Welcome to Our House: How We Built a Company Culture
Remember the last time you were looking for a place to live? You probably saw anywhere between three to ten spaces. On the surface, they were all pretty similar — two bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, and a functional kitchen. They all had nice qualities and covered your basic needs, and all of them were within your budget. But what was it about the place you ended up living? Did it just feel right?
Looking for a place to live and a place to work are similar in that way. It’s no secret that we spend most of our waking hours in some kind of work environment. Money and growth will always be important, but almost as essential is the feel. Savvy employers are learning that today’s talent is looking for more than just a stable place to work. Millennials have been driving changes in the workplace for almost a decade now, and the results have companies competing for this tech-savvy talent on cultural and lifestyle elements.
At Elevate, we understood that from the beginning. We built our company in response to what was then a “typical agency” experience, where burnout was commonplace and clients were commodities.
We wanted a place where smart, talented, passionate people could do meaningful work and could foster deep relationships with their clients and colleagues.
We call these fine folks “Elevaters.” We wanted our people to be able to grow personally and professionally, and we knew that having balance in their lives would be essential. Thirteen years later, we can safely say that the foundation of our success is built on these values.
So when Christin Norris, a Senior Designer at Elevate, approached me to ask, “Elevate is a great place to work, but what if it could be even better?” she got my attention. Within four weeks, we created a blueprint that would form the foundation for the Four Pillars of our company culture.
With a little bit of research and learnings from our personal experiences, we found that company cultures that thrive need to be authentic and a reflection of the people in them. We felt that all aspects of our work environment needed to be grassroots and shaped by a participatory process.
The Voice of the People
Our first step was to try to understand where we were as a culture. We jotted down observations, but knew we’d need feedback from the rest of the team to get a good baseline. We decided a company survey would be the best approach. We wanted to investigate the following:
- What should we stop doing as a culture?
- What should we keep doing?
- What should we start doing?
Based on the feedback from the team, we came up with the following areas of focus, which we identified as four pillars of the company:
- Social — This pillar is about our ability to connect as a team in lighthearted ways that don’t directly relate to work.
- Philanthropic — Throughout the organization, Elevators strive to do something bigger and make a difference in the world.
- Elevate Spirit — We love the work that we do and want to find ways to foster our collective creativity and celebrate the work we are doing, both internally and for our clients.
- Health and Wellness — We all share a common interest in finding ways to take care of our bodies and minds, grow personally, and support growth in each other.
It Takes a Village
In the spirit of participation, we asked for volunteers to run and staff the pillar they were most passionate about. Within a week teams were formed, and from there, people got really creative. Each of the teams created a mission and started to build out activities. Some of the highlights include:
- Social events that are finely tuned to the tastes of Elevators.
- Coordinated volunteer opportunities working with a range of in-need communities.
- A forum for us to learn about each other and where we come from in terms of skills and experience.
- Free on-site acupuncture, massage, and energy work as well as an educational lunch-and-learns on the topics of health and wellness.
The programs each team built were a reminder of the talent and ingenuity we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by every day, and outcomes were better than we could have hoped for. Plus, we met our initial criteria of being authentic, grassroots, and participatory. Today, our culture is stronger than ever, which makes this great place to work even better. Each team’s outcomes were impactful and gave us the feel we were hoping for. I plan to explore each of the four pillar’s activities in more detail in future posts, so stay tuned.