Syndigo’s Culture of Authenticity Unites Its Global Workforce
With more than 500 employees spread across eight international offices, Syndigo has had to work overtime to establish a unified company culture.
Founded in 1971, the Chicago-based provider of consumer product information and content has grown to serve more than 12,000 brands and in the last two years, has acquired nearly a half-dozen companies.
Building and maintaining a collective culture across offices around the world is no easy feat. Then consider that each company involved in a business acquisition already had its own culture. According to Debra Sampson, director of content operations, bridging those gaps requires finding a common thread between offices. At Syndigo, this cultural through line lies in their five core values: empowerment, innovation, collaboration, authenticity and passion.
No matter their location or history, Syndigo teams are encouraged to interpret and live out those values, Sampson said, adding that the company culture only benefits from its diversity of perspectives and its penchant for authenticity.
We don’t want anyone to feel self-conscious about sharing their views.”
“We are evolving to a culture where we want everyone to be able to bring their authentic self to work every day and be accepting of people’s differences in thought,” Sampson said. “That’s the only way we’ll get to innovate into the space that we need to be in.”
Fostering that mindset requires building a culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas on how to improve the product and culture. Chief of Staff, Commercial Polly Gleneck said Syndigo leaders live out the philosophy, “the best idea wins,” whether it’s backing an employee’s proposal for a new platform feature or encouraging a team to host a new remote event.
Account Executive Chris Calabrese said this flat organizational structure helps employees feel like their opinions matter.
“We don’t want anyone to feel self-conscious about sharing their views or feel that they’ll be immediately dismissed,” Calabrese said. “We want people to feel like their team is listening to them and taking their words to heart.”
Unifying a global culture
Uniting new team members from different companies and locations around a centralized culture requires more than giving new employees the same onboarding packet.
When Calabrese joined Syndigo as a remote new hire six months ago, he said he immediately felt like part of the team because he had instant access to the culture via frequent cross-departmental Zoom calls and vulnerable conversations in Teams chats.
For teams from orgs newly ushered into the Syndigo family, Sampson said the company doesn’t want them to abandon their existing team cultures or sense of uniqueness. Leadership provides opportunities for new teams to engage with Syndigo’s value-driven culture however they’d like.
Calabrese: The onboarding team did a lot to help me feel welcomed as someone that was hired and hadn’t met anyone at the company in-person. My initial training was spread across a wide spectrum and included the history of the company, our competitors, what makes us unique and the “why” behind what we're doing. Getting that deep understanding was really helpful for me.
I found that my team is my greatest asset and resource for everything here. We share success stories and failures and there are so many things I’m able to learn from the other account executives on my teams.
You get to see different ways that people interpret the values, but also different best practices.”
Sampson: I joined in 2013 and now, I get to work with some of the team members from our acquisitions. Since we welcomed the new orgs, we see pockets of team members used to a different culture than Syndigo’s. You get to see different ways that people interpret our values, but also different best practices for dealing with various client or team member situations. Combining all of that together within the entire organization has been interesting.
Gleneck: A lot of sales managers now have more than 10 members on their teams spread across the globe. With such a diverse group of people throughout the company — people coming in from an acquisition or being hired fresh — we have to get creative on how to get those team members rowing in the same direction. We want to foster meaningful connections beyond just having happy hours. So there are teams that have put on virtual “Top Chef”-style cooking competitions, exercise classes and other creative ways to connect.
I think the Teams channels are especially useful for newcomers because they can see that people are transparent about their personal and professional lives. A small resource like that can influence how people act authentically here and interpret our values.
Authenticity during tough times
2020 was a tough year for culture at most companies. At Syndigo, the in-person happy hours, one-on-ones and celebratory high-fives were put on ice. However, Syndigo employees agree that having a culture driven by authenticity allowed team members to remain vulnerable, empathetic and united through the challenges of a turbulent year.
Gleneck: Authenticity was big last year. People were very open and vulnerable. It made a lot of us more humble and connected us in a deeper way that makes me proud to be part of the team. That value helps us address issues quicker, whether they’re related to a client or supporting a team member that’s having a bad day. The openness and transparency of our group is great because we’ve been able to help support each other and support our clients.
Building rapport with people on topics outside of work goes a long way.”
Sampson: We all handle situations and emotions differently. We need to be accepting of the fact that we’re faced with unprecedented times and we don’t know what other people are going through each day. We accept that sometimes emotions can arise in certain situations, like during a meeting. But instead of trying to stop someone from experiencing their feelings, we encourage team members to get it out because we need to hear what they have to say in the moment.
However, we also recognize that not everyone has the desire to be online all the time or to share everything with their managers or co-workers and we embrace that as well.
Calabrese: Being at home adds a personal element to work because we’re in our own spaces so we hear dogs barking or kids crying on calls. We created Microsoft Teams chats to share recipes and pictures of our pets, which have done a great job of bringing people together outside a work environment. We talk about more than performance numbers and product rollouts. Building rapport with people on topics outside of work goes a long way.
‘Every voice is heard’
As Syndigo moves into 2021, Gleneck and Sampson said leadership will continue to encourage team members to speak up and drive change on matters like meeting clients’ shifting needs, and helping one another live out the company values.
Gleneck: We’re looking to build a sustainable culture of inclusivity where every voice is heard and every idea is accepted. We want there to be conversations where people can express their ideas about how the company can innovate on a product or our culture. We make sure people have forums to have these conversations and that they feel heard. We’re always looking for what the best idea is and that’s great because that creates a lot of opportunities.
Throughout my journey, my voice has been heard and I can see that impact within our processes.”
Sampson: Being here is exciting for me because I’m a person that thrives on change and we are continuously changing and reacting to market needs and the needs of our employees.
I started as a temporary data entry person and now I am a content operations director. I know that throughout my journey, my voice has been heard and I can see that impact within our processes. That feels good and I want other people to be able to experience that as well.
Gleneck: Between the craziness of 2020, the nature of our business in e-commerce and the acquisitions, every day presents something different. And I really love that. I love working with smart people that work hard and are dedicated to client success. The people — and knowing that we are making a difference with our clients — is what motivates me to come to work.