Aaron Grossman, CEO
I started my business in 2001 at the age of 27. I had big dreams with a desire to see my vision become a reality. My Goal? Do really good work for 20 companies, and eventually become friends with our customers so that it didn’t feel like work. Big dreams!
I put my head down and pushed forward towards my goal. Fast forward to 2007, and I lifted my head up and realized that our revenues were in the millions, with literally hundreds of customers. I remember clearly asking myself what just happened. In 6 short years, my big dreams were much larger than I could of ever imagined. With a company that started with just three internal people, we had grown to over 30 people by 2007. I needed to understand why.
I hired a consultant, Dave Mustin, who spent 6 months working with our company. We eventually created a strategy articulation map, which unlocked the secrets to our company’s success at the time.
The most important piece to this document was the values we identified as being critical to the health and sustainability of our business. These values truly simplified everything for me. I realized why we had people wanting to join our team. I realized why hundreds of companies chose to want to trust us with their business. These values became the foundation for me to run my business as we progressed forward. All my hiring decisions would be based on these values. All my business decisions would have to connect and align to our values. I even noticed that our best customers were customers who in their own way, supported the values we operated from. It was a true aha! moment for me in my career. I discovered the secret that would allow me to take my big dream of supporting 20 customers, to an even bigger dream of supporting thousands of customers throughout the United States.
VALUES AND CULTURE ARE DIFFERENT
By 2012, our company had more than tripled in size, and we were now supporting over 400 customers. Our internal staff had almost doubled, with over 75 internal employees. We came through the recession strong, and most of our hiring happened between 2010 and 2012. I was grateful that we had our values to build up our workforce.
As we dealt with the challenges of the recession, it was having people who were connected to our company values that provided us the support we needed to not only survive, but to thrive. So it’s 2012, and business is humming along, and we are planning for the future. Then, I started to feel something different in the business. I started to witness drama that I had not dealt with in the past. I saw a drop in motivation, as people started to come to work late and leave early.
I think people started to rest on the success we had created, and were starting to get too big for our britches. I remember witnessing the attitude that internal staff had when a new person would come aboard. It was an attitude that made a new person feel worthless when they joined our team, and that they would have to prove their worth before they would earn the respect of their peers.
This was SO different than the company I had created and the company I wanted to be apart of. I was always so humbled to witness people willing to come and join my team and help me see our vision become a reality. I wanted to prove to these new employees that we were worthy of their choice to join our team. It was at this time, that I realized that while I had these values and they were critical to our company’s growth, there was something missing. I discovered then that defined values DO NOT define your culture.
ESTABLISHING PILLARS TO HELP DEFINE YOUR CULTURE
I had another aha! moment, and it started with an image in my head. The image was that of a tree. The values were the roots of a tree. You can’t have a tree if you don’t have strong roots. BUT even with strong roots, that tree will not grow and prosper without the right environment that allows that tree to grow.
Redwood trees grow in the Northwest because the climate and environment supports their growth. They don’t grow in the Northeast for the same reason. I look at values in the same way. Your values are unique, and if defined correctly require the right environment to grow. This picture in my head explained everything for me, and I realized that I had to uncover the environment which would allow my values to grow and flourish. Over the course of a year, I was able to unlock the environment that I thought was best suited to turn our values into a redwood. I defined our culture into 5 pillars. These pillars are:
- Accountability – An Environment that promotes transparency and is responsible for results
- Competition – An environment that encourages a passion for winning
- Fun – An environment that is enthusiastically engaged
- Active Learning – An Environment that encourages personal and professional development
- Gratitude – An environment that expects each person to be thankful for life’s experiences and to win WITH others, not at their expense.
Since we rolled out our defined culture, our company has completely transformed. It took almost 2 years to fully embed our values along with our defined culture, but the results have been nothing short of amazing. It is fun to come to work again. Our drama is minimal and there is a motivation to do great things. As a result, our company is coming off our best year ever, and our vision to scale is clear and very realistic.