Sammy Courtright of Ten Spot: “Strong co-worker relationships”

Strong co-worker relationships: We all know that when employees enjoy where they work, they want their friends to work there too. Referrals are a great way to increase your talent pool. Creating a culture that people want to be and stay a part of reduces employees running after the next best offer. Friendships in the […]

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Strong co-worker relationships: We all know that when employees enjoy where they work, they want their friends to work there too. Referrals are a great way to increase your talent pool. Creating a culture that people want to be and stay a part of reduces employees running after the next best offer. Friendships in the workplace are an essential part of the equation. Whether it’s peer-pairing, mentoring, or team-wide virtual events, it’s crucial for employees to connect with each other to connect with the company.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sammy Courtright.

Hailing from Australia, Sammy Courtright is the co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Ten Spot, an all-in-one platform that helps companies connect, engage, and manage remote and on-site employees.

After finding it frustrating to stay healthy in a typical 9-to-5 environment, Sammy and her co-founder, Jonathan Cohn, teamed up in 2014 to create Fitspot, whose mission was to deliver wellness where employees needed it the most — at work. Renamed Ten Spot in 2020, the company not only rebranded to expand beyond wellness, but now offers a centralized solution for companies to increase their productivity, boost retention, and build a strong culture.

When COVID hit, Sammy learned that customers were facing a similar issue: how do we ensure employees feel like they work for the same company when they are not in the same place? Through research, she discovered that leadership was struggling to manage distributed teams. This led to Ten Spot’s expansion to the workforce engagement platform it is today.

With a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Miami, Sammy is a certified Pilates instructor who brings a blend of grit and imagination to the zillions of tasks that confront every startup. While she wears many hats, Sammy’s passion for building culture has created an atmosphere at Ten Spot dedicated to positive thinking and collaboration.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been very creatively inclined, and in school, I studied theatre. However, at the same time, there’s always been part of my brain hyper-focused on solving problems.

Anytime I go into a restaurant or a store, I find myself thinking about all the ways it could be more efficient and scalable, and have even emailed the owners with my ideas (I know, I am that person). That is how I met Jon, my co-founder. Mutual friends introduced us and once I heard about what he was working on, I started telling him all the ideas I had to make it scale.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In our first few months of existence, an engineer who worked for us hijacked our entire code base and held it for ransom for 45 days. We learned, after the fact, that he had created a segment of the code using his personal email address rather than his work email address.

For 45 days, we literally had no insight into the product. We didn’t know who was using it or if there were any bookings–nothing! With legal assistance, the issue was ultimately resolved. It was a jarring (and slightly expensive!) lesson for us when it came to safeguarding and protecting the company’s intellectual property.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now, we’re obsessed with the idea of peer-to-peer learning. So many companies are tasked with not only hiring, but onboarding and training employees they have never met in person, and that they may not meet in person for a long time.

This creates a lot of awkward challenges for both the employer and the new employee. How do you make sure the new employee is getting trained effectively, what are the areas they need to develop skills in, and perhaps most importantly, do they feel like they are part of their team and the company?

So, what we’re exploring is a peer-to-peer learning tool designed to help employees acclimate to their new company, learn company systems, and get to know their team members.

Additionally, the program will provide outlets for employees to both teach and gain new skills — so both the mentee and mentor are improving and growing, and feel acknowledged and recognized by their company, team, and co-workers.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. 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?

Anytime I read a stat like that, I always like to take a step back and think: what does unhappiness mean? The emotion ‘unhappy’ is broad. To take action and provide solutions, it would behoove us to dive deeper into what aspects specifically are causing the workforce to feel unhappy.

Does it correlate to a lack of purpose at work? Does it mean too much stress? No career progression? Or is it a combination of all of them?! Regardless, unhappiness is a negative emotion and not one that should be associated with your job — the thing that you spend most of your day doing. The fact that more than half of the workforce is feeling unhappy is alarming.

Job dissatisfaction tends to fall into these categories:

  • Not being paid enough
  • Limited career growth
  • Lack of interest
  • Poor company culture
  • Poor work-life balance

I feel like this number is high because companies aren’t addressing these issues head-on. I dare to assume that many companies don’t even know that employees have negative sentiments because there isn’t an outlet to express their concerns.

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?

Unhappy or disengaged employees significantly impact a company’s productivity, profitability, and employees’ health and wellbeing.

Gallup has estimated that employee disengagement costs the overall US economy as much as 350 billion dollars every year. And the decreased productivity of each disengaged employee costs each employer 3,400 dollars to 10,000 dollars in salary.

This impact is felt beyond the disengaged employee because now the company has to recruit, hire, train, and onboard a replacement. A company loses between 1% and 2.5% of their total revenue on the time it takes to bring a new hire up to speed.

Another Gallup study found that:

  • engaged employees are healthier than their disengaged colleagues
  • Engaged employees are 21% more likely than actively disengaged employees to get involved in wellness programs offered by employers
  • People in disengaged workgroups are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, have higher stress levels, and are at greater risk for heart disease.

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?

Celebrate/Reward/Recognize: running an early-stage startup means you constantly balance celebrating quick wins and road mapping long term plays. To ensure that we celebrate both, we have a #cowbells channel in Slack where teams post their monthly and quarterly goals, accomplishments (big or small) and celebrate them together.

Flexibility: if 2020 taught us anything, it is that a hybrid workforce is here to stay. In fact, in a recent survey Ten Spot conducted, 75% of those surveyed said they will continue to work from home (40% full time, 35% a few days a week) once the pandemic is over. Employees are looking for job flexibility with the ‘it doesn’t matter when or how I do the job, as long as I get it done’ mentality.

Transparency: Antiquated communication tools can be a massive barrier to transparency. If you haven’t already, this is the time to improve your communication and collaboration tools, especially as distributed teams are the future. An investment in enhancing tools ensures that teams have an easy and efficient way to connect and share information, from successes to the, more importantly, the challenges. You might find that transparency leads to the team coming up with solutions together.

Purpose and passion: When you’re interviewing for a job, it’s essential to ask yourself: do you feel connected to the company, its mission, and the team? Are you excited about the problem you are solving? I’ve found it’s crucial to reiterate Ten Spot’s core values and mission in every all-hands meeting as it reminds everyone of what we are here to do. People tend to move to other opportunities when they feel like they are no longer challenged or excited by what the company is doing.

Strong co-worker relationships: We all know that when employees enjoy where they work, they want their friends to work there too. Referrals are a great way to increase your talent pool. Creating a culture that people want to be and stay a part of reduces employees running after the next best offer. Friendships in the workplace are an essential part of the equation. Whether it’s peer-pairing, mentoring, or team-wide virtual events, it’s crucial for employees to connect with each other to connect with the company.

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?

This is a big challenge to solve. It also comes down to how Americans perceive work. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray Love:

“Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking-nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one….This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype- the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.”

This can absolutely be perceived as a negative. A constant state of being overworked, overstressed, and overwhelmed. But America is also the epicenter of entrepreneurial greatness. Can you get that type of creativity without the relentless work ethic? I am uncertain.

This pandemic has put employee mental health front and center for most organizations. Research shows more people are putting in excessive hours at work and experiencing increased burnout because of the inability to separate personal and professional lives.

One of Ten Spot’s goals is to reduce employee burnout, and we’ve taken steps to optimize and improve our employees’ mental wellness and work with different schedules. For example, our live meditation, stress management, and fitness sessions are available at a wide range of times and then recorded, so they’re available to watch through our on-demand library.

The stigma around mental health and speaking up about stress at work, combined with concerns of economic instability, means we’re far from normalizing mental health conversation in the workplace. We’ve worked hard to ensure Ten Spot’s programming offers a breadth of variety for people to become more educated around this critical issue and build up their communication skills to advocate for mental health in the workplace. We’re providing the tools to talk about mental health at work — for our customers, internal teams, and in time, to extend this out more broadly — to help provide a safe space for those struggling and create a positive and open culture.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I am direct and enjoy leading by example. I’ve learned when to delegate tasks and spearhead specific projects, but I also like staying involved and showing my team that I am hands-on and willing to help them too.

A great example is when we recently tested a new idea. We tend to test many different initiatives to quickly learn what is working and, more importantly, what isn’t. This particular test was exceptionally successful. To the point where most of my colleagues had to drop everything that they were doing to successfully deliver on the insane amount of interest we received. We set a daily check-in to review the status of critical items, deliverable dates, and next steps to ensure that we were addressing any potential roadblocks head-on and aligning with the objective.

From leadership to interns, it was all hands on deck. There was no time for miscommunication, so everyone was succinct and direct. There was unspoken respect fostered amongst the team because everyone was working just as hard as the next person around a common mission.

This reminded me to take these wonderful learnings and energy to all upcoming initiatives. Although this felt like a fire drill, every task can be approached with the same urgency and enthusiasm at an early stage startup.

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?

LJ Kwak Yang, who is a Leadership Development expert, is a godsend. We met at Techstars. We work together to develop my leadership skills.

At times, I am sure she feels like my therapist, but the best part is that she allows me to vent, then she gives me tangible next steps and exercises. She helps me navigate the ups and downs that come with running your own business.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of Ten Spot’s goals is to focus on improving the workforce’s future and helping change employees’ lives for the better. A huge part of doing this successfully is to address the Diversity & Inclusion issues that companies struggle with today.

No one wants to feel out of place, alone, or like they don’t belong in a team or a company due to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or identity. Unfortunately, many people do.

By helping to promote D&I in the workplace and giving companies the tools they need to make their efforts successful, we think it’s not just a meaningful way to bring goodness to the world, but to help bring equity and equality to the world. And, we practice what we preach.

Ten Spot has a female founder, 40 percent of our board is female, and we have a diverse set of experts that host the services on our platform.

Our Groups feature on Ten Spot’s platform lets employees create and join affinity groups and support social causes. The recognition feature incentivizes and rewards employees who support philanthropic and social advocacy initiatives at their company. Most importantly, our programming includes Diversity and Allyship conversations, which are critical to D&I success in any organization.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”- Denis Waitley.

It is not easy running an early-stage company. I am, ironically, quite risk-averse. This quote reminds me to always take the plunge, make the tough decision, and speak up because any path taken involves risk.

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 value education, and I don’t believe that learning should stop when you leave school. I recently read a report that said to remain relevant in the workforce and your job, you need to be learning and developing new skills at least every four years. This creates one of those challenges that I’d like to help solve, starting with Ten Spot’s customers.

Going back to school is expensive, and it usually doesn’t keep someone in the job market while attending, meaning learning and skill development needs to either occur on the job or with your employer’s support.

We are in the process of rolling out peer-to-peer mentoring on Ten Spot’s platform but envision it going beyond mentoring and expanding into important skills training. This can start with live sessions that are ultimately recorded and archived for use by new employees or anyone needing a refresher course.

I feel if we can help companies do this across the board, we’re helping make education more accessible. Employees can then learn and develop new skills without sacrificing their jobs and without their employers losing them.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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