Why I make everyone in my company be the CEO for a day

Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.

It’s no secret that most tech companies tout their culture as “unique” or “open,” but when you take a closer look, it’s often merely surface level. Yes, you may be dog-friendly or offer unlimited beer on tap, but how are you helping your employees become the best versions of themselves? We’re at our best when our employees are at their best, so we do everything in our power to make that a reality.

We’re at our best when our employees are at their best, so we do everything in our power to make that a reality.

After successfully running Vincit in Finland and Switzerland, in 2016 we made the jump to the United States, setting up an office in California. Although we had moved over 5,000 miles to a new country, it was important that our two main KPIs remain the same: Employee happiness and customer satisfaction. We believe that happy employees make clients happy, and happy clients refer you to others. Therefore, it was essential that this positive and prosperous workplace environment followed us to the United States.

So beyond traditional benefits, like full medical coverage, 401k matching and standard office amenities, we tapped into our Finnish roots to build and provide our employees with an uninhibited, supportive workplace. We keep our company culture as transparent as possible and fully believe in the power of empowering our employees. We have no managers and no real role hierarchy. Employees do not have to go through an approval process on anything they are working on.

We encourage our employees to make a trip to Finland to visit our headquarters. Instead of “Lunch & Learn” meetings, we host “Fail & Learn” meetings where employees get to share something that didn’t work and what they learned from it. And once a month, we let an employee become the CEO for a day.

Unsurprisingly, the “CEO of the Day” program is one of our most popular initiatives. The program gives our employee the reins for 24 hours with an unlimited budget. The only requirement? The CEO must make one lasting decision that will help improve the working experience of Vincit employees. Whatever the CEO of the Day decides, the company sticks with. They can purchase something for the company, change a policy, update a tool we use … Really, anything that they come up with can be done.

Though it may seem crazy, the initiative has paid off tenfold. Since we first began implementing the program in 2018, Vincit has grown year over year — so much so that we recently expanded to Phoenix, Arizona. We’ve won multiple awards for our workplace culture, including “Best Workplace for Innovators” by Fast Company, “Best Workplace” by Inc. Magazine, and we’ve featured twice on the Orange County Business Journal’s Best Places to Work list.

It’s helped a smaller tech company like ourselves draw top-tier talent from around the country. But most importantly, our employees are happy. We’ve seen increased involvement and ownership from our employees, and a closer-knit company community has evolved. In an industry where employee turnover is sky high (tech has the highest turnover rate of any industry), many employees have stayed with us since we expanded our company into the U.S.

One of our mottos, “Do as you would do,” already fits the CEO of the Day mindset. We want our employees to have a great deal of autonomy and authority in their everyday responsibilities. The program has also helped us keep up with our employees’ ever-changing needs, demonstrate our trust in them, and shine a light on issues that may often be overlooked by a CEO or company executives.

Because of the program, we’ve:

  • Bought a companywide Uber account to ensure safe rides following post-work happy hours.
  • Provided all employees with a Udemy subscription to help them hone their talent and learn new skills.
  • Created a Fun Friday bonding event that takes place every last Friday of the month. Food and drinks are provided!
  • Purchased Vincit-branded Gore-Tex jackets for all employees for those chilly office days.
  • Implemented an in-office library for employees to share and swap their favorite books.

While every CEO will implement one lasting decision, not all of these decisions will be successful. These decisions can and have failed; in fact, failure is commended. The CEO of the Day program is meant to show Vincit’s employees the complexities that go into every companywide decision; let them practice decision-making from a perspective beyond their day-to-day duties; and make big decisions they would not normally make without being overwhelmed. No matter the outcome, our employees can see how their contributions matter, and that we trust and value their input — something that’s extremely important for a growing company.

For a new employee or a new office like our Phoenix location (or any fast-paced, creative and forward-thinking tech company, really), establishing a culture of trust fosters creativity and connections. Not only does this often lead to lower onboarding times and better communication, ultimately, it leads to better work. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, 18% of new employees say it takes a year or more for them to feel like they can be an authentic version of themselves at work. We want every employee to feel important, free to be themselves, and be heard from the very beginning.

Yes, we still incorporate our new employees into Vincit through traditional training and onboarding processes, but I believe that the CEO of the Day program is where I see employees fully come together. When Vincit acquired Devise Interactive in 2018, I saw the CEO of the Day program help bring us all together. And though we just expanded our offices to Phoenix a few months ago, I’ve already seen it help our two teams seamlessly become one.

Every employee will eventually be given the chance to become CEO for a day, but it is what they will do with that opportunity that will make others remember their lasting decision. As leaders, it’s up to us to give them that opportunity.