What Makes an Ethical Company?
By Rob Goehrke, Director of Culture
Omnidian was named a 2022 Finalist of the BBB Pacific Northwest Torch Award for Ethics. But what goes into creating an ethical company? For our inaugural Culture Blog post, I’d like to share the application answer we submitted to the BBB. I hope you come away with a few ideas for your own company (or an interest in joining ours!)
Q: How are ethical business practices included in your company’s day-to-day operations?
The solar industry is full of great, passionate people, but also has a history of some bad actors who mislead customers into what solar can do for them. That’s why in 2020 we expanded our core five values with an additional sixth value:
We Behave Ethically And Honestly: We are honest and truthful in all of our dealings and we do not deliberately mislead or deceive others by misrepresentations, overstatement, partial truths, selective omissions, or any other means.One of Omnidian’s Values
The first meeting of nearly every week is a welcome session for our new employees. One of the very first slides is a list of our values, including this one above. To ingrain these values we hide key words and ask our new hires to complete the phrase. We continually reinforce these values in onboarding to ensure our work remains value-centered with our growth.
We send a pulse survey to our employees every two weeks to get continuous feedback. Two of our pulse survey questions are focused on our values, with the following results:
- 96% agree or strongly agree with “I find that my values and the company’s values are similar”
- 100% agree or strongly agree with “I have a clear understanding of our company’s mission, vision, and values”
At Omnidian, we lead by example and we understand that from the founders to the newest hires, we all deserve a dignified work environment where our value is recognized. That’s why all Omnidian full-time employees receive full benefits, including equity and bonuses. We cover 100% of employee insurance premiums for full time employees, including medical, vision, dental, life, and short term disability. We offer four weeks of paid Parental & Caregiver Leave to all Omnidian employees (and we’ve recently added two additional weeks for birthing parents), which we use to supplement existing state leave policies or provide a baseline safety net in states without. For tenured Omnidian employees, Omnidian offers four weeks of paid sabbatical leave starting at their 4-year anniversary.
We believe that Employee growth and career progression is essential, that’s why we prioritize internal candidates in hiring. In 2021, 43% of our open positions were filled by internal candidates. We have created transparent career tracks for all teams, and we offer management training for all prospective people managers.
Finally, we find the 670:1 ratio of the top 300 US companies to be unethical. At Omnidian, we measure the ratio between our CEO and Entry Pay, which is just 5:1, rather than comparing the CEO’s salary to the median which further obscures the pay gap. We believe that treating our employees ethically is not only right in itself, it also empowers our employees to treat our customers ethically as well, and is borne out through our work.
Q: What’s your organization’s approach to ensuring that diversity, equity and inclusion are regular practices within your management, company culture, and daily operations?
Omnidian’s goal has been to create a team that truly represents the diversity of the world. As a company whose mission is motivated by the climate crisis, we want to ensure our team has a global perspective, with as many lived experiences and stakeholders as possible.
Early in our history, a team of Omnidian employees that were passionate about incorporating diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) into all aspects of work life at Omnidian established a committee dedicated to this mission. The committee named itself “WeGu” — a “We Guarantee”. Omnidian’s WeGu committee is open to all employees and meets bi-weekly and exists to make a measurable and sustained positive impact within Omnidian and beyond.
This group has driven equitable hiring practices not only through competency-based interviews, but competency-based decision-making. Instead of just asking for an overall rating on a candidate, we ask the interviewers to rate that candidate on 3 to 4 metrics. We then calculate those averages, weight them by importance, and discuss the numeric results during our debrief with the names of the candidates hidden. Only after this step do we reveal names and discuss our individual impressions. This allows us to ensure we’re making the best hiring decision by reducing the effect of both implicit bias and group conformity effects.
In addition to the above, the employees in WeGu have made interviews more accessible for neurodivergent candidates, added Land Acknowledgements to our company-wide meetings, established affinity groups for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Survivors and Veteran employees and created Fireside Chats for employees who are immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, and genderqueer to share their stories with their colleagues. We’ve created structured career pathing, we offer formal and informal mentorship, and we prioritize internal candidates for open positions.
We are particularly proud of creating an LGBTQ+-friendly workplace. 1 in 4 of our employees identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. We host powerful and playful events each Pride Month. This year three genderqueer employees felt comfortable sharing their personal experience — this was both a highlight of Pride and a testament to our culture.
This year, we hosted three separate sessions with the Courage Collective for our annual DEI training and have since hired them on to run a Inclusion and Belonging audit, which will drive our next steps toward racial equity, the area where we currently lag the most in reflecting the population at large.
While our industry in this country has historically been overrepresented by white men, Omnidian is approaching true gender equity within our company and our leadership, with 48% of our employees and 37% of our leaders using she/her, they/them or other pronouns besides he/him. We’re closing the leadership gap as well — 50% of our leaders hired within the last year are women or gender expansive, as were 100% (5 for 5) of our first two cohorts of emerging managers. We believe in making this demographic data transparent, so we share and discuss our anonymized demographic metrics available regularly to our employees.
Q: What’s your company’s approach to building better customer relationships?
At Omnidian, we protect and accelerate investments in clean energy through innovative technology, passionate teams, and an amazing customer experience.
First, our innovative technology allows us to proactively identify issues with our customers’ solar systems and then alert them of the issues often before they are aware of it. This is a industry-changing approach, and has earned us Honorable Mention in Fast Company’s, World Changing Ideas 2022 awards.
Second, we create passionate teams by empowering our employees. Our employees are trained to ask for advice, not approval. For instance, when a customer support agent faces a tough issue with a customer, they’ll put them on hold briefly and hop into a Google Meet where one or more of our ‘solar experts’ will be available. The agent presents the problem, and the solar expert shares their opinion, guidance and options but the decision ultimately rests with the agent working with the customer. If an agent wants to move forward with a solution that costs us more than we would typically spend, our advice thresholds kick in — the higher the cost, the more advice they need to seek, but the decision continues to stay either completely with the agent, or becomes a joint decision with their manager.
Third, we train all of our customer-facing staff on Nonviolent Communication. This method of de-escalation focuses on connection instead of control. Our job is often helping people rebuild trust in solar due to a past bankruptcy or service provider that we’re now stepping in for. This requires being honest, reframing expectations, and mostly acknowledging that people have had a hard time and need support.
Finally, we keep a pulse on our customers through a platform called Delighted. Through their integration with Zendesk, we automatically send a survey once we close out a customer’s ticket. We ask for a 1 to 5 rating, along with the best part of their experience or where we can improve. Through an integration with Slack, everyone in our organization can immediately see the reviews, both good and bad. This provides anyone, from our front line teams to our VPs to our engineers, a connection to the voice of our customers.
We aggregate these results by month and look for trends based on the multiple choice responses, which we use to prioritize upcoming initiatives and adjust training or staffing. Our portfolio managers report these results to our clients, and organizationally we use our Delighted scores as one of our main KPIs for the health of our company.
This also gives us a second chance when we fall short. Any customer who provides us with a low rating automatically gets a new ticket in Zendesk so our managers can dive into their ticket history and take appropriate action: unblocking some work, providing feedback to a teammate, educating the customer, or simply acknowledging their perspective and thanking them for their feedback.
We know that turning solar mainstream will require an amazing customer experience, so this is baked into our very core.
Q: What’s your company’s involvement in the community and your company philosophy on civic involvement?
At Omnidian we believe in being an active member of our community and working hand in hand with our neighbors. Since our founding, we have built community partnerships that maximize employee engagement, strengthen our culture, diversify our candidate pool, and create a positive community impact in our hometown of Seattle, Washington and in the communities where our team members live.
Through our Civic Action Committee and WeGu (our employee-led DEI committee), we partner with community organizations large and small. Below are a few of the organizations we’ve partnered with through the years:
Ada Developers Academy: Ada’s mission is to prepare women and gender expansive adults to be software developers while advocating for inclusive and equitable work environments. Omnidian has partnered with Ada to host two interns.
Seattle Central Community College: SCCC is one of the most demographically diverse community colleges in the entire country. They are committed to closing the racial graduation gap, and we have partnered with them to offer an internship focused on high potential BIPOC students. We offered this intern a full-time position after her internship and after 18 months at Omnidian, she took the skills and confidence she learned with us and started her own business.
Diamonds in the Rough Foundation: This local affiliation group nurtures young women with non-traditional backgrounds or distressing life circumstances. In addition to hiring two of their Diamonds, we worked with their founder to establish a business model, register as a 501c3 non-profit, and write grants that eventually led to them receiving a $300,000 over 3 years.
Hiring our Heroes: The HoH Fellows Programs are best-in-class workforce development programs that place highly skilled and educated transitioning service members, veterans, military spouses, and military caregivers with employers committed to hiring them. Omnidian has partnered with HoH to offer 3 internships, all in different parts of our organization, one of which has led to a full-time benefited position.
Teach the Autism Community Trade: The Autism community is the highest unemployment sector in the US, currently at 90%. TACT’s programs lead to employable jobs and lasting careers that are personally fulfilling and suited to each individual’s strengths. Omnidian has partnered with TACT to offer 3 internships, all in different parts of our organization, two of which have led to full-time benefited positions.
In addition to these partners, we have also done work internally. We have recently created a process by which employees can raise any social issue, work with an executive sponsor, and then drive company action. Through this process, Omnidian has taken a stance on Abortion and Gender Affirming Care and the Inflation Reduction Act. We have an active nonpartisan GOTV campaign, and offer 3 hours of paid-time off for employees to vote who don’t have mail-in ballot access. We volunteered with Nurturing Roots, a black-owned farm, in 2020, and now provide two half-days of paid service time to our calendar — one on Earth Day and one between Indigenous People’s Day and Election Day — with over one third of our employees participating in our first event across nine locales.
Thank you for reading our inaugural Culture Blog post — if you have questions or comments, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Culture Blog” or reach out to Robbie directly on LinkedIn. You can also view our culture through photos by following us on Instagram.