How Article Puts Employees First, Even During Hyper-Growth
Article is a direct-to-consumer furniture retailer bringing customers beautiful modern furniture and decor at unrivaled prices.
With a background in management consulting, organizational development, and change strategy, Jennifer is no stranger to putting people first. Now, as Article’s Talent and Learning Development Manager, she focuses on setting her employees up with the skills and knowledge they need to lead long, successful careers at the company.
Lattice Grow provides the tool for us to share career tracks to support great career conversations and development plans, while also providing guidance for people leaders and supporting Particles’ career aspirations.
Founded in 2011, Article is a Vancouver-based modern furniture brand that helps customers create beautiful modern spaces. Since the company's website launch in 2013, Article has experienced explosive growth with more than 1300 employees scattered across 20+ locations. To show just how fast the Article team is growing – in just one year since Talent and Learning Development Manager Jennifer McMillan joined the company, the team has more than doubled in size.
But even through this period of hyper-growth, Article has successfully scaled its strong company culture, and continued to see high levels of engagement even throughout the pandemic. That’s due in part to the People and Culture team’s commitment to their People mission: Relentlessly pursue a remarkable Particle experience that drives our business strategy. If you’re not in the know, “Particles” is what the company calls its employees — it’s a shortened and more fun version of the phrase “the people of Article.”
Today, as the company continues to grow at a rapid pace, the People and Culture team is focused on hiring top talent and putting strong people practices in place to support Article’s current and future goals. The items at the top of their priority list? Creating a feedback culture and adding clarity around internal career path opportunities.
Prior to Lattice, most of Article’s talent development programs were fairly manual, with the team depending on Google Docs and Google Forms to conduct performance reviews and engagement surveys, respectively. “We saw how quickly we were growing and realized we couldn’t continue to do things manually. This wasn't going to be scalable,” says Jennifer. “We needed something that could allow us to grow, help improve our talent development programs, and build processes that were more in line with our mission.”
The team also took a very traditional approach to performance reviews, having only managers weigh in on their direct report’s performance. The Article People and Culture team wanted a way to introduce 360-degree reviews at scale to reduce bias as well as provide Particles with a greater understanding of how their contributions are viewed by others to help them improve. To take things one step further, the team wanted to understand how performance and development were interconnected at the company. “We had no real big picture view of how performance management fit in with development planning,” shares Jennifer. “As we continue to grow, we need a way to better understand what our Particles’ knowledge, skills, and abilities are so we can identify gaps and know where to focus our learning and development and recruiting efforts.”
The Article team also wanted to improve transparency around career development opportunities, an improvement highly requested by Particles. “This is something that has really been driven by the Particles. They want more clarity on career paths and what skills they need to build in order to move to a different department or move up within their area,” shares Jennifer. “When they get their performance review and hear they're doing fantastic, they want to know what’s next.” While the company had no formally documented career paths, the People and Culture team was determined to change that with the help of a new People strategy platform.
Lattice was a no-brainer for Article since it was the only platform that had performance, engagement, and career pathing all in one. The team loved the idea of having performance and engagement data on the same platform, so they could easily build a holistic, interconnected experience for Particles. Plus, the team loved Lattice’s easy-to-use design. “We have quite a diverse workforce – from those who are on their computers all day to those who work in our warehouses or deliver furniture – so we knew we needed something very simple for people to adopt. [Lattice] being mobile friendly and integrating with Slack and our HRIS were nice additions, too!” shares Jennifer.
The team uses Lattice’s Engagement and Performance tools to run two engagement surveys and two review cycles per year. “Lattice helps us to collect better and more reliable data. This has, in turn, enabled us to better understand our workforce and respond and act more meaningfully based on this feedback,” says Jennifer.
Jennifer and her team were even able to use this data to identify learning and development opportunities as well. “One of the interesting, unexpected ways we use the data is to evaluate every Particle on our company’s unique guiding principles. We look at the data and see where people at different levels — managers, directors, and individual contributors — score lower to identify areas of development that we really need to focus on,” shares Jennifer. “That really helps inform our learning and development priorities because we know exactly which guiding principles we need to build more learning opportunities for.”
In addition to reviews, the Article team has been hard at work behind the scenes using Lattice Grow to build over 70 unique career tracks complete with competencies for roles across the entire organization. While this project has been months in the making, the team is ready to launch. According to Jennifer, “Lattice Grow provides the tool for us to share career tracks to support great career conversations and development plans, while also providing guidance for people leaders and supporting Particles’ career aspirations.” One of the main reasons the Article team partnered with Lattice, Grow is one of the company’s most hotly-anticipated roll-outs and Jennifer and her team are confident it will be met with much excitement.
The company’s first 360-degree performance review with Lattice Reviews was a hit with Particles and the company’s People and Culture team. Particles loved hearing constructive feedback from their peers and the company experienced an overwhelming completion rate of 95% with over 1,800 reviews completed. “The feedback we got on this was fantastic, particularly around the peer review aspect. Even though it took more time, people really found the value in it in terms of understanding how they could grow,” shares Jennifer.
When it came to the new review process, the company’s People and Culture team found that it provided them valuable insight into their workforce in ways they had never had before. “Our People and Culture team now has greater visibility into which teams are having performance conversations and what kind of feedback is being given,” she shares. “That's empowering us to be more effective as a People and Culture team in all aspects — from how we communicate with Particles to how we can be more effective business partners and give them the support they need.”
After the review, the team sent a follow-up survey to collect feedback on the process and ask Particles how they could improve future performance cycles. “Collecting and taking action on this feedback really set us up to be successful for then continuing to launch other aspects of the tool,” states Jennifer. Plus, learning that 83% of Particles found Lattice easy to use reaffirmed to the People and Culture team that they had made the right choice partnering with Lattice.
And while the Article team was initially concerned whether its warehouse and delivery teams would find Lattice easy to use or find the time to take surveys while on the go, they were surprised to find these Particles were actually more engaged than the other teams. For one Pulse survey, about half of respondents were from warehouse associates and delivery drivers. For the company’s semi-annual engagement survey, the People and Culture team works with these Particles’ managers to dedicate 15 minutes at the beginning or end of their shift to sit at a computer or use Lattice’s mobile app to complete the survey.
One unexpected win from partnering with Lattice was the overwhelming adoption of one feature the People and Culture team didn’t pay too much attention to: 1:1s. “We didn't have it in our initial rollout strategy or host any special training on it,” says Jennifer. “We ended up just opening it up for a few teams to try, one of which was our engineering team which now has over 95% of the department using the tool for their one-on-ones.” All the feedback Jennifer has received so far has been positive, with managers and individual contributors alike finding it helpful and “Just the tool I was looking for to help me with my one-on-ones.”
But by far, the biggest win for the People and Culture team was bringing all of their performance, engagement, and (in just a short while) professional growth data together on one system. This not only helps the team build a complete picture of the employee experience at Article, but it also allows them to be more strategic about future program improvements and launches. “Lattice helped us create an experience that is more holistic and less ad hoc,” says Jennifer. “Before, we were not understanding how everything fits together and it was holding us back from creating our development plans and, ultimately, helping Particles to be successful. Having it all in one place has been a game-changer.”
And Article is just getting started with Lattice. With the company’s career paths launching, the team is excited to see what else the platform can help them achieve and, not to mention, what else they can learn from Particles. The secret to Article’s rapid growth and ability to always put Particles first? Trying new things and adapting, reveals Jennifer. “I wouldn't say that any of our programs are set in stone. It's more, ‘let's try something, let's get feedback on it, and then we continue to evolve it,” shares Jennifer. “They're always changing because we're always getting feedback from our team members on what's working and what's not, and then changing our game plan based on that.” That’s a strategy that any sized business can learn from.