Not too long after our meeting with Simon Sinek we start the Next Jump culture tour in their offices on Fifth Avenue, New York. The tour is guided by one of the employees, Amir. He leads us through the office where we learn more about their unique office culture, beliefs and practices. Right after the tour we meet with co-CEOs Charlie Kim and Meghan Messenger. Their perspectives are unique, inspiring, and unlike you’ve seen in traditional workplaces.
Charlie Kim, founder and co-CEO of technology company Next Jump, started the company in 1994 as a college coupon business. Nowadays it’s the worlds largest provider of employee savings and rewards programs. What sets Next Jump apart is their culture and focus on personal development. Next Jump proves that the combination of caring for your employees and helping them grow as human beings is possible while making money and helping the world become a better place. Their mission clearly conveys this belief:
Next Jump, a for-profit company, invests its time and resources in growing its people (Better Me) for the purpose of helping others (Better You) which leads to a better world (Better Us).
For Charlie and Meghan, a culture focused on personal development is at the core of their business. Their belief of “Better Me + Better You = Better Us” is the basis for the Next Jump culture. Their culture is so important to them that employees spend 50% of their time on growth and development, while the other 50% is focused on growing their business. The personal development of Next Jump employees is encouraged through their own specific development model. This model consists of 4 separate training modules as illustrated in the pyramid aside.
Charlie shared a special childhood experience with us that helped him build the culture at Next Jump. It brought him the vision to build a company that would make his mother and farther proud.
As a young child Charlie lived in Nigeria for a period of time. The local fruit over there was of terrible quality. Charlie witnessed his mother saving the best mango pits and seeds of other fruits to plant them in their backyard. In an attempt to be smarter than his mother, Charlie went up to her and said; “Mom, don’t you know that trees take years to grow. We only are going to stay here for about two years. Why are you doing this?” His mom replied with one simple statement: “because it’s the right thing to do”. As it turns out, Charlie and his family lived in Nigeria for 17 years, and ended up having the best fruit in the community, which they would share for miles around.
Charlie and Meghan underline the importance of personal growth on preventing burn-outs. They refer to research by the Harvard School of Education that shows that “the single biggest cause of burnout at work is not ‘work overload’ but being too long in a work-setting without experiencing your own further unfolding”. At Next Jump they fight this phenomenon by training their employees to be leaders, and Charlie and Meghan truly believe that everyone within the organization can become one. They use the 4 levels of development to train their employees by raising their potential and reducing their weaknesses. It’s the power of peer influence that is a driving aspect for their training and feedback methods.
While walking through their office it becomes clear that physical development is the most visual aspect of Next Jump’s culture. The desks are surrounded by healthy snacks and drinks, the office has a yoga/napping room and there’s a large fitness area. Meghan underlines their focus on physical health by stating that they encourage all employees to visit the gym regularly, at least 2 times a week. They even have an app that encourages physical fitness by allowing employees to track each others fitness activity and therefore adding a competitive element to it. And it seems to work; when we actually visit the fitness area, around 15.00h, we find one of their employees working out with one of their personal trainers.
Personal development is tough and Charlie admits that keeping the focus on doing things that feel right is the hardest. And it doesn’t always make you happy. In their believe the true form of happiness is long-term happiness. We ask them if all employees are as enthusiastic as they are about the strong focus on the physical training. Charlie replies: “We just make it difficult to do bad things and easy to do good things. We believe a healthy body is important for everyone, therefore we encourage it as much as possible.”
In an attempt to train their emotional aspects, Next Jumpers are very keen on providing and receiving feedback. They have an app in place to evaluate individual and team performance and employees are encouraged to attend situational workshops. But most interesting to us is a concept which they call ‘Talking Partners’. Talking Partners (or TPs) is a buddy system in which employees provide each other with feedback and discuss their personal progress on a daily basis. You are free to pick whoever you want as a TP because the leadership believes it is of utmost importance to have a high-trust, personal relationship based on mutual learning.
Our ‘tour guide’ Amir shared with us the importance of having a suitable and complementary TP. For him (as a sales person) to develop a broader understanding of the overall business it was important to buddy up with a TP with a technical background. He admits that this move helped him to develop himself in many new ways. The openness and high-trust relationship is emphasized by the nickname the Next Jumpers use for TPs: Toilet Paper, “since they are the ones that take all our shit”.
There’s a strong belief at Next Jump that most learning should be done on the job. However, they do reserve roughly 10% of their working time on the development of additional skills. There are several different ways of how Next Jumpers train their mental skills. There are technical workshops available (to increase technical capabilities), ‘First Fridays’ (a monthly recurring technical training as, you can guess it, on the first Friday of each month), CEOTalks (where successful CEOs such as Arianna Huffington and Tony Hsieh share their experience), and Hackathons. Most of these development programs are publicly available. So, if you feel inspired and want to benefit from the training as well, check out Next Jump’s YouTube channel for more details.
Charlie stresses the fact that what the employees actually learn during the training is subsequently practiced during the other 90% of their time. Employees are encouraged to put their new skills to the test; and failure is regarded as learning. The welcoming of failure is something we’ve seen in other organizations as well (such as Dutch municipality Hollands Kroon) and is something that we highly believe in. No failure means that you are not pushing yourself and/or the organization far enough. You will learn barely anything and end up with minimal progress. It translates seamlessly to our own project: we make way more mistakes than we did during our corporate jobs, but we learn at a rate that is completely incomparable to our learning rate over the last few months.
The last pillar of Next Jump culture is their focus on having a sense of purpose. By improving themselves and the community, they want to help the world to become a better place. Projects such as ‘Adopt a School’ and ‘Code For a Cause’ proof they put there money where their mouth is. With the ‘Adopt a School’ program they use their time and expertise to teach children on four different subjects: robotics, coding, health&wellness, and business skills. ‘Code for a Cause’ is similar to what we’ve seen in the Spanish company Cyberclick, where programmers use their expertise to support non-profit organizations at no charge whatsoever.
In previous blog posts we’ve often discussed a higher purpose being beneficial to employee engagement and happiness. The practices we’ve seen in real-life at Next Jump are practical ways of creating a higher purpose for the organization. It brings employees together, gives them a sense of pride, and makes them feel they are working on things bigger than themselves. It is like Charlie’s mom growing crops for the next generation.
Practice what you preach
After a highly inspiring and energizing talk with Charlie and Meghan, they tell us they have to end the conversation. The reason they have to leave is a good example of practicing what you preach: their spinning class is about to start. They invite us to join, but unfortunately our clothing is not suited for a hard core spinning class. Besides… NYC is awaiting us and we’ll be working on our physical health with a nice stroll in the City that never sleeps…