Recently I came to the realization that I am a grownup. Maybe it’s because I watched the movie Grown Ups and maybe it’s because I just purchased my first car (all by myself!) Never-the-less it was a sad, scary and intimidating moment.
I am now at an age where making big life decisions are completely up to me. This sudden realization felt different somehow, than say, the realization at 18 that I was an “adult”.
The recent purchase of my first car got me thinking about other things I could buy (and yes, dog, boat, and horse all crossed my mind.) Animals and toys aside, a more substantial notion came to mind. If I truly wanted to, I could purchase my first house. And that is when it struck me. I am a full blown adult, who has to make full blown adult decisions about real-life situations.
With all this thinking about my own adulthood, I started to wonder about what adulthood might mean to a company such as Mad*Pow. The central question I came up with was:
How do you know when a business has reached “adulthood” and how can that change the culture within the company?
At the ripe old age of 11, Mad*Pow Media Solutions LLC has already proven itself as a growing and maturing business. The company has risen to the occasion several times, making it through a recession where we were named to the INC 500 List. In the last year, we’ve added 15 amazing minds and opened two new offices in Boston and Louisville.
At our recent Lobsterbake, COO Brad Honeyman challenged us to reflect on our business.“Growth is incremental. That’s why it’s important to take a minute and look back at where we were last year.”
Right there at the picnic table it hit me; The central concept of holding on to the culture within a company. You can’t understand growth, without using a benchmark to compare data.
When you’re so close to growth, it’s hard to see just how much has changed unless you take the time to pause and look back on a specific date in time. If you’re a parent, you might not realize how much your child has grown in the last year until you look at a picture of them.
The importance of looking back is two-fold. It helps illustrate how far you’ve come.
In addition, I’m reminded of the importance of knowing where your “roots” are. There are about two years between these two photos; can you see the major change in the two photos? If you didn’t see the extra twelve people in the photo from 2010 I suggest you promptly make an appointment with an optometrist (had we taken a photo of the company at this year’s Lobsterbake there would have been an additional ten people.)
Twelve people in one year, that’s an increase of 52%. If you take the time to consider how that could affect a company, here’s a quick summary. More people mean more projects, which technically can lead to higher annual revenue and as a side effect, a larger presence at events.
However, with rapid growth you risk losing what makes your company unique. For us, it’s undoubtedly our culture. When co-founder Will Powley started Mad*Pow in 2000 one of the things he wanted to create was a great work atmosphere where employees were comfortable enough to have fun while still being the amazing innovators that produce great work for our clients.
What he couldn’t possibly have seen then, was what Mad*Pow would look like with 35 full time employees, spread across three distinct geographical locations.
Maintaining that original je ne sais quoi of company culture is difficult with differing leadership and work force dynamics in each location. However, culture doesn’t have to be duplicated at each location, as long as the general company vibe is followed. For each location, the challenge is interpreting what that philosophy means to them.
The good news for us is that maintaining the culture that makes this company such a unique and awesome place to work is a top priority for the business’s leadership team. Mad*Pow’s leadership achieves this in many ways, including a monthly meeting designed to bring all three locations together, via phone and video. During this meeting we chat about new hires, upcoming events and anything else that’s important or entertaining. Additionally, bi-weekly project recap meetings allow teams to share finished projects with the entire team.
Those two meetings, along with the annual holiday party, lobsterbake and pumpkin carving contest are all examples of how we stand united as one company. With three different locations we have also fostered an individual office culture at each location (and no, this isn’t a bad thing.)
Each location has created its own unique interpretation of what Mad*Pow means and how they capture that spirit within their office.
The Boston office does yoga once a week. It’s not a mandatory event, but those who would like to participate are more than welcome (though I’ve heard you might feel awkward if you’re on a call and happen to glance over and there are five people working on downward-facing-dog.)
In Louisville, Jason and David work in arts and crafts. For example, they will paint the deck of a skateboard with what they think Mad*Pow means. These decks are going to be hung on the wall in the office and the plan is for each new employee to paint their own deck to add to the wall.
Portsmouth is also dabbling in the arts. Each visual designer is working on some artwork to decorate their workspace. In User Experience they recently re-arranged their area to turn it into a more collaborative environment, complete with a rolling white board for spontaneous creative sessions. Up here in Account Services, well, we like to laugh, loudly (though sometimes annoying it is who we are.)
We may not be able to work under one roof, but in some way we all embody the spirit of Mad*Pow. We use an instant messenger for quick intra-office communications (and to keep long email chains from clogging inboxes.) I’m not saying that Mad*Pow is exactly the same as when it first started, or when the photo from 2008 was taken. It would be impossible not to change, especially with the growth we are experiencing. As I said earlier, change and growth are a part of life (and very important to the life of a business), but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice who you want to be. Everyone at Mad*Pow, including people in leadership positions (which are most responsible for steering the ship), make a conscious effort to keep the original spirit of the company alive. That is how we succeed.
When the Louisville office opened, it was nowhere near as glamorous as the open house in Boston. But Jason and David invited us in, via an emailed video tour of the space. So even though we couldn’t be there with them, we were all still a part of it.
If you take away one thing from this blog let it be this: The importance of knowing who you are (both as an individual and as a company) is vital to your overall success. It will never be easy, it’s work to build a culture and it’s work to maintain it when things are changing and the everyday ho-hum of getting shit done gets in the way. But ultimately it’s worth it and your company will probably be a better place in the end. People who WANT to go to work will always be more productive than an employee who secretly has a picture of you they throw darts at.