Understanding a workplace calls for the skills of an archeologist.
You might walk into an office and see lava lamps and more versions of trail mix than available at Whole Foods. You might see posters proclaiming the wonders of teamwork. You might see Herman Miller office chairs with spine friendly lumbar support. But the physical “pieces” of workplace don’t really reveal the truth. Often the more “goodies” strewn about, the less constructive the workplace. I’m reminded of Shrek’s line to Donkey after pulling up to Lord Farquaad’s castle.
PRovoke Media’s Best Agencies to Work For
We value PRovoke Media recognizing our workplace as one of the best because it’s based on a 50+-question survey going to employees with the promise of anonymity. The questions probe the key dimensions of agency life:
- Client service
- Work type
- Professional development
- Work quality
You can’t game the system. That’s why out of the hundreds of agencies that operate in the U.S., this competition only attracts a little more than 50. Most self-select out.
For the longest time, I resisted putting our values on paper thinking the exercise guaranteed that they would become a cliché filled with scorching air. Eventually, I worked backwards from how we operate on a daily basis and came up with this:
- Everyone is valuable. In the spirit of Silicon Valley, we have an egalitarian culture. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an account coordinator or a VP, everyone contributes to the Agency’s success.
- Trust: We trust employees from day one to do the right thing.
- Accountable: Each individual understands the importance of carrying out his/her role. If obstacles surface, the individual (with the help of team members, if appropriate) needs to find a way around the obstacles.
- Care: Employees are not numbers in a spreadsheet. We care about each other and help each other to be successful.
- Openness: People should be able to share their views, ask questions and even disagree.
- We Listen: This relates to open communications. It’s important for everyone, especially the senior people in the Agency, to truly listen to the views of others.
- Team-oriented: We strive to contribute to the success of others.
No question, adhering to these values starts with interviewing and hiring individuals who already buy into this approach. If someone is wired to be a diva, it’s highly unlikely our workplace will change the circuitry.
Retooling Our Workplace
The shaping of a workplace is a never-ending process. We hired an HR consultant (Jody Johnson who has since taken a full-time role at Clarity) last September to conduct an employee survey to better understand what’s on our staff’s mind and how we might improve looking forward. Many positives came from the feedback with the overarching message captured in the question:
Would you recommend The Hoffman Agency as a place to work?
Still, suggestions for improvement surfaced leading to the following actions:
- 401(k) match (dollar-for-dollar match)
- Telemedicine (including mental wellness) added to health insurance
- Diversity and inclusion emphasis on BIPOC community
- Identified eight laptops out of scope and replaced with new laptops
- Agency closes for MLK Day
- Greater emphasis on career development and training
While we’ve always operated a flexible environment investing in videoconferencing equipment years ago, we realized the pandemic and working from home 100% of time was causing a blurring of boundaries for our staff. To help folks feel more in control of their time/schedule, we implemented a program called “Going the Extra Kilometer” that allows any employee who puts in extra time to get back that time as PTO by putting it in our timekeeping system as “Extra Kilometer.” To make sure this was as easy as possible, it doesn’t require manager approval (completely on the honor system).
Our leadership team also recognizes that our clients have a sizable impact on our employees’ experience. When we quantified this impact some time ago, client interactions had the second most impact on our staff behind their direct manager.
With this in mind, it’s mission-critical that we’re strong on the new-business front, which in turn enables us to be selective in pursuing or taking on clients where the signs point to a healthy relationship. And when we get this wrong — it happens like the “Lou, you know what your problem is scenario” — we need to have the fortitude to course correct or walk away from the revenue.
There’s more art to these decisions than science. Obviously, our new-biz filter widened when the pandemic cratered our business during March/April of last year. More recently, we were ready to exit a relationship when our client contact bolted for a new gig. Will the new client contact offer a healthier dynamic? We’ll see.
Common sense and responding to feedback also play a role in cultivating the type of workplace that ultimately lifts service delivery. One particularly memorable piece of feedback came via Glassdoor four years ago. As you can see below, this former employee rated us a 1 on a scale of 1 to 5. And I’m called out for being disconnected from our staff and favoring three individuals with shiny apples. Not good.
There was some truth to the comments prompting us to make a concentrated effort to change. I’d like to think our account executives are no longer watching YouTube tutorials on how to use make up to look like a mermaid.
Excavating our workplace requires someone to be here (virtually) and observe how we interact with each other each day. That’s what culture comes down to, how we treat other. Hundreds of micro and nano decisions come our way each day. Are we making these decisions to align our colleagues and actions for what’s best for the client? Or does personal ambition shade these outcomes?
During a different employee survey years ago, we asked our staff around the world to grade out the following question on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the perfect score.
I’m proud of this data. You can fool the outside world, but you can’t fool your staff who see the company’s behavior on a daily basis.
This doesn’t mean we don’t care about financial performance. Of course, we do. Financial performance allows us to reward our employees and invest in our infrastructure. But client service, not financial performance, serves as the lead pin with the belief that if we deliver a service that’s a difference maker for our clients, the financial performance automatically follows.