From bootcamp to business to being yourself at Branch

Simpplr Podcast Ep 39 -Advancing careers through an inclusive employee experience : headshot of Pratiskha Patel
How does one go from bootcamp to business to being yourself? We recently covered all three with Pratiksha Patel, Chief People Officer at Branch, a home and auto insurance company. Pratisksha shared their intentional employee experience process and how they build and inspire top talent.

Pratiksha Patel has always been drawn to employee experience, even before it was called that, and as the first-ever Chief People Officer at Branch, she sees her role as helping company culture and employee experience become more self-reinforcing as the company scales. We’ll summarize our chat below and be sure to head over to hear our latest Cohesion Podcast for yourself and subscribe so you don’t miss future shows!

Dreaming big at Branch

Founded in 2017, Branch is young and still somewhat fragile. As Pratiksha says, “I am acutely aware that I’m a steward of something particularly special and precious.” And it was part of its appeal.

Drawn to Branch from the word go, especially the people who worked there, she quickly discovered that Branch is a place for big dreams. And the mission to build a great employee experience emerged to fit that goal.

Employee experience - woman sitting and daydreaming while working

When she started out, Pratiksha was one of the few people at Branch with no insurance industry experience. So, she felt and discovered her way in parallel as the company developed. 

From the beginning, she was enamored by Branch’s mission to restore insurance to its original intent. It sought to be a force for the communal good, where costs could be lowered so more people could be covered. Pratiksha saw a great opportunity to build an enduring employee experience from this strong foundation.

“To be able to take a strong culture and take a shot at making it big and lasting. I mean, what CPO doesn’t want that?”

Since the company’s conception, the founders of Branch have intentionally created and developed the kind of company for which they’ve always wanted to work. Equally intentional is the relationship of the brand’s narrative to employee and customer experience. Pratiksha calls it a true inside-out brand, where it is understood that employees are the greatest asset to the business.

Company culture extends to customers, or members as they are called. This is something employees lean into every day with a shared mindset, continually under development. There are also shared, common behaviors called roots. These are apparent in how Branch employees work together on a daily basis. Multiple instances of these two working behaviors come up in just about every meeting, discussion, or conversation because they’re part of the vernacular.

The art of creative listening

Branch is recognized by Glassdoor as one of the best places to work in 2023. Reviews state Branch truly cares about its employees.

But how is it managed across variable workspaces? By managing expectations, Pratiksha says.

Branch keeps track of expectations and manages those by listening through various structured and organic methods. This allows them to be responsive to patterns, themes, and trends, while also intentionally reflecting, researching, and building ahead to be proactive. Employees can see how things are being shaped for them and what they can expect.

Listening to exit conversations, onboarding conversations, day-to-day conversations, and other channels in the flow of work, hearing what people are struggling with, and what they are asking about, and imagining, gives insight into employee experience.

Good information comes from this, but one area was lacking. And this came across loud and clear. Employees were craving more structure around career development.

Employee experience - woman holding a coffee mug with the phrase "like a boss" written on it

Reaching for the stars

Branch knew they had to do something to inspire employees along their career journeys while retaining their star performers. Something unique sprang from a core value about people and talent, and Branch’s developer bootcamp was born.

“The bootcamp comes from a core principle that many of us share, including our founders—that it’s really great to build talent.”

There is a 12-week, fully paid type of undergraduate program for those who have the desire and aptitude to work in software development, Pratiksha says, and what makes the program really special is that all boot campers to date have been from an under-represented category. And it’s wonderful to see untapped talent and people who haven’t had the learning and training opportunities turn into interns and developers matching Branch’s requirements.

Significant investments were made in 2022 to enable further learning, be it specific to a particular job someone is doing, skills development, or training to chase other opportunities within the company. This way, Branch is building talent to suit their needs, plus growing a pool of talent with the necessary skills.

This intentional inclusion of under-represented, mostly junior workers within the diverse company culture helps people advance their careers and stay employed at Branch. Equally important, members across all sections of the U.S. population are diverse as well, so how better to serve them than with the right mix of people and overall representation?  

The intentionally created, diverse working environment gives rise to all kinds of ideas and varied perspectives. This is a place where employees can share differences and where conversations around these differences are encouraged. There are even tools available to help share stories on more sensitive topics like social or political challenges in the world around us.

“We want to create an environment where you bring your perspectives and differences, and don’t just suppress them or leave them at home.”

Another way differences are celebrated is through community programming, where autonomy-driven, structured events can be run by those who want to run them and attended by those who want to get involved. These are about learning more about identity, heritage, and celebrations. And Branch creates the conditions so this can happen.

Branch employees clearly value the experience and opportunities the company offers, commenting that they get to be themselves, bring their ideas, and be heard and understood. And this is what is so special about Branch.

The dos and don’ts

Pratiksha emphasizes that there are clear dos and don’ts when building an employee experience.

To make positive headway, you need to be humble, open-minded and not set out to do what you’ve always done. Try to bring old and new experiences to the forefront. Review your techniques and how they might play out in the culture and context of your organization and how current and future workforce expectations fit into that.

“Be humble, bring a beginner’s mindset, re-imagine your relevant experiences, and don’t rely solely on your old playbooks.”

Don’t assume people are picking up what you’re putting down. If you’re trying to build a wildly successful company with an amazing culture, the likelihood of your colleagues, or even you, having experienced that is low. Even if you have, the goalposts have probably changed, and that means you’ll need to go deeper and be more intentional about bringing them along with you.

Which way forward?

Talking about how things have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, Pratiksha outlined some of the trends she expects to see in the future.

Workforce development will spread as more and more leaders realize it’s a great way to increase their own talent pool while doing something good. People will see the benefits of building talent versus buying, and this will give employees a valuable way to advance themselves going forward.

Pratiksha believes the focus on employee well-being will continue, and there will likely be a reckoning around reducing the carbon footprint tied to that. Since COVID, people appear to be commuting less, traveling less, and going out less. Somewhere, there’s a balance to all of that—between socializing, working remotely, and looking after yourself and the environment. We need to be more self-aware, prioritize the good things that work for us and take the initiative to change patterns that aren’t healthy.

Her advice for leaders is to check our assumptions at the door, take accountability for feedback on how we’re showing up, and work out how we could show up better. It’s important to find out how people are really doing. No news is not good news, so we shouldn’t keep saying that or assuming that. We need to know how we are affecting others.   

“As leaders, we must seek an accurate understanding of how our actions impact others across all levels of a company, and then we can unlock some real relationships, which could be really beautiful.”

For more information, Pratiksha is on LinkedIn and would love to see you there. And check out this podcast and other Cohesion Podcasts as you’re clicking around as well!

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