Where are the headlines about positive business cultures?
Hostile work environments.
Management out-of-touch with their own people.
The list goes on and on.
We see it in the headlines of our newsfeeds every day.
But, what about those positive company cultures? Places where people love to work, places of true teamwork, places where employees really care about each other. Those are the places that our nation's top, up-and-coming talent seeks to join.
Seen much press lately on those type of businesses? Law firms? Finance organizations?
We all need to.
And they are out there - awesome examples of values-based, principled companies that display their positive behaviors every day. It's very important that we experience more of these kinds of companies and emulate them. Why? Because, more and more insightful top management leaders today realize a foundation principle of business success: Culture is your real competitive advantage. This is principle A.
Here's another modern day business principle: People do business with people who have the same values that they do. Let's call this principle B.
Since culture is where you authentically convey your organization's values: A + B = C, with C being the opportunity for more business for you.
I'll show you one of those inspiring companies with a strong, positive values-based culture: Robert W. Baird & Company.
Baird. An old financial - what I thought-to-be "traditional" - services firm based in Milwaukee, a city from the old industrial Steel Belt. Who would have thunk it?
I saw and felt this impressive Baird culture firsthand when I made a trip to their Milwaukee offices on behalf of one of my Big River clients.
Full disclosure: One little trick that I do to gain an authentic sense of a place's culture is to show up 15 minutes early for my appointment. I just sit in the reception area and intently watch, listen and try and feel "the vibe" of the place and its people.
It is amazing what you can learn about a place when you just watch, listen and truly examine what is going on. (You may want to try it sometime in your own lobby. Show up incognito, sit and watch. I think you will find it enlightening.)
In those moments that I sat in that Baird lobby, I sensed positive energy. Youthful. Diverse. Engaged people. The atmosphere seemed more like an energized ad agency than an old traditional buttoned-up financial firm.
As I sat, I was greeted by a couple of different Baird people, one who appeared to be an executive, and another, at the other end of the spectrum, an assistant - maybe even an intern. Both stopped to greet me: "Welcome to Baird. Can we help you with anything?" This seemed like this place was their home and they were not too busy to stop and welcome someone new into "their home."
I noticed the ubiquitous flat-screen monitors which are now found all over financial institutions' lobbies. These screens are typically muted and tuned to CNBC or Bloomberg News, always having the Dow Jones Industrial Average chart highlighted to answer that ever important critical question of the minute: "Is the market up or down?" All these symbols found in most financial institution lobbies point subliminally to most these company's paramount, but unspoken, credo: "It's all about the money."
But no, that is not what was on the screens at Baird's corporate headquarters in Milwaukee. Rather there were a myriad of scenes and videos of Baird employees working hard at various community efforts around the country. Not staged scenes - actual working scenes. And, amid this newsreel of Baird employees serving in their communities, an occasional message would flash on the screen: "Thank you Baird employees for making Baird one of FORTUNE's 100 Best Companies to Work For® yet again this year." (Baird is one of the only financial organizations on this venerable list, and they have been selected as one of these top 100 companies every year since 2004. Eighteen straight years!) This certainly spoke to me more about who Baird authentically was: more about the people than the money.
Now this place is different.
When I spoke to the three Baird employees who I had set up interviews with - they were passionate, they were spirited, they were connected. It was real. It made me want to be part of this group.
I commented to the last Baird executive that I spoke to that day: "Wow. Your company culture is really something. I could just feel it in my short visit here." To which, he replied: "Thank you. We're proud of our culture. We think it is one of our biggest advantages. It's deliberate. But please understand, it's hard work. We work at it every day."
There is such wisdom in what he said. Especially, "...it's hard work. We work at it every day."
Maintaining a positive company culture IS hard work. Especially as organizations get bigger. Then, the need to fight for that competitive culture advantage grows larger everyday. It's why The New York Times said in a recent article about business trends: "It's amazing how much money big companies are spending to act small."
As you grow, continuing to "act small and hold on to that "family feel" is tough, but it is really, really worth it. Look no further than Baird and the proud way in which employees stand up for "The Baird Way."
So, with my eyes open, I went back after my Baird visit and did a little research. Did I just catch them on a good day? Is "The Baird Way" real or just an internal rah-rah slogan?
What I found was impressive. This positive team attitude among Baird employees was not just in Milwaukee. I came across research that indicated that 96% of Baird employees rated Baird as a great place to work as compared with 59% for your typical U.S. company.
96%! That's 96% of over 4,000 employees nationwide. Very impressive.
In the 2021 FORTUNE's 100 Best Companies to Work For® article, they comment that Baird "shows a great degree of care for its staff and community."
Truly caring for their employees so that their employees will totally take deep care of their customers. That is what makes a great professional services company today. Building from the inside out.
I was reminded of all this recently when I came across this Baird piece on YouTube. Now, you may watch this 1:49 video and think "yet another corporate puff-piece." But, I know better. Baird employees know better. As importantly, Baird clients know better. It's authentic stuff.
WE>I. Love that this video ends on this meaningful graphic.
Baird understands that in business today - whether you are a financial institution, a law firm (think Alston & Bird) , or an online seller of shoes (think Zappos) - a strong, positive, teamwork culture is a huge competitive advantage.
I was struck in the video when the Baird employee says, "Outside bankers are hearing from clients how much more teamwork-oriented Baird is [as compared with their competition]." Again - people do business with people who have the same values that they do.
Remember, culture and brand are just flip sides of the same coin. Baird's authentic brand is strong because their culture is so outstanding.
Today, people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. People want to be part of a positive, meaningful, purposeful community.
Be like Baird. Build your internal community, work hard on your positive company culture. Then, invite potential clients with similar values and principles to be part of your special community.
That's what effective, thriving professional services organizations are all about today.
Build it, and they will come.