Don Kurz, Omelet
Your People Before Your Clients and Investors
Any service business – in particular marketing communications – will reflexively espouse a philosophy of “the client is our primary focus,” “the client pays the bills so we better smother them with service” or “the client is why our firm exists.”
Being a highly attentive organization that’s focused on its clients is essential in this increasingly competitive world and laser focus on the client is simply table stakes. But true competitive advantage comes from a passionate, committed, unencumbered and ethical workforce. Achieving that is a crucial step towards making your clients and investors happy.
Omelet has the benefit and disadvantage of being headquartered in the heart of LA’s entertainment industry and within close proximity to “Silicon Beach,” the new start-up scene. Our neighbors include top studios like Fox and Sony, as well as some of the world’s leading advertising agencies, including 72andSunny, Deutsch LA, Crispin Porter + Bogusky and TBWA\Chiat\Day. We’re also facing an increasingly major presence from entities like Google, YouTube, Facebook and multi-channel networks such as Fullscreen. In this, and many other situations, using compensation and benefits to lure top talent simply isn’t possible when competing against these well-capitalized companies.
My advice? Don’t try to win this unwinnable game. Instead, focus on differentiating yourself by offering competitive compensation, substantial equity participation for senior management, and innovative benefits – for example unlimited vacation time and a dog-friendly work environment. Those decisions put you in the conversation and once you’re in it, you can change things up to compete on a playing field you can sustainably win on.
To grow a successful professional services company, you must focus on your people and that’s where Omelet puts its primary energy. Look for different types of folks, for the great “athletes” that hail from diverse and unconventional backgrounds. Those lovable misfits can be the building blocks for both your culture and your operating construct, allowing you to create an environment where outstanding people can thrive. Here are the principles of that operating model:
- Live Your Mission – define your mission in a way that lets your company remain uninhibited by industry definitions and conventions. As a result, you will attract the people who want an environment rife with both creativity and flexibility, which will then allow you to disrupt and challenge incumbents who have a vested interest in the status quo. Omelet’s mission is to “Break Some Eggs.”
- Embrace Radical Decentralization – create a structure that’s self-governing, because if your people understand the strategy, truly live the values, and operate without fear, traditional bosses aren’t going to be necessary. Mentorship? Yes. Hierarchy? No. Clients benefit from responsive team members who are empowered to make decisions in real time.
- Give Your People Room to Grow – If a person continues growing and learning, they’re far more motivated to stay with a company, even if a substantial compensation boost is offered elsewhere. Try to focus on continually providing a diverse set of assignments while also giving employees room to pursue passion projects. Clients create rapport with their agency contacts and ultimately benefit from having partners who remain throughout the relationship, instead of facing a revolving door.
- Accept Personal Responsibility - maintain responsibility to yourself and your team. No exceptions. Clients appreciate partners who can be accountable for their actions and results.
Looking forward, you must remain restless and continue searching for ways to attract and retain the industry’s best. The world is only getting more competitive but by keenly observing what the most innovative companies are doing, experimenting with alternative approaches and listening closely to your people, you’ll be able to stay on top.
There’s no perfect strategy, so I’ll leave you with this. When asked, I advise fellow CEOs that their job is to create an environment for the best people to thrive within the context of a strategic framework and a series of values they must clearly provide. How to execute the strategy and how to adjust to the marketplace should largely be left to your people. If you hire and retain the right ones, they will know far better than you how to win the day-to-day challenges your company will increasingly face.
Don has over 25 years of experience in strategy, finance, marketing and public company leadership. Before joining Omelet, Don was the Chairman, President and CEO of EMAK Worldwide, a frequent company on the “top small companies” lists of Fortune, Forbes and Business Week.
Illustration provided by US-based designer, Van Jazmin.