Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit organization that supports Wikipedia, Wikidata, MediaWiki, and other open source, free knowledge websites. Their work supports the efforts of more than 70,000 volunteer editors and nearly 150 affiliates (chapter and user groups) around the world. Together, their commitment is to build a world in which everyone can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. It’s no small order.

The Talent and Culture team at the Wikimedia Foundation works to create a culture in which their people can thrive and honor this commitment. In order to understand their people more fully, they started searching for a people analytics platform. They needed a tool that would allow them to better understand engagement on an organization-wide level. During this time, they were going through a difficult leadership transition. They needed a tool, but they also needed a partner to help build trust, transparency, and accountability. They wanted to give people a place to describe the current state at work, in the hopes of ultimately transforming it.

The Wikimedia Foundation found that partner in Culture Amp. Within a year and a half, the Wikimedia Foundation increased their overall employee engagement score by 15%. In general, an increase of 5% is significant, so tripling that benchmark is an impressive achievement. Out of 34 questions in their most recent survey, the score of 25 questions increased by five or more points. Overall, 73.5% of questions increased by a statistically meaningful margin and almost a third of the questions increased by more than 20 points.

Giving people a unified voice

The Wikimedia Foundation’s participation rate with Culture Amp’s first engagement survey was almost 95%. To ensure that people participated in the survey, Anna Lantz, HR Associate, along with the rest of the Talent and Culture team, spent time communicating the confidentiality of Culture Amp’s survey with staff to build trust. People were able to use Culture Amp to share honest feedback about what they really thought in regards to their challenges. Anna Stillwell, Chargée d’Affaires, says, “The survey process is not dissimilar from the culture of Wikipedia, in the sense that people want a channel for their knowledge and voice. We have bright, dedicated, employees. They can spot problems on the ground. We just needed to give them the tools to do so.”

Small-group retrospectives to dive deeper into data

For Stillwell, the insights from the engagement survey highlighted the most important problems. To dive deeper into the details, Stillwell hosted ‘retrospectives’—open discussions in small groups among staff about the past and current challenges. Giving employees an opportunity to openly discuss their experiences paved the way for attuned solution sets. She also hosted ‘prospectives’—an opportunity to think together about the future they would all like to see. All the while, Stillwell used the engagement survey results as a guide to start the conversation and encourage people to share their perspectives. She says, “We worked to define the core problems and then sometimes the solution set was an entirely unexpected direction.” Joady Lohr, Chief Talent & Culture Officer says that these meetings helped further unify staff by giving people who might normally be less vocal a chance to share their ideas.

With support and facilitation from Culture Amp’s Insights team, the Talent and Culture team also held two workshops to discuss and unpack survey results with employees. One was held with the Wikimedia Foundation’s engagement committee (a volunteer committee driven by staff with representatives across departments), and the other with C-level executives. Using the data uncovered in the survey as a guide, each group picked an important challenge where they could make significant impact in a six-month period. This focused approach, along with the Talent and Culture team working on a broad range of initiatives, led to the significant increase in overall employee engagement.

A focus on growth and development

One factor that highly impacted engagement from the May 2016 survey was people’s belief that they had few opportunities for significant career development at the Foundation. So the Talent and Culture Team rolled out new, comprehensive manager training which included helping managers focus on developing their team members and better understand career pathways. Over 25% of the Wikimedia Foundation’s staff participated, including some people who were not managers. From their early 2016 survey to November later that same year, salary bands were made transparent, allowing everyone to evaluate their current salary and identify paths for growth. Additionally, several trusted employees earned promotions. In just six months, engagement around career pathways increased by 5%, and they are just getting started.

Onward: strengthening company culture and engagement

The effort from senior leaders, the Talent and Culture team, and employees paid off. With a new approach to people data, senior leaders embraced feedback and responded to challenges on the ground. Lohr explains, “Our Executive Director, Katherine Maher, sees the importance of having this information and offering people a voice. She committed to the Board, staff, and the Wikimedia community to doing surveys every six months until we see stable improvements.” The Wikimedia Foundation plans to survey annually and continue to support their company culture with data and feedback from their people.