‘We Don’t Tolerate the Drunk Uncle’: ConsumerAffairs Builds a Cutting-Edge Culture in an Unlikely Place
I’m going to tell you about a company. This company offers perks like unlimited PTO, a vacation stipend, video games in the office, an onsite keg, and something called “Bacon Fridays.”
Now, if you had to guess where this company was located, what would you say?
If you guessed Silicon Valley, that’s totally understandable – but it’s wrong.
If you guessed Tulsa, Oklahoma – and you didn’t, because who would? – you’d actually be right.
The bacon-wielding company described above is ConsumerAffairs, which makes its home in the often overlooked city of Tulsa. And according to Eric Jenkins, the company’s COO, that’s not as bad a thing as you might think it is.
“It’s true that, in San Francisco, you can hit a software engineer just walking down the street,” Jenkins says. “In Tulsa, there aren’t as many – but there are a lot of people in those ‘tier-one’ cities who are getting tired of the rat race and the cost of living. They’re looking to cities like Tulsa for a better quality of life.”
ConsumerAffairs has been actively recruiting these defectors (along with homegrown talent from Tulsa), which has allowed the company to build an oasis of Silicon Valley-style company culture in a Midwestern outpost.
Nothing against the Midwest, but it’s not exactly synonymous with cutting-edge business practices – but that could change, thanks to companies like ConsumerAffairs.
Perks ≠ Culture
It can be tough to sum up an entire company culture in just a few words, but Jenkins has two “mantras” that he believes accurately reflect the atmosphere at ConsumerAffairs: “Work hard, play hard” and “Freedom and responsibility.”
“We’re not a family – we don’t tolerate the drunk uncle,” Jenkins says. “We’re an all-star team. We want to be the team that’s winning the championship.”
And this is where the perks come in: as rewards for the all-star players who help the company score big wins.
Jenkins stresses the importance of separating perks from company culture. The two are related, but they are not synonymous.
“A lot of companies have cool perks, but really, culture is about the attitudes and behaviors of everyone in the office,” Jenkins says.
For Jenkins, company culture starts way before perks even enter the picture. It begins with recruiting efforts.
“To build a great culture, you have to continuously align and bring people in who align with your values and the tenets of your culture,” he says.
When people walk into ConsumerAffairs’ offices for the fist time, they’re often floored by environment: the bar, the recreation areas, the gorgeous view of Tulsa. That’s a good thing, and Jenkins is glad that the workplace environment sparks such passion and interest in prospective employees, but he also stresses the stringency of ConsumerAffairs’ hiring process.
Just because you want to work for the company, that doesn’t mean you’re going to.
“Not everyone gets hired. It’s a strenuous process that we follow to hire someone,” Jenkins says. “We make it about a person’s fit. Sure, they need skills, but the other half is, they need to demonstrate the behaviors and values we hold dear. If they don’t, they don’t get hired.”
Blazing a Trail in Tulsa
“There’s probably nothing else like [our office] in Tulsa,” Jenkins says.
But he doesn’t want it to stay that way: ConsumerAffairs wants to play a role in changing the working world of this city.
“We want to have an impact on Tulsa, and we believe we are,” Jenkins explains. “We’re a smaller business relative to some others in Tulsa, and we’re recruiting people out of the larger companies here. They’re coming to work for us. People find our work environment and culture refreshing, as opposed to the drop ceilings and cubicle farms elsewhere.”
Jenkins hopes that other organizations in Tulsa will take notice and start adopting similar polices, perks, and practices. And if they do, they’re likely to see some solid benefits: ConsumerAffairs has a 92 percent retention rate.
Following in ConsumerAffairs’ footsteps means making some conscious decisions about the kind of culture and perks a company is going to offer employees. While Jenkins says that some of the perks on hand at ConsumerAffairs – like Bacon Fridays – arose organically, many of the perks were strategically chosen for the ways in which they would incentivize the right culture-aligned behaviors.
For example, there’s ConsumerAffairs’ unlimited PTO and vacation stipend policy, under which employees receive two percent of their salaries to subsidize a five-day vacation somewhere.
ConsumerAffairs chose this perk not simply because it was cool or trendy, but because it made sense for the company’s workforce.
“If you have all-star players and a team that is committed, dedicated, and passionate about what they are doing, the big problem is they will work too hard. They’ll work themselves to death,” Jenkins says. “That’s why we decided to do the vacation stipend. It was us saying, ‘You need to take time off, you need to recharge, so we’re going to help you do that.’”
And if you’re not sure what kinds of perks you’ll need to incentivize the right behaviors at your organization, take a page from ConsumerAffairs’s book and just copy another company.
“We looked at what other companies were doing, and we stole from the best,” Jenkins says.
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