The Soul of your Business – From casual fridays to therapy pets: finding the soul of your business

Remember when casual Fridays was first introduced into some companies a few decades ago? When I was hired for my first corporate job at the no longer existing Andersen Consulting in the 90s, I wasn’t allowed to wear slacks (for you millennials, that means pants), not even a professional Hillary Clinton-style pantstuit. By the time I left 3 years later, casual Fridays changed all that– it was exactly the slippery slope old-fogeys feared: today consultants, accountants and even lawyers don’t even wear suits (and ties) daily unless going to court. And lord knows what the judges have on under the robes, anyway.

Soon after the next seismic shift happened: creative companies wanting to attract and retain a younger workforce began offering “cool” office environments– after I left the “cubicled” corporate world in the Loop, I landed at a creative marketing communications company in River North where we all worked in an open loft space with exposed brick, an endless supply of pop-tarts, pop (I am a Chicagoan, afterall), beer-0’Clock (almost) after business hours, and of course, a pool table.

So now that businesses of all types have made their employees more comfortable physically and happier environmentally, the next traditionally non-corporate phase of seeking employee satisfaction is in play– focusing on their mental and emotional well-being- mind, body and soul. It is becoming increasingly common for businesses to offer their employees on-site appointments with massage therapists, yoga classes, mindfulness workshops, meditation, energy assessments, even therapy dogs to pet during stressful periods.

As a project manager with ERC, I have the incredible opportunity and pleasure of spending time and getting to know a variety of business owners and their business of all sizes and industry– we work with a law firm, a steel company, a hair salon, a grammar school, a bank, and even a cemetery. We’ve worked with a company that makes car seat covers for pets, a manufacturer of car/truck acoustic panels, a midwest college, a synagogue, a high end interior designer, and did I mention the cemetery? We are talking variety not just in services and offerings, but in size, location, and employee makeup. They are urban, suburban, rural, virtual; they are made up of a team of 5, 10, 70, even 100s of employees.

When a company has been around for a while, it’s not unusual to let the daily grind get in the way of remembering why it exists and what the essence of the brand is; to remember why customers or clients selected them; why employees came to work for them in the first place, and just as importantly, why they stay. I’m not going to lie– not one of them has a pool table, puppies or pop tarts in their places of work. But as varied as these businesses are, there is something they all share– the willingness, patience and guts to look within themselves and allow us to help guide them into some pretty deep and always very honest soul searching.

In our discovery phase of work with our clients, it is not enough to just talk to the business owners or marketing executives– we want to talk to the employees – from receptionist, to the CEO; we ask to interview key clients who will answer questions about their business relationships, their impressions, and even how they feel about the logo. When we do these one-on-one interview or roundtable discussions, there is a therapeutic emotional quality to it. We dig into what matters to them about the people they work with, the feeling they get when you call the company; how they would describe working with them to others. In a recent interview with a long-standing customer of our steel company, we heard a story and uncovered an insight into the company that we likely wouldn’t have happened any other way. Of the company’s founder, he said, “He doesn’t forget the people that have stood behind him from the beginning. He is an unbelievably dependable and loyal person, and because of that the people that work for him are the same way.”

And from this and other revealing insights, we are articulating the message and creating the re-branding for this steel company. While the external stuff like how you dress and a comfortable or work environment are important, feeling good on the inside about the soul of your business is what counts.

– Suzy Weinberg

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