By: Donna Rama
As we look back over the past year, and look forward to 2018, we decided to share with our readers our take on the company culture here at Sullivan Engineering. As the original employee hired by Brian in 2010, I have witnessed first-hand, and participated in, the development of what I think is a truly fantastic company culture. I don’t think the importance of having great company culture can be exaggerated. Most employees, especially in today’s corporate world, value company culture as much as they do salary and benefits, and savvy employers also put great emphasis on cultural fit when hiring.
Watching our firm grow from just the 2 of us, to a team of 21, in 4 offices over 3 states, I have definitely come to understand that a successful company culture doesn’t just happen. It must be championed by down-to-earth and accessible leadership that is willing to communicate its goals and vision in a way that makes employees feel part of a unified team. Financial resources must be dedicated to employee training and team building in order to establish a culture that promotes the kind of risk taking that leads to both personal and professional growth, and leads to independent and confident employees who help the company grow.
Creating great company culture is a two-way street. Leadership is not solely responsible for ensuring an auspicious culture exists; all employees must also be dedicated to it. They must exemplify the company’s core values. They must earn the trust that leads to their empowerment. Positive culture should be on the forefront, with coworkers regularly attending team building/bonding events and programs.
I’ve seen that it’s difficult to keep a uniform culture as our organization has grown and spread out. While they insist that company culture is steeped in our core values, our leadership team truly recognizes that culture has to be refined in order to accommodate more employees and more management. The most successful company culture leads to successful business, and that requires an evolving culture that can grow with it.
Positive company culture not only leads to happy employees and a fun workplace. When you get the company culture right, excellent customer service and a great brand will result. This is the ultimate win-win, especially for a service based business like ours. Common sense dictates that happy employees, who like to come to work, are proud of what they do, and feel part of a unified team, will produce results that lead to satisfied clients.
I’d like to tell you about some of the policies, plans, processes, procedures, parties and playtime that are interwoven into the fabric of Sullivan Engineering’s company culture. The fact that as I’m writing this, I’m smiling about how I just spontaneously invented what I’ll refer to from now on as the 6 P’s of our company culture, or that I’m stoked to be writing an article about culture at all, is evidence of how good ours is!
Our company culture begins with our hiring and on-boarding processes. Management places as high, if not a higher emphasis on hiring like-minded people w/common core values and an entrepreneurial spirit, as they do experience, skill level or recommendation. New hires are asked to take a personality analysis to further confirm they have the potential of thriving within our culture. All Sullivan Engineering team members regularly and enthusiastically participate in this and other assessments. There are no right or wrong answers; their purpose is to help us better understand how to more effectually work together and communicate with each other.
Once hired, a mentor is assigned to help the new team member acclimate, and they are introduced to the numerous detailed and documentedprocesses as part of their training. Their progress will be regularly monitored through meetings with their peers, mentors and managers., where their feedback and suggestions are encouraged. They will be expected to read selections from our recommended reading list, and to sign up for continuous education courses. The company will even finance graduate degrees and/or other endeavors, so that dedicated team members can reach professional licensure.
Now for the fun part. We all know it’s sometimes difficult to fit in with a group of people. However, the opportunities for social bonding and team building at Sullivan Engineering will help anyone rise to that challenge. We schedule happy hours and lunches with our coworkers, throw an annual BBQ in our parking lot on the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day Weekend, and enjoy bowling trips, golf outings and cook-offs. Best of all are our holiday party and our annual Anniversary dinner. All spouses or significant others are invited to these 2 parties, which allows us to get to know and build relationships with the important people in each other’s lives. We also have a blast playing with all our co-workers/children during our awesomely fun “Bring Your Kids to Work Day.”
Perhaps the most important and effective team building experience is our annual planning retreat. This motivational and interactive multi-media event includes presentations, testimonials and lots of team bonding exercises. Veterans and new employees alike are inspired by the stories of our humble beginnings, the review of the past year’s achievements and the vision for the future that our leadership team offers. The annual Best Mistake Award is also presented after our retreat. Representative of a company culture that empowers its employees and encourages innovation and independent thinking, we admit to, celebrate, and even compete to have our name on the Best Mistake plaque that hangs in our New Jersey office. At our monthly meetings throughout the year, we are all encouraged to discuss any mistake that we made and what we learned from it. Leadership often reminds us that mistakes resulting from laziness or carelessness are unacceptable; however, those resulting from reaching outside of our comfort zones to take on new challenges, lead to learning moments and growth. In other words, if we can admit to screwing up without fear of reprimand, we can learn from our mistakes, and share those learning experiences with the team. Not only does this create a more trustworthy and open office environment, but without the pressure to be perfect, we’re less likely to make errors in the first place.
The day after our retreat, we all participate in the annual Blue Sky Thinking session. Sullivan Engineering team members must prepare and brainstorm ideas to make our jobs easier, our culture stronger, our services better, etc. Everyone is encouraged to think outside-the-box, and to propose unconventional and creative concepts, wishes, and even dreams, to be put forth for discussion, and possibly realized during the upcoming year.
Assisting those less fortunate is also a vital part of our company culture. Our leadership strives to foster a spirit of service and an altruistic mindset among all employees, that never fails to boost morale. We are expected to be charitable and socially responsible, and are encouraged to volunteer and participate in community organizations. We are even offered paid time off to do so. A philanthropic culture offers our team the opportunity to bond, share our personal values, and act in unison toward a common goal. Among other charitable endeavors, Sullivan Engineering sponsors students at l’Ecole de Choix, a grade school in Haiti. In a couple of weeks, we will be enjoying each other’s company at our 7th benefit dinner for the school at Saveur Creole Restaurant in Montclair.
As I discussed earlier, corporate expansion can potentially have a negative effect on company culture. To help combat this problem we make efforts to unify our offices and keep our culture thriving. As much as possible/practical, we communicate with team members in other offices via Skype rather than phone. Our administrative team rotates workdays in the NYC office. We begin our department meetings by sharing team member and customer headlines. We video conference between 4 offices during monthly company meetings, and begin each meeting with everyone sharing some professional and personal good news. Recently, our principal, Brian Sullivan instituted “1 to 1s,” which are informal get-togethers with every team member to ensure personal interaction with a principal is never sacrificed to company growth. Lastly, we are given the opportunity to rate and comment about our company culture via a monthly email survey. This is another example of leadership’s concern for our overall happiness at our jobs.
While it’s unrealistic to think that we never get annoyed or frustrated with each other, or that our work environment is perfect, our strong company culture makes us appreciate where we work and who we work with. We can lightheartedly tease and kid around with each other, throwing in the occasional practical joke. But more importantly, our company culture lets us constructively criticize and hold one another accountable. It allows us to support each other, trust each other, learn from each other, and expect and count on each other’s’ best effort in order to better serve one another and our clients.