Create a higher purpose.
Athena does some of the most unrewarding and mind-numbing work on the planet. But don't tell that to their employees. Bush and Park have managed to reframe athena's work as nothing less than a heroic effort to help doctors focus on medicine, which in turn will result in everyone getting better and more responsive medical care.
Bare your soul.
At athena, good news and bad news alike is shared, not hidden. Bush and Park share the company's growth goals and tell personal stories, even embarrassing ones, in order to get their points across. And everyone in the organization, even hourly workers, undergoes a 360-degree feedback process.
Leverage your best innovators — employees and customers.
At athena, every employee is empowered to suggest adding a new rule to the rules engine. And every customer is encouraged not only to submit new rules but also to give feedback on any part of the process, either through customer-service specialists, user conferences, or via the Web site itself.
Know when to change tacks.
Now that athena is morphing from a startup into a more mature company, Bush and Park have decided that they must make the culture more collaborative and less individualistic. "Now we want to celebrate people who build this community," says Bush, "and actively decelebrate the person who does their own heroics when they could have used that energy to bring up lesser players."
A version of this article appeared in the July 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.