Evolving a Creative Workplace: Step 3

Posted by

In my last two installments, I shared how Greg, Tim, and I prepared Intuitive Company for success by creating an open work environment and then “planting” the right people into our culture.

Watering is next—and it’s critical. After a team of senior professionals were in place and had formed a strong foundation for Intuitive Company, we had to set them up for success to ensure things kept running smoothly so that our culture and growth wouldn’t wither. One of the most obvious ways we “watered” this team was to give them support in the form of new hires. We brought on younger employees slowly and in lockstep with well-thought-out decisions to take on additional client work.


When someone officially joins Intuitive Company, they usually don’t feel like a new hire. That’s because we typically engage people on a project basis for at least a few months before bringing them on full-time. What’s more, many of these candidates have been referred by someone within the firm.

We won’t extend an offer to anyone who isn’t a good fit. We look for people who are driven—driven to innovate, learn, deliver and succeed. Being a good listener and communicator is a must as well. I’ll never understand companies that leave all of their hiring decisions to HR, or to a few people who aren’t going to be the ones working day-in and day-out with the applicant in question. That’s just asking for it. I don’t know if there could be a higher return on investment than what can result from investing time in growing your team with the right people.

Another example of watering is how we do everything we can to retain our employees once they’re here. We compensate at the upper end of the industry range, provide performance bonuses, contribute to profit sharing, offer full healthcare for the employee or their family (at the time of hire), frequently host lunches and pick up the tab, and encourage employees to travel comfortably when they have to head out of town to see clients.

But most importantly, we just let people do their work. We’re trusting and flexible. We don’t monitor hours or vacation days. I remember how demeaning it was to have to log two hours of personal time for a child’s doctor’s appointment, or how demoralized I felt when a family vacation should’ve lasted one more vacation day than I had to spare.

Now that we’ve helped build an atmosphere of trust at Intuitive Company, I can assure you that when employees don’t feel like The Man is watching their every move, they really, truly appreciate it, and it shows in their work and in their attitude. And no one has ever abused our system.

We also recognize that some people are social and others prefer to keep to themselves. Some people are natural leaders, while others are doers. So we don’t try to force anyone to be something they’re not, especially because we started with a core of senior people who could do everything: deliver, motivate, innovate, communicate, lead, and produce. We let those qualities influence the people we’ve added (and continue to add) to the staff.

One of the other mistakes we’d seen in our previous jobs was micro-management, so we knew when we started Intuitive Company that we must treat employees like the professionals they are. We vowed not to create organizational hierarchies just for the sake of doing so. We’ve found that if you simply trust people to get their jobs done and are confident that they’ll come to you if they have an issue, they’ll usually go above and beyond. People naturally group together by skill set and function, and leaders and doers will emerge on their own without having to be formally organized as such.

It was actually one of my experiences that led us to our anti-hierarchy stance. I was taking over a team of 60 people at a large corporation, and on my first day I was given this team’s organizational chart and instructed to “revise it so it works.” Management was confident that if they could just get the organizational structure right, all of their problems would be solved. I wasn’t told to observe what was working and what wasn’t or even allowed time get to know everyone. I was just supposed to rearrange boxes and rows and voila! The team’s processes and output would surely be flawless after that. Um . . . nope!

I’ve got a lot of advice for this step since it’s one of the most important parts of the process. Here are my suggestions:

  • Review your company’s hiring practices and see what can be improved.
  • Don’t wait too long before filling positions due to workload demands, and ensure that a candidate will be a good fit, both professionally and culturally. If other team members are already overloaded by the time relief arrives, you’re hiring too late. It’s a balance though, so hire carefully.
  • Observe how new employees assimilate into your culture and their roles and determine if anything can be improved with this process.
  • What’s morale like around the office? How intensely are people managed? You may discover that the two answers are related.
  • How many “layers” on the organization chart are there, and do they really have to be there? Make changes as necessary.
  • Does your team gel together, enjoy each other’s company, and know how to both work and play hard? If not, why not?
  • And most importantly, when people leave, do you know why? If you don’t, start asking the tough questions.

Stay tuned for Step 4: Adding fertilizer!

Illustration by Ruslan Khaydarov.


  1. I’d add to that – getting rid of people who are middle management employees from before you came into the firm and who are demoralising others by the way they manage to wriggle out of doing any work.

    And in the same way that you say that you’ll never understand companies that leave all of their hiring decisions to HR, I’ll never understand companies that underrate the important job that the receptionist does as the first contact of the public face of the company.

  2. Wonderful set of articles. It brings to mind Apple and IDEO. One thing I would add is the importance of allowing employees to personalize their work space and shared areas. Think repainting walls, comfortable couches and bicycles hanging from the ceiling. Thanks for the inspiration and for articulating the importance of the work environment.

  3. Wonderful set of articles. It brings to mind Apple and IDEO. One thing I would add is the significance of allowing workers to customize their perform area and distributed areas. Think painting surfaces, comfortable sofas and bikes clinging from the roof. Thanks for the motivation and for describing the significance of the workplace.

Comments are closed.