For most fast-growing companies, it's hard enough just meeting day-to-day demands such as building the customer base and adding to the talent base, let alone living up to the spirit and principles at the heart of the company. But Employease — a young, Atlanta-based firm that helps companies to automate their HR, benefits, and payroll operations — has managed to keep its overarching vision alive. The four-year-old outfit, whose clients include MindSpring and Ocean Spray, has transformed a monthly all-hands meeting — called First Friday — into a raucous, creative embodiment of its mission.
Employees use the meeting to review financial results and to give sales updates. But, according to Mike Seckler, 27, cofounder and VP of strategic marketing, First Friday mixes things up by including anything-goes presentations and by connecting raw data to long-term vision: "No matter what we do," he says, "we put it in the context of building a great company."
Mission possible. "Everything about this meeting is designed to make our strategic mission tangible. When we talk about creating a world-class brand, we do it in the context of how all employees can contribute to reaching that goal. And when a VP of customer service dresses in drag to portray a game-show hostess, that says something about us: We're not a great company if we're not having fun."
New-employee stand-up. "New employees stand up and talk about their background and their decision to join Employease. We always give them a standing ovation. This does more than welcome new folks. When a new hire says, 'I wanted to work for the Amazon.com of Atlanta,' it reminds veterans of how special this place is."
"First Friday is a mix of straight talk, town-hall discussion, and vaudeville. After we welcome new employees, members of the management team discuss financial results and operational news. If the topic is our next big release, then we'll talk about how critical it is that we make our deadlines. Next, teams give presentations on our new strategic partnerships, our recent successes, and our benchmarks. Because we don't want the meeting to be predictable, we let the teams decide the format of each presentation. Thus, the business-development team is known for its clever yet on-target skits."
"We used to sit on the floor in our customer-service area. Now we meet in a nearby auditorium. At the rate we're growing, we'll need to look for a new space soon."
A version of this article appeared in the April 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.