By Mahreen Khan
What do you get when you put together a jazz musician, a physicist, and a youth life coach? In this instance, the combination amounts to more than just a crummy joke. It amounts to a specialized decoder ring for talent, a software-driven consulting company known as CultivateMe, which officially launched this summer at The Hayground Camp in Bridgehampton.
CultivateMe is a platform for cultural change, for growing and developing employees and whole organizations, and for encouraging self-actualization in and around the business world. It is made up of two major components: technology and consulting. The technological aspect involves a 173-question rating system that allows individuals to determine their proficiency across a range of capabilities. The consulting aspect works to build upon the personalized self-assessment, or “selfie,” which is, according to the company’s website, “[a] completely unique visualization of your skill set.” The 55-minute process culminates into the creation of an interactive virtual iris–designed to look much like a sunburst–but with extending branches, each branch representative of a different capability.
The brainchild of the operation was Gabe Gloege, a former musician who entered the job market as flustered as most, after graduating with a degree he had no idea what to do with.
“I graduated from conservatory as a jazz composition major and got into the world and realized that wasn’t the life I wanted,” Mr. Gloege said. “So I immediately had to find new skillsets that had financial value, but I had no idea what the job market was like, what kinds of opportunities my own skillsets as a jazz musician would be relevant for, or what I should start to learn. There was no real pathway or guideline for that.”
Upon landing a temp job at a sales organization in 2001, Mr. Gloege’s life fast-forwarded, catapulting him into the previously unchartered terrain (for him, at least) of education technology.
“At one point, I was the learning and development director for a sales team of about 600 people in North America, and they had just merged about five different divisions together,” Mr. Gloege said.
The issue? Each sales representative that Mr. Gloege encountered knew less than a quarter of what they needed to know for the job. The caveat?
“It was a different 20-percent for everybody.”
At a loss as to who knew which information, who needed which information, and how he could deliver the appropriate information to the appropriate party, Mr. Gloege began brewing the idea of CultivateMe and his self-described ‘big itches’ began to surface.
“I would call [CultivateMe] a slow hunch that I’ve had for years in trying to solve my own personal challenges–to scratch my itch, if you will,” he said.
To bring his idea to fruition and gain an alternate perspective, Mr. Gloege called on an old colleague from The Princeton Review, Doug Weitz. Mr. Weitz, who works during the year as an English teacher at Ardsley Middle School in Westchester, as a youth life coach at Studio Life, and during the summer as an assistant director at Hayground Camp in Bridgehampton, is one of the co-founders of CultivateMe. Nikita Rokotyan, a professional in data visualization, is the third co-founder of the operation.
Mr. Rokotyan, who earned a PhD in physics, has always had an admiration for digital art.
“Data visualization kind of mixed all of it together. It’s at the same time science, as it is art. You program with visual things, and you need to program them in a way that they are accessible to people,” he said.
Though he had been involved in data visualization for many years, he started practicing professionally about three years ago. As a technologist, he fit the description of what the CultivateMe team needed–someone who could bring to life the images in Mr. Gloege and Mr. Weitz’ heads. When Mr. Gloege came across Mr. Rokotyan, a Russian native and resident, online, he shared with him his ideas. The trio embarked on what they recall as their “dating period” before making any formal commitments, and have now released multiple iterations of the program. They are the epitome of a virtual team, with Mr. Gloege working out of New York City, Mr. Weitz working out of Westchester and Bridgehampton, and Mr. Rokotyan working out of Russia.
“The power of all this–you can really play with feelings of people and tell them a story using data,” Mr. Rotokyan said.
Due to Mr. Weitz’ decades-long relationship with the camp and the fact that the camp’s beliefs fit well with those of CultivateMe, the program has been launched and implemented for the first time ever, at Hayground Camp. As part of the company’s implementation, a series of growth meetings–referred to by the Cultivate clan as “concrete engagements”–have been held throughout the summer between counselors (i.e., the facilitator and the foci). The intention is to use each counselor’s customized iris to start a conversation and provide a platform for such a conversation.
“When you sit down to have a growth meeting with somebody, they reveal something about themselves and you reveal something about yourself. And so it creates these really nice interactions that break down the walls of communication, which makes everybody communicate better and creates a positive work environment,” Mr. Weitz said.
According to Mr. Weitz, the meetings lay a foundation of trust, allowing employees to take off their masks and vanish their facades.
“It changes the paradigm. It’s like the fertile soil for people–feeling the psychological safety that is critical for being your true self at work,” he said.
Kate Goldman is the head of garden and has two counselors in her group.
“Each time I’ve had a meeting with my counselors, I’ve felt a new set of confidence with what I do and the direction I’m going. It’s nice, it feels like a reset each time,” Ms. Goldman said. She adds that often after spending some time at a workplace, employees become complacent and stop growing and that the new system works to combat such complacency.
“I’m provided the opportunity to really get to know the counselors in a way I don’t think I ever would have if it weren’t for the irises and the actual growth meetings. In comparison to what we used in the past, it is light-years beyond,” head counselor Vicki Firemark, said.
The previous system was a numerical grading approach that focused on basic categories, such as timeliness and enthusiasm.
“[This] is a much better process. It’s much more personal, it’s much more counselor-centered, and the information you get is tremendously more useful than the number system we used to use,” director of athletics Dave Carlson, said.
Camp founder and director, Jon Snow, characterizes the entire endeavor as one that has been transformative.
“We’re a place that really thinks about the culture we’re building and we’re in it for the long run. We want this to be an experience that people who are part of building each summer here will remember their whole lives,” Mr. Snow said.
He and other counselors mention conversations they have had with employees since the launch of CultivateMe, and how some of these conversations have completely changed the way they look at each other.
“To open up to someone, and to be encouraged to listen to somebody’s story, and for them to be encouraged to tell it–that’s a gift,” he said, adding, “What we know about each other and expect from each other has changed dramatically because of CultivateMe. We are now asking each other questions that we normally never get asked in the workplace.”