In 2002, I started Articulate out of a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. I'd scraped together just enough money to build a product I believed would change the training industry. I knew I needed two people to help me do it: a SWF file format expert and an Office Object Model expert. And I wanted the best people in the world at my back.
After some serious research, I found the preeminent pros in these fields. One of them lived in India and the other in Missouri. Back then, we didn't have Slack, Skype, or Google Hangouts, but I refused to believe that geography should trump talent. Despite the vast distances physically separating us, we dove into the project together, running up ridiculous phone bills and sending tons of emails back and forth every day.
To my delight, we quickly made progress. In fact, being apart actually focused us ruthlessly on what was important: solving our customers' pain with the simplest, user-friendly product possible. We were efficiency personified.
We didn't have a sexy office or pizza delivery around the clock. There weren't any late-night foosball breaks. We didn't build our relationships at the watercooler. But we nonetheless developed a bond of trust, because every person on our small, growing team continuously delivered results. While I couldn't literally watch them working, I saw them producing tangible value for our customers each and every day. Their results spoke for them.
Little did I realize at the time, but we were building the foundation for what would become defining traits of Articulate culture. By accident, we stumbled on a way to operate that empowers everyone to do their best work for the people who matter the most to our business: our customers and, ultimately, their learners.
It's this key principle—empowering people—that's at the heart of who we are and how we operate at Articulate.
It's central to our culture. Sometimes we embody it pretty well, propelling each other and our customers in unpredictable, gratifying ways. Other times we stumble, then take stock and fix where we strayed. But it's always the beacon we want guiding our way.
Let's empower each other, our customers, and their learners together.
The Big Picture
We empower people
We love our culture. For many of us, it's the reason we joined and it's the reason we're happy on Mondays.
When we say we love our culture, we mean that we love how this place works. We like how people behave and feel connected to them. We're on board with the priorities that define our days.
So what is it about the way we work that makes our culture special? What's the heart of us?
It's our purpose. We empower people.
And that purpose is woven through every part of our organization and extends outward to everyone we touch.
At the macro-level, we're doing everything we can to put the power of creating effective, engaging courses into the hands of anyone who wants it. We're democratizing training. It's the vision we're trying to bring to life every day.
Zooming in, we empower our customers in several significant ways. We ship high-quality products. To us that means they're reliable, solve real customer needs, and are incredibly easy to use. When our customers use an Articulate product, we want them to feel like superstars.
We also know that our customers need more than awesome authoring apps to reach stardom. They need support, guidance, and inspiration to be truly empowered to realize their full potential as course developers. So we invest millions every year in our E‑Learning Heroes community and customer support to give them just that.
The cool thing is that by empowering our customers, we're also ultimately empowering their learners. When our customers make compelling training, it can have a real impact, enlightening and educating learners with the skills and knowledge they need to reach higher and achieve more.
Of course, none of this would be possible without all of us.
We empower each other by building an environment driven by three principles: autonomy, productivity, and respect.
And that's what this culture guide is about: how we empower one another internally so we can in turn empower others externally.
We're free to be awesome
Most companies have a lot of rules. They're designed to keep people in line and drive them to produce more. The assumption is that without rules, people would be unmotivated, directionless, and unproductive.
We think that's nonsense.
We believe that autonomy empowers us to be our best and do our best.
This freedom manifests in a few concrete ways at Articulate.
Above all, we're trusted to take responsibility for our jobs and to do them well. We're given the tools we need, then given the space to succeed.
We get to decide how to do what we're responsible for doing—we're in charge of that. We decide what frameworks and tech stacks to use. We decide what we can and cannot do to help customers. No one puts instructions on our desks every day.
We're all free (and expected) to exercise our crafts the best way we know how to reach our goals as individuals and teams. We have the freedom and responsibility to reach our goals the way we want.
Autonomy at Articulate also means we work wherever we want. We work from home, coffee shops, cowork spaces, and chaise lounges. We work from the back of RVs that putter from city to city. We've even had people work from campsites. Wherever we feel the flow, that's where we work.
People often ask us, "But you do have a headquarters, right? An office somewhere?" Nope. We don't.
An interesting (awesome) by-product of our no-office set up is that many of us actually feel freer to be ourselves. No one's judging what we look like or what we wear every day. We don't have to wear smiles before we've had coffee, or feel pressured to make small talk. It's pretty liberating.
We also work when we want...mostly.
Autonomy doesn't mean "work in a vacuum all by your lonesome." In fact, we're very interdependent and collaborate a lot, so we do need to be available sometimes for our teammates. People on teams decide when they need each other and sync on schedules. A team's work hours are fluid, flexible, and determined by the people they impact.
So, we all just do whatever we want, right? Not really. To be efficient, we need everyone rowing in the same direction. We have top-down decision-making around big issues like what products we build and what strategic initiatives we focus on.
Once we have clear direction on what we're building or what direction we're taking, we each exercise our autonomy to decide how we'll build the products we're responsible for building and how we'll execute those initiatives we're responsible for executing. Autonomy and responsibility are inextricably coupled here.
And whatever our role in the organization, we're free and encouraged to question, call bullsh*t, and share new ideas.
What it boils down to is that we're each given respect, trust, and, ultimately, responsibility. We trust one another to be responsible. To do the job, and do it well. No babysitting required.
We get it done
If you look at the volume and quality of work we do at Articulate, it's impressive. We make, sell, and support five complex desktop software products, one web app, and a mobile app. We're also deep into development on a whole new slew of web and mobile apps. Our products are market-leading industry favorites. We run the largest e‑learning community in the world, pumping out rich content every day to more than 275,000 members. We win awards and love for our amazing products, customer service, and support.
At last count, we do it all with 153 people.
What is it about Articulate that empowers us to do so much?
In short, we're very focused on productivity. It's our core measuring stick for every employee. Each and every one of us are empowered and expected to produce results that directly impact the company's success.
And we're very clear that activity does not equal results. That's a very important distinction that a lot of companies don't make, but we do.
We fundamentally reject the notion that activity—such as holding meetings—equals productivity. We don't value activity at all. That's worth repeating. We don't value activity at all!
The person who sits in the most meetings or works the longest hours or builds the most PowerPoints doesn't win here. Those things are activity. Unless the activity produces results, it's useless to us.
In fact, we try to strip away all activity that gets in the way of producing results. We do only those things that help us produce tangible work product that's critical to our business. So, for example, we hold meetings only when they serve an end, like collaboration and problem-solving.
Meetings aren't the only common company activity that can feel like "work" and not produce results. You can ping-pong emails back and forth all day long to justify decisions or go around and around on issues. You can write plans and document ideas that won't go anywhere, because they're not central to our business priorities. You can produce PowerPoint after PowerPoint, politicking for position or recognition.
At many companies, these activities are simply part of doing business. In fact, they often define someone's value to the organization. Not at Articulate. At Articulate, we value people who deliver work that moves the business forward—that produces the results we need to meet our goals.
Our insistence on productivity empowers us to kill corporate B.S. so we can actually get our jobs done. We can and should say "no" to meetings we don't need to attend. We can and should architect processes that make us more, rather than less, productive. We can and should question whether we're doing things in the smartest way to achieve the results we want.
We're not here to collect a paycheck for sitting in a chair all day long writing emails or chatting with coworkers. We're here to make an impact. We're empowered to do only those things that will ultimately help us change the lives of our customers and their learners.
We value people as individuals
At many companies, employees are viewed and treated like assets that are used to make money. In fact, that's where the term "Human Resources" comes from. It's a team devoted to maximizing those human assets.
By seeing people as assets, these companies deny their employees' individual humanity. They don't see them as unique individuals, but rather as a homogenous group that must be closely managed for profitability.
The starting point for these companies is "how do we maximize our employees?" not "how do we empower our employees in a way that inspires each individual?" They invest in human resources because it improves business results, not because they want to empower people.
At Articulate, running a healthy, profitable company is the result, not the driver, of how we do business.
Fundamentally, we care about and respect people's individuality. We believe that everyone has unique needs, wants, and skills. We recognize that we're all capable, independent adults who don't need coddling, but can be trusted to make independent decisions that are in the best interest of customers, each other, and the company. To us, this is empowering.
Respecting people as individuals has implications for how we treat one another, what we think about policies and rules, and who we hire as a result.
We respect and empathize with our teammates, building relationships founded on genuine care. We love seeing others succeed, and do whatever we can to help.
We try to see things from one another's point of view. We welcome diverse perspectives, listening to the various voices on our teams. We honor everyone's input, and use it to develop a richer, deeper understanding of whatever challenge or project we're tackling. We're direct and honest, empowering teammates with constructive insight and guidance to help them correct course, deliver better results, or grow their skills.
Because we respect people as individuals, we've stayed away from corporate rules and policies designed to box people in. We've been tempted to create the typical array of policies, from expense and baby bonding policies to social media and office equipment policies. In many ways, creating these would be easier. Everyone would be "on the same page" and there would be no ambiguity. But there would also be no room for individuality or self-determination. Fundamentally, we trust people to do the right thing for themselves and for the company.
Each time we think about creating a policy, we come back to this: we think conversations are better than rules. We think that you're unique in what you need or want, what talents or challenges you have, what it takes for you, personally, to be empowered. We trust that you'll ask for what you need, and we're committed to doing what we can to support and empower you.
So when it comes to compensation, we don't have established pay grades for predefined roles. We take into account your individual contributions and value to the company. And we encourage you to initiate compensation conversations on your own behalf because you're a responsible adult in charge of your own destiny.
We let you decide when you want or need time off—whether it's to rest, have fun, get well, or bond with your baby—and trust you to work out the details with your family, manager, and co-workers. We encourage you to take care of yourself, and we respect your right to decide what that means.
We also trust that you hold the reins to your career growth. We'll give you the tools you need to do your job. Provide resources for you to attend meaningful conferences or learn a new skill. Give you input on your performance and brainstorm ideas for your development. We'll support you any way we feasibly can. But Articulate doesn't have formal career pathing. We don't manage your growth for you.
This culture isn't for everyone. Some people prefer environments where things are clearly defined. They want to know what they're allowed to do—and what they're not allowed to do. They prefer predefined payscales and career ladders. They're most comfortable when they have policies and rules to guide their way.
So we're careful to hire people who yearn for open ranges, rather than policies. Who thrive in environments without rules. Who take responsibility for themselves and the work they do. Who have a deep respect for themselves—and for the people around them. Who empathize with other people, treating them with kindness, helping them every way they can, and cheering them on as they grow.