Culture is King in our Virtual World

Just over a year ago, Cengage transitioned overnight to working remotely with no idea of what the coming months would bring. I’ve been amazed and impressed by how our team – Cengage’s Global Technology (CGT) organization – has navigated this time and, when I reflect on elements key to our success, culture looms large. While culture has always been a focus within CGT, in this virtual world it’s more important than ever.

Cengage has recently evolved from a publishing company to an education technology company, and nowhere is that shift more apparent than within CGT – the engine driving the technology. While publishing companies traditionally have a top-down, hierarchical structure, CGT is the opposite. Our approach seems to resonate; we’re proud that, in an industry with a 20% attrition rate, ours is 12%. As a mission-driven company, Cengage is transforming the way that students learn so they can enrich their lives and achieve their dreams; employees stay with us because the work they’re doing makes a meaningful impact.

In building CGT, we looked for people who would challenge the status quo – people who are drivers, want to raise the bar, need to be candid, and recognize the value of working as a team. At our core, we’re problem-solvers, and we know how to leverage our speed and scale to be the best in the education technology industry.

CGT teams have autonomy to figure out how they work best. Engineers move between projects regularly to keep our thinking fresh. I often refer to the VW engine analogy; the VW group uses core engines across their line – Porsche, Audi, VW, even Lamborghini. While the engines are tuned differently, the core engine is the same. A VW employee is not part of the VW bug team – they are part of the engine team. The same is true at Cengage; rather than being locked into specific products or platforms, our employees leverage their expertise to drive innovation and excellence across our portfolio.

In addition to autonomy and flexibility, continued learning and development are central to how we work. Technology reinvents itself every four years – with tools changing all the time, we must constantly adapt. From our Aspire retreat for managers to the Skill Up week of learning that CGT will debut in March, we create opportunities where learning is fun. By carving out time for development, people gain new skills and perspectives they can apply to their work every day – from the McKinsey problem-solving process to open-source best practices.

Part of learning and development includes appreciating diversity. Some of our employees have been in the publishing industry for 30 years and others for two months – they bring different, valuable perspectives to the table. Through our employee resource groups dedicated to issues like sustainability, LGBTQIA, and women in technology, people come together and continue to learn, grow, and support one another.

In our remote world, our close culture helps us to stay connected. At Cengage, people are humans, not employees. In addition to sharing ideas, news and recognitions, our Slack channels are filled with photos of people’s dogs, babies, and recipes. Employees are recognized regularly through awards, and executives are accessible – whether through an open Slack channel dedicated to Q&A, or our Friday webinars and live discussions with Cengage CEO Michael Hansen.

Within CGT, we embrace risk, and this mindset fuels the innovation happening at Cengage every day. The proof is in our results. Last year, our online skills business (Ed2go) grew by more than 40%; Cengage Unlimited, the first-of-its-kind digital textbook subscription service, grew by more than 19%; our ebook sales grew by more than 40%; and our partnerships with higher ed institutions grew by more than 50%.

At Cengage, our aim is for people to love the work that they’re doing, and to enable all employees to grow and advance in their fields. Change is our only constant, innovation and new insights are encouraged, and we are all blazing our own trail. Above all, we believe in the power of learning.

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