Evolving a Creative Workplace: Step 8

Written by: Sandy Greene

That old cliché isn’t true: all good things don’t have to come to an end. It’s possible to prepare your team for ongoing success and growth, but you have to be smart about how you do it.

In this series I’ve shared what’s worked for us at Intuitive Company. How we thought of our team as an organic garden and realized that once we had all of the right elements established, we didn’t need to mess with things too much. We prepared an open workplace, planted the right people, watered and added fertilizer to boost morale and growth, tilled and experimented to ensure we didn’t rest on our laurels, observed and protected our team when necessary, and then picked some of our best performers and work to celebrate and spotlight.

After all that, the final step is enjoyment—sitting back and appreciating the positive environment everyone has worked so hard to create. To us, success is the feeling of completion—of hard work yielding superior results for clients. We have to make time to soak it in, because there’s always more work to be done!

Enjoyment

The ways in which we have fun and enjoy what we’ve built and achieved at Intuitive Company often take the form of office events. Beer Swap, Happy Hour, Poker Night, and a having a team in the Broad Street Run have all been successful and bring our group even closer together.

And so I’ll end this series by asking you whether your team or company ever takes time out to just enjoy what you’ve accomplished together. If you’re at a larger organization, I’m not talking about holiday parties or other corporate-wide events that hundreds attend and everyone stays in their own clique. I mean more intimate celebrations or excursions where an individual team or all members of a small office can relax and have fun. It’s easy to add in a few activities throughout the year to show appreciation, encourage team bonding and just blow off steam.

I hope what I’ve shared about our experience growing Intuitive Company has given you ideas of ways your small business—or team within a large corporation—can create a more open and successful workplace environment.

If you’ve tried other tactics that led to the same positive results, I’d love to hear them, especially since I know we’ll need to keep honing our approach as we continue to grow.

Illustration by Ruslan Khaydarov.

Evolving a Creative Workplace: Step 7

Written by: Sandy Greene

After discussing how to prepare, plant, water, fertilize, till and experiment with and then observe and protect your organic garden of a team, I’m happy to announce that the last two steps are quite fun. You’ve worked hard to grow your business and have made the necessary tweaks along the way. Things couldn’t be better. Or could they?

Picking comes next, and it’s a way to recognize the highest achievers and celebrate successes.

Picking

On an annual basis, we draft individual performance reviews for each employee and circulate them amongst the three principals. These reviews incorporate feedback from co-workers and are probably the most formal thing we do. But it’s important for people to understand what they’ve done well and where they could improve. As we covered earlier, we believe people want to work here because of the environment and the responsibility they’re given from the get-go. If they’ve been performing well, they’ll receive a small salary bump and a healthy bonus in addition to being able to take part in profit sharing. So—unlike the majority of Corporate America—fancy new titles and promotions at Intuitive Company aren’t really end goals. But that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in the need to call out extraordinary employees.

We did that with our one and only promotion in five years—a User Experience Designer became a User Experience Director. He’d gone above and beyond in leading clients, leading staff, delivering incredible work, helping others, and showing maturity in thinking through very advanced client solutions. In short, he’s one of our best designers, and deserved some recognition.

We announced and celebrated his role change in a way that made it clear why we were recognizing this individual. Our hope was that it would give our younger employees a sense of what professional qualities and characteristics they should aspire to. One thing I always found curious at larger corporations was when dozens of promotions would be rattled off in one email, without any context as to why the individuals listed were deserving of the honor. It was just part of a process that people no longer viewed as special, but rather came to expect no matter the level of effort and passion they put into their work. Been here two years? Congrats! You’re gonna move from Assistant Vice President to Vice President for no apparent reason whatsoever, other than you’ve stuck it out.

Since promotions are rare at Intuitive Company, we do lots of other things to reward hard work on a more frequent basis. Examples include submitting project deliverables for industry awards, asking employees to show off great work at lunchtime review sessions, and sending high-performing individuals to popular industry conferences. We’ll put them up in nice hotels while they’re there, and when they return, they share what they learned with everyone else. This, too, gives younger team members motivation to do what it takes to be picked to attend in the future.

Your homework for this step entails thinking through how you reward your best performers.

  • Are your employees truly motivated by titles, or do they value other rewards more highly?
  • What other things could you do to recognize excellence?
  • Have you ever asked your employees what might drive them to stretch themselves?

The final step is within sight! I’ll be back to talk about enjoyment soon.

Illustration by Ruslan Khaydarov.

Evolving a Creative Workplace: Step 6

Written by: Sandy Greene

In this series, I’ve been using an organic garden analogy to describe how we’ve grown Intuitive Company sevenfold over the past five years. In previous installments I gave advice on how to prepare your organization for growth, and what it means to plant the right people into the mix, water and add fertilizer to encourage success, and then till and experiment to continue pushing yourselves.

Now comes time for observing and protecting. We’ve been thrilled to watch Intuitive Company grow and thrive, but we keep on the lookout for issues. Sometimes we need to provide cover for employees, be it by managing schedule conflicts or addressing tension with clients so that nothing escalates to a boiling point.

Protect and observe

One reason we’re able to do this goes back to our open environment. We’re aware of what’s going on with each project, as well as what may be going on personally with some staff members. This awareness allows us to act preemptively rather than defensively when we sense a deliverable or client or employee relationship might be on the verge of taking a wrong turn.

Problems will still arise every once in a while, but they aren’t showstoppers because of our vigilant observing. For example, if any employees are not performing as well as we know they could, we’ll revise their roles to better fit their likes and skill sets. This results in both happier employees and happier co-workers.

The staff often rallies together to tackle issues as well. We empower everyone to solve their own problems; being design-minded, solving complex issues is already their forte. Resourcing is a good example of this. When someone has free time, they proactively let their peers know in case another project could use a hand. Conversely, when someone needs help, they’re not afraid to ask. It bears repeating that none of this would be possible without the open culture we’d established upfront.

When your team or company has been succeeding, it’s time to take a step back, see what you notice, and make any necessary tweaks.

Ask yourself these questions during the observing and protecting phase:

  • Do you have a good sense of how each project team is doing?
  • Could someone use a break? Is there a better way to distribute the workload?
  • How often do issues arise, and could they have been avoided?
  • How are problems solved, and could more responsibility be given to employees to work things out on their own?

Stay tuned for Step 7: Picking!

Illustration by Ruslan Khaydarov.

Evolving a Creative Workplace: Step 5

Written by: Sandy Greene

In this ongoing discussion about growing creative teams organically, I’ve shared how to prepare your organization for successful expansion, how to plant the right elements into the mix, how to “water” for sustainable growth, and then how adding fertilizer can take your group’s motivation to the next level.

Tilling and experimenting follow once everything’s been humming along smoothly for a while. Changing things up can breathe fresh air into a culture, as well as offer lessons about what works and what doesn’t.

Experimenting

An example of this is how we’re currently pursuing a significant new product development company based on some particularly clever ideas that members of our team have come up with. Intuitive Company employees will have a chance to participate and take ownership in this opportunity, and everyone’s pumped about the chance to get involved in something a bit different than what we’ve been doing so far. It’s a concrete way to show how much we value our employees’ creativity. They know they’re not submitting “ideas for improvement” into the ether or failing to even voice their opinions because they figure nothing will come of their efforts. We’ve shown them that we’re listening—and acting upon their best ideas.

 

 

Our staff is constantly influenced by outside knowledge and that influence benefits both their career growth and our company’s offering. When more and more of the staff were requesting to attend industry and technology conferences, we looked to combine their drive for learning with our drive for knowledge sharing. As a response, we introduced the Intuitive Company Conference Program. In the program, the staff earns points towards conference attendance when they publish content to the outside world or bring knowledge back from the outside world into the office. This popular program helps build writing and presentation skills while at the same time injecting new inspiration and experience back into the office environment.

We also turned compensation over a bit this past year when we moved from the expected yearly hire-date-anniversary salary raises to performance-based bonuses. We still provide yearly cost-of-living salary increases, but we made a shift from the basic, “get-your-job-done” raises to more dynamic, “be-proud-of-your-performance” bonuses. Bonuses and profit sharing are now performance-based and the staff is clear on their and our expectations. This experiment has helped to enforce the idea that we’re in a competitive business, and the best performers make the most difference!

Lastly, while we still prefer to remain as flat and un-hierarchical as possible, even as we approach 40 employees, we realized that some adjustment was required. We introduced a mentoring system where the more experienced and senior staff are directly responsible for helping bring younger, newer staff on-board and up-to-speed with our methods and procedures. This is really just a small twist on some of our hiring practices discussed earlier in this series–incentives for the staff that finds us new employees.

The biggest piece of advice I have for this step is to simply introduce something new into your environment or work process and see how it goes. It may stick, it may not, but the goal is to learn something about your team and the company’s collective strengths.

I’ll be back soon with Step 6: Observing and Protecting.

Illustration by Ruslan Khaydarov.

Evolving a Creative Workplace: Step 4

Written by: Sandy Greene

So far in this series I’ve discussed how to prepare your team or organization for successful expansion, how to plant the right elements into the mix, and then how to ensure sustainable growth by “watering.”

Adding fertilizer comes next. Think of this step as finding ways to spark excitement, provide motivational guidance, or even remedy a malady.

 

Fertilizer

An example of fertilizing would be how we publicized annual company goals for the first time ever in 2013. When we had fewer employees, everyone instinctively knew where the company was trying to head and what we were striving to achieve. But with more than 25 people, the future vision of the company isn’t a given. We needed to clarify what we were working toward so that everyone felt ownership of the company’s goals. This year, Greg, Tim, and I came up with the goals and we’ve been holding quarterly company-wide assessments of how we’re performing against them. Next year we intend for everyone to be involved in the goal-creating process.

Another example of fertilizing is how we’ve begun asking certain employees to present their successful project work, brown-bag-style, to the rest of the staff. It might be the end product itself, or the way the work was prepared that we deem thought leading and beneficial for the rest of the company to hear about and learn from. It’s also a way to recognize particularly impressive efforts—to remind hard workers that we’re paying attention.

And finally, a garden sometimes needs fertilizer in order to head off a malady. In our case, we try to come up with ways to avoid roadblocks in our work. One example is how leaders in our design group took it upon themselves to set up biweekly design-review meetings. These sessions are only to solve issues—people stop in if they’re stumped by something or simply want to run ideas by their peers to ensure their work is the best it can be. We all respect and appreciate each other’s opinions and experience, so these meetings give everyone a chance to improve client deliverables by harnessing the power of the whole creative group.

Here are some ways you can “add fertilizer” to give your team an extra boost:

  • Take stock of the ways you could inject something motivational into employees’ weekly, monthly or yearly routines.
  • If you’re already discussing future goals, make sure those goals are tangible and realistic (even though they may be a stretch).
  • Ask yourself this: do employees honestly feel that they can contribute to the overall company’s success? If not, make sure they do.
  • Provide outlets for creative exchange and feedback to make sure no one’s working in a vacuum.

Next up: Tilling and experimenting!

Illustration by Ruslan Khaydarov.