Bombas is a comfort-focused apparel brand with a mission to help those in need. The company launched in 2013, after the founders learned that socks are the #1 most requested clothing item at homeless shelters. From there, they set out to solve that problem, donating a pair of socks for every pair they sell. And while the company started with and is known for its extremely comfortable socks, Bombas used its expertise in comfort to launch apparel with the introduction of t-shirts and sweatpants in 2018. Continuing its mission, Bombas donates a specially-designed item to the homeless community for every item sold.
Myke Mansberger is the Vice President, Head of People at Bombas. He brings 10 years of experience in people operations and employee engagement to his role. Myke was hired by Bombas over two years ago to help the company find unique ways to translate their mission and core values into employee programming. He also focuses on organizational design for scale as Bombas moves into a rapid growth phase to support major business initiatives, including expanding into new product categories.
Challenge: An outdated approach to performance management
The first performance management process Bombas rolled out looked very different from the one that exists today. Back then, the company’s goal-setting method was informal where everything was documented in Google Documents, and all employees were expected to work toward the same company-wide Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
While this doesn’t seem problematic on paper, the holes in the process quickly revealed themselves. According to Myke, issues arose because half of the organization is in a design or creatively-focused role. These employees define success by their ability to finish high-quality work by deadlines. However, since most of the company’s KPIs were entered around marketing-driven results, the designers struggled to measure their performance against these goals. Not to mention the outcomes of these OKRs were more dependent on the performance of the customer acquisition team than the creative team.
“We started to uncover that it was unfair to tie someone’s success measurement to another team’s performance,” says Myke. “So what we started to do was really listen to them and find out how to customize goal setting and define based on what their teams naturally sort of gravitate to.”
Recognizing the opportunities for improvement
Upon recognizing that their existing approach to performance management wasn’t working, the Bombas team decided to rebuild their process. However, before launching anything new, they wanted to better understand how their employees felt about performance management. During this process, they surfaced two major findings, which they used as a baseline to build their new process:
“The first one was people not understanding how their contributions align with overall business goals. The second one was related to bias and whether or not people trusted their managers to have the best information to rate their performance. We knew those were two highlights that wanted to tackle, and it made sense to really think about performance management as part of the solution,” says Myke.
Solution: Building a strong foundation with a flexible performance platform
Bombas decided to partner with Culture Amp to take their performance management process to the next level. The platform enabled them to tackle the areas that were causing the most pain for employees.
Customizing performance to the employee’s needs
Myke knew they couldn’t introduce another cookie-cutter approach to performance, which is one of the reasons his team chose Culture Amp Performance. He wanted to use a platform that could be molded to fit the unique needs of Bombas’ employees and align with their philosophy on performance management.
When it comes to measuring performance, Bombas communicated from the start that an incomplete goal is not a failure, but a conversation starter. They wanted to ensure the tool reflected that intentional approach to goals.
“What I love about Culture Amp is that it’s really customizable,” says Myke. “For example, in your performance evaluation, the lowest score by default is often ‘missed expectations’. We decided to add an extra sentence there that was very Bombas, which was, ‘let’s get you on the path to success’. So even if you got the lowest score, you knew you’re supported. There’s something else that’s going to happen so we can help you develop.”
Understanding what defines success
The Bombas team was aware that their employees didn’t understand how their contributions aligned with overall business goals. So one of Myke’s priorities was to make sure every single person at the company understood what defined success – specific to their roles.
“We needed to first figure out how each team really operates and how they naturally create goals and milestones,” says Myke. For instance, the Bombas team recognized that their design team measured performance completely different from their marketing team, which already lived and breathed data and KPIs.
“So we really needed to dig deep and find out how they define success and try to tailor that to them as much as possible. From there, it was a matter of building performance management backwards based on those learnings.” Once they defined success, Culture Amp’s platform made it easier to document, collaborate, and take action on those goals.
Investing in manager training
A major area for improvement in Bombas’ first performance management process was the employee-manager relationship. Employees indicated a lack of trust when it came to managers rating their performance, which is why the team decided to invest in manager training. “You need to be intentional about manager training and make it a requirement before a manager has any conversation with their direct report about a review or even writes their first evaluation,” says Myke.
One of the trainings the company rolled out was a role-play exercise where they practiced having difficult conversations – from the perspective of both the employee and the manager – to build empathy. They coached managers to navigate common reactions like defensiveness, stress, and non-responsiveness to help them feel more prepared for these conversations.
The team also addressed ways to reduce bias by helping managers more objectively understand and act on the information gathered in the Culture Amp platform. For example, managers were trained to identify common themes in feedback and discuss those findings with their employees, using anonymous quotes to support the conversation.
Myke explains that they also introduced guidelines to better formalize and document those conversations. “Every manager is required to do a one-on-one with a direct report at least every two weeks. So we asked everyone to use Culture Amp in the first five minutes of their agenda to make sure they check in and use all the information in the tool to drive conversations.”
Result: A powerful and culturally-aligned performance management process
After introducing an improved performance management process, Bombas noticed that it had a ripple effect that improved various aspects of their company culture.
Departing from the traditional approach to performance
Bombas wants to make sure their employees regularly know how they’re doing performance wise. As a result, they’ve shied away from the traditional approach of an annual performance review. Instead, Myke and his team encourage a culture of continuous feedback so that there are no surprises when it is time for their two formal performance reviews, which includes feedback from managers, peers, and self reflection by the employee. He refers to it as a deconstructed 360.
“So you’re getting all the elements of a traditional 360 at different points in time when it’s actually relevant and timely. And then you’re putting it all together during the review by doing an assessment of that information and then turning it into a conversation.”
To get all the Bombas employees actively involved in the process, Myke and his team have creative ways to encourage participation. For example, the company hosts “library hours,” which is one hour a day during the performance cycle where there’s no music, meetings, or conversations to give people a quiet, focused space to complete their self reflections or feedback for others.
Additionally, having the support of senior leadership has been crucial for Bombas. During each cycle, the CEO emphasizes how people managers are responsible for their team members’ success and that the performance management process is not optional. As a result, Bombas has seen 100% completion of all evaluation cycles thus far.
Improving talent acquisition efforts
Over the past year, Myke has noticed an increase in the number of candidates asking specifically about how the company approaches performance evaluations. This is a development he’s excited about given the amount of investment the Bombas team has put into their own process.
“What I found interesting is that when it comes to talent acquisition, performance management is actually part of an employee value proposition. So when candidates are looking for what company they want to join in this is a competitive job market right now, they’re looking for one that’s really going to support them and help them define success.”
Making the link between performance and compensation clear
Finally, one of the most impactful outcomes of having a strong performance management process is that the link between performance, compensation and recognition is now much clearer to Bombas employees. This is incredibly important so that everyone at the company understands exactly what’s expected of them in order to achieve a raise or promotion.
“By having a really strong continuous feedback loop through performance management, there are more opportunities to recognize performance. That’s something that keeps employees feeling fulfilled and engaged and it’s also what potential candidates are looking for when they’re making the decision of what company to join,” says Myke.