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Constructive workplace cultures help teams work toward their goals and establish guidelines that hold each member, including leadership, accountable while praising valuable team players. As a result, successful teams are able to create structures, adapt to change and continually encourage opportunities for all staff members. Progressive cultures set ethical ways for a business to problem solve, resolve conflict and inspire evolution.

Workplace Culture is the final of the three concepts and blog posts I have focused on as a part of the BBB Spark Award. Wilderness Agency was honored to win and I was asked to share my thoughts on why Wilderness has been successful. I broke it down to: Character, Community, and Culture. These have become pillars to Wilderness Agency. 

To read my blog post on Character, follow this link: https://www.wildernessagency.com/reflections-on-the-bbb-spark-award/

To read my post on Community, follow this link: https://www.wildernessagency.com/reflections-on-the-bbb-spark-award-community/

Once again I want to highlight my team. Without their dedication and passion for their craft, Wilderness wouldn’t be what it is today. I am extremely grateful to have such an incredible team around me. 

Establishing a culture of trust takes intentionality and effort. How do you articulate to your team that you value them? What sort of goals do your teams have, and how do they work together to create a supportive and honest atmosphere, while being purposeful and transparent? Is there a tenant of your organization that steers the performance of the team towards trust?

Four years ago I attended Aileron’s Course for Presidents. One of my many takeaways was, “It takes 5 years to fix a bad culture.” I noted this and made a promise to myself to never create a bad culture within the Wilderness Agency. 

In July of this past year, I took a sabbatical. This was my first extended vacation in almost 16 years. I was burnt out and didn’t realize it. I spent a lot of time reflecting on why I had started my business. I spent even more time contemplating how our culture had diverted into negativity and mistrust. Through a series of poor hires and promotions in management, I had inadvertently let our culture become toxic. I took full responsibility for this. I went against my intuition and put my trust in the wrong people.

I knew that I didn’t have five years to fix the situation and had to take aggressive actions to correct our course.  Many of the management positions would need to be terminated, the hierarchy needed to be blown up, and I needed to take back complete control of my organization. 

I held many meetings to explain the changes that would be occurring in an attempt to win back the trust of my team.  We were going to move forward with open, honest, and direct communication.  We brainstormed, “Everything that’s wrong with Wilderness Agency let’s get it up on the whiteboards.”

To see where we are as a company today, watch the video we created for the Dayton Business Journal. Wilderness Agency was honored to win the Rookie Business of the Year, you can read more about that award here: https://www.wildernessagency.com/rookie-business-of-the-year/

To set a new tone I implemented a handbook that eviscerated the insane bureaucracy from prior managers which restricted them to come to me with their issues and empowered them to make decisions.  The changes I made put us on the path we are on today.

An excerpt from Wilderness Agency Teammate Handbook:

Wilderness Agency doesn’t look much like the first iteration I helped launch.  It has grown bigger, better and faster than I could have predicted all those years ago.  Today we have clients across the country in a multitude of industries, we have built better processes, and realized our potential for creating impact in our client’s businesses and our community.  What has remained unchanged is our core philosophies and our mission: 

Grow organizations. Put people back to work. 

This simple mantra has been a guiding light for our team.  It is the basis for decision-making day in and day out.  This philosophy is deeply rooted in my personal belief systems.  Throughout my journey on this planet, I have come to realize the common theme that echoes through most major religions and has been codified in both myth and virtues is to do good in the world.  Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, but it serves as a good metric for living life.

I have created a vehicle to do good in this world through Wilderness Agency.  It will ultimately be up to the members of this team on if we will be a star that lights the way, creating an example for other companies to aspire to or if we will be a supernova that burns bright, but ultimately fades into the darkness.

The success of our organization is dependent upon each of us holding ourselves and one another to the highest standards of ethics and accountability.  This document serves to cover some of the rules of engagement of working in a professional organization; however, I encourage all of you to operate within this one rule, not only in your professional work but in all aspects of your life:

Use good judgment in all situations.

I wish you way more than luck in your time with our team.  We will sink or swim together.  I am grateful for the opportunity to lead a passionate team and look forward to this journey ahead.

Kind regards, 

Richard Kaiser, Founder”

 

“Our best people don’t fit into our culture, they further it.” Our culture is a continuous evolution.  What was once a close-knit family has grown into a much larger, high-performing team.  We have gone from a small team of five friends doing work for startups and small businesses into a network of creatives doing work for clients across the country in a variety of industries.  We work within government, education, manufacturing, medical, agriculture, and philanthropy.  Our clients include an international chemical manufacturer headquartered in Chicago, Illinois; a defense contractor in Princeton, New Jersey; a nonprofit in Palo Alto, California; and a hair salon in Centerville, Ohio.  Our agility enables us to work within a variety of industries by size and vertical.  

Our model has evolved to increase employee freedom as we grow, rather than limit it, to continue to attract and nourish innovative people, so we have a better chance of long‐term continued success.

Today, as an organization, we provide many opportunities for teammates to grow and provide feedback.  Examples of this are numerous, but for a few examples: we have implemented a leadership training program to align everyone to the aspirations we look to achieve with our culture, we provide weekly touchpoint meetings with leadership to ensure they have what they need to be successful in the immediate future, monthly check-ins to ensure they are tracking against their longer objectives and bi-annual reviews to ensure that they are benchmarking against their goals.  

Teammates are given an opportunity to share where they are, where they want to be, and their ambitions for their careers.  They then score themselves on the following attributes: Communication, Passion, Autonomy, Development (self and others), Organizational Awareness, Innovation, and Agility; then leadership scores them to ensure that we are all aligned with expectations.  Teammates are also provided with guidance on creating three goals to achieve the following year with associated activities to achieve these goals.  This review structure gives the team full transparency into what the company needs from them to be successful but also empowers them with tangible goals and action items for personal and professional development. 

Perhaps it is by nature of being a smaller organization or a testament to the dedication of a few teammates who believe so strongly in what we are doing, but I am so grateful to say that it did not take 5 years to pivot away from the toxic culture; we were able to course-correct in a matter of 5 months.  What will be telling is how we are able to maintain the momentum that we have created into the future. 

I believe that business moves at the speed of trust. I am forever thankful for the members of our team that have stuck by me and for the clients that trust us with their brands every day.

Richard Kaiser

Richard Kaiser

Some of my fondest memories from my formative years were from Boy Scout camps sitting on rough, wooden logs that encircled a crackling fire sharing stories with the other boys. I believe in my heart that it is a human need to be told stories. We crave stories much in the same way we crave love. The work we do at Wilderness Agency is based upon this primal need. We bring together some of the best creative talent from around the world to tell our client’s stories, to share their passion with the world.