For the second year in a row, Kuali was named a Top Workplace in Utah. This award, managed by the Salt Lake Tribune, is given only to the top employers in the state based on employee feedback. Kuali ranked 7th out of thousands of small businesses. Though Kuali may not be the biggest tech company in the state, the following three key characteristics make it a fabulous place to work.
“When I started Kuali, I wanted to build a company where everyone loved to work,” said Joel Dehlin, Kuali CEO. “Employee happiness is every bit as important as customer happiness, if not more. We certainly have our share of problems, but this group of people is fantastic and the company culture that is forming is among the best I’ve seen. I think we’re onto something pretty awesome.”
A business’s vision determines direction. But nowadays, it does even more than that. Over the last 20 years, office-speak has imported “terminology that historically used to be associated with non-profit organizations and religious organizations: terms like vision, values, passion, and purpose,” said Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn. Such terms tend to infuse a deeper meaning into the workplace.
Kuali brings meaning into the workplace with its vision to simplify higher education administration. Higher education has a chronic problem with functional software. Kuali creates solutions that give freedom to higher education administrators and faculty. Our software allows them to spend less time on administration and more time on things they care about: teaching and researching.
“Our product matters.” – BJ Neilsen
As Koehn pointed out, vision statements are meant to inspire allegiance to an organization. Kuali’s vision inspires allegiance in employees because they have the opportunity to “solve difficult problems for clients,” according to a recent employee survey. Kuali’s vision involves employees helping others in ways they may not be able to do so themselves.
“Core values are at the heart of your culture,” said Gary Peterson, CEO at Gap Intelligence. “By hiring based on values and holding each other accountable to the company’s standards, the values become the fabric of the organization’s culture.” Kuali has six core values: assume the best, deliver amazing experiences, iterate to evolve, cultivate openness, act with accountability and practice humility.
Our values are more than words pasted on the office wall. They define who Kuali is. They dictate how employees act. Values inform decisions and play a significant role in the hiring process. “If you hire people who lie, cheat, and steal, in time your company culture will be the same,” said Peterson.
A service called Bonusly keeps the Kuali values top of mind. Employees have a small budget each week to send to another employee as a “micro-bonus” for exemplifying one of the core values. Bonusly’s effect on Kuali is twofold: first, all employees know what the core values look like in action, and second, they are constantly searching for them. It gives employees a chance to call out great behavior in a public way.
It’s not only nice to be noticed, but it also makes employees happier when they recognize excellence of others. “It is worth keeping in mind that even little things have a beneficial effect—like bringing coffee to one’s office mates in the morning,” said Philippe Tobler, associate professor of neuroeconomics and social neuroscience at the University of Zurich. In his study on generosity and happiness, he found “the amount [the giver spends] did not matter.” It’s not about the gift, it’s about the giving. Giving, or recognizing others, leads to higher morale in the workplace. A happy workplace means happy employees, and that leads to a better bottom line.
“This group of people is fantastic and the company culture that is forming is among the best I’ve seen.” – Joel Dehlin
Workplace flexibility adds additional satisfaction at Kuali. Managers allow employees to work from home or even on the road. BJ Neilsen, software developer, works while traveling abroad with his family. Flexibility was, without rival, the most repeated favorite aspect of working for Kuali in an employee survey. Nearly 50% of Kuali employees work remotely.
“To attract and retain talent, you have to work with [employees] to customize their jobs,” said Meghan Biro, founder of TalentCulture. “This makes people feel valued, which leads to peak performance. The key is to be flexible and collaborative with hours and location.”
Vision and culture are the bones of the company. People give it personality. The following quotes illustrate why employees see Kuali as a top workplace in Utah.
“I’m always learning from my peers,” states a Glassdoor review from a senior software engineer. “I never feel like I’m the smartest in the room, but neither does anyone else. [I see] lots of humility from the people.”
“At Kuali there are less processes, obstacles and overhead preventing engineers from being able to create,” said Tom Valletta, senior engineer at Kuali. “Being an engineer, I want a challenge and I want to learn. Building another web application is not a challenge. But building a platform that enables universities to educate efficiently is; it hasn’t been done yet.” Valletta also enjoys the challenge of working with intelligent peers. He added, “Working with the smartest people challenges me by forcing me to see things from different perspectives and learn better ways approach problems.”
Gayathri Athreya, a female engineer, is impressed by the company’s ethics. “I love working for Kuali because of the values and ethics that our CEO [Joel Dehlin] promotes. [Dehlin] always emphasizes practicing humility and the well-being of the employees. Those are two aspects that really mean a lot to me. On several occasions, I’ve noticed that he doesn’t just talk the talk but he actually walks the talk.” Athreya spends some of her company time to teach a local class of young girls how to code.