StudioLabs has two decades of experience building digital products for the world's leading businesses. Their clients range from scrappy startups to Fortune 500’s household names. If a client can imagine it, Studio Labs can build it. They specialize in creating custom software, apps, wearable applications, games, and more for global brands like M&T Bank, PayPal, and Pepsi.
Our process is pretty standardized across the board, regardless as to whether we're working with a startup that just got their first $500,000 worth of funding or Estee Lauder, a multi-billion dollar international corporation
StudioLabs has a unique organizational structure. Client-facing team members are called “producers”, a hybrid of both product and project managers. This means they are wearing multiple hats at any given time. One day could be spent dealing with invoicing or project timelines. Another day could be all about product strategy or the user experience. Co-ordinating the tasks of a 45-person team, across multiple timezones, means all the leaders at StudioLabs need systems, and structure to keep everything on track.
“The biggest piece of our process is ensuring the people on our team, the producers, have everything they need.”, says Liz.
We are trying to create a team of highly successful leaders and that doesn't just happen through conversations. There has to be a real cultural shift.
Finding the right fit.
During the 2020 pandemic, the company nearly doubled in its number of employees. From a production perspective, the increased resources and talent, opened the door to new opportunities. Yet the influx of new people created a host of issues from a leadership perspective.
We added so many people in such a short period of time, the techniques we used to lead an 18-person company, didn't seem to be working anymore, says Liz.
A chance email from Fahd Alhattab, the founder of Unicorn Labs, came at the right time, as the descriptions from other courses weren’t resonating. After a quick call with Fahd to unpack StuidoLab's leadership challenges and whether the program was a good fit, Liz explored the Unicorn Labs site in-depth and was given access to some of the online training modules. “I was reading the stories of other businesses that previously worked with Unicorn Labs. There were so many issues they were having, that we were dealing with.”
“Issues arose not because people weren’t competent, they just hadn't done it before. The circumstances that came up, new managers weren't necessarily trained or equipped to deal with” says Liz
Liz says cracks also appeared in their ability to retain talent. After a software engineer left, it triggered a few more resignations. This was a turning point for StudioLabs. Solving the leadership challenge became a priority. Liz says the team went through traditional human resources training but the content was limited. The lessons dealt with extreme issues that can arise within an organization. This was helpful but not the core issue for StudioLabs. They needed guidance on how to help people see themselves as leaders or grow into leadership positions. They wanted strategies and playbooks for building a productive team. The old ways weren’t working, they needed something new.
Getting Started with Unicorn Labs
Scores are measured against industry benchmarks, then tracked after the program has finished understanding how the teams have progressed. After this, teams are provided a full schedule of how the training will unfold.
The onboarding experience was incredibly easy but also very detailed. In the instructions from the very first email, it was very clear what we had to do, how we had to do it, and when it needed to be done.
Unicorn Lab's leadership program was designed from the ground up to create an in-depth, asynchronous learning experience. In addition to over 30 hours of content, there are templates and frameworks that students can action immediately and a dozen group coaching calls to help keep people on the right path and share learnings. “There was a lot of flexibility for when we needed it. When you're as busy as we are, having the loose structure of jumping in and out is very helpful”, says Liz.
After every session, Unicorn Labs sent a detailed outline of what was discussed and the outcomes of the session. Liz says small details like this, speak to the commitment Fahd and his team have to their work and to helping organizations improve quickly.
“The continual feedback and guidance from Unicorn Labs ensured everybody was on the same page all the time. There were no questions about what we're supposed to be doing so,’ says Liz.
Liz says a great benefit of working with Fahd, was his presence throughout the entire process. It eased the anxieties she had previously, where the team would be left to their own devices to figure things out. The high-touch interaction made the experience that much richer.
As a company that creates complex software projects, this focus on psychological safety was especially important to the Director of Technology at StudioLabs. It was a foundational change the Director made after stepping into the role.
A Change Comes
Liz says the transformations for employees and the business as a whole have been substantial. The team has been actively employing learnings from the training. There are new phrases and processes which did not exist before. Liz also says creating psychological safety has become a top priority for everyone, which was apparent when the team scored higher in follow-up psychological safety score assessments.
“We had psychological safety before, but I think it was glossed over. I think that's a big shift for us. Recognizing how important psychological safety is and then actually employing the changes”, says Liz.
The onboarding process for new StuidoLabs employees has also been completely revamped. The person responsible for employee engagement used the Unicorn Labs' learnings as a blueprint to reshape how new employees are integrated into the company culture. Liz says from the moment they meet someone in the recruiting process, straight into their third month inside of the organization, everything that happens in that window has been completely overhauled.
“We've had two new hires, out of the blue say to me, ‘Your onboarding process is better than any company that I've ever worked at’", says Liz,
Liz says they have also noticed new strengths and operating protocols in their project management team. Before the leadership training, the team was always worried about getting products out the door and shipped. Liz says they scrutinized their production processes and realized some people were being asked to do far too much because they were very good at what they did. Changes were made to employees' workload. Liz says output remained the same, profitability remained the same and it made people happier, granting them a better work-life balance. Overall the biggest change that Liz sees is the mindset shift she was hoping to achieve; a new company culture grounded in empathy. It has also helped her, as an experienced CEO, approach leadership with a new and fresh perspective:
“I used to assume people operated the same way I did. I thought I had a strong grasp of how others operated. Now it's different. We don't take that for granted. We make a conscious effort to ensure everyone bought into our organization understands our culture, how it operates and how to create safe spaces for other people.
And that's a good thing. Whether you're an intern or a 20-year veteran. There are components of what you’re doing that are part of leadership. We have discussions with individuals now, to talk about what a leader is, even if they've never seen themselves as a leader before.”
The change has been so successful that StudioLabs has another group of leaders training with Unicorn Labs.