Developing a people-first approach can be tricky for companies, as it requires both trust in one’s employees to act autonomously and for “you to be okay with mistakes being made,” said Alex Triplett, CFO and COO for enterprise collaboration software company Appfire.
But doing so can drive profitability and enable finance chiefs to keep operations moving smoothly and can give individuals in the company’s core accounting, finance and FP&A teams an encouraging level of empowerment, he told CFO Dive in an interview.
“We really want people to feel like they have an area, they've got responsibility, they can own it,” he said.
Building a people-first culture
Triplett joined the company last March, with the goal of helping Appfire to continue the rapid pace of growth it has achieved over the past few years, with the company’s annual recurring revenue growing from $10 million in 2019 to about $170 million currently, in less than five years, Triplett said.
The Burlington, Massachusetts-based company — which was launched in 2005 as a partner to the Atlassian ecosystem, and now works with other large-scale software companies including Salesforce and Microsoft — provides enterprise apps that can help enhance or augment those systems.
Maintaining an “open and sharing” company culture is a key component when it comes to creating that growth and future success for the business, Triplett said.
To help foster that critical sense of trust, every Appfire employee receives equity in the business, which enables employees to both share in the upside when the company is doing well and creates a sense that each employee is actively contributing to and responsible for that upward momentum.
The company has also recently begun rolling out credit cards to each of its employees, a policy brought about in the last five months that Triplett himself “pushed hard for,” he said. The cards help to ease hiccups such as booking travel, avoiding cumbersome processes where employees would have needed to book such trips on their personal cards.
“I just felt like making life easy for employees is one of the jobs of the CFO organization,” he said, noting the credit cards help not only with trust but to ease potential travel needs — Appfire has remote employees scattered around several countries but requires each department to meet up in-person at least once a year.
The empathy element
A key part of Triplett’s “180 day plan” when joining was hiring the right people — the size of the finance team has doubled, growing from 15 to 30 people, he said. The company plans to continue hiring in 2023, which is a “huge signal” to its current staff,Triplett said, and also bucks a growing trend in the technology sector
Firms such as Peloton leaned hard on layoffs to course-correct their operations as the economy started to tip, with the company cutting approximately 12% of its workforce last October in a bid to reposition the company toward growth, according to a report by CNBC.
Part of what’s enabled Appfire to continue to hire and scale in the current environment is that the company has been profitable since its inception, with the company taking on its first outside capital via private equity in 2020 with an invesment of $49 million, according to Crunchbase. However, there is also “an empathy element” at play for each of the company’s choices, Triplett said.
Appfire hired 250 people last year, and though the company could have easily hired another 100 potential employees, they held back, he said.
“We're going to keep hiring, but we want to be really thoughtful because we never want to go backwards, so let’s not overextend ourselves,” he said. “I think part of just being human is, ‘okay, if I hired another 100 people I can grow faster, but what's the trade off?’”
Many companies experiencing quick growth will often move too fast— which means during rocky periods, they need to level back down just as fast, resulting in layoffs that can negatively impact not only the staff that has been let go but the remaining team members, Triplett said.
Layoffs can cause organizational drag, recent research from Gartner found, contributing to a nosedive in company morale and turnover—as well as eroding shareholder returns, CFO Dive previously reported.
This is an oft-seen side effect when companies conduct layoffs as a pure “spreadsheet exercise,” where they are simply cutting an excess of people, Triplett said, with good people getting more stressed out and then looking for other roles outside of that company.
“I use this analogy — if you want to lose weight really quickly, you can cut your hand off,” Triplett said of the top-down approach to layoffs.