February 27, 2019
The ability to ‘work on really cool projects’ took some time for Valtech San Diego. We started as a two-person shop that was run out of our home offices. We took just about any digital work that someone would throw at us. It never mattered to us that the clients were small, and that our moms (or friends and acquaintances) had never heard of them. Instead, we concentrated our efforts on doing incredibly high-quality work for them, regardless of who they were.
This led to recognition, which snowballed into bigger name clients that wanted to do interesting things. Over the past nine years, our focus on the quality of the work has blossomed into a client portfolio that I’m extremely proud of. Mom has definitely heard of Disney, GoPro, RedBull, and American Girl. So have our friends and acquaintances.
Hiring great people
Hiring great people is incredibly important to building an award-winning culture. I’ll be honest, we’ve made mistakes. At times we’ve hired people for a skill set instead of a personality fit. That has always backfired. We now focus on intelligence, creativity, and flexibility in our interviews. We’ve been told that when you come to our office for an interview, you can feel the family atmosphere, along with a kinetic energy of people that are excited to be at work. The trick to cultivating this feeling is keeping those people happy. That boils down to culture.
An atmosphere of transparency
The employee satisfaction survey that we send out is pretty revealing of our culture. We are hyper-transparent at Valtech. The anonymous survey is sent out to the entire staff, and all 50 questions/answers are read aloud to everyone during our bi-annual “State of the State” meeting. We get answers about what people love:
“I love the environment, the types of projects that we work on, the freedom we have to push technology ahead with little restriction, and the perks and encouragement of responsibly managed personal flexibility. Remote work has always been important for me, as distractions of ANY kind, regardless of how small & short they may be, can completely throw me off. My work style is very much momentum-based, so I appreciate the moments when I can work remotely with significantly less distractions.”
And we get answers about what they definitely do not like:
“You can hear bathroom ‘activities’. Can we soundproof those rooms?”
Welcome to the world of Valtech transparency!
We are also very open with our finances. Every employee knows our revenue, profit margin, and profit. They know how that will impact profit sharing at year-end. We are sure to let everyone know what is going well, and where we need to work on financial performance. This aligns the whole team. Being equipped with knowledge on how the agency is doing financially gets everyone excited to pitch in to achieve the same goals. On an individual level, we make sure that each staff member knows how much money the company has made as a result of their work every six months. Employees are shown how their billable utilization contributes to the bottom line. This information is directly tied to raises and profit sharing. Through total financial transparency, everyone is motivated to contribute as much as they can.
The third part of creating an award-winning culture is business innovation. We see ourselves as a pretty progressive workplace, but what I am most proud of is our constant search for new ideas on how to make this place even better. We actively research what other companies are doing to build great places to work. No idea is considered too wacky. It’s been found that unlimited vacation, along with maternity and paternity leave is shown to boost productivity? Awesome, let’s do it. Zappos has shown success in throwing out corporate hierarchy in order to create a flat, holacratic workforce? Interesting. Let’s incorporate the best parts of what they do into what we do. Let’s make it better.
Aside from actively innovating our culture, we also stay true to the foundational elements that are built into Valtech’s core. These items are tried and true, and never change. They are covered during your first day as an employee via our Employee Handbook and are constantly reinforced throughout the year. These core components include many things, but to give you an idea, here are a few:
Own it, Together
Own a project as a whole as much as your individual role. There will be a part of the process that you are most entrenched in. It’s not about passing from one step to the other. Keep engaged and active. Projects should end as strong as they start.
Everyone is a Creative
The Creative team is not the design team. It’s made up of designers, strategists, UX experts, engineering wizards and all of us in between. We are all creative thinkers. Together, good work becomes great work.
Everything has a Story
Award winning work doesn’t just look cool. It has a voice, a fresh perspective. Sometimes our digital products include an integrated campaign, sometimes a user interface. Even an interface can tell a story. Our job is to uncover it and then speak it clearly and consistently.
Users are Human
Emotions, associations, and satisfaction are just as valuable as clicks and taps.
It’s impossible to be accountable for a project that you didn’t have an opportunity to collaborate on at its earliest possible stages. At Valtech we strive to have every department involved in the entire lifecycle of a project, from the pitch to the budget, the schedule, and the deliverables. Every project has to pass the extremely high individual and team standards that make us great. Valtech work is award winning. We hit our deadlines. Our clients love working with us. We love working with each other. We’ve learned something new. If we can say those things at the end of the project, we’re accomplishing our goals.
Kindness and Respect
Be kind to each other. Be kind to our clients. Respect everyone’s opinion, while sticking up for your own. Tone matters here and nice people always finish first.
Sustainability and the Environment
“We cannot sit idly by while large special interests destroy the planet for profit without regard for our children and grandchildren.” – Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia
The planet faces a great crisis: climate change, extinction, the destruction of wild places. Valtech acts in small and large ways to combat this crisis. In the office, and hopefully in our personal lives, we follow the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The three R’s all help to cut down on the amount of waste we throw away. They conserve natural resources, landfill space, and energy. Plus, the three R’s save land and money communities must use to dispose of waste in landfills.
We have worked with a sustainability consultant to reduce our carbon footprint, we sponsor beach cleanups, provide pro-bono work for environmental organizations that we believe in, and support political candidates who push hard for clean, renewable energy, restore clean water and air and turn away from risky, carbon-intensive fuels.
We will never work on a project that a team member objects to ethically. We also actively support debate and conversation around ethical topics, as some projects might have gray areas that require us to dig into before making a decision on whether to work on it.
At the heart of our business, we seek to inspire and nurture the human spirit – understanding that each person brings a distinct life experience to the table. Valtech’ers are diverse not only in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and age but also in cultural backgrounds, life experiences, thoughts and ideas.
Embracing diversity not only enhances our work culture, it also drives our business success. It is the inclusion of these diverse experiences and perspectives that create a culture of empowerment, one that fosters innovation, economic growth, and new ideas.
Overall, these are just some of the things that we’ve put in place at Valtech that I feel make this place pretty darn awesome. It was such an honour to receive the “Best Places to Work” award this year. It validated a lot of what we’re doing and reinforced our belief in our core values. But there are always areas that can improve. All in all, the most important thing in all of this is that we have leadership and a staff that deeply care about protecting the good in what we do while striving to find ways to make these things even better.
Sale to Celebration
We party like rock stars when we land a new client. We party even harder when we launch something awesome for them. An agency can feel like a constant assembly line of project after project. We do it differently here. Each project is a beautifully crafted masterpiece that is celebrated any chance we get.