Case Study: The Challenge of Success
Company: JB Media Group
Time Frame: January 2015 to July 2015
Focus: Culture and Core Values
Not inconsistent with many purpose driven businesses we’ve observed, JB Media Group founded itself on a purpose-driven vision, and then four years in they reached a challenge born of their own success.
JB Media, an Asheville North Carolina based company of twelve employees, was founded on a desire to provide high-quality Internet marketing services to a select group of clients. The vision was and is to align itself with companies based on a congruency of values, and they have mostly been able to do this. The challenge is that in building a culture on an alignment of values means you get a team of highly committed innovators, which also means you succeed as a company, which also means you grow.
It’s at a particular point of growth that purpose-driven organizations find their challenge. It’s the point in time in which the workload necessitates rapid hiring and onboarding, diffusion of focus, and a more impersonal approach to leadership. Team members who were there since the early days and who became accustomed to unfettered access to the CEO and ongoing conversations in place of structure and process begin to feel that they no longer recognize their company—they begin to feel detached and even disenfranchised.
This was the case in the fall of 2014 for JB Media, in which a simmering discord began to develop, that challenged the unity and effectiveness of the company. JB Media’s founder and CEO, Justin Belleme, having felt the disharmony began to respond.
Late in December of 2014 Justin reached out to Balanced Is to help define the source of the challenges and reunite and strengthen the JB Media culture. Justin had many insights into the issues and was already working out a series of changes. Some members of the team suggested that they conduct an anonymous 360-degree employee survey to assess the true feelings of the team, and this process was underway when we got involved.
“For a business owner, even one trying to focus ON the business, it can be hard to see a holistic and complete picture of what is going on within the team and company culture. Working with Balanced Is was a very helpful and rewarding experience. After only about six months I am feeling a lot more clarity that has come from having defined core values and a better framework for approaching projects, the hiring process and other important decisions regarding the business.”
Our first step was to assist with the survey by helping organize and refine it and infusing some of our own questions that we felt would help gauge the culture. The survey was helpful in that it confirmed many of the feelings that Justin already had, and yet the real work of aligning and strengthening the culture was still to come.
Our next step was to meet individually with most everyone on the team to hear their stories and listen with an empathetic ear. It was also an opportunity for us to gain a sense of the true talents and strengths of the team, where the sticking points were, and to begin mentoring the team on different perspectives and understandings related to the JB Media culture and how to heal the internal strife. Without breaching the confidentiality of these conversations we can say that from these meetings we were able to share insights with Justin as to the key changes that would be required in the near term to begin healing the internal conflict.
What we found was a team of passionately committed creative professionals who all took their work very seriously. Their orientation toward delivering value to the customer was very high. So high in fact that some team members took offense to any decisions they felt would hinder their ability to provide above average service.
Building on the talents and passions of the team we provided key feedback to Justin, which helped shape his decisions related to increasing and enhancing transparency and refocusing on inclusiveness and connection with his department leaders. The tension within the team quickly began to lessen and morale improved.
Developing Core Values
The next phase was for Maria and Glenn to facilitate a talking circle with the team to develop the unique core values of the company. Initially there were twelve values that surfaced in the talking circle, and a thirteenth surfaced during the process of editing the core values. After several weeks of collectively distilling and editing, thirteen uniquely crafted values emerged that spoke to the essence of JB Media. The time to begin hiring from core values had begun.
“Our work with Maria and Glenn around core values has been instrumental in my success as an individual professional and as a member of the team. As company growth and change happens stress, worry, and frustration can occur, but Glenn and Maria’s process creates time for honest, open, productive communication. Through this, staff members are able to get out of the busy day to day and listen to each other. This facilitates deeper understanding, connection, and harmony.”
Implementing Core Values: Hiring
Using the newly crafted core values as a filter, each of the team leaders had input on the hiring process. Candidates with great experience and credentials, but who did not align well with the JB Media values were not considered further. As a result, Justin and the team took a more patient approach to hiring in order to find candidates with the experience and qualifications they needed, together with a values alignment to ensure a good cultural fit.
“Our work with Balanced Is has given us the foundation we need to support a strong, healthy company culture that reflects who we are and what we aspire to be. Our internal communication and collaboration are greatly improved and that is creating better results for our clients. This process is well worth the investment!”
Implementing Core Values: Business Development
In the first three years of JB Media the approach to business development had been to include the team in the process of meeting with clients, getting to know them and their values, and allowing team input on which clients the company chose to work with. This was an important aspect of the JB Media culture in that it not only ensured an alignment of values with clients, but that the team felt valued. As the company grew and client load expanded it became necessary for Justin to lessen the involvement of the team in the sales process, which contributed to the tension in the company.
With the development of core values, Justin and the team now have a very definable filter from which to assess current and future clients—a filter that each person in the company had a hand in shaping. New client prospects are now assessed in relation to their congruency with JB Media’s core values and Justin has created new processes for the involvement of key staff in the sales process, which solves both the need for speed and efficiency and team engagement. This new approach to business development is additionally adding to the gradual strengthening of the JB Media culture and the improvement of morale.
At the time of this writing JB Media is still early in the process of implementing core values. So far so good, and we’ll amend this case study in the next year to share about how the new hires are working out, company morale, and financial performance.
From conducting a confidential internal survey, to individual meetings with the team, to facilitating a core values talking circle, editing and refining the core values, and implementing core values, the low morale and high internal conflict began turning around in just a few months. Several team members voluntarily chose to move on, although it is unclear if their decisions were related to the culture and core values work. It is common though for companies working on their culture to lose certain team members who no longer feel aligned with the direction the company is going in. The good news is that with JB Media, each team member left on relatively good terms and with a reasonably good handoff.
What is clear from this process is that the internal tensions are mostly gone and the JB Media culture is steadily improving since this work began.
We predict that with the carefully crafted core values and a commitment to implement them throughout all aspects of company operations that JB Media will continue to strengthen its culture and remain a strong and thriving company well into the future.
We will update this case study in the coming years.