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.

Changing Lanes

Written by: Rich Lee

In the course of your life, unless you have inherited your family’s Piggly Wiggly fortune, you will have held a number jobs. Maybe you started out in your teens by bagging groceries, or perhaps you filled up that piggy bank by babysitting or mowing lawns. That first job hopefully taught you some valuable lessons about life.

You probably learned that time is money, that you have to work hard in order to do well and keep that job, that learning new skills can be challenging but also rewarding, and that new skills make you better equipped for other jobs in the future. I hope you’ve realized that relationships are instrumental in your success in a role, and that the relationships you build in one job may prove to be a factor in roles you’ll hold down the road.

Undoubtedly, you will have at some point realized you no longer wanted to keep doing the same job. Depending on your circumstances, you may or may not have been able to act on that impulse immediately—many of us certainly have tales of a dramatic exit from a job we’ve held! Hopefully, you gave some thought to your decision to leave the job, but–regardless–you did eventually move on to something else.

Think for a moment about what led you to move on in each job you’ve held over the years. Can you pick up any patterns in your thinking or in the circumstances that triggered your desire to move to the next gig?

This kind of introspection can be illuminating in that it can help you consciously account for the factors that could lead you to stay in a role as it exists, make changes to the role so that you continue to reap rewards in the current position, or determine it is again time to look for that next great adventure.

A few types of job changes

One type of job change can be thought of as linear progression. You start out waiting tables, move up to shift manager, tend bar, manage a store, manage a region of stores, and then run the company. This kind of change tends to value domain knowledge highly: how WE do things in THIS restaurant. It also values generalist knowledge: THIS is how you bus tables, how you handle a customer who’s had too much to drink, and how you report (or don’t report) tips.

Another type of change is when you keep the same role but change companies or divisions. You can be a graphic designer, an insurance salesperson, or a registered nurse just about anywhere because the skills you must possess and the tasks you must be capable of performing well are going to be quite similar anywhere you go.

Generalist knowledge is valued here, but more important is subject matter expertise. If you’ve been a nurse for 20 years and have worked in six hospitals across three countries—chances are you’ve seen it all, you’re hard to rattle, and you can do a good percentage of your tasks by instinct while focusing your active attention on more complex challenges.

The last type I’ll mention is what we’re going to focus on today: moving in your career from one archetypal role to another. For example, starting your career as a librarian and then becoming a chemist, followed by a stint as a stunt car driver. This type of change can be very challenging, but very rewarding as well.

One quick note: This can happen within a single organization or it can happen when you leave one company and join another. There will be some differences in how you evaluate the pros and cons of a transition versus an exit, but I believe my experience holds true in both cases.

The more similarities and overlap between these roles, the more your existing knowledge will be useful in the new role, but if you look closely you’ll find there are many skills and realms of knowledge that ARE actually transferrable between widely divergent roles. The real magic happens when you can bring a fresh perspective to the table when tackling challenges in the new role.

I’ll address the following questions based on my experiences in moving from role to role:

  • What drives someone to consider a lane change?

  • What are some factors to take into account when deciding if the move is the right one?

  • What could make your transition more successful?

  • What should you expect once you’ve made the leap?

My own experience

In my own career, I’ve been an illustrator, graphic designer, art director, multimedia developer, web designer, web developer, ad operations trafficker, and more. I’ve managed designers, developers, and non-technical folks. I’ve worked on the revenue side as well as the content side of small to large publishing/entertainment properties.

To channel Sesame Street for just a moment, you might imagine that some of these things are not like the others. As a matter of fact, all of these roles share similar aspects as well as having striking differences—and that is a damned good thing.

Motivation

So what motivated me to consider moving to a radically different position (different at least to outside observers)?

In my role as a visual designer, I designed interfaces for websites and applications. Often my designs would brush up against the edge of what was possible with then-current HTML, CSS, javascript, and Flash. At the very least, some design decisions I made would prove to be problematic for those tasked with building a template from the design. This led to me learning new skills–namely HTML, CSS, javascript, more advanced Flash, and PHP.

Jumping from designer to developer came about to provide a better product (visual design artifacts) in my role as a designer.

I also knew that learning more developer-centric skills would make me a good fit for a far wider selection of jobs in the future. I’d be able to apply for roles that went beyond visual design.

Moving to a new role was in service of increasing job security and preparing for more opportunities in the future than a single set of skills would provide.

Some people prefer to pursue excellence in the same type of role for their whole career. This, however, is not me. I simply get bored with the same role over a long period of time with little to no variation. Now, doing similar things while changing up other elements is another story—for example the context, the complexity, the subject matter, the environment, or the team members. These factors are part of what determines one’s experience in a given job, so changing one or more can significantly extend the period of contentment one feels with that role.

Simple boredom was a significant factor. For me, passion breeds excellence; boredom breeds mediocrity.

In many cases, it can be difficult to get a raise when you hold the same job over a period of years, while a change to a different job entirely is likely to come with amenities: a bump in pay, a cooler title, better facilities, more chances to travel, or more training opportunities. In recent years, the data has shown that those that change jobs every three years or so advance more quickly in their career than those who hold the same positions over longer periods of time.

Compensation and benefits played into my decisions to change jobs each time.

Factors

What factors should YOU take into account when considering a lane change?

  • The skills you currently have that will be directly or indirectly applicable to the proposed new role. This one will take some reflection, because it’s not immediately apparent what kind of overlap that might exist.

  • The obvious/traditional career path the new role would offer, PLUS the flexibility the potential role would add to your repertoire for future lane changes.

  • The compensation and benefits offered by current and potential roles, weighed in terms of how much each of those benefits matter to you personally.

  • The teams and individuals you do and would work with on a daily basis. When you see folks more days a week than not, you’d better like them! They should compound your enthusiasm, your drive to innovate, and share a similar value system to your own. If there’s a marked difference in culture, values, workflow, or communication styles, don’t take this lightly!

  • If you’re pondering a jump to a new company AND a new role, factor in the equity you’ve built in the existing company. Seniority has perks, so make sure the leap is worth your while.

Success

What could make this transition more successful for you?

I’ve found transparency to be effective here. When you are talking with your existing supervisor/peers AND when you talk with the prospective team members—be honest. Tell them where your head’s at, why you want to make the move and how you think your particular background would make you a great fit in the new role.

Ideally, there are real benefits to both teams. In one case, the team I was exiting depended on the team I was moving into for support. They knew that I would carry the concerns and sensibilities forward, and that they would have an inside connection and more responsive support since I knew their pain points.

If you’re leaving your current organization entirely, there will be less overlap in domain knowledge specific to a given company/brand, and significantly less benefit to the relationship aspect—knowing who to deal with in other teams to get things done efficiently or influence strategy outside your new team.

Lesson: Identify and communicate the win-win.

Want to know a surefire way to avoid burning bridges? Ensure adequate coverage for your existing role. Take the time to share with your current team all the intricacies of the things you are responsible for. Verify that all the things you do have a new owner or are at least acknowledged as items that need new homes.

Take it a step further and document all those little nice to know details that people may take for granted you’ll be able to provide if asked. You may not have the luxury of dropping everything in your new role to address someone’s need in a timely fashion, and if you can point them to a resource or forward them a detailed explanation that already exists, you’re ahead of the game.

Lesson: Keep intact the bridges you’ve built. Leave good notes.

Expectations

Finally, what can you expect once you’ve made the leap?

You’re in the new job now, kicking butt and taking names. Everything is copasetic… except that you keep getting emails, phone calls, IMs, and drive-by visits by folks who just “have a quick question” or would “like your input on something.”

As part of your transition strategy, take the time to negotiate a period of interim support. For X number of weeks, you’re willing to provide limited support of your prior role’s responsibilities (and your new boss has authorized the time to do so.) This makes it clear to all parties that there WILL be some support and eases a lot of fears in the process. It also makes it clear where that line is drawn, beyond which you cannot commit to helping out the old gang any longer.

If you’re leaving your company for a new one, the expectations for interim support are unlikely to be significant. Regardless, making the effort to avoid leaving landmines will be noticed, and good karma never hurts.

Lesson: Set boundaries and stick to them.

Another important step in today’s world is ensuring that your communication channels are updated. Distribution lists, chat rooms, trade publications, physical mailings, and the like all take time to wade through, time that isn’t productive and can extend your on-boarding time as you remain stuck between two worlds.

Lesson: Fill out those virtual change-of-address forms.

Finally, the way you’re perceived by internal and external contacts is something that can take a long time to shift, if it ever does. If you met someone in your role of designer, don’t expect them to refile you under “content strategist” in their head just because it’s so. It may never occur to your team lead that you can put together a styleboard. You will have to be your own champion, diligently switching out your various hats and making opportunities to integrate your different skills into your new role.

Lesson: Habits are hard to change. You’ll need to help that process along.

Final thoughts

Throughout my career, in every case where I have made a significant change in the role I am pursuing, there have been challenges—of course. But I can honestly say that each lane change has led organically to bigger and better things and that I’ve learned a ton, which is a crucial part of my happy place.

Your own lane change may result in a greater appreciation for how other team(s) work and greater empathy in your collaboration with them in the future. It may cause you to realize you actually enjoy the new role more than ones you’ve held before and that you’ve found YOUR happy place. Or you may simply take your new insights in stride, apply it to your growing skillset, and move on again when the time is right.

Nomad or permanent settler—there is no right answer, but don’t be afraid to explore. There’s so much out there to experience, and the knowledge gained and the overlap between roles can be significantly to your benefit, to that of your team, your organization, and, ultimately, your users.

Further reading

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/03/08/the-pros-and-cons-of-job-hopping/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/08/06/8-pros-and-cons-of-job-hopping/

http://danschawbel.com/blog/job-hopping-is-now-part-of-career-management/

http://hbr.org/2012/07/why-top-young-managers-are-in-a-nonstop-job-hunt/

 

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.