From the outside looking in, PartnerHero is a services company that builds teams of talented individuals for growing brands. But that's not the business we're in.
We are in the business of culture.
More accurately, we are in the business of exploring how company culture can be an instrument for societal transformation. As you can imagine, that sounds esoteric and audacious, so for the past 8 years we’ve presented ourselves as an outsourcing company.
But make no mistake, we are in the business of culture.
We are curious about how work shapes people and the communities they live in. Does their work lift them, does it nourish them, does it allow them space to become a better version of themselves…or does it take without replenishing, does it demand without caring, does it expect without reciprocating? Does the work create trust, a sense of ownership, allow for growth, and instill humility? Or does it reinforce our fears, and create separation, distance and dissonance? Does the relationship elevate beyond a monetary transaction?
Our curiosity led us to examine where people live and work, and the various borders they must navigate or overcome. Without exception, in every corner of the globe, we witnessed how someone’s quality of life was directly tied to where they were born, with significant changes in outcomes, such as access to better schools and healthcare, caused by a mere 10 kilometers.
In addition to geographic and political borders, be they local or national, we saw how social constructs served to create limits on progress and full expression of one’s potential. We witnessed US state legislatures working to limit funding for pre-kindergarten schooling and healthcare, while also working to remove legal access to abortion. This combination serves to force parents, and women specifically, out of the workplace; robbing them of any opportunity to pursue greater economic outcomes for their families. And we know this is not an accident. Women, people of color, and other marginalized groups have faced systematically imposed limitations on their lives from the moment they are born—and arguably even before that.
And it was through this lens that we examined corporations of all kinds, including outsourcing companies, to see how they operated, what they valued, what they stood for. At scale, we discovered that systems, more so than individuals, are the instrument of choice for workforce oppression. These systems consisted of contracts, goals, metrics, financial incentives and disincentives, cultural indoctrination, hierarchies, and technology. We witnessed productivity obsessed managers reach a point where internal teams could no longer respond to further optimization methods, so they would turn to outsourcing, expecting more from an unseen person, while affording them less break time and compensation. In other words: when the math doesn’t work, change the equation.
This is done in pursuit of “success,” but is ultimately unsustainable. Success doesn’t come from tweaking around the margins and trying to squeeze blood from a stone. In our experience, culture leads, success follows.
But this isn’t how the corporate world is built. Enterprise software is purchased and rolled out, flush with gamification and other patronizing gimmicks, to enforce corporate standards and expectations while not accounting for the people using it. We find our days filled with video conferencing meetings, customer inquiries, and company messaging. Not one of these applications has any idea how we are doing, or that we may be burning out. Caring about us is not part of their programming. Instead, we are “gifted” with some type of meditation or wellness app, like placing a band-aid on a wound instead of cleaning up the broken glass that keeps cutting you.
As students of culture, as people who are motivated to see better outcomes for all of humanity, we cannot use tools that were designed for maximalist ends; optimizing seconds and pennies, reducing people to badge numbers. Imagine if you were a chef/owner of a health-focused restaurant, promising exquisite food that was beautiful to look at, wonderful to taste, and good for you to consume. What would your kitchen look like? What type of equipment would you have in it? Would everything be frozen, pre-made, purchased from mass-producers, and stored on pallets? Would you see lots of microwave ovens, lots of freezers, and lots of bulk packaging?
Or would you see fresh produce coming in each day, perhaps from your own garden in the back? Maybe you would see locally-caught fish, delivered each morning, in time for cleaning and prepping ahead of dinner service. Instead of microwaves, you would see colanders and pots, washing and prepping stations, and lots of composting bins, so that organic scraps were saved for further nutritional impact.
We cannot remove borders and limits using instruments of oppression, so we must create our own tools. We are in the business of culture, and that is why we are launching our Software Division, so that we can take what we are learning and encode it within systems that can be shared by others. Software, like any tooling, conveys the DNA of its makers (and users) to wider audiences. When you listen to music made using a Fender guitar, a Roland synth, or a Stradivarius violin, you are listening to what the makers of these instruments heard in their minds, as they imagined the perfect note, melody, or mood.
English essayist Raymond William stated: “Cultural work and activity are not… a superstructure… they are among the most basic processes of the formation itself.” If we are in the business of culture, we are in the business of formation. Technology, and software specifically, is our opportunity to accelerate and scale our ambitions for transformation, and to extend our learnings to an audience outside our company.
Our calling is straightforward:
We believe software will play a critical role in this journey.