Aug 11, 2015

How MailChimp University Helps Us Stay Weird and Grow Strong

Just a few of the 130 MailChimp University alumni

Weirdness is part of who we are at MailChimp. Our employees are creative, intelligent, independent people. We love what we do and treat each other with respect and generosity. We just do things differently. And as one of MailChimp’s 2 talent mentors, nurturing that difference is part of my job.

For the past few years, the company has been growing rapidly. A while back, we started asking ourselves and others how we could scale our weirdness in proportion to our growth while also getting stronger along the way. We wanted to help our employees learn new skills, advance their careers, and impact our company’s growth. We also knew we had to figure out how to do it the MailChimp way.

And so, MailChimp University was born.

Building a team to build teams

We partnered with Michael Sacks, an organizational development expert at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, to design a leadership development program to help MailChimp grow the right way. We wanted something that made sense for our culture and that employees at every level would get excited about.

So Michael spent some time absorbing our office culture. He hung out and watched us work, lurked in our chat rooms, and talked with as many MailChimp employees as possible. Along the way, he developed a list of driving questions:

  • What strengths and perspectives do each of us bring?
  • What makes us tick and keeps us going?
  • How we can have better conversations?
  • How we can collaborate on—but not force—change and growth?
  • And how we can find creativity in our differences?

These questions helped inform the curriculum we developed for MailChimp University.

MailChimp talent mentor Julie Remington and I comprise MCU’s 2-person team. Our goal is to empower MailChimp employees to succeed here and beyond, and to establish high-functioning teams that know how to be weird together. Professionally, effectively, powerfully weird.

The MCU curriculum covers a full range of leadership topics during 2 months of weekly, half-day sessions. For each new class of MCU students we pull folks from different departments with different start dates and different work experience. For each session we bring in different experts, from Emory Business School professors to communications consultants with 20 years of experience.

Typically, these types of development opportunities are only offered to executives, but MailChimp wants all employees to benefit from developing a leader’s skill set. The plan is for everyone in the company to go through the program in groups of 10 at a time. There are different tracks for executives, managers, and individual contributors, which helps us tailor course content and allows for meaningful and productive discussions.

"We felt strongly that everyone should participate in MCU so that we all have a common foundation of skills and language,” Michael says of the program. “People should use the material as they see fit, but starting on a common foundation will hopefully make collaboration easier and faster, reduce misunderstandings, and sharpen our culture."

Positive change and the future

Nine months and about 130 graduates into MailChimp University, we’re already seeing great results with a lot of momentum and energy around the program. Alumni are enthusiastic champions, diligently applying what they learned in the classroom to their day-to-day, and those who have yet to go through eagerly and curiously await their turn.

“It’s helped me learn how to better communicate with my peers, provide feedback through constructive means, and properly set expectations with development partners,” says MailChimp Partnerships Coordinator Tom Davis. “MCU provides employees with the necessary tools to continue maturing within their teams and MailChimp as a whole.”

As a member of the MCU education team, it’s been great to coordinate an amazing and unique program. But honestly, the most fun part of all is watching graduates at play every day in the company. Empowered by the tools gained in MCU, growing teams are working better together, managers are having more productive, complex conversations with those on their teams, and individual contributors are catching a vision for how they can better engage, support, and lead each other.

And we’re all growing weirder and stronger along the way. If you’d like to grow with us, we’re hiring.