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WORKFLEX the Red Sky Way

A year ago my agency was honored with a Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility

As part of that process, they identified certain aspects of what we did at Red Sky that are best practices to be shared nationally and interviewed us on those programs.

The result – inclusion in the nationally distributed book WORKFLEX: The Essential Guide to Effective and Flexible Workplaces that came out this fall.

Here’s the section on Red Sky

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Red Sky Public Relations

ORGANIZATION DESCRIPTION

Founded in 2008, Red Sky is Idaho’s largest public relations agency, dedicated to leveraging strategic communications initiatives for clients and enhancing the reputation of their community and industry. Red Sky’s Facebook page describes the organization as, “A home for creative, quirky souls who are passionate about big ideas and rock star organizations.”

PROGRAM

Red Sky Public Relations sets time aside for employees to be creative. Employees have up to two flex location days per month, defined as a full working day in which an employee may choose the location where he or she conducts their usual work. Red Sky leaders encourage employees to take these creative working days at a variety of locations such as coffee shops, public parks, partner office spaces, country club or their home. The days are to be used as creative or quiet writing time, not as additional days off.

There are guidelines for use. For example, new hires must be on board for six months before being eligible for flex days. Employees who use flex days are expected to reach their billable goals. Productivity is reviewed in a variety of ways including through performance reviews, client evaluations and ongoing monitor- ing of work. If an employee isn’t being productive while on flex days—whether through targeted business development or existing client work—the privilege is lost.

A wireless router enables outdoor work; and Yammer, a free private social net- work, allows employees to communicate and collaborate remotely without the need for meetings.

Creative day or not, clients are the top priority. Red Sky’s flex location policy stipu- lates that the time away should not interrupt workflow of employees, clients or teams. In the event of a phone call from a client, the client is given the cell phone number of the team member, not referred to another team member in the office.

To further ensure the best use of employee talents, Red Sky uses the StrengthsFinder 2.0 philosophy, developed by Consilio Business Managers based on Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, to help determine team members’ individual strengths to best match employees’ talents with positions that dynamically support their natural abilities and help identify coping mechanisms when faced with challenges. Recognizing that some people are more task-oriented and will zip through a checklist while others are more strategic, but not as detail-oriented, Red Sky assigns people to teams that feed into their strengths as they work with different clients.

For example, if an employee is Strategic, he or she may naturally be inclined to find alternatives to problems. Those with the Strategic strength are cautioned in the strength identification process not to get caught up in endless options. Finally, it is recom- mended that a Strategic employee be paired up with an Activator, someone who has the strength of being driven to finish what he or she starts. The team will then have people who are Strategic as well as people who are Activators, driven to “do something.”

Red Sky’s StrengthsFinder commitment begins during the hiring process and con- tinues throughout an employee’s tenure. Red Sky retains business development firm Consilio to facilitate bi-annual StrengthsFinder sessions with the entire office and pro- vide strategic guidance on running a strengths-based organization. Consilio’s Founder Rochelle DeLong also conducts one-on-one sessions with Red Sky employees to foster strengths-based collaboration and provide a deeper understanding of how to leverage their strengths for professional achievement.

Employees receive $1,500 annually for professional development and/or wellness purposes, but the firm isn’t looking for them to spend it on PR seminars. They hope they will expand their knowledge and interests in other areas and come back and share that knowledge with the group.

HISTORY

Considering that two of its core values are “delivering Wow!” and “embracing fun (as shown in the following tool),” it’s not a far stretch to say that Red Sky leaders take a different approach to corporate culture than more traditional firms. Red Sky CEO and co-founder Jessica Flynn has always believed that culture and atmosphere are key to empowering and inspiring a workforce. For her, that means giving employees a voice in what their work environment looks like and how their work is best accomplished.

With Red Sky being a start-up with limited funds, the organization’s founders, Flynn and Stephanie Worrell, knew that Red Sky couldn’t compete for talent with other firms solely on compensation. What they did have was the desire to create an environment where there is respect for people and their priorities outside of the office.

With so many client deadlines, some weeks there is no chance of having a good fit between home and work, so Red Sky focuses on “work/life integration,” with no solid line separating employees from their personal lives. Red Sky places responsibility in employees’ hands and sets work expectations. Flynn says:

How they meet those [work expectations]—we really want them to tell us how. If employees have buy-in with what the organization is doing, it will be more profitable and successful in the long run.

The firm leaders asked staff how they could all be more productive. One of the things that came up repeatedly was having the opportunity to work outside the confines of the office—even though their brand-new chic offices in an old part of Boise are open and flexible with comfortable couches, bean bag chairs and great views. As much as they enjoy the space, Red Sky leaders agreed with the importance of time away from the office. They felt it would be hard to have a homogenized space and expect creative people to perform in it every day. They also wanted employees to feel the personal responsibility to do their work well and to achieve the expectations without being micromanaged. Team member Anna Gamel gave a great argument for flex location days in a group meet- ing and was asked to craft a draft policy for the initiative to get the program underway.

OBSTACLES

Not everyone is able to able to work productively from the local coffee house or other offsite locations. Red Sky leaders have found there are a few people who need more structure and help organizing and completing their tasks. Flynn remains flexible but wants to ensure that every flexible arrangement with employees is working well. If not, she and the rest of the agency leaders work with employees to rectify the situation and help them organize their tasks in the best way possible for them.

Red Sky Operations Manager Tracy Bresina adds:

All employees have a large workload to manage, and since they work very closely with clients and their teammates, it always becomes very apparent when there are 159 issues with time management, stress or performance.

Red Sky has a great team of senior leadership that provides mentoring, coaching and guidance. It’s always important that employees have the tools that they need to succeed, along with the feedback and coaching. Action plans are created to help them overcome obstacles and make improvements.

Red Sky has hired a few people along the way who are accustomed to a more structured environment. They came on board and expected to be told exactly what to do with explicit policies in the employee manual. To be successful, Red Sky has found that employees need a sense of adventure, an ability to embrace risk. Flynn says:

We don’t operate that way. So, when we interview people, I always ask them, “Do you ever want to be an entrepreneur down the road?” And if they say, “Hell, no,” this may not be the right employee for us.

RESULTS

Flynn uses employer of choice awards as one measurement of success, including the Sloan Award, which gives all staff members the opportunity to provide their thoughts and feedback about Red Sky and how the agency brings its values to life. It affirmed that Red Sky’s workflex efforts were well received and that those efforts did, in fact, make a difference to the team, their workplace satisfaction and job satisfaction.

Another indication that time off for creativity is helping boost productivity and cre- ativity at Red Sky is that the agency is being honored within the communications indus- try for the quality of its work. Bulldog Reporter, a leading industry publication, honored Red Sky as a recipient of the 2011 Bulldog Stars of PR Awards Small Agency of the Year. O’Dwyer’s Inside News of Public Relations & Marketing Communications publica- tion has recognized Red Sky as one of the country’s fastest growing independent agen- cies for the past three years. Industry recognition and leading best-practices accolades provide third-party validation that the young agency is on the right growth path both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The firm is “inundated” with resumes and, often times cover letters state, “I have heard so much about Red Sky and seen what you do.” They receive very positive feed- back on their Facebook page and from the firm’s blog, which is created by everybody at the agency.

Being an employer of choice and showcasing the benefits of its corporate culture is a selling point to clients as well. In its client proposals, Red Sky frequently talks about its culture, values and its work environment.

Flynn reports:

The credibility and respect we get from our clients when they understand our work environment has really helped from a business development standpoint. We run at a high pace, and we expect a lot from people. You need to ensure that your environ- ment enables them to work at that high level and be happy about it.

ADVICE

Flynn advises other firms not to dismiss ideas that are not easily quantified. She says,

“With the changes in the workplace and the marketplace, creating a sense of loyalty and buy-in and engagement with your staff is more important than ever.”

FUTURE

Red Sky is looking for ways to measure further the success of its flexibility and cor- porate culture initiatives.

Because Red Sky views the work environment as being dynamic—evolving as a result of employees’ ideas and feedback—the future isn’t crystal clear. With each year’s business planning process, they involve the entire leadership team. The firm’s overall goals are determined by owners Flynn and Worrell and fine-tuned in a facilitated strate- gic planning session with the leadership team. It’s an open discussion to make sure that all opportunities are on the table, vetted and have broad-based and executable support among the team.

As an agency that operates with open book management style, quarterly staff meetings are held that present how the agency is doing financially and where it stands on the path to reaching annual goals. Employees are encouraged to contribute solution-oriented suggestions to agency challenges—from revenue to recruiting—and are also often given the option to vote on such things as how the agency spends charitable giving dollars.

As a team, Red Sky values the individual voice by trying to engage all employees, recognizing that every person—no matter his or her position or experience—has value and a voice in whatever the firm does.