SBCo has proven to me how a small team can work together to make a big impact. We are a close-knit, collaborative group that fosters creativity, flexibility in thought and in working logistics. It has amazed me that while we all work virtually, we manage to operate as if we see each other daily. Our small group never seems to miss a beat; both in finding creative ways to help our clients or working together as a cohesive unit. While the nature of our business has ebbs and flows, what remains constant is our commitment to clients and the holding of ourselves to the highest standards.
SBC sets itself apart from other search firms because of our passion for search and connecting others with great opportunities. Coming from a corporate background I was afraid that going into a firm might be more transactional, but I love the deep connections that are fostered with both the clients we work with and the candidates we place. I feel as though I am an extension of our client organizations and am able to be a trusted business partner. Our clients have a lot to offer candidates and SBC is able to connect them with top talent candidates. Over the years, it has been so rewarding knowing that SBC has been able to create these long-term relationships with both our partners and candidates.
Perhaps you can relate. Imagine my surprise when I showed up in corporate life with a burning desire to contribute, bundles of energy to get things done, and an never-ending flow of ideas (at least some of which were even feasible), only to realize the company just wasn’t willing to let me work to my potential. It felt like I was a salmon throwing myself on the rocks time and time again trying to get the company to let me make the contribution of which I was capable!
I finally decided “This Salmon isn’t spawning this year” and moved on. When I met Sherry and came to work at SBCo, I realized this was where people would be allowed to set their bar at the high level everyone wants to achieve in their work. Their ideas would be welcomed, and there would be total integrity, with an unwavering focus on superior client service. And not one rock in sight! How wonderful. Thank you, Sherry!
I read today that Brenda Barnes, former CEO of Sara Lee Corporation and also 22 years at Pepsi, passed away at too young an age. In 1997, she had the courage to make personal choices that many did not understand at the time and created quite a stir for "resigning corporate America" to spend time with her children and focus on family. It prompted a discussion about whether women can have it all - family and career.
I am hopeful that we are shifting from the "have it all" conversation to "doing it all." Listening to her daughter on NPR this morning made me think about the doing it all with the support of enlightened leaders and CEO's that get it. This happens to be a month of hearing from women, men and diverse populations that they care about issues that impact them and this community.
Women need to work and want to do good work as well as care for their family. Why aren't more companies who say they care about bringing women into their organizations and developing them, stepping up to policies that support them? I know a lot of good things are happening and I plan to ask more about what they are and write about it.
Two observations here:
First, I respect and admire our team here at S. Benjamins & Co. We are fortunate to have amazing women who have designed blended life styles with family as priority and work (that we are proud of) that is meaningful and making lives better. They inspire me and they deliver incredible quality work in a flexible yet highly accountable environment.
Second, I had the opportunity to meet the new head of HR, Legal and Finance at Patagonia two weeks ago. They embrace family in a way I have just not seen and it was incredibly refreshing. From the day care center to the kitchen in the morning filled with parents and kids before kicking off the day and learning of their family supporting policies, and commitment to the environment, inspired me beyond words. I learned that 100% of their new mothers return to work because they are supported in such unique ways to be successful. They believe in family in their words and actions. A great outcome is their tremendous passion for their work, succession and loyalty. They take work life culture to a new level and their commitment to make the world better is serious.
If we want women and men to put family front and center (as I imagine you would want for yourself) then our practices must change. What is one step you can take to express your thoughts on this and start a new conversation with senior leaders and listen to what your workers value?
Following the election last fall, our son, Erik initiated a project called "Last Day First Day." I was taken by his initiative and timing to ask us all to actively reflect through writing. Writing, creating, performing allows reflection and self-expression. Whether you voted for either candidate in the election, the process of sharing your views in a simple letter results in shifting or embracing a new mindset and yes, we are creating art in doing this simple act.
We can apply this exercise whether it is for a political, personal or business reason. Engagement means diving into new conversation so that we understand more clearly where we stand and learn from each other's perspectives. How about embracing honesty? There is honesty in our own action and words. Every day we have a chance to share an honest perspective and walk through new doors; maybe you have the first day in a new job and a last day to leave what you knew behind. You now have a new story to write. The story will emerge through your words and experience.
I am suggesting (thank you Erik) that whether you are writing to Obama or Trump, or writing to your old boss and or a new one, the power of your reflection opens you to creativity and courage that might surprise you. Julia Cameron, author of the Artists Way, suggests daily morning pages. What if you simply wrote for last and first days of any change this year. New job, new project, new boss, or new relationship. Let your creative self speak up this year. Imagine the stories you have inside you. Thank you Erik for inspiring us to action and an idea that might serve us all well over the course of this new year beyond January 20th.
Recently I had the good fortune to meet Charles Antis, founder and CEO of Antis Roofing through our shared work supporting the nonprofit, OneOC, that helps organizations enrich their missions with instituting giving and volunteering efforts. Charles is a role model for all of us. He has artfully blended giving back to the community with his business's purpose.
Sherry Benjamins: What do you attribute to your company’s success?
Charles Antis: I have to start with the people. You can’t carry on or achieve much of anything without an amazing team. Before we understood how to leverage marketing or social responsibility as a means to get more work, we were always extremely customer focused. If one person in the room is unhappy, I’m going to do anything I can to fix that relationship. This belief led to an extremely high expectation for customer care. Our first level of success started there and allowed us to grow.
SB: Can you tell us more about customer care?
CA: The customer needs to be right. It doesn’t matter why they’re upset because in their dissatisfaction is a kernel of absolute truth on where we can do something better. In our company, we always air on the side of generosity towards the customer.
SB: Part of your success has been social corporate responsibility. When did that start?
CA: In the company’s first year, I received a call from a lady with a leak problem. I went to check it out and as she opened the door, I was overwhelmed by the smell of mildew. Her daughter grabbed my hand to show me the house and in her room was a mattresses with moldy bedding. I went home and organized a relief party to immediately fix the problem. We didn’t start with a policy to fix situations like this, but they happened again and again. We never let anyone have a leaky room just because they didn’t have the money for it. We can’t be good at what we do unless we’re willing to help people in need.
In 2008, Sharon Ellis, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, OC asked if we would donate a roof to a development and we’ve donated every year since. We quickly realized that we were making an impact and it was exciting! When we talk about it inside our culture, our people see it happening and want to be a part of it.
SB: Are your employees onto this mission of giving?
CA: We have about eighty employees and for our industry, it’s a pretty young workforce. In the office, we’re about half millennials and out in the field, we’re a bit older. We embrace newer voices and perspectives and have a common response when thinking about social responsibility. We also embrace a changing workplace. I know that we have to adjust to a changing culture and we are all listening to create a more flexible workplace. Our employees want to give back. Even the baby boomers, who at first don’t want to talk about these issues as much, get really excited about the conversation and join in. We’ve gotten a lot of recognition for being philanthropic and it’s important for me that this recognition is directed towards the employees.
SB: What do you think gets in the way of an entrepreneur building a “cause” culture with a commitment like this?
CA: Small business owners have to scrape by to survive. I understand how difficult it is to take that hard earned money and donate it without seeing a clear bottom line of investment. We always share anecdotal stories about the benefits, but we haven’t seen a clear algorithm yet to support this decision. But only by doing shows others a way to understand and follow. It’s hard to shed the biases of our past, but with the shifting climate right now, everyone is re-thinking strategy and culture. I don’t see myself as a pioneer, I’m just quick on transitions.
SB: Can you share more about your mascot and visual graphic of the Roof God?
CA: I grade myself by how well I sleep at night. We serve up to half a million homes so when it rains, I understand how our customers worry about their castle being in danger. In 2008, I started to think about how I could tell this story with images. We went to an artist specializing in comics to create the Roof God as a way to encapsulate this feeling of being able to relax, knowing that your roof is being taken care of.
SB: What have you personally learned on this path as CEO?
CA: I’m trying to create value. If the value isn’t coming to me or my employee’s wallets that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not good value. I could be putting money into securities, but instead I give it back to the community. This is where I differ from a lot of small businesses. If I put an extra half million in the bank to accrue interest, that’s great. But if I take that same half million and put it out into the community, it will create an exponential ripple effect that will find its way back to me and my stakeholders. I haven’t figured out how to show it on paper—yet—but I believe that the return is ten times more than keeping the money in the bank. Once you understand that it’s OK to give away more than think you can, I think it’s the safest and most secure path to creating success.
SB: What do you recommend for the new entrepreneur interested in trying this strategy out?
CA: Don’t wait. Build giving into the model. Be generous. The Toms model stands out. You’ll have a difficult time competing in the market if an intention like this doesn’t ring with authenticity. It’s a tougher economy with slimmer margins, I get it. But try it! Make it a living breathing part of your everyday and you will notice the difference.
SB: How does your new President share your values?
CA: Our new President, Karen Inman comes into work every day with the same, likeminded passion and enthusiasm. She believes in what we do and loves it. She wouldn’t be at a roofing company if we didn’t have a cause built into our brand. We get the Google people because our brand is visible and powerful. We make decisions that reflect family values and our recruiting has gone up to a level that I never knew could exist!
How can businesses today create and value the space, time, and culture to give back to their community, to be driven and inspired by a cause?
Forbes recently posted top workforce trends for 2017. I was delighted to see at the top of the list that companies are focused on strengthening their candidate and employee experience. There are several ideas around this that make it so powerful and relevant.
First, a great candidate experience means first understanding the power of common courtesy. Being respectful of others matters for it reflects on who you are as a person and how your company brand is experienced. Our candidates tell us stories of prior interview experiences that make your hair curl and yes, we need more leaders to learn about being respectful of others.
Second, a great experience also means reducing the candidate's efforts to obtain feedback that matters to them. I am not saying that we need to give everyone all of the granular data but where is common courtesy in this step? We have heard stories where someone might be a contender for a cool role, interview, return for many discussions and then never hear what happened in the end, assuming there was an end to the process. This happens to external partners of the company as well. What gets in the way of closing loops? I know everyone is very busy but it matters in building real connections that do result in good business. Just like Zappos ability to connect to customers, track their questions, address challenges, every step of that journey is intended to be pleasant and respectful.
Third, relationships matter to your business. These are relationships with candidates, parents of candidates, service providers that know candidates and it goes on from there. You may not see a need for that candidate today or that service provider, but most likely you will tomorrow or next year.
How often are we creating experiences that connect everyone to what your desired intention is? Posting a job is one thing but offering an experience that turns the whole process upside down to say, "share your skills and passions with us, we want to know you" even though we don't have a job now, we want to know who you are, is powerful. By seeking connections, there is a longer lasting benefit to everyone. A great experience means a lot to those you want to work with, fans, loyal employees and even appreciative partners."
Last thought: A week ago I met Matthew Emerzian, the founder of Every Monday Matters. He created a not-for-profit organization committed to creating a new normal where individuals and organizations understand how much and why they matter. His book and education programs are taking off. He captivated a room of business leaders looking to bring "purpose" into their culture. Matthew said, "we have lost our ability to engage with each other." He shared such a simple and powerful message that we all matter and can change from the inside out. Let's look at both candidate experience and courtesy.
There is no denying that we have reached an era of digital disruption. In the workplace, many CHRO’s are beginning to see the effect of digital disruption through a changing employment style. There is a new workforce rising through the “gig economy” (also known as contingent work, sharing economy, agile talent, non-traditional work relationships, or alternate forms of employment). Gig Economy companies include Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, UpCounsel, Instacart, and TaskRabbit. The rapid growth of the gig economy represents one of the most significant and all-encompassing challenges faced by human resources professionals. The fundamental challenge for HR leaders is demonstrating the agility to lead the change in culture, programs, processes, and policies originally designed for work completed by full-time employees to a new era where more of the work is being completed by contingent workers (also referred to as gigsters, free agents, temporary help, agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, independent contractors, or freelancers).
To gather some perspective, we decided to reach out to Nick Horney, Ph.D., the founder and principal at Agility Consulting. In addition to leading the Leadership Agility Practice, he has published numerous books on agility and change management and recently published an article on this very topic in HRPS.
Culture Talk with Ron Schrader & Jennifer Pietrzak
This month we sat down with the dynamic culture-savvy duo of Ron Schrader and Jennifer Pietrzak Carlson. Ron and Jennifer have their own respected firms and clients, but have also collaborated often over the past nine years. We have had the pleasure of working with them also and were so pleased to catch up and hear what they're up to.
Working together, Ron and Jennifer have built a reputation for helping organizations realize the business benefits that come with having a healthy, active and evolving company culture.
What is it about the work that you do that gives you the most positive energy?
J: We’re both really energized when we get to work with organizations going through transformation. It could be implementing a new system, a merger, a sudden growth, or a business realignment.
R: Yeah! These are the very situations where culture is a major contributor to the success of the endeavor.
Why does it give you energy?
J: I love when an organization thinks about culture as a living and breathing thing, not something you create once and put on a shelf. They get it. They understand that what I do, and what they believe in, really matters. Helping organizations turn culture into a competitive advantage is to me, the “wow” factor.
R: I agree! The other element that excites us is having the creativity to do things that the client hasn’t tried before. Sometimes we get called in to help a client who is stuck—they don’t know what’s getting in their way of achieving a given business objective. We see that more and more clients discover that it is about their culture. The clients that are designing creative cultures understand that this ultimately moves them and their organization forward.
Do you have an example?
J: One client had acquired 4 separate lines of business, with different processes, values, cultures, etc. The objective was to evolve into one organization with one set of values and a common culture throughout while still allowing for some individuality among the lines of business. We developed a recipe book, not the expected way to communicate a major business initiative like this. So it had a surprise factor, and that made it interesting to read. It also fit the situation well because just like food, to get real culture change you need to invoke all the senses. The recipe ingredients (core values, mission, vision, etc.) were the same, but each business line was able to customize the way those ingredients were folded into their business.
R: Organizations value a tailored solution. Needs vary and what works somewhere may not work everywhere. We agree that a custom designed solution is best. We’ve developed unconventional tools like comic strips to illustrate process, storybooks to share the vision, and homemade videos to generate grassroots excitement. We love figuring out how to craft something that is unexpected and novel, but also meaningful to our client’s audience.
Bringing up the idea that you’re using unconventional artifacts and visual elements to communicate culture… is this something new that we’re seeing in organizations today?
R: I don’t know if it’s new, but it’s not common from what I’ve seen. And that’s what makes this work exciting. It can inspire your own teams to think beyond what might have worked before. When a company says they’re really hip and innovative, but they communicate to their people through very formal, corporate-sounding memos, there’s a cultural disconnect. Paragraphs in an email aren’t the only way to get a message across. We suggest helping your internal clients bridge the gap through the use of visuals, artifacts, language and other creative approaches.
What’s changing in the work that you’re doing today?
J: Executives say, “Oh culture, we’ve done that”. But the reality is that as your organization lives, so does your culture. It needs to adapt. A lot of time people feel like they are being disingenuous to their history when they say they want to do something new with their culture. But your culture is like a sea nautilus. As the nautilus grows, it adds layers to its shell, but never discards the previous stages. In the same way, you can add to and adapt your culture while still preserving the best of who you are.
R: Your culture is being actively created every single day, either consciously or unconsciously. People need to understand that when you take your eye off culture, it can go adrift really fast. And I think there’s a growing awareness that culture is not just a fluffy HR thing. There’s loads of research that shows that culture has a tangible impact on your bottom line and business success.
In the future, 50% of the work in companies will be done by project-based, contingent workers. How will cultures be built when we’re committed to projects or skills and not to the company?
R: There’s going to be more of an onus on having the culture defined and healthy so the project-based workers can come into something that already exists. It’s then easier to find people that align with your vision.
J: In those situations with 50% of your workers project-based it will be even more important to have clarity in all aspects of culture. “Here’s our expectations for behavior. Here’s how work gets done. Here’s how you’re rewarded and recognized.” That will expedite onboarding new people and getting the work done. It saves time and money too because you don’t have to figure out the culture as you go.
Culture can propel your organization forward or hold it back. Every day the people in your organization live out your culture. They are either doing this consciously, resulting in behaviors and norms by design, or unconsciously (culture by default). In order to get clear on this, talk to your line leaders and bring them together to ask, “What do we value and celebrate? And, how might we get to understand each other and our employees even better?”
About Jennifer and Ron
The self-proclaimed odd couple of organizational development consulting, Jennifer and Ron (they sometimes humorously refer to themselves JennRon) have spent the last 9 years collaborating on culture engineering and change design work for companies large and small, established and start-up, formal and casual. They’re known for their energy, passion, and their unique design approach. And they like to draw pictures.
JPCarlson.com / firstname.lastname@example.org