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Scaling the Culture of a High-Growth Tech Company Where an Engineer Tells You It’s the Company They Want To Work at Until They Retire

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Holly May
April 20, 2022

“How do you plan to scale your culture” is one of the most common questions I’ve been asked by candidates, since we were 20 people and now that the team has grown by more than 10x. There’s no easy playbook, though a lot of intentionality and a crystallized culture help. This post is designed to help candidates and future Datavanters better understand what our culture is and how we amplify and scale it.

Our Way is a summary of the cultural principles that fuel growth and continuous learning and bold thinking. These principles were shaped over the course of our merger as we’ve navigated a massive expansion of our team and ambitions.

Last week, we hosted an in-person gathering with nearly 200 colleagues coming together (many for the very first time). A few quotes stuck with me:

“I’ve never seen so many smart yet low-ego people working together before!”

“This is the company I want to retire from, I love it here.”

“The culture is incredible, this is the kind of company I hope to grow and lead one day!”

“I had never seen a hackathon before. It was truly eye-opening to see what can happen when you pull a group of people together for a few days with the sole purpose of giving them time to develop new ideas.”

Our culture centers on continuous learning, growth-mindset, and a desire to expand one’s own — and the team’s — impact.

We strive to be the best place in the world for personal growth + learning.

Our commitment to creating an inclusive environment where all Datavanters — early career or experienced, technical or commercial, generalist or specialist — can thrive and develop is reflected in our unique approach.

Most companies hire individuals based on a generic list of qualifications and their past experiences. Then, these employers expect these individuals to stick to a defined scope of work responsibilities or “swim lanes”. Unique learning opportunities through high-impact projects and career mobility are the exception, not the norm.

At Datavant, our approach is different:

  1. Top talent moves around the organization — talent mobility is one of our secret assets
  2. We unleash what someone could achieve by designing roles to cultivate their potential
  3. Advancement is not zero-sum
  4. We embrace mistakes as learning opportunities — we don’t fear mistakes because we know that leads to caution, incrementalism and complacency

Top talent moves around the organization — and this mobility is one of our secret assets

At Datavant, we are always looking for opportunities to grow leaders from within. When possible, we promote internally to give employees the chance to take on a bigger role. Many colleagues are in challenging roles with steep learning curves — this is by design. Strong performers earn the opportunity to go deeper in their domain or take on a new challenge. We often call this a “tour of duty” and it reflects the way we view roles as stages or chapters.

We want our team members to experience the maximum level of learning and growth, and we believe this happens the fastest when being on the steep part of the learning curve and rising to the challenge of new responsibilities and increased complexity. What does this look like in practice? This could be an engineer taking on a new charter in Product Management, a Product Success lead doing a tour of duty in Marketing, a recruiting coordinator pivoting to new hire onboarding, a marketer jumping into an early stage idea to push it forward, or a high potential generalist new to the team jumping into a confidential transaction diligence.

[See more about this in the 3 career stories at the bottom]

Real quotes from real employees

We cultivate and amplify potential — we ask what someone could achieve and design roles and charters to stretch them

At Datavant, we do not allow ourselves to be limited by what’s been done before or by what we have done before, personally. While many organizations view selecting and vetting as an exercise to check the box against generic qualifications or experience, we put equal measure on what you’ve already accomplished and what you could do. We train our interviewers and our managers on how to identify potential, bet on that potential, and provide the resources (training, stretch projects, mentorship) to kickstart rapid journeys of professional growth at Datavant.

We embrace bold goal-setting too. Across all roles, we encourage our teammates to make ambitious goals that lean into the possibility of what can be done, as opposed to narrowing in on limitations. We think “how might we” rather than “why we can’t”. We celebrate even if we only get 70% there — knowing we’ve grown much more than we ever would have if we limited ourselves with constraints and fears.

Real quotes from real employees

Advancement and development are not zero-sum in a high-growth organization

In many organizations, growth is zero-sum: two internal candidates vie for a job, and one gets it and the other does not.

A new client comes in and only one of several talented team members gets to be that client’s representative.

At scale, this can create a culture where it’s a solo journey to the top, with everyone out for themselves. You hear colleagues ask aloud or think silently, “what’s in it for me?”. At Datavant, growth is far from a solo journey. Instead of competing for limited growth opportunities, we make it clear that high performance is always rewarded with a high-impact opportunity. We are growing so fast in every direction (team size, revenue, complexity) that there is more than enough for everyone to take on new things. It’s never static, and we rarely have any projects in “sustain and maintain” mode with incremental improvements. Even our foundational products — what you might think fall into maintain mode — have ambitious roadmaps to go big.

In this way, we see each individual’s growth as a collective win — colleagues are force-multipliers, so if one person levels-up with new skills or expanded impact, it’s good for all of us.

We make it a priority to support each other, which is why our internal kudos channel called “shout-outs” is one of the most active Slack channels. Mentorship and support from other Datavanters is the norm. If you reach out to any employee or leader to get their input, set up a 1:1 or learn about their career journey, you are almost guaranteed to be met with “yes, I’d love to, how about this week?” as a response. Our team self-organizes endless opportunities to learn from each other including: lunch & learns, pair coding, coffee chats and more. In our quarterly pulse surveys, Datavanters constantly report very high scores for feeling comfortable asking each other for help and support, and we plan to keep it that way.

Real quotes from real employees

We embrace mistakes as learning opportunities — we don’t fear mistakes because we know that leads to caution, incrementalism and complacency

When setting ambitious goals and challenging ourselves in new stretch roles, we will inevitably make mistakes along the way. As a company, we’re on a mission to solve a hard problem that has never been solved before at scale. So, an innovative mindset and culture that allows us to take smart risks is a critical ingredient for success. Mistakes are not a sign of weakness or complacency at Datavant. In fact, we believe that calculated risks and mistakes of action can be celebrated because they are an indication of key learning moments and reflection. And we always make sure to put those learnings into action.

We have rituals that ensure the same mistakes are not made twice, and that if we break something, we build it back even better. An example of this cultural norm includes conducting retrospectives — group meetings where we reflect on projects that didn’t go as smoothly as planned and sharing those learnings with the entire company. And at the heart of our learning culture rests on two domains:

  • Teachable spirit that embraces continuous learning, even if uncomfortable
  • Commitment to regular, actionable, and concrete feedback. We view feedback as a gift not a weapon and proactively provide and pull feedback from each other.

NOTE: This section does not apply to a handful of “never events” — mistakes that are truly irreversible that there should be deep process around preventing. We see breaches of our commitment to security & privacy as “never events.”

Real quotes from real employees

In the spirit of “show, don’t tell”, take a look at a few growth stories from current employees:

1) Salma Ratanjee (Check out Salma’s career story here)

  • Started August 2019
  • First Role: Implementation Specialist
  • Current Role: Product Manager

2) Dan Girellini (Check out Dan’s career story here)

  • Started March 2019
  • First Role: Engineer
  • Current Role: Leader of the Deidentified Switchboard Engineering Team

3) Vera Mucaj (Check out Vera’s career story here)

  • Started: April 2018
  • First Role: Business Development
  • Current Role: Chief Scientist and Leader of the Use Case Solutions + Clinical Trials Team

If you value personal growth and continuous learning in your professional life, and if you want to work with colleagues who are smart, nice and get things done, Datavant might just be the best place for you.

Check out our open roles, including a “build your own job description” role if you don’t find quite what you’re looking for. We’d love to have you join us on this incredible ride to connect the world’s health data to improve patient outcomes.

Special thanks to Kathy Khalvati and Annie Powers for significant input shaping this article


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