When we talk about the work that we do and the types of clients we work with, we often mention the desire to create and contribute to the kind of city and world we want to live in. To do this, we often work closely with equally driven and passionate organizations and individuals in the fields of art & design, wellness, urbanism and education.
Similarly, on a micro level, we devote a lot of time and attention to creating a work environment we want to work in and bring people onto the team that we’d like to work with. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been building on existing internal processes and experimenting with new ways to strengthen our company culture. For example, the team as a whole is heavily involved in bringing on new P’unk’s to the team—everyone gets to weigh in on folks who have reached out to us, and potential new P’unk’s often present to the team and spend a couple of days coworking with us on real projects in our studio.
We hold intimate retreats twice a year to reflect on our personal and professional dreams, visions and goals. Every Monday morning, we start the week by eating breakfast together and end the week eating lunch together on Friday. We enjoy field trips, events and lectures together. And, most importantly, we celebrate each other a lot—birthdays, P’unkiversaries, babies... you name it!
About a year and a half ago, we decided it was time to take a look at our internal evaluation and feedback process. We explored ways for our team to provide and receive effective, real-time feedback and be held accountable to our personal and professional individual and team goals. Many companies perform annual reviews or evaluations to provide feedback on an individual’s performance and contributions over the last year. Generally, these meetings are facilitated with one or more “superiors” who may not even work closely with that individual daily—a department manager or maybe the company president. If they’re lucky, they might get a raise and maybe even a promotion.
For many people this can be a stressful and unproductive way of dealing with the task at hand—to receive feedback, share and set personal and professional goals. You are often presented with both good and bad feedback that could have proven useful or been resolved many months prior, bringing to light many missed opportunities and the slow acceleration of an individual’s personal and professional growth.
As a flat company with no formal or routine evaluation or feedback process, we wanted to explore and identify ways we could build in providing feedback, identifying goals and helping each other achieve them into our culture without it feeling routine and without any expectations or pressure around it, as there exists for annual reviews. We also recognized that it’s more effective to receive this kind of feedback and accountability from our peers, as opposed to superiors—people you work with every day, perhaps on your team or sitting at the desk next to you.
During a picturesque winter retreat at Pendle Hill, we split into groups to brainstorm ways to go about this as a team. There were many ideas for tackling this, one of which has become an integral part of our company culture called the Khrony program. Our theory was that if we build stronger and deeper relationships within the team, the more we will hold each other accountable to achieving our personal and professional goals. It’s less about sitting down and formalizing specific goals and how or when we would tackle them on a piece of paper or in a spreadsheet. Instead, it’s focused on the social aspect of growing a social support network. Not quite a mentor, not quite an accountability partner but more like... an intentional friend.
There wasn’t quite a word for something like this, so we made one up—Khrony. Khronos for time, khronios for long-lasting and crony for companion and longstanding pal. The idea was that every quarter, each individual would be paired with somebody they don’t typically have a chance to work with. Khronies set their own rules—there are no specific tasks or requirements in the three months of a Khronyship. Pairs define and conceptualize the best use of their time together—whether they’d like to establish personal or professional goals, work on a project together, schedule regular check-ins or simply just get to know one another over drinks. It is also not a requirement that you do anything together—all we ask is that you meet once.
As put by a member of our team, “[The Khrony program] helps build individual bonds which of course strengthens the bond of the whole team—an obvious plus. However, having a Khrony can result in even more than that. It induces a special connection, one that can easily foster both accountability and trust. When those things take place, it allows for better work to be done. It's like a mini on-going workshop happening on the most basic of levels, across the whole team, where the pairs make their own rules, their own guidelines, and each yield their own special results.”
In the last year and a half of the Khrony program, Khronies have gone on countless coffee dates, frequented neighborhood happy hours, gone on a tour of nearby dive bars, woken up at the crack of dawn to make a homemade breakfasts together—to name a few. Khronies have also worked together to design new furniture for the studio, plan a big launch party for our then-new website, and pursue a variety of internal process projects such as a guide for onboarding new P’unks and baseball-card style cards listing individual skillsets & strengths for creating new internal teams. Often there are pairs that don’t meet much or produce any sort of project or tangible outcome from their Khronyship, and that’s absolutely okay.
Having a Khrony simply provides a space for a more intentional relationship. As one P’unk put it, “it is a chance for me to hear the things about the people I work with that might not come up in our regular course of actions.” It can also be an opportunity to be more empathetic and understanding of each other—“I think the most important outcome of the Khrony program is that it's an opportunity to share facts about yourself and your life with a coworker that you otherwise might not. It's an opportunity to get to know each other in a different way than only a professional relationship, and can help you understand more about where another person is coming from.”
It has also provided a safe social space for people to talk about challenges they’re struggling with professionally or personally, to ask questions they might not ask to the larger group and be vulnerable, open and honest in a way they may not feel comfortable doing outside of the Khrony program. Quietly struggling and carrying that weight can ultimately take it’s toll on an individual and the individuals around them. As another P’unk stated, “To intentionally seek conversation that's highly personal and sometimes difficult, I've found that connecting with someone on that level allows for a trust to be formed which actually improves our ‘regular work.’” At P’unk Ave, where we work so closely as a team and make decisions as a team, it’s important that we are willing to have vulnerable, open and honest conversations with each other—“real talk,” as we call it – so that we can be our best selves personally and professionally.
I myself had a really great and eye-opening experience in the last Khrony cycle. Last fall, we had a handful of really great and talented new folks join the team within a span of a few months. At this same time, I was very busy and regretfully so stressed that I let making connections to many of the newer P’unk’s fall by the wayside. One in particular was our new studio manager, Rachel, who was brought onto the the team to help bring order to the studio, our newly larger team within it and to help with internal projects—essentially, to “hold down the fort.” Long story short, I missed the window of making a proper introduction or impression of myself and there was tension between us—which, embarrassingly enough, I was not aware of until another team member made note of it and others had recognized it, too. Not good.
So, as the puppeteer behind the Khrony program, I made sure that Rachel and I were paired as Khronies for the next quarter. During our first Khrony happy hour, we ended up – over a marathon five hour conversation– getting to know each other on a very personal level, which allowed us to address the tension between us immediately. We were thinking “It’s okay we’re being totally honest and laying down the ‘real talk’ because this is what Khronies are supposed to do.” If not for the intentionality of Khrony program and the safe vulnerability bubble of being Khronies, the tension would have likely festered into an unhealthy work relationship that would be unproductive to ourselves and the team.
Over the next couple of months, we developed a strong work and personal relationship— collaborating on many internal projects (i.e. proposals, internal guides, website copy, company gatherings, studio adjustments and so on) and becoming not just work friends, but real life friends inside and outside the studio. We have come to use each other as sounding boards for challenges we’re facing in both our work and personal lives, holding each other accountable to things we set out to do—like identifying and taking on projects we’re excited about outside of our everyday work or addressing personal challenges or conflicts.
But we don’t need facts and figures to know these things—at our core, we are all human and hold the desire to belong and make connections to one another. It’s what gives us meaning, drives passion and gets us excited to get out of bed every day.
Initially setting out to reevaluate our own internal feedback and evaluation process, something big and beautiful happened. We built a level of trust and comfort among the team that enables us to communicate openly and honestly with each other in ways we never did before. We deepened relationships, allowing us all to feel more empathetic and empowered to help somebody if they’re struggling. We built a culture that encourages and supports being vulnerable. And lastly, we addressed our initial intention to provide more real-time and peer-to-peer feedback, because let’s face it – it’s not a great feeling to disappoint those we care deeply about.
By focusing on building this social support network, the Khrony program grew organically, became stronger and ultimately achieved what we set out to do—create the kind of environment we want to work in, with the people we want to work with. This ultimately supports us in being our best selves and contributing to the kind of city and world we want to live in.