Transitioning from a small company where everyone knows each other to a midsize company with employees across the country creates a fundamental cultural shift, making it easy for employees to become disengaged with the firm’s mission and culture.
Cardinal Group has experienced vast growth since launching in 2008. In 2015 alone, the company saw a 38% increase in revenue, with 76% revenue growth in property management and 96% revenue growth in construction (two of its five business lines). It nearly doubled its workforce, from 249 employees in 2014 to 482 in 2015. The company was named to Inc. magazine’s top 5000 fastest-growing private businesses, at No. 647, in 2014 and Real Estate Forum’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2016.
Back in 2010, CEO Del de Windt and his partners noticed the growth was affecting their work. As the company grew from a handful of employees in one place to 50 employees in three states in 2010, their e-mail inboxes were swamped. All of a sudden, they were being bogged down with questions about passwords, URLs, and various systems like ADP.
“Executives who were trying to grow the company were totally hamstrung by these small requests,” he says. “It made no sense.”
De Windt wanted a tool that could help manage these requests but also connect his employees. When he couldn’t find it, Cardinal Group just built it. The first version—Dashboard 1.0, as de Windt calls it—handled the basics, like a shortcut to each of the networks and websites Cardinal Group used and a password vault for employees to store their account information for the various sites.
In the past few years, the functionality has developed immensely. The company is now on Dashboard 4.0. It’s a home base for all things Cardinal Group, from support tickets and benefits to a teammate directory and training center. There’s a main Dashboard that acts as the company’s official announcement space, where users see messages about system upgrades or training videos.
It’s not just a resource center, though; it’s a social network, too. Each employee gets a profile, similar to those on Facebook, where they can upload a photo and list hobbies. Users also have a personal feed that shows if someone sent them a message or commented on a photo they uploaded. There’s also a news feed from which employees can get updates from various groups they’ve joined based on their interests or local offices. It controls the space so that someone from the construction management team in Denver isn’t bogged down by the property management feed in San Francisco, if they don’t want to be.
De Windt says compiling these profiles as a teammate directory is more useful than creating a simple e-mail and telephone listing. Executives can use the network to familiarize themselves with people in each office and really get to know the team before they visit. It’s the small things, like knowing which sports someone follows, that make a difference.
Cardinal Group has also "gamified" the social network, creating points and badges with which employees can reward one another. If someone had a great meeting, their colleague or boss can give them a high-five or award them a badge that’s tied to one of 10 company values.
The possibilities go on and on, such as using Google API to on-board and off-board employees’ various accounts with one click and using company calendars to keep everyone in the loop on events. As de Windt follows through with this software, he sees unlimited potential, which he says is the reason he wanted to create it as proprietary software.
Something in the cultural dynamic at Cardinal Group seems to be working. Last year, the Denver Business Journal named the company the No. 5 best place to work in the city.
Over the years, de Windt has shown Dashboard to a few other CEOs and nonprofit organizers he knows who are interested in intranets that could help employees stay engaged.
“They articulate to me communication and culture challenges and the sentiment, ‘We can’t share our ideas or frustrations,’ ” he says. “When I show them this, they’re like, ‘This is exactly what our company needs.’ ”
For now, Cardinal is focused on its core platform in residential real estate; the software is just a tool the firm found necessary to build—though de Windt isn’t opposed to growing it out as a separate business. He sees its value as an industry-agnostic tool.
“This is how [millennials] interact. Yes, they’re on e-mail, but they’d rather be on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook,” he says. “Why shouldn’t companies with young workforces provide an outlet or medium in which their employees are most comfortable interacting?”