A Culture of Good to Great to Best

Why Being ‘Best Agency to Work For’ is Part of Our Mission

Two years ago, we shared some thoughts about culture and the professional services firm, particularly culture in a fast-growing marketing/PR agency. At the time, we asked ourselves, “What if great isn’t good enough?” Since then, ReviveHealth has grown by approximately 50 percent. We added a third office (in Minneapolis), hired about 15 new professionals, and in a major strategic move, announced our acquisition by Weber Shandwick. As one of the largest and best-regarded agencies in the world, Weber Shandwick brings to market 4,000 employees in 80 offices around the world.

With this kind of change comes something every successful entrepreneur and CEO must consider – how do we keep the “secret sauce” that made us successful and got us to this point while also taking full advantage of the expertise, capabilities, and strong culture present in the company acquiring us? We don’t want to cling to the past out of ego or any irrational fear of change, but we also don’t want to abandon the very qualities that made us successful in the first place. Indeed, “dance with the one that brung you” is our 7th company value (okay, not really, but it is a strongly held belief).

From the day we opened our doors on September 1, 2009, our goal has been to operate the single best healthcare integrated marketing communications agency in America. Not good. Not great. Not even better, although we strive every day to be better than we were the day before. One of the key ways we can demonstrate the achievement of being the best is to win Best Agency to Work For, a recognition bestowed annually by a leading trade publication in the PR and marketing industry, The Holmes Report. In 2014, we were named the Best Agency to Work For in America – a huge honor considering there are 4,000 agencies in the U.S.

Six and a half years after ReviveHealth opened for business, we look back on a period of unprecedented recognition for any firm in our industry – New Agency of the Year, Boutique Agency of the Year, Small Agency of the Year, and Best Agency to Work For in our size category as well as overall. There is definitely some validation of the work we’ve done, and it’s been noticed by job candidates and prospective clients alike.

We’ve done our best to understand what drives the success we’ve enjoyed on our journey so far so we can keep doing what works, but also so we can share those insights with others and hopefully give back even a little of the knowledge that people like Jim Collins and others dared to share with us.

Every sign points to the strength of our culture, which is based on these six core values – developed with input from every member of our staff and carefully monitored twice yearly with an anonymous survey of all team members:

  • Be better
  • Be authentic
  • Be more than more of the same
  • Act with respect and transparency
  • Have fun
  • Own it

More detail on our culture and values is available here.

Each year, during our agency culture survey, we learn where we’re doing well and where we need to put more focus or energy. Sometimes our executive group is rated highly, and other times there are clearly areas that I need to work on as the CEO of the agency.  It can be difficult to hear critical feedback, but it would be far more difficult to learn that staff members were unhappy or had even left the firm because I wasn’t communicating properly or living out our values on a daily basis.

That means being transparent about our mission and goals and sharing a clear understanding of the firm’s positioning and value, and, particularly, what makes any professional successful at ReviveHealth.

Using the EOS system outlined in the book Traction, we’ve identified our Core Focus, which is comprised of two important elements – what drives us, and what we’re wired for. These elements drive our hiring, promotions, and our training and professional development. We’ve also clarified our 10 Year Vision, which guided the process that led us to Weber Shandwick.

What Drives Us: Challenge and optimism. We are intellectually curious people, always driven to challenge the status quo and “good enough.” We are optimistic because we see the opportunity to make a difference for every client, and for each other. We are motivated to solve our clients’ biggest challenges, combining our inside knowledge of healthcare and outside thinking to deliver next-level strategies and the very best results.

What We’re Wired For: We are wired to translate complex business challenges into integrated marketing communication strategies that connect brands with how people experience, engage with, and make decisions about healthcare in the real world.

Our 10-Year Vision: ReviveHealth is the most interesting agency in the country, the home to top talent with an incredibly strong and healthy culture. We will do work that matters, solving the most difficult and complex challenges in healthcare marketing communication. We strive to be the best firm in healthcare – ranked among the top five specialist agencies – and big enough for any client we would want. We are recognized by clients and peers for our expertise, capabilities, quality work, healthy annual growth above the industry average, profitability above 25%, and a culture that earns annual recognition as Best Agency to Work For.

The 10-Year Vision is a big target. How do we live that out every day with all the pressures of running a professional services business?

Any successful professional services firm is a delicate balance between culture, service orientation, and discipline. It seems clear that ReviveHealth has enjoyed unusual success over the last six and a half years as a result of an almost fanatical devotion to our culture and values. We screen prospective job candidates with careful analysis of personalities and behavioral tendencies that are consistent with our culture and values. We score our employees’ ongoing performance on that basis, and we measure our collective “grade” for each value twice a year in anonymous internal surveys. It is this devotion to hiring, retaining, and growing smart, driven, nice professionals that has driven our success and the recognition we’ve received. It is also what’s driven turnover less than one-third the industry average over the last five years.

Beyond that, I believe ReviveHealth’s success is a product of focus and disciplined execution. We are intensely focused on the healthcare industry, and the delivery of integrated marketing communication services to an industry hungry for expertise and insights. This unwavering focus and the disciplined execution of our strategic growth plan has led to strong annual growth, profitability, and enviable industry recognition. We have expanded our capabilities and our world to create the first purpose-built firm that can meet every need our clients may have – yet we’ve done so by following a carefully crafted growth roadmap.

As the CEO of this incredible firm, what is my responsibility? How do I contribute what’s needed, hold others accountable, and get out of the way when needed? I ask myself these questions all the time, since I want what every successful entrepreneur wants – colleagues in executive leadership and employees who are engaged, invested in the firm’s success, and all “pulling the wagon” in the same direction.

I don’t have anything to offer in terms of management expertise that others haven’t already done or written about. Yet, I think I’ve developed some insights about energy, motivation, and commitment that have contributed to our growth and helped us achieve our goals over the last six and a half years.

I work to constantly project optimism and energy into the business, in everything from staff retreats in Zion, Utah, and Lyle, Tennessee, to running 200-miles-in-two-days Ragnar events with our team members, to little catchphrases like, “I will sleep when I’m dead” (Not because I’m afraid I’m not working enough, but because there are fun and interesting things happening all around us every day). Some of those things are work related but some are more about the journey… finding the best donut shop in each city we visit for work, skiing with my kids, catching a midweek concert at Bridgestone Arena, or eating at the best restaurant we can find when we visit a new city. Some might call that FOMO, but I just call it living life to the fullest. Living life to the fullest includes working life to the fullest, in my opinion. There is really no distinction.

I think that the founder’s responsibility – and any CEOs responsibility – is to constantly live out the abundance mentality, rather than exhibiting a scarcity mentality. Abundance means always knowing that the pie can get bigger, and we shouldn’t worry too much about the size of our slice, or the amount of pie someone else has on their plate. In contrast, scarcity means constant fear that the pie is too small, that your slice is too small, and that your competitors are getting all the pie. Abundance is about trust, whether it’s trust in God (the way I do), or trust in your fellow human being, or the universe, or whatever gets you there.

Working at the Best Agency to Work For in America means being intellectually curious, pursuing your interests, and never settling for the mundane or the usual. It means being an interesting person, and sharing your life with the people around you. That’s where the transition from Good to Great becomes the jump from Great to Best. Who wouldn’t want to work there?

Over the next five years, we expect to move from Good to Great to Even Better as a result of our relationship with Weber Shandwick. We are 100% committed to making this transaction a success, operating in rarified air where only 2% of agencies are ever acquired and the majority of those transactions prove disappointing for the user or the seller (or both). We are living out our values, and as a result, we are seeing the fruits of our labor.

February 16, 2016
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