We do guarantee annual pay reviews and bonus periods. You have to know when and how you will be rewarded. So many companies don’t do the basics here. In my previous company I had no objectives and no formal pay reviews, which is incredibly de-motivating.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Smith, the founder and CEO of GlobalWebIndex. Having spent several years working agency-side, Tom recognized a growing demand for global data to better understand online audiences. Coupling the world’s largest ongoing study on the digital consumer with powerful analytics, GlobalWebIndex is now the leading provider of digital consumer insights to the global marketing industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In university I studied the geography of people, such as migration, gender studies, and geographical politics — I loved the global aspect and understanding what makes people tick in different parts of the world. After I graduated, I began an internship at McCann Erickson, a large agency that plans and buys ad space. I had no idea this business even existed, but I quickly settled in with a full time role on the research team.
My time with clients was spent coaching them on where to spend their ad dollars based on where their audiences were most engaged. At the time, there were industry standard market research data sets that guided these decisions, but the problem was that the data was collected entirely in the offline world, in single country data sets. It wasn’t long until social media exploded and mobile boomed, and suddenly the world was connected and global while our data and our customers were far behind. I recognized a huge opportunity to build a technology that captured the behaviors of digital consumers in near real-time. At that, GlobalWebIndex was born to help brands and agencies understand their evolving consumers and know what to do with all these new channels.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Genuinely every day is fascinating and I have been very privileged to scale a growing company, but signing Microsoft was critical to the business getting off the ground. It provides credibility to go on and sign the other foundational clients. I learnt this pretty fast, at least in the world of data however good your product is, it’s worthless without a strong client base.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the most exciting things we’ve recently built is a product called Pollpass, this is a whole new approach to data collection that turns surveys into a conversation with an AI powered chatbot. This massively improves the consumer experience and means companies can get more accurate data at much greater speed. Almost real-time data is hugely powerful to deliver consumer centric companies.
According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
A think the most important thing for a happy worker is a concrete objective and autonomy to make decisions that can deliver on that objective. Undefined roles, without clear remit and too many cooks are a recipe for unhappiness. This is down to managers to deliver this, all about great communication and down to me to make sure everyone understands the shared mission and how we’re all going to get there. I’m also massively passionate about sharing options and giving everyone regardless of the seniority some stake in the company. It’s also key to love hanging out with the people you work with, you need to have a sense of belonging and enjoy working there!
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
The difference between GWI being a rocket ship and moderately successful is employee happiness. Company can only thrive when everyone has clear objectives and loves working together. Where we’ve had problems in the past are new product lines that are owned by multiple departments and teams. If there is no single point of failure / success, then it creates confusion with big productivity impacts.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- We set company, team and individual objectives annually and review them every quarter. This is simple but very effective if done right. And less is more. We trimmed our company objectives down hugely this year. We also share all company objectives to drive transparency.
- We do all company townhalls every 1–2 months and we’ve started to invest a lot of time into the production of them, so wherever you are in the world, you can find out what is going on.
- I send an all staff email every week with updates and my perspective on things that are happening. Communicating your view clearly to the company is very powerful and is also a good check on myself to stay engaged with all parts of the company.
- We do guarantee annual pay reviews and bonus periods. You have to know when and how you will be rewarded. So many companies don’t do the basics here. In my previous company I had no objectives and no formal pay reviews, which is incredibly de-motivating.
- I do my best to meet and greet every new hire with a ‘Tom session’. It’s important that everyone understands the story and where the business came from. I also do a Q&A, and will answer anything…! As a sole founder, you are integral to the company’s DNA and culture and you have to work hard to drive personal relationships across the business however large you scale.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I think there are great things happening in workforce culture and from my perspective is being driven by technology companies at the fore. The fight for great talent is making companies much more employee centric and amazing benefits such as flexible working are making work much better suited to modern lives. I think a wider growing issue (the flipside of technology) is attention and volume of messaging, updates and platforms we now have to deal with. Interruption can kill productivity.
Also, I have some interesting views being a UK headquartered company. In the UK, all employees have notice periods and many would have 2–3 months. This is frustrating when you are trying to scale teams quickly (which can be really slow…!), however, if employees have some level of protection and security I think everyone benefits, people feel more committed and willing to experiment. This is rooted in employment law and could be a nationwide or state level change.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I’m extremely optimistic and focus strongly on vision and how we can get there. You have to try inspire people and often you are asking people (especially during the early days) to leave comfortable jobs with guaranteed earnings. They have to believe in you. I am not a detail-orientated micro-manager and this doesn’t always work out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Sounds cheesy, but my wife. She gave me the confidence to get going and went to work while I spent a couple of years getting everything off the ground.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Making jobs. I love creating and filing great roles.
Also, our data is measuring unprecedented scale of consumers globally. We now measure and quantify over 2.3bn people. This puts billions of people on the map for the first time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Fewer things done better” which is a quote I read from the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, in a book called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”. I did not always follow this, but this absolutely is the core to success. The most successful companies have a singularity of purpose and when you operate in a global market, with customers all over the world, doing one thing well is the route to success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would campaign for governments to lower the costs of employing people, it’s crazy to me that nobody is pushing this. It’s long proven that good, well-paying jobs are the root to building wealth in a country. Job creation should be a government’s number one priority, yet in many countries they are literally making it too expensive to employee people. In Athens, Greece, where we opened up a new office, you have to pay 25% national insurance on top of a gross salary and in the Czech Republic, where we are opening soon, its 34%. This is madness, it lowers the number of jobs created, turns away foreign investment and ultimately creates downward pressure on employees take home wages.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!