How innovative companies get ahead and stay ahead

On average, the 50 largest Slack customers outperformed the S&P 500 by 25%

Autor: Lauren Johnson24. November 2019

Organizations today must constantly transform themselves—not only in how they deliver their products and services to their customers but how they align internal teams and external partners to execute on their mission. It led us to wonder: In an economy that seems to keep everyone on their toes, what are the hallmarks of high-performing companies?

On average, Slack’s 50 largest publicly traded customers outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 25% over a two-year period. When we learned that, it made us even more eager to look at what we can learn from high performing companies. The S&P 500 is a collection of some of the largest companies across various industries—from IT to real estate to apparel—and many economists view it as indicative of overall economic health. 

The customers we mention here represent a cross-section of industries and include some of the most forward-thinking companies in media, mobile, retail, financial services and more. They also frequently rank highly on surveys like Fast Company’s “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” Boston Consulting Group’s “Most Innovative Companies” and Forbes’s “The World’s Most Innovative Companies.” 

Although we’re proud to play a role in our customers’ success stories, we know that choosing the right workplace collaboration tool is only one element of how innovative companies are leading the way. So in addition to exploring how some of these high-performing companies use Slack to reach their milestones, we wanted to identify the common traits and values among them that are putting them ahead of the economic curve.

We found three traits again and again: Employees at successful companies prefer user-friendly tools that foster open communication and provide the context for decisions; they embrace innovation and the open platforms that make regular innovation possible; and they put customers first by equipping their teams with the best tools to do that.

The companies thriving today value collaboration above all

Companies that have invested in priming teams to tackle new challenges and seize new opportunities often employ a multipronged approach, one that includes everything from choosing the right tools to connect teams companywide to ensuring that everyone has near-instant access to the information and experts they need to make the best decisions.  

Communication, context and user-friendly tools lead to more engaged employees

Introducing a new app or platform into the workplace might always be a little exciting for technophiles, but in general, a new tool is only as successful as employees’ willingness to use it. When teams aren’t on board or can’t see the value of using a new app, leaders may find themselves back to the same irregular communication and broken processes. 

For Intuit, the technology company and creator of TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint and ProSeries Tax, Slack was the tool that teams were happy to use together.

The bar for Intuit's most important internal tools is a score above 20, and the current average is 24. Slack most recently scored 50, signifying its popularity with Intuit’s workforce.

Brynna Donn, Intuit’s director of collaboration and productivity, IT, says the company re-evaluated its collaboration toolkit once it recognized that its employees were stuck in silos. Employees frequently hit roadblocks when they had to rely on shared engineering resources or work with partners on other product teams. 

“To help and serve our customers, [our support teams] might have used 20 tools,” Donn says. “We had to make that simpler.”

Donn’s colleagues hosted empathy sessions to understand where communication breakdowns occurred. They learned that Intuit employees needed a tool that worked seamlessly across all the platforms they used, including mobile. That solution was Slack, which the engineering teams had already adopted and were actively using.

Intuit employees didn’t start using Slack simply because they accepted it as a new fact of life, according to Intuit’s internal net promoter score (NPS) surveys—it turned out employees loved it, too. The bar for the company’s most important internal tools is a score above 20, and the current average is 24. Slack most recently scored 50, signifying its popularity with Intuit’s workforce.

We’ve found that facilitating collaboration by giving employees tools that they’re jazzed to use also boosts employee engagement. And engaged workers are more willing to act on their optimism. New Slack research in partnership with market research firm GlobalWebIndex found that 75% of people who self-identified as engaged said they felt empowered to make decisions in the workplace. In other words, these employees saw themselves as more than mere worker bees; they also felt empowered to contribute creative ideas to support the business. 

Open platforms make regular innovation possible

The word “innovation” has earned a prominent place in the modern business lexicon. At Slack, we think of innovation in terms of strategically adopting new digital processes and tools to change the way we work. 

According to our research, “hyper-connectors”—workers who receive 50 or more emails per day—are most likely to say they struggle with finding the information they need to complete projects, meet performance goals and align with colleagues. Slack’s high-performing customers know that staying competitive in today’s market means breaking out of the inbox and exploring better ways to work.

Take Target, a Slack customer. Jay Kline, Target’s director of technology for engineering enablement, says the retailer’s engineering teams adopted Slack following an internal push. Today, Target’s engineers use Slack to organize communication and troubleshoot issues. 

They’ve integrated popular apps with Slack, including GitHub, Jira Cloud, Jenkins and Simple Poll. Some developers even leveraged the Slack API to create their own custom internal integrations. Using this mix of available and custom integrations, they were able to turn Slack into an always-on virtual incident room.

Kline says, “We’ve been able to take all of the engineers and focus them on getting the problem solved, as opposed to having to tear off someone’s time to just handle communications. To be nimble in what we’re doing and to be able to adapt quickly, we needed a tool like Slack.”

The right tools allow teams to centralize the customer experience

When you run a popular e-commerce platform, ensuring that all your customers’ online businesses are up and running is a make-or-break proposition. John Arthorne, Shopify’s production engineering lead, says that creating a custom bot—a type of Slack app that users can interact with via conversation and commands—helped Shopify respond to IT incidents more swiftly than ever.

Shopify created a bot called Spy to aid developers in monitoring the platform and resolving incidents. By typing “/spy” and an action into Slack, the team can run more than 100 custom commands without having to switch between tools.

“An outage to our systems costs tens of thousands of dollars a minute. If [the bot] just saves one minute of confusion, then it’s worth it,” Arthorne says. “So it was considered one of the most critical parts of our infrastructure to be able to withstand any kind of incident.”

Another impressive data point? Spy has empowered more team members to learn how to respond to incidents. Arthorne says that prior to Spy, only three people knew how to do so. Now there’s a fleet of 50 experts on deck to provide rapid assistance.

Innovation today and tomorrow

Studying the habits of our customers, combined with recent data on the state of work today, has shown us that keeping customers happy starts with making employees happy. This hinges on investing in collaboration, adopting and implementing the right tools, and empowering employees at all levels to contribute their most creative and innovative ideas. 

And those qualities, we believe, will stand the test of time.

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