Leadership 2021: For Andrew Reid, bringing his team closer together in a virtual setting has helped Rival Technologies roll with the COVID changes

The pandemic has left Andrew Reid looking for ways to strengthen the culture at his two companies, which collectively employ about 100 people.

As serious as work might be, the founder and CEO of mobile market research firm Rival tries to lighten the mood

Every leader has their own superhero ability, Andrew Reid reckons. So what’s his? “The ability to get in the room with people and get them to work together and collaborate and have that shared sense of purpose,” says the founder and CEO of Rival Technologies.

Obviously, COVID put a crimp in that for Reid, whose Vancouver-based company specializes in mobile market research for clients such as the Vancouver Canucks, Snapchat and ViacomCBS.

So he had to evolve and adapt. “When you can’t be in the room, when you can’t save the hard conversation for after a glass of sauvignon blanc, you have to show up in a bit of a different way,” Reid says. “At the same time, you can still have a lot of fun. You can still bring your personality; you can still really enjoy each other.”

With consumer research firm Angus Reid Group and Vancouver-headquartered insurance brokerage ReFrame Group, Rival recently launched the Canadian Workplace Culture Index. The index lets organizations with 20 or more people gauge how they’re doing in six areas, from workplace satisfaction to diversity and inclusion.

The pandemic has left Reid looking for ways to strengthen the culture at Rival and its sister market research firm, Reach3 Insights, which collectively employ about 100 people. “The challenge with virtual work is, you can just get in this work mindset all the time,” he says. “You have to do things to force the team to care about each other, to have a shared sense of mission, to celebrate the wins.”

We’ve got rhythm

Reid always starts the weekly management meeting with a personal question. “Sometimes it’s deep and meaningful; sometimes it’s light and fluffy,” he says. “Today’s question was, What song is the soundtrack of your life right now?”

To foster overall connectedness, Rival created social pods. These teams of five to eight, drawn from various departments, rotate every quarter. “We pull people with different diverse backgrounds together, we give them a budget, we try and centralize it around a location if we can,” says Reid, noting that the pods’ activities range from mixing cocktails to playing virtual trivia games. “I did a virtual painting exercise with one of my teams.”

Rival also subscribes to the Rockefeller Habits, a scale-up platform created by Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) founder Verne Harnish that consists of 10 core habits. “Having a rhythm to your business really does eliminate a lot of chaos and gets people rallied around a central point,” Reid says. “Rhythm is more important than it’s ever been in creating habits and patterns and really sticking to them.”

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Recognition is another part of the culture. Every two weeks, Rival highlights a new win, an active customer or a team member. “If you’re reminding people of the good things that are going on and the hard work happening across the organization, it’s a little release valve,” Reid says. “It makes people feel appreciated. It makes them understand that they’re swimming at a pace the rest of the business is swimming at. The more that people feel isolated and overworked, the more you deal with burnout.”

What motivates talented employees to stick around? “It’s not steak dinners and Foosball tables and free lunch,” Reid says. “It’s understanding and transparency, being available, showing vulnerability, caring about each other in a way that supersedes what you do at work and creates those other bonds.”

For Reid, that could mean letting people vent. But it’s also a willingness to laugh. For that purpose, Reid keeps two wigs, two headbands and a pair of “crazy” sunglasses beside his desk. “I constantly am throwing those on just to lighten the mood a little bit,” he says. “We’re helping big brands make really big decisions, and we have a lot of stress on hitting our KPIs. But that doesn’t mean we have to have this super serious attitude.” 

Good References

Early results from the Canadian Workplace Culture Index survey hold some lessons for employers:

29% of respondents said they always like where they work

That number rose to 50% among those who also strongly agreed that they know their company’s core values—and fell to 9% for those who disagreed

33% of those surveyed would strongly recommend their employer to a friend

That share climbed to 68% among those who also strongly agreed that their company has established traditions, programs or events that contribute to a strong culture