Make work better

A new vision for Charlie’s software — it’s time to go beyond just HR

It’s 2021, and our expectations towards work have shifted, irreversibly. Never before have we faced such a radical re-thinking of what the future of work may look like. At Charlie, we know these changes are not going away, so we’re changing our product strategy for the next five years to reflect that.

Last week we wrote about how we think the world of work has changed for all small companies and startups. In this new world, consciously crafting your company culture is no longer optional — it is the key to building a successful business.

This week, we're looking at how we’re changing our product strategy to give Charlie’s customers the tools they need to capitalise on these changes and begin to build cultures that attract, retain and get the most out of their teams.

How it all started

Ever since we founded Charlie back in 2015, we’ve been iterating on how to help small companies like us manage their teams.

Having started and scaled multiple businesses in the past, we knew what our customers were struggling with. We started with a simple mantra, "Building a company is hard, running one shouldn't be" and, through a lot of trial and error, built an HR system we’re proud of.

We’ve still got work to do —  but we’ve laid down solid foundations to help startups and SMEs to manage and grow their teams in a way that’s easy and efficient. Feedback from our customers reflects this:

Charlie’s new product strategy — going beyond ‘HR software’

But over the last few years, the way we look at work has radically changed. Today, people want their work to mean more than just a paycheque.

They expect their managers to help them grow personally and develop professionally.

They expect their company to listen to them and act on what they say.

And they expect a workplace that runs seamlessly and in a way that helps them feel they belong, no matter their background.

What this means is that startups and ambitious small businesses need to actively focus on their company culture to attract, retain and nurture the best talent.

We know that, in this new world, HR software alone isn’t going to get you where you want. And we’re now ready to take on this challenge and go above and beyond what is currently expected from a ‘HR system’.

This is the time to unveil our new product strategy for the next 5 years:

Charlie is equipping every SME to deliberately craft their culture every day.

What does this mean for you?

The Charlie you know and love will stay, with all its functionalities (with more on their way) — but we also want to be more ambitious with the impact Charlie can allow you to make at your company.

Over the coming years, you can expect to see us build on our existing functionality and deliver new solutions to help you:

  • Truly understand how your team feels — and act on it
  • Actively define the culture you want to create, and measure your progress towards it
  • Practically foster an environment where people can – and want to – do their best work
  • Authentically provide new and meaningful ways for individuals to grow and develop

CultureOps — doubling down on culture

Culture is not a new focus for us. At Charlie, we've been writing and podcasting about the importance of culture for the last three years. We talked about creating a positive culture surrounding mental health, rethinking company culture in an office-less world, and building a ‘radically candid’ workplace where everyone cares personally.

Culture is also at the core of our HR Advice service: our advisors don’t stop at helping small businesses get compliant and sorting out their contracts — they proactively help them build the culture they’ve always envisioned for their company.

If not a new focus (for Charlie at least), culture crafting is however a new space, one that doesn’t fit into the traditional ‘HR software’ category.

For us to be able to double down on culture and build the tools that’ll allow every UK startup and small business to craft their culture, we need to work in an entirely new space.

We’re calling this space Culture Operations.

We’re changing our product strategy, but our key values are staying the same

We’re ready to embark on an ambitious journey to empower you to deliberately craft your company culture, through Charlie.

To help us tackle this challenge, we are going to rely on three key mantras — the essential values we follow whenever we build product at Charlie:

1- All the warmth of a human

Whereas Human Resources software is generally impersonal and unfriendly, Charlie really empathises and responds to human emotion.

One very important aspect of company culture is that it can't be imposed - it needs buy-in and participation. So we will continue to build emotionally intelligent software to help you bring your team along for the ride.

2- All the hard stuff made simple

Charlie’s software sweats the details to remove friction, ambiguity, and confusion.

We're going to tackle an area of business that is oftentimes considered vague and hard to define — culture. Our aim is to break it down into something you can actively work on.

3- No team member left behind

Charlie is for everyone (not just HR teams).

We strongly believe that successful company cultures aren’t those that favour the few, but those that build an inclusive environment where everyone can and wants to do their best work. We’ll give you the tools you need to make this happen, through Charlie.

From dreams to reality — Charlie’s new product strategy

The challenge in the coming years will be to transform this new product vision into a product that you and everyone working at a small company will find truly valuable.

Over the next three years, we are committing to provide you and your team with:

  1. Focused, dependable, core HR tools
  2. Inspiring, transformative culture-crafting features
  3. New standalone culture apps and partnerships to help a wider range of companies

1 - Focused, dependable core HR tools

We know you run on Charlie, so we’ll continue to ensure you can get your HR basics sorted and running like clockwork within the software.

We will keep on improving our core HR functionality. We’ll make it easier to not only collect and store team member information and documents in Charlie, but also to extract useful data — we’ll work on better reporting functionalities that will help you see the big picture and make the right decisions.

With many small businesses shifting to flexible and hybrid working post-pandemic, we’re planning some exciting improvements to how you can track time off and different ways of working in Charlie — so that you can better support your team members’ wellbeing:

  • We'll be making it easier for you to set different holiday policies for different people, whether they work full-time or part-time.  
  • You’ll be able to gain clearer insight into how your team is taking their holiday and sick days through dedicated reports.
  • As your company embraces increasingly flexible ways of working, we'll ensure you can easily understand when people are working and where they are working from.

But we’re not stopping here. We're also committed to helping your company get beyond the simple HR basics:

  • By continuing to improve our reviews functionality, we'll make it easier for you to have and record meaningful conversations about growth, development and progression within your team.
  • We’ll increasingly help you streamline other culture processes in your company, like making onboarding and offboarding checklists more effective and customisable.
  • We'll build on our tools to enable you to understand how your team feels and provide high-level insights about what's happening in your company over time.

In other words, it will be the same old Charlie you’ve always loved, but supercharged to make those HR must-haves much more effective.

2 - Inspiring, transformative culture-crafting features

Culture is shaped by every aspect of your people, policies and processes – by design, or by accident. You can leave it to chance, or choose to be in control and deliberately craft the culture your business needs to succeed.

Drawing on our team of CultureOps experts, our diverse range of customers, and our product development team, we’ll be releasing product updates to equip you and your team with what you need to craft culture, deliberately.

Our first step in this direction will be One-to-Ones — a new software feature for all our HR Advice customers to help team members and their line managers to have more purposeful conversations.

The problem with manager-report conversations is that they often end up focusing on  day-to-day work instead of discussing long-term progression plans. In some cases topics that are difficult to discuss may not be brought up at all.

One-to-Ones will help team members and their managers to focus the conversation on what is most important for their own personal and professional growth:

  • Team members will be able to identify and set topics for their one-to-one and submit them to their line managers via Charlie.
  • They will also access expert guidance from Charlie on how to broach difficult topics with their manager.
  • Both line managers and team members will get actionable advice on how to solve common personal development issues.

We have already launched a beta version called Talking Points, and are almost ready to release One-to-Ones as a further, important step towards helping team members take control of their growth and development, and empowering managers to support their team.

3 - New standalone culture apps and partnerships to help a wider range of companies

We recognise that there are a lot of great businesses out there that Charlie isn't a fit for today. But it would not be fair to our current customers and also to Charlie as a product if we tried to change our software to satisfy everyone —  that will just result in us failing everyone.

Instead of bloating our software with features to fit different needs, we will explore ways to include these other companies in new, dedicated and easy-to-adopt tools and resources to help them craft their culture.

Where to start? At Charlie we’re big believers in the importance of feedback to crafting a culture of continuous personal growth and improvement.

However, open, constructive feedback is still something companies big and small struggle to achieve — people often have to make do with vague, conflicting and hard-to-read feedback to evaluate where they are and what they need to do to succeed.

We’re now ready and extremely excited to announce our first standalone culture-crafting tool, launching in June: Campfire.

The world of work needs better tools to encourage and facilitate actionable feedback. Here’s where Campfire steps in —  to help you propel your personal and professional growth with actionable insights from the people you trust.

You can find out more here, and also sign up to our waiting list to get early access.

Conclusion

As we set up Charlie to become the world’s first Culture Operations platform, we would love to hear from you, our audience and customers, about what you think great culture is made of.

What have your own culture-crafting efforts been? What have you achieved and what have you most struggled with? Just tell us by adding a comment to this blog post.

Our software wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for you — you’re the ones who shaped us and who will continue to shape Charlie in this new direction we’re taking.

We’re very excited to see where this journey will take us — hope you are too!

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