Cultural experiences combine with workplace culture for Rival COO Niamh Cunningham

As Rival launches Canada’s first workplace culture platform, Cunningham reflects on her journey within it.

Rival Technologies, a Vancouver-based market research operation, launched Canada’s first platform for recognizing, enabling and amplifying exceptional workplace culture on August 19. Developed in partnership with the Angus Reid Institute and the Reframe Group, the Canadian Workplace Culture Index (CWCI) benchmarks Canadians’ attitudes towards their workplaces.

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For Rival’s COO Niamh Cunningham, the focus on workplace cultures is predated by a multicultural background. Cunningham was born in Ireland but has lived in Vancouver for more than a decade.  A quick detour to Texas in the early stages of her career taught the owner of a computer science degree that programming, specifically, wasn’t her passion. But, it did get the gears turning in her head. Instead, Cunningham went even further south—Colombia—to go back to school and refocus on research, a time she remembers fondly.

“Colombians are the nicest, most welcoming, friendly people. It was great. I got to work in the university and get exposure to work as a developer. But I also got exposure to lots of other types of careers. So that's kind of moved me out of programming and into more business roles. Plus, I got to travel and learn Spanish. An amazing experience. I was very fortunate to be able to do that,” she recalled

With research now at the centre of her line of vision, Vancouver was next on Cunngham’s travel itinerary. En route, she received a tip that would allow her to marry her passion for research and computer science degree. 

“I was told ‘Oh, if you want to work and research in Canada, you have to work for Angus Reid.’ I Googled his name and at the time what came up was Vision Critical, which was great because I have a computer science degree, and always wanted to get back into tech. It was really exciting for me, because it was a combination of both worlds. It was technology and it was market research. So it couldn't have been more serendipitous for me,” she shared. 

A few years later, another Reid came calling: Andrew, the now CEO of Rival. He shoulder-tapped Cunningham to join him in a new venture that would become Rival.

“Like all the things when you're a startup, you need to wear many, many hats. I pretty much had the same role from the very beginning. COO really is jack of all trades. You're parachuted into the areas that need the most attention. And you don't necessarily go super deep with anything, but you have enough cross functional knowledge across the business to be able to add value. There might be another fire burning over growth, and then we'll go over there. So that's my role and how it's evolved.”

Her vantage point within the company sheds interesting light on this new launch. 

“It will be a nice tool to add to the HR toolkit. [Culture] is a very hard thing to grapple with and get your arms around because it feels abstract, right? So it's a way of actually quantifying quite an abstract concept and trying to give people time to do so. It helps them kind of make sense of this, but actually action it as well, right? That's the difficult part. So it's a way for people to get a sense of a measure of where they're at and what they need to do to improve. But it's also rewarding because they can be tangible actionable paths that they need to take to do better,” Cunningham explained.

Companies of a certain standard within the CWCI also receive a certification. 

“If you are certified—a company that hits above the national average—it is something that you can use in your recruitment office. It's also a way to demonstrate to your existing employees that you care and you're investing in culture. I think all of that goes a long way in terms of attracting and retaining talent.”

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