Growing (and Keeping) a Culture that Puts People First
When David Cronin and Chris Izquierdo founded DevFacto Technologies, their recipe for success was simple: happy employees = satisfied customers = thriving business.
It’s a theory that most companies understand conceptually, but stumble (or just plain fail) when laying the groundwork for how the organization will operate culturally. Fortunately for Cronin and Izquierdo, when they got together in 2007 to start their IT consulting agency, both of them had seen and lived through enough bureaucratic work experiences to know how they didn’t want to operate—and more importantly, the type of culture they did want to create.
“We wanted to take a common sense approach. Our culture is closer to that of a start-up than that of a typical consulting agency,” Izquierdo explains. “We thought a lot about how we would deal with conflict and problems. We didn’t like politics or agendas so we eliminated all of that from the beginning and focused on one goal: let’s be successful as one team.”
In practice, their vision translated to no excessive layers of management, no unnecessary work policies and no human resources department. Those ideas were easy enough to implement when the business was just the two of them and a handful of programmers. In 2015, the Edmonton-based group is rolling with a staff of more than 100 satellite offices in Calgary and Regina, and on track to do $14 million in business this year.
The number that may mean the most to Cronin and Izquierdo is 98%—the company’s retention rate.
From the beginning, the pair was intentional about the type of workers they wanted to attract: self-motivated, independent and accountable. A team of like-minded self-starters wouldn’t require a complex management hierarchy. When conflict did arise, Cronin and Izquierdo could handle it, opting for a less heavy-handed and more personal approach.
“We started out on the right foot dealing with every problem, understanding there’s a human behind that problem,” Cronin says. “We didn’t try to solve problems in a spreadsheet and didn’t want to come up with whole bunch of HR policies. We did it ourselves, which takes a lot of time and energy.”
There was also the question of how their methods would scale. Izquierdo remembers a lot of people telling them that their approach just wouldn’t work, as they grew. They were able to scale, but eventually the pair stopped handling every issue themselves and hired people who shared their same values, keeping the company structure as flat as possible.
Having received multiple awards including Alberta’s Best Workplaces, Alberta Venture’s Fast Growth 50 and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 (awarded to David and Chris), their secret sauce is working. This year, DevFacto reached 78 on the 2015 PROFIT 500 list of Canada’s fastest growing companies.
While they’ve experience tremendous success over the last seven years, Izquierdo says there’s a limit to how much they will continue to grow, having put a cap on how big they want any given office to become. He elaborates, “At some point, when you stop knowing the first and last names of everyone, the culture suffers.”
Still very much focused on people, Cronin and Izquierdo are figuring out how to delegate control and grow the next level of leadership at DevFacto. No longer the drivers of every move or decision, the two are navigating the sometimes difficult terrain of letting others sign off and share in key responsibilities that will propel the company forward in coming years.
As Vistage members, they both feel their own growth and maturity as leaders has accelerated tremendously over the years. The exposure to other CEOs and top executives in varying industries has helped them prepare for their next cycle of growth, as well as deal with the economic downturn Alberta is facing as a result of the drop in oil prices.
“Very few companies are growing in the current climate,” Cronin explains. “Vistage has helped us there as well with putting together a contingency plan if the situation continues. They’ve really helped us prepare for the future by adding more tools to our tool belt.”