Educational Measures just moved offices, and as I unpack boxes and disentangle cords, I can’t help but reflect on where we’ve come from and where we are going.
Our new surroundings are a far cry from the frat house look of our first office, where cardboard boxes masqueraded as office furniture, and while much has changed, there is one thing that has stayed the same: the defining culture of Educational Measures.
In this fast-paced world where innovation is king and most things are temporary, a company culture is a grounding force, a foundation upon which everything else is built, something that, despite the changes, remains constant.
Almost 14 years ago, EM was just a wild idea entertained by two sets of brothers, me, my brother Mike, and Roland and Chuck Baumgardner. We didn’t establish our company culture in an organized meeting, rather it evolved out of a shared vision held by us all: positivity, excellence in service, and resourcefulness.
Our commitment to each other and these tenets formed the basis, and even as our company has grown, this remains unchanged.
This month is bittersweet, because one year ago, Chuck passed away. We feel his absence every day and miss him like crazy. Although he is no longer with us, the impact he made on all of us personally and our company as a whole is profound. Because of that, we have established an award for excellence in his honor, given annually to an employee who embodies the core values that Chuck modeled so well.
Good attitudes, like bad ones, are contagious. We spend the majority of our waking hours at work and want to build our company with people we enjoy. Positivity is a force that generates momentum, the energy to do good work and form healthy relationships.
It produces comradery among our employees and productive partnerships with our clients. When our team is having fun, it is attractive to our clients and they want to be a part of what we are doing. After a conference or a meeting, we often go out to dinner with our clients and want to spend time together. This positive attitude transforms business interactions into friendships with longevity and partnerships based on trust.
We often hire from outside our industry, bringing people onboard because of shared vision and attitude, not because of supreme expertise. The latter can be taught, the former is ingrained.
Excellence in Service
While it may sound cliché, going above and beyond is implied in our company culture. We are constantly encouraging our employees to seek ways to serve our clients better, looking beyond the scope of work defined in our contract.
Running a meeting is what we do, but setting up tables, putting out food, or filling in gaps where there is a need is what makes us unique. We look for the needs and find the solutions, seeing our clients as partners and constantly working for their success.
When asked about his work, Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, I just stay with the problems longer.” And if Einstein were looking for a job, we would have hired him.
At EM, we look for people who can find solutions with little direction, people who don’t give up easily. In pop culture, this trait is commonly defined as “grit,” and we certainly like the gritty ones. We work in an industry that is constantly evolving and changing, and our client base is diverse with similarly diverse needs.
Innovation, creativity, and drive are all necessary to navigate these daily challenges.
People often ask how we maintain this culture, especially as our business grows and we hire more and more individuals. Honestly, it’s a challenge.
Sometimes we have hired wrong, and employees who did not share these values feel the mismatch and don’t stay long. Other times, someone who may not naturally embrace our vision is inspired by what he/she sees around them and rises to the challenge.
We started EM as four wildly different guys with a shared set of values and have now grown to over 80 employees. The vision remains the same: we hire people with a strong work ethic and strong values; we hire people we want to hang out with; we embrace differences and engage conflict directly.
Even with a shared vision, conflict is inevitable and personalities will clash. Unresolved disagreements can sink a business and undermine the culture we have worked hard to create.
We place a high value on telling the truth and communication in our office. We encourage all of our employees to engage potential conflict quickly and directly. Instead of burying challenges, we work to embrace them, talking to one another and bringing in a mediator if necessary.
The success of EM is the product of a highly talented group of diverse individuals. The aspects that make a salesperson different from a software developer are essential in serving our clients well and growing our business. Within the context of shared core values, we can appreciate those differences and recognize them all as essential.
Sometimes I am astonished by what this company has become. I want to show those four guys sitting on cardboard boxes how their vision would evolve. They would probably be similarly amazed, marveling at all that had changed.
And then I think they would be even more amazed with the truly important things, the ones that had stayed the same.