enthusiasm, team members banded together to come up with principles that would operationalize the company’s culture and mission.
“It was kind of like our own Avengers moment,” Kosin said.
Using both physical whiteboards and virtual ones, Bogart Kasper and Kalderos Senior Product Manager Sarah Braunstein — who was a key driver throughout the GPS discovery process, as well as through design to launch — led countless discussions related to what’s working well at the company and what isn’t. Bogart Kasper remembers this experience fondly, recalling how engaged employees were throughout the process. She was inspired by this level of involvement, considering participants attended one- to two-hour brainstorming sessions each week for about seven months, in addition to their already-full workloads.
Once team members had decided on a set of principles, they put together a research and testing plan to see how these ideals resonated with the wider organization. This made it possible for many people to play a part in bringing GPS to life while ensuring every principle was meaningful.
“We were very intentional while also acknowledging they’re not going to be set in stone, since the organization will continue to evolve,” Kosin said.
KALDEROS’ GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR SUCCESS
- Share the why along with the what
- Practice strong opinions, loosely held
- Listen with curiosity
- Test. Learn. Evolve. Repeat.
- Slow down to move fast
- Raise your hand
- Take action to cultivate diversity
- Assume positive intent
- Go farther together
- Solve problems together
- Deliver value with conviction
These principles are intended to reflect Kalderos’ culture of respectful collaboration, which not only guides current employees but also informs new hires about the culture they are becoming a part of. When Ring was interviewing for her current position last December, the hiring manager shared his screen so she could see GPS for herself.
“I could tell how excited he was and how much he bought into it,” she said.
It was clear to her that the company sought individuals who embraced these ideals, which reflected the authenticity of its culture. Once she stepped into her role, she was impressed to see how GPS plays out on a daily basis.
Kosin added that GPS acts as a “safe zone” in the sense that these principles empower employees to have challenging conversations. “For instance, if you’re trying to get more context about a situation, you could say to someone, ‘I’m trying to get the why along with the what,’” he explained. Considering everyone is rooted in the same principles, this creates clearer, less confrontational communication.
While the process that went into developing GPS was fun, it paled in comparison to the launch week that took place last fall when the company unveiled its new set of principles. The team turned the launch into a cultural event, complete with an introduction from the CEO, swag packages for every employee, daily slacks introducing each principle and a lunch-and-learn session — for which the team was sure to “share the why along with the what.”
With every principle explained in detail over video by different team members sharing not just what the principle means but why it was impactful for their work, employees were able to easily digest every element of GPS, enabling managers to help their teams put these words into action.
“People started to use the principles as their own, which is exactly what we wanted to happen,” Kosin said.
A Commitment to Connection
The launch of GPS may be one of the defining moments of the Culture Club’s history, but it’s not the only pivotal moment to come out of the committee. According to Bogart Kasper, the club has hosted numerous events to bring people together and remind employees of the important things in life.
In late 2021, the club created a “gratitude wall” in the office during a weeklong conference, which enabled employees to write notes of thankfulness for their colleagues, including the value they believed that individual embraced the most fully. At the end of the week, everyone went home with a bag of kind words from their coworkers.
“One of my favorite moments was walking into the room to see the entire engineering team writing notes,” Bogart Kasper said. “Many people told me it was one of their favorite things they had done at the company. Folks were heading home after the event, reading the packet of gratitude and feeling seen and appreciated for their hard work.”
“Folks were heading home after the event, reading the packet of gratitude and feeling seen and appreciated for their hard work. Many people told me it was one of their favorite things they had done at the company.”
Kosin said he’s grateful that the club has committed to maximizing in-person interactions. In addition to happy hours during the summer, the Chicago office hosts various events that encourage coworkers to mingle across departments.
These types of experiences are especially important for new hires, which is why the club supported a companywide on-site summit held earlier this year in Chicago. The team wanted to find ways to drive deeper connection, especially considering over one-third of the company had been hired over the last six months and had not met in person yet. According to Bogart Kasper, employees were asked to sit in a different seat during each session and were even given prompts to make it easier to start conversations with those around them.
“We wanted to encourage people to mix and mingle, giving people so much more of an opportunity to meet people outside of their teams and get to know them on a deeper level,” she said.
Apart from structured events, new hires have plenty of chances to familiarize themselves with the company and their peers. When onboarding, Ring particularly enjoyed “snack time” with the CEO — another Culture Club designed and managed event — which enabled her and her peers to get to know him personally.
To bolster the onboarding experience, the Culture Club is planning to unveil a buddy program, which will pair new hires with more seasoned employees who can help guide them during their first few months. Bogart Kasper believes these types of initiatives are essential, given the importance of ensuring employees feel a sense of belonging from the moment they join the company — especially in a remote-first environment.
Deliver Impact While Learning and Growing
Kalderos’ Culture Club is more than a purveyor of engaging events and meaningful principles. For Ring, it’s an exciting opportunity to pursue creative work that falls outside of her day-to-day responsibilities.
“It makes me feel so much more fulfilled to have these well-rounded experiences,” she said.
The club holds special meaning for everyone, especially Bogart Kasper. “My job is to cultivate and drive the Kalderos culture,” she said. “Culture Club is a core part of delivering on this mission — I strongly believe that it shouldn't be done top-down and requires the diverse voice of our team, along with co-design practices that help create a culture that truly meets the needs of our unique people. It is a key part of my strategy for doing my job.”
She added, “It’s incredible how the group is not only able to deliver organizational impact but also learn and grow together.”
“It’s incredible how the group is not only able to deliver organizational impact but also learn and grow together.”
Kosin feels honored to have this chance to grow and help steer a movement in the process. He believes that everyone who takes part in the club plays a key role in shaping the future of Kalderos — exactly the reason why club members rotate every few months.
“You make an impact, so that the people who are already at the company and those who join get the best possible experience,” Kosin said. “You become a building block in creating the culture.”
Bogart Kasper added, “Culture Club is helping us evolve with our changing culture — we continue to grow, which means our needs and challenges change. In Culture Club, you become a key part of helping the culture continue to evolve and build intentionally.”