How FiveStars is creating a community-based workplace

The FiveStars mission is to turn every transaction with a customer into a thriving relationship for their merchants. They decided to take that same philosophy internally, creating a relationship-based community at work. Claudia Fry, VP of People Operations at FiveStars says, “We want to turn every work relationship into a long-lasting authentic relationship that goes beyond FiveStars, becoming part of an employee’s life and career.”

FiveStars believes communities come first and building a company that closely mirrors impactful communities goes beyond the idea of just building a culture. They believe culture will evolve into community with a heavy focus on building authentic relationships. Fry and Courtney Bigony, Employee Success Researcher at FiveStars, share their thoughts on this evolution and how they create and maintain a sense of community and belonging at work.

How culture and community work together

Culture is often built from the top down; a group of founders decides on the direction of the organization and sets out company values. Fry believes this method sets a good foundation, but as organizations grow, they must give ownership to the people. “If we give people that ownership, we end up seeing amazing things happen within the community,” says Fry.

When people are empowered to take culture into their own hands, they can create a thriving community. Fry elaborates, “To me, community comes from team members within the organization. It’s great to have set values, but after that it’s really up to the people at your organization to maintain the community. They do that by defining and living the values everyday, by standing up for what’s right and having a strong voice, by calling each other out, and supporting each other at the same time. The goal is to help bring out the best in one another and remove obstacles that don’t help us get there.” If you have a collective group of people looking out for the values of the company, the culture becomes stronger because everyone becomes an owner. Fry adds that when people feel ownership, it strengthens their connection to the organization and people within it.

Building authentic relationships into the employee lifecycle

Because their goal is to create a community-based culture, the People Operations philosophy at FiveStars is grounded in building authentic relationships into the employee experience. They begin the team member lifecycle with a relationship-based onboarding program grounded in leading academic research from Francesca Gino (Harvard Business School), Daniel Cable (London Business School), and Bradley Staats (University of North Carolina). Bigony says, “During our onboarding process, new hires at FiveStars spend time focused on revealing their authentic and best self. We’ve designed programs to help coaches and team members get to know each other on a deeper level. They take part in a workshop to uncover their authentic strengths - an important part of FiveStars’ community approach.”

After this individual session, they meet with their coach (the title for managers at FiveStars) to get to know each other. The new hire and coach both share and talk through their strengths, their peak performance, their main motivations, recognition preferences and more. Fry says, “In addition to the social science research, our approach is based off of the John Maxwell leadership model, which is about building a solid foundation of trust from the beginning with your new team members. I think this approach not only makes people feel like they belong to something bigger, but it connects them to FiveStars, their purpose and how they can contribute to the company in the most effective way possible. This in turn creates a highly engaged community that is working together towards a goal. Highly engaged communities result in better, more efficient processes and ways of working, and ultimately helping team members to their best possible work here.”

This employee-centric onboarding process sets the tone for FiveStars’ community-based workplace. As Fry says, people need to know that there is a purpose for them at work. “There are people here to support new hires and they also have a responsibility to support the community. It's an agreement that we have amongst each other. And it is impactful to see it in action,” she says.

How can people be their authentic selves at work?

When people are allowed to be authentic at work, it builds trusting relationships within the community. Bigony says, “Our focus shifts from the day to day tasks, to the question of ‘How do I help this company and this community thrive?’ and ‘How do I do my best possible work?’” At FiveStars, their community is built on authenticity and it’s real. People hold each other to that value in a very powerful way.

Employee engagement at FiveStars is seen on their Passion Wall

One of the programs that supports this value is FiveStars’ passion fund. Every year people are given a budget to pursue a passion that they love, or try something new. Fry says people use their passion fund individually, but many choose to pair up with other members of the community. Everyone’s experiences are shared on a company Slack channel, and on a passion wall at FiveStars’ offices. The stories shared around these experiences spark conversations and build connections internally. Bigony says, “In addition to the Passion Fund, team members connect with team members across the United States and in different departments through a program called, Spark Collaboration. The conversations are enriching, and these meetings help people connect with the larger community, building a sense of belonging.”

Community and employee engagement at FiveStars

Bigony, who runs FiveStars employee engagement surveys says, “Belonging is the top driver of engagement at FiveStars and it has been for the last few years.” In the two years since they’ve launched their philosophy on building strong communities through authentic relationships, they’ve seen the impact through employee engagement surveys.

“We’ve seen our engagement survey scores rise by 9% to 86% total engagement across 380 people in over 13 states. This is 15% above benchmark amongst over 150 companies nationwide. Engaged employees means higher productivity and strong company results,” says Bigony. Most of us seek a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves, and community at work is one way FiveStars is fulfilling this need.

When asked, “What's your favorite part about FiveStars?” on a recent engagement survey, here’s what a few FiveStars’ employees said: 

  • People really care about each other on a human level.
  • The community and relationships I've built here.
  • My team, they allow me to come to work and be my true self. They also care about me and my life outside of work. They are my real friends.
  • The people. We care about each other in a way I haven't always known at other companies. I care about this place and want it to succeed.
Fry believes this community-based model is creating a new lifecycle of employee experience and engagement. She says, “Powerful employee experiences give way to healthy communities. Communities engage team members. Highly engaged employees have a strong sense of purpose. A strong sense of purpose produces results. This is the new lifecycle of the employee experience.”

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