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Enhancing an Already-Special Culture (Part One)

by Jay Love

My tenure at Slingshot SEO has now surpassed the one-month mark in time. To say the least, the pace has been slightly below unbelievable! In a typical week, we add one to two new employees, further expand our close relationships with several customers, sign contracts with a few well-known brand customers and solve more growth-related issues than I could write about here.

So you can see the pace is not for the meek and mild. What makes all of this so remarkable is that every member of our team embraces this environment to the fullest. Therefore, imagining a special culture emerging may not be too much of a stretch for those of you perusing this post.

I had heard about the Slingshot SEO culture from people I knew at our company before joining. They alluded to it being different than the average company. Here, at Slingshot SEO, we work hard and play hard.

Nearly every day, when I wander into one of our break rooms/kitchens, I see events posted about evening gatherings or some type of company-sponsored event. I always smile to myself as I read these postings, wishing I had been at such a place when I was in my 20’s or even my early 30’s. You see, it was not until I was in my mid-30’s and in a position to ask why we couldn’t have fun, enjoy each other’s company and still be highly productive, could I start to change such hardened mindsets.

Cultural Innovation

When I finally became a CEO 17 years ago, it was time to truly blow up the age-old concept that work and fun do not mix. I had been keeping a special journal with every idea, concept, special event and better communication practice I had seen, heard or thought of for nearly 18 years. I just knew that sometime I could use it when given a chance.

That first chance came with a company called Master Software—located just one exit further east from Slingshot SEO on an interstate loop called I-465 here in Indianapolis. I started as National Sales Manager at Master Software; Eight years later, I was named CEO. Unfortunately, the once flourishing company was now losing money each month due to a huge outsourcing project focused on creating a new version of our database software in Microsoft’s fast-growing Operating System, Windows.

My first step was to throw open communications to everyone on our team. The entire team was smart, dedicated and sensed that we were not doing well. In my first two weeks, I pulled the senior management team together for an all-day Saturday meeting. We were going to solve the problem together! (Plus, I knew the sum total of their brainpower was far greater than mine . . . )

Together we formulated a strong plan. (To this day, I still have all of my notes from that meeting.) Two days later, I called an all-company meeting for our employees and shared everything in the plan. I let them know just how much our financial statements had deteriorated, what our real assets were (our 3,000 customers and 100+ employees) and just exactly what our plan was to turn everything around. I learned during that fateful afternoon the immense power of sharing information among motivated team members. They quickly made it their own mantra!

Most of you reading are far ahead of me now when I point out that communications is where the most excellent cultures seem to flow outward. When you think about it, it makes sense considering the fact that open communications is the foundation of any solid relationship.

Evolving with Culture

I started my new role as CEO of Slingshot SEO with one of several big questions floating in my head: “How do I make a positive difference in the already superb culture of the company without doing anything to move it backwards?” For those who know me, I am not one to ever sit still or to sit on my hands in any manner. Therefore, doing nothing was not an option! There had to be ways to make a good thing such as our culture even better.

Yes, I started by focusing on communications as it related to our culture. This has taken numerous shapes and forms. I will explore one of those– our company-wide meeting of all staff members first– and then explore a few others in my next post.

The company had been gathering everyone for 30 to 45 minutes once a month to share information. The meetings were an excellent start. I even witnessed one of them before I started by way of being there for my introduction.

Now we have employees located around the country plus team members out and about with customers and prospects, so I figured we could take our monthly all-staff meeting up a few notches. The goal would be to increase communication, interaction and, perhaps most importantly, recognition of the great successes experienced by various team members.

With the immense help of our entire leadership team, we created a fun and informative set of slides, which could be shown remotely allowing the entire audio and visual presentation to be recorded for later viewing and training. Each department head on the leadership team fashioned a scorecard of key metrics for their area represented in “stoplight” fashion with green indicating a metric at plan or above, yellow for slightly below plan and red for more than 10% behind plan. (With our lofty goals there were plenty of colors represented!) Now everyone knows what is key and just exactly how we are doing. Not a bad idea for any organization!

Next, department heads created a slide or two expressing the successes in their areas, particularly the extra efforts of the staff. Yes, there were several fun pictures, customer quotes and stories to share. I am betting they will get even more creative and fun each month.

We added sections to the presentation showing all new employees. As you can see below, we added quite a large number of new team members last month. We also highlighted those employees celebrating a one-, two- or three-year anniversary.

Lastly, my personal favorite, we featured the Outstanding Team Member based solely upon the nominations of his or her peers. In this first go-round of nominations, more than 75% of the staff participated. What makes this special and hopefully another nice addition to our culture is the reading and showing of the actual comments made by the winners’ peers. The thoughts are so kind and genuine that it is hard to express here in a blog post until you see it unfold.

Next week, we will explore a few other areas of our culture, some old and some new, which contribute to making Slingshot SEO a special place.

What does your company culture communicate? How do you foster that culture?

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