Ryan Wilson is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Colorado, and the founder and CEO of FiveFifty, a boutique digital marketing trade desk specializing in programmatic media buying. As the recent winner of the Digiday WorkLife Award for Small Agency Employer of the Year, we asked Ryan to share how he crafted a company culture conducive to success.
If you want your business to thrive, you need to ensure that your employees do so first.
Unfortunately, the way many entrepreneurs talk about company culture too often devolves into buzzwords and clichés. Frankly, it's easy to find the superficial hallmarks of a great culture these days. For example, it is crucial to understand that a casual dress code never improved culture. Communicating that I value work ethic more than whether or not you wear sneakers into the office, on the other hand, has proven incredibly meaningful.
That distinction is at the heart of one of the most important lessons I have learned thus far: Your organization's values absolutely must serve as the foundation of any culture you hope to build. If your company's values are unambiguously authentic, the culture they sprout will be, too.
We embrace four core values, all of which deeply inform how we approach our work together. Our culture impacts every aspect of the company, with these values evident in all of our amenities, policies and perks. I brought a few of these values with me when I founded the company. As we have grown, we hired people who fit within those values and promoted those who actively embody them. As the team has grown, we have even uncovered new values.
Core Value 1: Be the "Rolling Stone" which gathers no moss
We stay in motion to maintain a cutting-edge advantage. We love curiosity, learning and data. As a result, I always treat employee development as a priority, and we sponsor trainings accordingly.
Core Value 2: Bring it 365 days per year
Without passion, the workplace culture wilts like plants in a drought. Contentment is the enemy of progress, so we never settle. As a result, our team is never, ever bored and always learning.
Core Value 3: Always Own It
There is no substitute for commitment. My team excels because we do what we say, we pay attention to detail, and we own our projects from start to finish. Personal investments into our clients' well-being make every win that much more rewarding.
Core Value 4: Be Genuine
Sardonic wit and irony may dominate the zeitgeist, but we come to work to build something together. We nurture trust through our sincerity. That trust underpins the cooperation and communication that fuel our successes.
So, what happens in a great culture? Everyone speaks confidently, in both group settings and one-on-one, because mutual respect abounds. My team knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that I prize honesty and substance over flash. We celebrate new clients and great campaigns, but also newborns, new homes and playing a great rock show last weekend. Each member of the team is a rock star in his or her own right. Therefore, I equip everyone with the tools they determine they need to grow while providing ample opportunity to share knowledge and success.
We're proud to live and breathe our core values in real, tangible ways. We offer a comprehensive wellness program, standing desks, ski passes, flex time, and work-from-home options. We are especially available (and affordable) to non-profit clients, organize an annual learning-focused conference to share best practices with the community, and prioritize a culture of growth internally. Our employees demonstrate civic engagement across all identities. We are deeply invested in our people, in transparency and in staying at the forefront of the industry we love.
Every new hire contributes photos to our Wall of Inspiration, which depicts everything from smiling grandparents to college band posters. On day one, we share the stories behind our selections with new employees, contributing something uniquely meaningful to our shared space and weaving them into the fabric of our culture. This wall, the defining feature of our Recharge Room, is a physical manifestation of what makes our company special. That is our people, their contributions and their passions.
Amenities like free snacks, ping-pong and kegerators, although once novel, are commonplace. While I offer these perks, they simply pale in comparison to what really matters―our shared values.