How Udemy improved organizational culture
Udemy is on a mission to improve lives through learning. Millions of students learn online with Udemy, taking advantage of the more than 150,000 courses that cover everything from Python to sourdough bread baking. Udemy helps students, businesses, and governments gain the skills that they need in today’s shifting world.
Shelley Osborne is the VP of Learning of Udemy, where her focus is on the learning strategy and continuous upskilling for the company’s over 650 global employees. The Learning team is part of a larger People, Places, and Learning (PPL) organization that covers all aspects of the Udemy employee experience. At the same time, Shelley is a Udemy instructor, where her courses on soft skills like feedback and change agility reach over 40,000 students worldwide. Shelley believes that feedback is inextricably linked to learning and development and partners with Culture Amp as a piece of her strategy to promote a culture of feedback at Udemy.
Challenge: Prioritizing employee engagement during growth and change
Udemy is first and foremost a learning company, so “Udemates” (the company’s affectionate nickname for its employees) regularly seek out opportunities to learn and grow. At the same time, with the rapid pace of growth and employees distributed across several global offices, there’s no singular Udemy experience. As a company, Udemy has both a consumer-facing and business-facing side, so there’s complexity in terms of roles, functions, and even locations.
Shelley saw an opportunity for the company to maintain a pulse on how employees are feeling across all these dimensions while keeping them engaged and focused on their growth and development. This is especially important in a changing world where careers are shifting quickly, roles are merging, and new skills are needed.
Solution: Building a culture of feedback with frequent engagement surveys
For Shelley, learning and feedback go hand in hand: “We see feedback as the root of learning.” Udemy has been a Culture Amp customer since 2014; and, after joining Udemy in 2017, Shelley saw an opportunity to partner with Culture Amp to fully integrate feedback into the company’s culture.
Launching the Feedback is Fuel program
Shelley launched her flagship program, Feedback is Fuel, in March 2018. Designed to get people more comfortable with feedback and aware of its importance, the program includes workshops on giving great feedback, branding initiatives to integrate the concept into company culture, building feedback into review conversation cycles, and ultimately utilizing Culture Amp to collect and act on organizational feedback. Shelley says the program “creates this muscle where people feel that it’s appropriate to give feedback, that it’s their job to give feedback.” This is especially meaningful at a learning company like Udemy, since “without feedback, we don’t know what our blind spots are. We don’t know where our opportunities are.”
Running annual engagement surveys and quarterly pulse surveys with Culture Amp is critical to this program. Udemy also uses Culture Amp for exit surveys and is planning to roll out onboarding surveys to then be able to benchmark against other onboarding programs. No matter where employees are in their journey, Shelley says, “Culture Amp is an important piece for me to make sure we’re collecting employee voices in a meaningful way.”
Taking action based on survey results
And, of course, collecting feedback is just one piece of the puzzle. Next, Shelley shares the survey results widely. Everyone has insight into the results, whether it’s painting the trends in broad strokes at the company all-hands meeting or giving managers access to their team or departmental data. According to Shelley, everyone at Udemy is eager to learn from the feedback: “Employees’ interest and engagement with the survey and results are the most passionate I’ve ever seen.
After they’ve had a chance to review the results, company leaders consider actions to take based on their learnings. Shelley says, “Our engagement survey results help influence company strategy, especially in areas like systems, operations, and learning and development.” And on the PPL team specifically, Shelley explains, “ I use our engagement survey results as fuel to determine our programming and initiatives.” But she’s quick to add that survey results are simply a launching point for conversations. Shelley presents a draft action plans to department and team leaders while encouraging them to consider changes that feel right for their teams.
Benchmarking and sharing best practices
Shelley has been impressed both by Culture Amp as a product and her interactions with the customer success team. When it comes to the product, she loves the streamlined and easy-to-use interface. “Our UX research team even gives their stamp of approval; that’s a really good sign,” says Shelley.
The benchmarking tools are especially helpful, both for understanding any changes over time and understanding how they compare to organizations of similar sizes and industries. Shelley appreciates the level of research that goes into creating Culture Amp surveys. She says, “I know that this is research-driven and that there’s thought and effort going into framing questions to ensure you’re getting accurate data back.”
When it comes to working with the Culture Amp customer success team, Shelley says, “I consider them to be true partners.” When Shelley was setting up Udemy’s engagement survey, the level of attention she got from Culture Amp—talking through all her goals, ensuring the survey was set up correctly and that benchmarking would work properly—made her feel even more committed to the platform.
At Udemy, belonging is a key value, which is reflected in the UBelong Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program. “The ability to insert DEI questions and get an accurate pulse on the state of belonging at Udemy was critical for us, and ensuring that questions are structured to give us accurate insight is huge,” adds Shelley.
Result: Increased employee and leader engagement
Culture Amp is now an integral part of the Feedback is Fuel program and Udemy’s greater feedback culture, providing a clear line of communication between employees and leaders.
Off-the-charts employee engagement
Udemy employee engagement with Culture Amp is impressive— with a participation rate that is above the benchmark of similar companies. And this number doesn’t show any signs of dropping. Shelley says, “As we grow, this number has remained really consistent.”
The quality and quantity of written responses also confirms that the entire company is bought into the power of feedback. Shelley recognizes that typically people who are less happy are the ones who tend to write comments, but, “When I look at our feedback at Udemy, I see different patterns. We get a lot of very thoughtful, constructive, long responses that are affirmation pieces of feedback.”
And the motivation to improve engagement isn’t limited to her team. Shelley attributes much of their success to the executive team’s commitment: “Our entire executive team—including our CEO— is extremely invested, and I think that’s really an important factor here. This isn’t just the PPL team. This isn’t just me who cares about this. The whole leadership team is engaged and invested.”
Showing employees their voices are heard
Shelley believes employees continue to engage with surveys because they feel their voices are being heard. She says, “We’ve been able to identify opportunities and see where we should be investing and doubling down, and make real action, take real steps, and then see significant improvements in the following pulse surveys.”
In a past survey, for example, Udemy saw an opportunity how their leadership communicated their vision to employees. As a result, the PPL team focused on leadership communication and noticed a huge leap in their next pulse. Those employees who agreed and strongly agreed that leadership was communicating a vision that motivated them increased by 21 points.
Elevating Learning to a strategic role
The data and insights gathered from Culture Amp also help Shelley elevate her team’s role at Udemy: “I’ve been able to work more strategically with our executive team and give solid guidance on how to interpret and use these results as well as how to create action plans.”
Reflecting on everything she’s been able to accomplish with Culture Amp so far, Shelley says, “Culture Amp is a critical piece of our feedback culture within Udemy, and it allows us to be agile and continuously grow and support employee development.”
San Francisco, United States
Prioritizing employee engagement during growth and change
Building a culture of feedback with frequent engagement surveys
Increased employee and leader engagement