Sara Simmons, Director of Talent & Development, People Operations, has been an influential voice in shaping FourKites’ collaborative and motivating culture. Over the four-plus years she’s been with the company, she has had to constantly adapt and improve our benefits and programs to meet the changing needs of the team.
As the company has evolved over the course of the last six years – whether it’s as a result of doubling in headcount or moving remote overnight due to COVID-19 – Sara has been agile and forward-thinking in evolving the FourKites way of doing things. From finding new ways to publicly share colleague appreciation and recognition, to formal career paths across the company to accommodate FourKites’ rapid growth, Sara continues to find ways to build culture and enhance employee engagement throughout all corners of the company.
FourKites is honored to have been named a 2021 Best Places to Work by Built In Chicago! Sara’s unwavering dedication to FourKiters helped get us to this place, so I wanted to sit down with her to learn more about her initiatives over the years, and how they’ve evolved as FourKites has grown and matured.
Q: What has been your guiding light as you’ve helped to build FourKites into a great place to work?
A: In the same way we focus on adding value to our customers, I am focused on adding value for our employees. As our employees go through various life stages – move cities, get married, buy houses, start families, and experience other life-changing personal events – we’re always thinking about providing benefits that not only attract the best talent, but show that we are committed to investing in our employees and their future, and incentivize them to stay and grow with FourKites.
Q: Built In has awarded FourKites a 2021 Best Places to Work based on our elite tier of benefits, support, culture programs and initiatives. Which benefits do FourKites employees appreciate most, and how do you make sure you’re taking their needs into account?
A: It all ties back to the value we will bring our employees. Each year, we go through a thorough and comprehensive annual benefits review process. My team keeps a running list of suggestions that employees send to us or that we see might be competitive offerings in the market. We will then add or adjust elements of our overall offering, but at the end of the day, the ability to do that would not be possible without the support and buy-in from our CEO, Matt Elenjickal, who set the tone very early on when he green-lighted starting our 401K benefit (4% match,100% vested after 90 days) at just 25 employees. Having such a generous retirement program with under 30 employees is almost unheard of, and it’s something our employees still really appreciate. They also highly value our ability to provide quality and affordable benefits that meet the needs of whatever they might need at that stage in their lives, which range from affordable medical plans and flexible parental leave.
Q: How do you incorporate employee feedback into your planning?
A: Employee feedback has really helped to shape our programs and benefits, and it’s what allows us to be so agile as we grow. The Talent & Development team is constantly seeking out employee feedback, and since COVID-19, the need for employee feedback has been even more important. For instance, we were hearing from employees that they wanted more ways to connect with their coworkers now that the usual “water-cooler” time was gone. So we created a bi-weekly Culture of Connection Committee for interested employees to join and use as a brainstorming session to come up with ideas on how to better connect while remote. Also based on employee feedback, the Talent & Development team was very excited in 2020 to launch formal career paths for all departments, in partnership with department leaders.
Of course soft benefits are always important to building culture – cold brew on tap, company lunches, ping-pong tables and more. And we offer all of those things. But more and more (even before the pandemic hit), we’re seeing that what matters most to employees is financial security and long-term growth opportunities, and we are committed to meeting those needs.
Q: I’d be remiss not to ask: What’s your favorite part about working at FourKites?
A: My favorite part about working at FourKites is that no day or week is ever the same. I’ve worked in startup environments for the past 14 years, and I come from a family of entrepreneurs. It’s so rewarding for me to be in an environment that enables all of its employees to create, build and execute, and to really feel a sense of ownership over our work product and our impact on our customers.