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Why Transparency Is Wave's Secret to Culture at Scale

"Part event planner, negotiator, cat wrangler, inventor, recruiter, mentor, confidant, friend, legal counsellor, injector of good humor, dog-petter, magician, One Direction fan, and member of the Unicorn Squad. How's that for a job description?"
Why Transparency Is Wave's Secret to Culture at Scale

by Melissa Ramos

Kathryn Torangeau works at Wave, a Toronto-based fintech startup with a wide range of accounting tools and services for small businesses.

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Can you tell me a little about your role as a People and Culture Manager at Wave? What are your day-to-day and high level responsibilities?

My role at Wave is a bit hard to summarize: Part event planner, negotiator, cat wrangler, inventor, recruiter, mentor, confidant, friend, legal counsellor, injector of good humor, dog-petter, magician, One Direction fan, and member of the Unicorn Squad. How's that for a job description?

Right now, Wave is continuing on our massive growth phase (we just went from 90 to 150 people in less than 6 months) and we’re still growing, so I start my day by checking our ATS (Applicant Tracking System) and seeing where I need to pick up in terms of code challenges, phone screens, arranging face-to-face interviews, and giving timely feedback to all candidates and applicants.

With so many phenomenal new hires, we've recreated our onboarding program to make it the best possible experience for all involved. When people start here at Wave, it’s three days of intense learning about our company, our products, our teams, and then our newest Wavers (guppies? minnows? It’s in the works) are handed over to their specific teams.

I manage Benefits and Wellness for Wave, as well as Employer Branding and other initiatives like Diversity & Inclusion programs. There are many exciting pieces in the works for us all the time at Wave. Mostly, I do my best to eliminate obstacles for the rest of my team so that they can be their best selves and do their best work.

Wave has been recognized as having a particularly strong corporate culture. What do you think the most impactful factor has been in creating that kind of environment?

Our culture is the outcome of our behaviours, and our Values dictate the way we behave and make decisions.

At Wave, our Purpose and Values are not just writing on the walls, rather behaviours that we use in all our decisions, processes and activities. It's incredibly important that our values are lived each day by those who surround us.

As an example, within our Wavey walls, we are incredibly collaborative and communicative. Many new Wavers are surprised by the level of transparency. Kirk (our CEO) has been known to post screenshots of our bank accounts at Townhalls and get quite specific in terms of how we are measuring up against our goals and how that is relevant to us personally.

We're incredibly fortunate to have such a fantastic team of folks who are well balanced in terms of IQ and EQ. Settling for less on either of those pieces isn't worth it. Wave doesn't half-ass anything, and we're not about to start. Hiring "competent jerks" just isn't worth it to us. Building a team that solves challenging problems, and is passionate about the customers we serve is far too important to settle for less.

Provoking greatness in each other — our work, the way we problem-solve, how we think, and how we execute — is possible because we're all working towards the same bold, ambitious goals.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your role?

Be open. Be open to experiences — doing things differently, thinking in a different way, communicating ideas that scare you — and be open to listening.

We’re so incredibly collaborative and I firmly believe that considering alternative perspectives makes an idea stronger. You’re opening yourself up to vulnerability, criticism, rejection, sure, but the outcome is an opportunity to learn and create and develop in a way that could be better than you might’ve ever expected.

It can be a really scary thing to publish an unpolished thought to a team of smart, talented people, but having a great foundation of trust and transparency within the team allows you to be vulnerable because you trust that each other’s intentions are good.

How do you identify and anticipate cultural changes?

This is a big question. Something we’ve been working on at Wave is overcoming the cultural changes that result of our growth from 90 to 150+. We have very ambitious goals and the organization is going to continue to grow in order to really deliver with excellence.

We had to be realistic and acknowledge that it was going to be tough to maintain the small-feeling, tight-knit place Wave has been for the past 6 years when we’ve almost doubled in size. Something we spent a lot of time thinking about was the qualities or features of what has made Wave such a great place to be over the past 6 years.

We tackled this head on by identifying our shared values as a team, and continuing to add folks to the team who also share these same values. We’ve used Fortay (a culture and engagement software tool) extensively, and frequently use engagement surveys, team dynamic surveys, have conversations, connect with people in all areas of the org in order to keep a live pulse of what those values really mean to each other.

The People & Culture team recently launched an initiative called “Lunch with Leadership.” Everyone is super busy at Wave with lots going on, but we connect a group of people who might not otherwise interact regularly through their typical day, and have an Executive join them for lunch to hang out and get a feel for what’s going on in their respective worlds.

These initiatives have helped us in building shared and genuine connections that translate in our ability to deliver results faster and better… Don’t get me wrong; that doesn’t mean we all think the same or approach problems in the same way. It just means we value the same things, and that shared set of values is really what’s driving us.

Our culture at Wave is the outcome of our behaviours, not the other way around. They keep us sane when it’s a particularly chaotic day. When I’m wrangling cats (like I often do), the values I know I share with my team is what help me navigate those cultural shifts as we continue to scale.

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