Square is known to many of us for revolutionizing the payments industry—creating tools that help entrepreneurs and small-business owners start and run their businesses. Since it was founded in 2009, Square has churned out one innovation after another, changing the way we think about the small business economy. Last year, the San Francisco-based organization processed more than $50 billion in GPV (gross payment volume).

What you may not know is that Square is driven to success through a strong sense of purpose—an enduring vision that powers its product design, customer success, marketing, and every touchpoint in between, including its employees.

In advance of her upcoming presentation on purpose at Square at the HCI Employee Engagement Conference in San Francisco, we sat down with Square’s People Analytics lead, Dr. Anna Merritt, to understand the role that data plays in driving a sense of purpose throughout the organization.

“We believe in an economy that has room for everyone’s dreams. Where there’s a shorter distance between having an idea and making a living from it. Where anyone can build what they want to see in the world.”—Square’s “Dreams” campaign

People-centric thinking and people analytics at Square

Sneh, Glint: What does it mean to be the “People Analytics Lead” at Square?

Anna, Square: I started at Square about a year and a half ago. Before I joined, there wasn’t a dedicated People Analytics team or anyone who was just focused on employee-centric metrics; here and there some teams would do their own analysis based on available data. 

So, my goals coming into this role were to create standard metrics that looked at the Square employee experience and start sharing those more broadly across the organization. I also applied my background in research psychology to designing our internal surveys, including a short quarterly employee engagement survey we call Pulse.

Over time, we’ve been able to apply deeper analysis across the entire employee lifecycle—from before an individual joins Square through their decision to leave for another opportunity. It’s important for us to understand trends around these milestones to inform our strategy and improve the employee experience.

Sneh, Glint: How are People Analytics leveraged at Square?

Anna, Square: Appetite is extremely strong for data across the board. Square is very data-driven in every aspect of its business, which is partly the reason my role was created. Before I joined, the HR team hadn’t been as data-oriented as they wanted to be, and the leaders really wanted meaningful data and insights from HR.

Now, leaders are very grateful for everything we can tell them about their team—it helps them understand trends they are seeing or maybe disprove things they thought were true. Everyone is very open to what the data is telling them, which is key to making informed decisions and taking the right actions.

An example of how we leverage People Analytics is via our Pulse survey program through Glint. When the Pulse results become available, I sit down with each of the HR business partners for a data discussion. I bring the analytical lens to the conversation, and they bring the business and team knowledge to the table. Together, we craft insights about what the data is saying, how it’s connected to the business, and present back a set of insights to the leaders. These insights have led to meaningful change and improved survey results on many teams.

Sneh, Glint: How does the work you do impact the “sense of purpose” that is tightly embedded in Square’s mission and values?

Anna, Square: Our purpose is “Economic Empowerment”, which really started with Square’s founders, who wanted to create a company that allows anyone with a business or business idea to participate in the economy. They wanted to provide a simple solution for payment processing that was easy, transparent, and accessible to everyone, unlike traditional credit card processing options. And that purpose fuels our company at every level. We call it a purpose versus a mission because the idea is that missions can change, but our purpose (economic empowerment) remains evergreen.

We started to measure purpose on our surveys and found that it’s consistently correlated to employee engagement and retention. People say that a sense of purpose is the thing that makes them want to come to work every day. Our data supports this—employees who find meaning in their work are more likely to stay with Square.

There are two questions on the survey that are related to purpose: one question is about whether people feel like the work they do is meaningful and the other is whether people feel motivated by Square’s purpose. We’ve done a lot with the scores and comments to create resources internally that support the understanding of purpose at the individual and company levels. 

The continued goal is to take feedback from the surveys and other channels to find out how employees are feeling about purpose and what we can do to make it connect with everyone. Square has a transparent culture where people feel comfortable and compelled to provide this feedback, especially about purpose.

Sneh, Glint: How would you define “people success” at Square through this lens of purpose?

Anna, Square: People are the foundation for our business—they build the products and work with sellers to make sure they are successful. Without our employees we would not be able to move forward in our purpose of economically empowering our customers.

We want Squares to be engaged, motivated, and innovative—this leads to success at Square. People who are passionate about our purpose are excited to come to work, and go above and beyond to help sellers. This strong sense of purpose also attracts talent—I’ve interviewed many candidates who want to work at Square because they, or a friend, or family member use the product to run a business, and they’re hoping to contribute to empowering sellers.

Sneh, Glint: How does connecting “purpose” to your employee experience impact business and customer outcomes?

Anna, Square: Creating empathy with our customer is woven into everything we do as a company. This leads to a better understanding of our sellers and, in turn, better product design. The closer we can be to the seller experience, the better we can understand their needs and then incorporate that into our product. So it’s keeping employees connected to that purpose of economic empowerment, and then bringing it to life through tangible connections to our customers.

At our offices, our Office Experience, Internal Communications, and HR teams ensure that those customer-centric themes are very consistent across all the touchpoints of the employee experience. Square intentionally makes our sellers very visible in the office in the physical spaces that our employees interact in every day in a few different ways:

  • Internal beta testing: Wise Sons Deli and Andytown Coffee Roasters, two long-time Square sellers, run one of our office lunch options and our office coffee bar. We beta-test new features with them, and in turn they get a direct line of feedback to Square and a steady stream of customers. Their presence in the office is a constant reminder of our sellers.
  • Seller Wednesdays: We have one of our local sellers run a small pop-up shop in the office every Wednesday to sell their goods or services, which increases interaction with the sellers themselves.
  • Internal shadow program: Employees can shadow team members in other departments to understand the impact of specific roles on the sellers. For example, many people find it very valuable to shadow customer support and hear the issues that sellers call in about.
  • “For Every Dream” short films: We’ve always highlighted seller stories at our company meetings and communications. These stories are also shared externally to put faces and names to our purpose. This year we invested in creating a short film series that captures the lives of our sellers in a very tangible and personal way. Seeing and experiencing the impact we’ve had on our sellers’ livelihoods through their voice is deeply moving and breathes life into our purpose. Most recently, we told the story of the movie theater in Webster City, Iowa.

Sneh, Glint: What are some best practices or advice you have for other companies out there that are trying to weave purpose into their employee experience?

Anna, Square: First, be thoughtful and take care in your internal communications about purpose. You can give employees information about the number of customers you have or how much you’re increasing their sales—but something more emotional and personal will resonate the most with people. Find the people who have been positively impacted by your product and tell their stories.

Second, your company purpose has to be real and authentic. Our business model truly aligns with the goal of empowering sellers. Our customers are small businesses, and they want to grow their sales and revenue. Our purpose and philosophy helps us set them up for success.

Finally, you have to allow employees to continually question your purpose. We’ve created an environment here for people to ensure our purpose aligns with our growing strategy—e.g., how does our purpose align to larger sellers? Our leadership is very open to answering those questions because Square fosters this transparent, two-way communication. Empower your employees to keep you honest.