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Ashley Pryor with Experience LLC

Episode #105

Ashley Pryor with Experience LLC shares with us the importance of creating a great company culture, AND being prepared to take action! Her innovative ideas has helped her company build stronger bonds, that has lasted through growth and time!

Ashley Pryor

Ashley Pryor

Director of Talent and Culture at Experience LLC

Human Resources leader with over 11 years experience in Employee Relations, Organizational and Employee Development, Compensation, Recruiting, Safety & Security, and HR Information Systems.

Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)
SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP)

DiSC Profile: Dominance
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Extraverted Sensing Thinking Judging

Her Company

Her Company

Our mobile commerce, flexible ticketing, and data solutions empower sports and entertainment leaders to generate new revenue streams, sell more tickets, and make smarter decisions. Partnering with over 350 global sports and entertainment properties, we are a two-time Sports Business award winner for Best in Sports Technology (2014) and Best in Mobile Fan Experience (2016).

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Full Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast, where your host Josh Sweeney will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals, and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Josh Sweeney: Hello, and welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast. Before I get started, I would like to thank Prototype Prime for this amazing podcasting space. Today, we’re joined by Ashley Pryor of Experience.

Josh Sweeney: Ashley, thanks for joining us.

Ashley Pryor: Thanks for having me.

Josh Sweeney: So, tell us a little bit about yourself and Experience.

Introducing Ashley Pryor

Ashley Pryor: Sure. I have been working in HR for about 11 years now, grew up from HR, did my undergrad, master’s degree in the space. I have grown up in Michigan, moved to New York City for six years, worked for a few startups, I worked for the NBA and the NFL headquarters. I worked in big pharma, and then before leaving, I worked for a financial tech startup. Then, coming to Atlanta, I am here with the sports’ technology company called Experience. We are a sports and live entertainment ticketing service that works directly white label with sports teams as well as NCAA, and through concert venues like LiveNation.

Ashley Pryor: We also have a product called INWEGO, which is unlimited events in large cities. You pay a subscription fee, so similar to Netflix-

Josh Sweeney: Okay.

Like Netflix, but for EVENTS!

Ashley Pryor: Except it’s for events. So, here in Atlanta, we have, where we started, we have launched out to multiple other cities. Actually, for our listeners, if you’re interested,

the promo code for 50% off is ‘culture

Josh Sweeney: Awesome. That’s a great promo code.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: Thank you. So, what kind of events are on the app?

Events Included

Ashley Pryor: Sure. It’s anything from

  • sporting events 
  • concerts
  • breweries 
  • various weird things in Atlanta

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Ashley Pryor: They were bar crawls on it throughout Halloween and the Christmas bar crawls were on it as well. They have something that’s tailored to every type of person. So, if you just want to go to a brewery for a flight, you get a free flight. If you want to check out a new venue or see a new comedy show, it’s really good for people that are new to Atlanta as well, or, like I said, we have multiple other cities, but good for people settling in, in a new city.

Employee Plus ONE

Ashley Pryor: The great thing about my organization is we offer it for all employees with their plus one. So, we actually use it as a way to get employees to get together outside of the office, as a big promotion for them to go to do fun things outside of the four walls of our business and spend time together as employees.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I love the idea. Unlimited’s a huge, popular-

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Josh Sweeney: Concept nowadays. I know the movie pass-

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Unlimited

Josh Sweeney: Unlimited movies. I hear that’s challenging business model for them so far.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah, we’re doing a little bit better so far.

Josh Sweeney: Netflix, obviously, unlimited.

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Josh Sweeney: Lots of unlimited coming, makes it a lot easier to make that purchase decision.

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Josh Sweeney: Given all of your experience, all these different organizations that you’ve worked from or worked for, HR, everything else, what has been the most memorable, other than where you’re at now, what’s been the most memorable company culture experience you’ve had?

Most Memorable Experience

Ashley Pryor: Sure. So, I got very lucky joining BetterMent, was the financial tech company that I joined. I joined when they were very low in employee count, so a little over 100. Since that time, they grew to about 225, and we were given a lot of flexibility to do a lot of really fun things with employees, were given big stipends of money. We created this concept called:

Bands

 which is small groups of employee populations at different levels in the organization, all from different departments, and as we grew as a business, we noticed people were starting to not know who each other were, so we put them in groups of different types of people to get to know each other, and we gave them a pool of money and said, “Go throw axes at this new cool place,” or, “Go to dinner, make sure you invite spouses, have them get to know each other,” and they were in those families or bands for a year.

Every competitive event that we did in the office, we would keep them in those same bands. So, mine, we had my leader of my band is … his last name was [Burgel 00:04:02], he had this big masculine beard, and we all made T-shirts with his face on it of like the Burgel family.

Ashley Pryor: It was just a really nice way, especially settling in to New York with a new group, to get to know people on a different level outside of the office.

The Threshold

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I love the idea of the bands and getting everybody together ’cause, from my research, I think there’s like a threshold somewhere around 150 where people just stop getting to know each other-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: Like the group’s too large. So, you have to break them into these sub-groups and figure out how to build those relationships.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: So, how do you think the fun factor of all of that really helped with the intangibles of building the relationship, performance, retention-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: Like all of the impacts that you would like to have out of spending those dollars?

Exit Interviews

Ashley Pryor: Sure. So, oftentimes, when you see people leave and you do exit interviews, they talk so much about, “I’m going to miss my team and I’m going to miss my manager and everything that we do.” For a lot of people, it was, “I’m going to miss all these other people that I’ve built these strong relationships with.” I think that on its own of keeping people in an organization, you want to feel like you’re included. Diversity and inclusion is such a big focus for a lot of companies, and I think that’s a way that you can make people feel more included, especially as a new employee when you grow that fast.

You oftentimes, starting a new job, you get nervous, “Am I going to fit in? Are people going to like me? What if I’m really introverted?” This really pushed them to get out of their shell and spend time with people they wouldn’t normally have those conversations with. You could say, “Hey, did you know how cool Larry is? He sings karaoke on the weekends and he’s so good.”

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Building Bonds

Ashley Pryor: Like those are the really exciting things about building those bonds that I think you cannot … you can say I give them $500 every three months, but that money means so much more when you have those feelings coming out of my work, saying look at all the cool things my office, my employer does for me.

Josh Sweeney: How do you go about, in your role, how do you go about justifying the spend-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Justifying the Spend

Josh Sweeney: And going and getting budget for these types of things? What is the impact everybody’s seeing and the executive team seeing where they say, “Yes. We need to spend that money on company culture?”

Ashley Pryor: Sure. I think, if you’re just building this out, the most important thing you can do is find ways to do it without the money. You look at best practices at other companies, finding ways to encourage those people to do it. One way that I’m doing it at my current company is really pushing other team members to do it on their own because good culture doesn’t come from HR, good culture comes internally from other people in the organization, representing your brand and what you want them to push out. So, I think if I’m not saying, “Hey, let’s all do a happy hour together, that you’re going to pay your own tab for-“

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Getting out of the Office

Ashley Pryor: If I’m saying, “Hey, someone on my Ops team, can you get a group together? We’ll pay for the first round of drinks.” And just getting them out of the office and doing that is a good way to start it. It’s hard to ask for those dollars, but I think some of the ways that we have focused on justifying it is look how many years our employees have been here at the company, look how many employees we’re adding, how do we make sure that they’re feeling like they’re included? And the people that have been here forever, they always say, I hate when people say this, “Remember how it used to be?”

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Inside Jokes and Great Stories

Ashley Pryor: And they have all these inside jokes and all these great stories about when they were all in one conference room, working together and they have all these fun memories. How do you help them create new memories with people that don’t have the closeness or experience with others that they should have?

Ashley Pryor: I think really trying to find ways to say, “How do we make the new people feel included?” is really important, but companies that typically transfer over from a startup to high growth, they face a lot of turnover. A lot of people that work at those companies only want to work for startups.

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Cheaper to Keep Her

Ashley Pryor: My company is in that phase now where they’re going from … we’re all in different sides of the office and people don’t really know each other, and we’re facing more turnover. I think, looking at that, if we can put dollars into saying it’s cheaper for us to keep people happy than it would be to go out and try to hire someone new and train them up, that’s what makes the big difference in terms of focusing on the retention.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, most definitely. You mentioned one thing that kind of caught my ear earlier, which was company culture isn’t HR pushing these things down on you, right, it’s the experiences of the people. I posted a video not too long ago where I kind of put my stake in the ground and said, “HR is not company culture.” To us, it’s actually a new department.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Talent and Culture Department

Josh Sweeney: It’s something new that you will see in organizations, maybe over the next 5 and 10 years, you’ll have whole departments and HR will be something totally different. What are your thoughts on that?

Ashley Pryor: Yes. You can really look at HR as being more of the administrative, tactical process side of things or you can look at it being the fun, innovative, let’s be best in class. In my world, it’s talent and culture, and we kind of blend the two. Because we only have 84 employees, that would make sense that we try to blend. As you grow, you do want to separate the two because, unfortunately, that culture team can build those fun events with lots of alcohol but then the HR department has to come in and say, “Susie, why did you make that decision [inaudible 00:08:53] drinking so much?”

Separate Talent and Culture

Ashley Pryor: You kind of have to separate the two in terms of kind of the goals of what you do with those two groups. But I think in creating good culture or creating good perks, you’re really looking at, “How do you retain and attract the best talent?” I think a partnership of those two groups is good, but I do think like having a designated culture team, like I have a designated culture person on my team.

Grace

Her name is Grace and she is the best hire I’ve ever had in my life. She focuses on how to keep people happy and what can she do every day to make an employee’s life better. Those things are not at the … unfortunately, sorry, guys, for my team at Experience, that’s not at the top of my list because I also have to think about the business. I think the goals of both of those groups, one’s focused solely on people and keeping them happy and the other’s on how do we keep the business going with this machine that we have?

Josh Sweeney: Right. I love it.

Josh Sweeney: With all of those experiences that you have, I like to preface this question by, don’t say the name, you don’t have to call anybody out, but-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: What’s your worst culture experience? What was the one thing you experienced where you’re like, never going to happen again?

Worst Culture Experience

Ashley Pryor: Yeah. I think I hinted at it a little bit on the drinking side. But one of the biggest challenges is, as you grow as an organization, making sure that you’re implementing programs that are going to be sustainable as you continue to grow. A lot of times, executive teams will look at a bottom line number of, this is my investment in people, but they don’t continue to multiply it by the number of people. For example, at this company that I was at, they actually flew people down, this is in New York, flew people down for a fun trip where we all stayed in cabins and it was a lot of fun. They put everyone in an airplane and put them in this situation, and then everyone was drinking, away from their husbands, wives-

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Ashley Pryor: It was probably not the best situation. But for that small of a group, it was okay. When you multiply that by two, things can get a little out of hand. I think in retrospect, one, you hear the comment, “I wish it was like it used to be and I wish we had those fun perks again,” but then you also say, “That wasn’t sustainable-“

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Building Perks

Ashley Pryor: “For a team to be able to continue to grow.” So, one thing I will say, when you start building out really great perks or things in an organization, when you start taking them away, it’s very noticeable. People will comment on those things. If you start taking the avocados that you order in weekly for your toast, employees will make a comment-

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Ashley Pryor: Say, “Is our company not doing well? Why don’t you guys care about us anymore? What about the avocados?”

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Ashley Pryor: They notice when it’s taken away.

Josh Sweeney: And it’s just of season, really.

Ashley Pryor: Right. Or we just decided to order from a different vendor that week to test it out. They don’t always know, but when you take it away from them, they do notice. So, when you start building programs, think about in six months, in a year when we’re double the size or more employees, can we still do it? I think that’s a really important question to ask ’cause I think you move so fast like, this is cool, this is cool, but what happens-

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Ashley Pryor: When you multiply that. I think it’s a big deal.

Alcohol at Events

Josh Sweeney: And what I was hearing as well from that is, from your HR perspective, alcohol doesn’t make every event better or …

Ashley Pryor: I think it depends on the situation. So, I think it’s, you have groups of people that maybe don’t drink-

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Ashley Pryor: We just had our holiday party last week, and you’re in a situation where there’s some people that may not be drinking, you still have executives at the venue, people are taking shots. I think to a certain extent, especially in a company that’s pretty young, some people, it’s their first job, they haven’t learned, maybe I shouldn’t have drank that much yet.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Learning your Limits

Ashley Pryor: I think having their manager in situations where they’re seeing that is probably not the best from a professional aspect. I don’t think you ever learn that in those situations. You hope that college you learn what your limit is, but then you see some people and you’re like why did we make that decision. I think that provides some challenges as companies get larger and you do throw those kinds of events, when do you cut it off and say, “Okay, we’re not covering the happy hour. Anymore drinks, you cover on your own,” when is it still our responsibility for that employee’s behavior? That’s a gray area ’cause even though there’s-

Josh Sweeney: Oh yeah.

Ashley Pryor: We’re not paying for it anymore, we’ve started that event and we executives there witnessing those things. So, it’s just something to think about as you start to offer those kinds of perks.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I’m sure it can be a challenge.

Ashley Pryor: Yes.

Josh Sweeney: I’ve been to a number of holiday events where people did not know that alcohol does not make everything better.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: There is a stopping point, and some people, yeah, don’t know that necessarily.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Favorite Part of Experiences’ Culture

Josh Sweeney: Awesome. So, at Experience right now, what is your favorite part of company culture?

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: What’s the one big thing that you’re like, this is different from anywhere else I’ve been?

Ashley Pryor: So, the reason I came to Experience is because I was given the opportunity as the very first HR hire to build from scratch, you build what we think is going to be best for the organization, and we will let you run with it. The great thing about Experience is, that’s not just true for my department, it’s true for other parts of our company and why we’ve been so successful, and why people are so happy to be there. Most of our engineers have been there for more than three years, which is pretty substantial, considering the turnover-

Josh Sweeney: Oh, yeah, definitely.

Ashley Pryor: In the engineering team. I would say it’s that ability to build and grow what I think is best. For example, I thought it would be amazing to offer in-house massage therapists one time a month to come in and do 20 minute chair massages.

Do Not Disturb Days

We did it the same day we started a program called Do Not Disturb Day. This is a day where you have no meetings. So, if I’m looking at my calendar in a given week and I have no meetings on one day, the chance I might want to work from home is pretty high. So, how do we get people in the office focus on their work, not doing meetings, but then getting a break to go get a massage?

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Ashley Pryor: That has probably been my … one of the biggest contributions to the organization in terms of, we made a really potentially unproductive day really productive by getting them in-

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Ashley Pryor: And then they can focus on whatever it is they’ve putting on the … on the last of their to-do list. That was really exciting for me.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Ashley Pryor: Something I-

Snowball Effect

Josh Sweeney: I love the combination of the do not disturb and the massage that gets you into the office-

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Josh Sweeney: ‘Cause I can see how that could snowball into some issues of everybody kind of scattering-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: And knowing that they don’t have meetings that day.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: I can’t remember what book I read, I read one at one point, and I think they were advocating for all the meetings had to be done before noon, across the board. So, they had meetings every day but after noon, there was no more meetings because the frontline people actually have to get stuff done, and managers, it’s all about communication, meeting, gathering, getting together for a lot of the decision making-

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

The Overflow

Josh Sweeney: And it starts to overflow into the frontline of people who have to write code or have heads down time.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: So, I thought that was a unique way to solve the problem too.

Josh Sweeney: With all the leeway that you were given-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: In building the HR department the way that you wanted to and the way that you saw best fit best, what was like the biggest lesson learned? What was one thing that you were like-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: You thought it was going to be amazing, and it didn’t work out the way you thought?

Motivating Factor

Ashley Pryor: One of the big programs that I have implemented, and I have never done this anywhere else in HR, which was really exciting was, I have had every single manager go to each employee on a bi-quarterly basis and ask, “What are your top three motivating factors?” There’s a list of about 10, can be work-life balance, exposure to senior leaders, title, compensation, benefits. They tell you what their top three is, and you, as a manager, it’s your job to tailor your management style to that direct report. But ideally, the way we were going to launch it out is, we would try to build programs to address the groups at large. Like if, for example, for our company, our number one motivating factor across the company is the ability to build something new.

Josh Sweeney: Okay.

Ashley Pryor: Very exciting, awesome results, but then, now we look back, and we’re starting to become more stable in how we do things, and with there’s process for building something new. So, even though it’s nice to know everybody wants to do that-

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Expectations

Ashley Pryor: It’s a lot harder to do that as we grow from a startup to the growth [inaudible 00:16:25]. So, I would say, I didn’t know what would come out of that, and I think, in my career where I’ve learned the most is making mistakes of these are what we’ll do for you. I think people had a lot of expectations to come out of that. It ultimately what came out is managers knew how their team was motivated, but we couldn’t do a lot on a company level to say, “We’re going to start creating more opportunities for you to just go off and build new things.” It was a lot harder for us.

Surveys

Ashley Pryor: Or most companies, if compensation, benefits was the number one, what would they … I mean, do they change everyone’s compensation and say that, “We hear you.” And that goes for surveys too. When you survey your team, you better be ready to follow through with action planning. I think you oftentimes get so caught up in thinking that the data is going to be the truth for everything, and once you see it, you’re like, “Okay, how do I do this?”

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Ashley Pryor: The right way.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. They’re going to give you all the input that you ever wanted-

Ashley Pryor: Yes.

Josh Sweeney: And on top of that, you actually have to take action on it-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: Or they won’t fill out the next survey.

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Josh Sweeney: Or-

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Josh Sweeney: You have to take action on some-

Ashley Pryor: Exactly it.

Josh Sweeney: Other piece of it that you were surprised by.

Ashley Pryor: Yep.

Josh Sweeney: See that a lot in surveys.

Josh Sweeney: Last question is, what do you most look forward to implementing-

Future Implementation

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: From a company culture perspective?

Ashley Pryor: We recently had a CEO switch in January, so, it’s been interesting seeing him take over the reigns and really adapt to a whole new role. But I really look forward to HR and Talent, we prefer to call it-

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Ashley Pryor: Being more of a focus in the new year, in 2019, for it not to be in the background, for it to actually be the forefront of what we’re doing as an organization to be a place that wants to attract, retain, and develop our people. Those are our three pillars that I focus on from my team strategy, but I think the one that excites me the most is our attention to development.

Development

We just started a $500 learning and development stipend for all employees, but we’re actually going to start bringing more trainings into the office. We had Duarte Presentation Skills come in this past month. I think more emphasis and more dollars towards developing our people so they can get to that next level is so, so great, especially for employees that have been there for a long time, and it’s their first job. How do you continue to develop them? Those things are really exciting for me.

Continuing Education

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I know continuing education for our work motivators that we look at for our organizations, continuing education seems to come up very highly and often for a lot of groups or departments as that work motivator. We don’t see as much of it as we would probably like.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: A lot of other people are … they look at different types of rewards, whether it be financial or benefits or whatever it might be.

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: So, I’m interested to hear further about-

Ashley Pryor: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: What you guys do in the coming year and how that all works out for you.

Ashley Pryor: Of course.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. Thank you for having us … or thank you for coming in.

Ashley Pryor: Thank you for having me.

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Josh Sweeney: Thank you for joining the Epic Company Culture Podcast. This has been an interview with Ashley Pryor of Experience. Have a great day.

Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the Epic Company Culture Podcast with Josh Sweeney. If you enjoyed this content, please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts, visit EpicCulture.co.

Speaker 1: If you have questions or topics you would like us to address or expand on, tweet us at EpicCulture1 or email at podcast@epicculture.co.

 

Podcast Highlights and Resources

Quotables:

  • The great thing about my organization is we offer it for all employees with their plus one. 
  • We gave them a pool of money and said, “Go throw axes at this new cool place,” or, “Go to dinner, make sure you invite spouses, have them get to know each other.”
  • I think there’s a threshold somewhere around 150 where people just stop getting to know each other.
  • Good culture doesn’t come from HR, good culture comes internally from other people in the organization.
  • I think some of the ways that we have focused on justifying, it is look how many years our employees have been here at the company, look how many employees we’re adding,
  •  it’s cheaper for us to keep people happy than it would be to go out and try to hire someone new and train them up. 
  • One thing I will say, when you start building out really great perks or things in an organization, and you start taking them away, it’s very noticeable. 
  • Most of our engineers have been there for more than three years, which is pretty substantial, considering the turnover.
  • When you survey your team, you better be ready to follow through with action planning.

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Prototype Prime is a 501(c)3 non-profit incubator focused on early stage software and hardware technology startups. Our mission is to provide startup companies with the support they need to launch & scale.

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