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Beyond zzzMail: Steal these ideas to improve your workplace culture

July 31, 2019 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
You don’t need a consulting firm’s money to implement some of  Vynamic’s workplace culture tips.

While not every office has funds to produce cheesy corporate music video parodies, or give employees an extra $100 per quarter to help them meet a personal goal, here are some takeaways from a recent tour at the Philadelphia healthcare consulting firm that any workplace or nonprofit can use to boost employee morale, retention, and the quality of work produced.

(Note: while a great idea, this article won’t cover zzzMail — or Vynamic’s rule of not sending emails between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — since it’s been covered here, here, here, here, here and…well, you get the idea.)

Orientation is about the company, but also about the individual

Obviously, this is the goal of any human resources professional but Vynamic is intentional. Even the little touches carry through. During onboarding, employees chose a color that impacts everything from their profile on Vynamic’s website to business cards to office walls to magnets for in office displays. A team member spiral display, for example, shows how much the company has grown.

Vynamic’s team member spiral. (Courtesy photo)

The overarching message is that while employees are a part of a larger team, their individuality still shines through. As Melissa Marsili, office manager, said, “Culture is a part of everything we do, but in the office space particularly, we like to pull all those culture points through.”

From our Partners

Another concept introduced at orientation is access to CEO Jeff Dill. He’s involved in each day of Vynamic’s week-long orientation and not just to drop in for appearances — he’s there to lead sessions. That access continues throughout employees’ time at Vynamic with an open door policy, lack of administrative assistant/bouncer, and the ability to collaborate with Dill on internal Vynamic councils.

Flip the organizational chart

“It’s a very collaborative space, said Katie Fife, director. “We’re structured but nonhierarchical.” So much so that when Fife had a recent meeting with Buck Thompson, business development and marketing lead, they ended up joking about flipping the organizational chart. In other words, putting the CEO at the bottom and the team members at the top. “We gotta flip it on its head because it’s really about servant leadership,” Fife added.

While the Vynamic org chart will stay in its current orientation, the approach of putting people first has serious staying power.

This does feel easier to dowhen you’re a consulting firm where you product is literally your people, but there’s a growing body of research — including a recent study in the journal Human Relations — that shows a profit-driven approach or “bottom line mentality,” actually hurts the bottom line. Vynamic puts their team members first in a variety of ways, including healthy goal setting, unlimited vacation time, and profit sharing. That leads to a sense of ownership over the company and the product, and higher quality results for Vynamic.

While a nonprofit organization literally can’t share profits (beats the whole purpose of being a nonprofit), the applicable lesson here is to not overlook compensation. Turnover is expensive and Vynamic recognizes that.

That’s part of why it’s so competitive to get a job there. Not only do they want to hire folks with the right skill-set, they want those new hires to stick around for the long term. So, depending on an employee’s role in landing a new account or recruiting a new hire, they can receive a sales bonus or a recruitment bonus, respectively.

Composite from images from Vynamic’s music video.

Personal choice is key

The autonomy Vynamic gives to its employees is key to the workplace culture. As Director Michael Hudson, said via email, at large global consulting firms, employees “are burned out from perpetual travel, flying to client sites away from their friends and family Monday-Thursday week in and week out for years on end.” Meanwhile, at Vynamic, employees get to set their preferences.

According to Hudson, those options range “from ‘Jetsetters” who are interested in travel to gain life experience, to “dabblers” who don’t seek out travel but would not rule it out on occasion if the rest of the work arrangement suited their goals, to “homebodies” who explicitly do not want to be considered for projects that require travel.

Team members can update their preferences at any time, allowing them to tailor their careers to life stages or other preferences.

Vynamic’s workplace values are part of the workspace. (Courtesy photo)

How can you apply that to your office culture? If you have a fundraiser who’s not passionate about event planning, there may be someone from outside the development team who is. Work to allow that person to step in and help with an annual gala while allowing the fundraiser to focus on relationship building with major donors. Don’t feel constrained by pre-existing roles in assigning tasks.

Admittedly, this approach will challenge a lot of norms, however the flexibility to put employees where they are most passionate and driven will lead to better results for the organization.

For Hudson, a big moment for his career happened in 2016. “I started to feel a loss of passion for my work and a decline in my professional development,” he said.

He needed a change . However, he knew he was a central player on a long-term account with “reliable recurring revenue.” The normal impulse of a COO would be to keep him on that account to ensure its future success. However, COO (and current CEO) Jeff Dill transitioned him off the account.For Hudson, that was huge.

“I had the opportunity to take on new work in the Health Plans and Healthcare Technology sectors while working with over 15 team members that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise,” Hudson said. “It re-energized me in my career in a way that few people get to experience without leaving their employer.” He felt that his satisfaction with his role was valued by Vynamic in a way that benefited everyone involved, including the old client and the new client.

Beyond allowing employees to pick what projects they work on, employees can join internal councils to advise Vynamic on best policies for opening new branches and recruiting top talent. Not only can employees choose whether or not to join a council, they can choose their level of involvement.

“For example, the talent development council will define their core initiatives for the year,” Fife said. “I can chose to lead one and I can choose to participate. Even as a participant, am I an active day-to-day, am I a sounding board?” She has options, including the option to not be involved with a council at all.

Letting employees choose their projects amplifies their sense of ownership and dedication to the company’s results.

Ownership over the company can start with the space

In addition to using an employee’s color for the walls of the Vynamic offices, employee input dictates how the space is used. Vynamic has an open seating arrangement for most employees, with private quiet offices, conference rooms, and even a living room. Employees can decide where to sit and do work and they have the freedom to walk around a walking track. As Marsili shared, sometimes the walking track is so busy new walkers have to merge to join in.

To date, employee additions include wall decorations, a beer tap, a kombucha tap inspired by the beer tap, and a leave-one,-take-one library. (The library is stocked with books and, mysteriously, one Jerry Maguire DVD.)

That feeling of contributing to Vynamic doesn’t stop with physical additions. Employees organize and host group workout sessions and bring in outside experts to lecture on interesting subjects — the latest of which was about sustainable fisheries. Any topic of interest, however tangentially related to their work, can be presented at a TED talk style gathering.

Team members at Vynamic are also encouraged to take pride in their vacation time and share it with others in the office,. They even have a vacation map.

Vynamic’s vacation travel map. (Courtesy photo)

For a high stress job like consulting, actually encouraging work/life balance feels outside the norm but at Vynamic, it’s the opposite. The emphasis on healthy living leads Vynamic to practice — and decorate with — what they preach.

A final challenge

Yes, working at a successful healthcare consulting firm comes with benefits you may not find at other workplaces. It’s project based, so it’s admittedly easier to give employees the flexibility to choose projects.

They also have funds available to reimburse 50% of the registration costs of participating in a race, or dedicating $100 per employee to help them meet a quarterly personal goal.

The final challenge of this article is finding ways that techniques mentioned here could be replicated or tweaked to work for your workplace — even if it means doing things on a lower budget or no budget.

“Figuring out what you want to do, and why and then implementing the how,” is the way Marsili describes it. “We want to celebrate the team and we say ‘we don’t check our personal selves at the door’ so celebrate all those things. Make it easy for the team to feel a sense of belonging and connection. If you have a strong why, you’ll figure it out.”

What can you shake up around your workplace?


The Workplace Month 2019

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