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Bates Creative Group: To Ignition Point and Beyond

I knew that Bates Creative Group had established something marvelous the first time I walked through the door. The company’s ‘specialness’ comes from a community-based culture that a lot of contemporary organizations talk about but a rare few achieve. Founder Debbie Bates-Schrott has deliberately formed and nurtured an authentic work environment in which:

  1. Everyone in the company has a voice… and keeps it real
  2. An open workspace fosters collaboration and feedback

A recent Forbes article based on the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking states that “. . . open office plans are associated with reduced concentration and productivity, impaired memory, higher turnover, and increased illness.” Those are fighting words for someone like me who is passionate about work environments that enable employees to achieve stellar results day after day. Take a closer look at Bates Creative Group to see how this particular company proves Forbes’ statement wrong.


Do Kick-ass Work

Bates Creative Group’s space reflects its attitude. Participatory. Energetic. Playful. For example, when Adobe asked to shoot a video case study on Bates Creative Group, staff painted one wall in the ladies room with chalkboard paint to make it ‘cooler.’ The blackboard offers a fun, creative outlet for the company’s community—which includes visitors. There’s a single rule about using the chalkboard. It’s for adults only. (I fervently hope someone has already erased my, um, masterpiece.)

And that gets to the heart of Bates Creative’s culture. Work can be fun and lighthearted, but they take results seriously. “We don’t let people be mediocre,” says Heather Shelton, Director of Business Development. “We’ll continue to push so that we can celebrate some kind of success every day. We want our clients to be proud of what we did.”

Bates-Schrott continues Shelton’s train of thought, “That’s part of our brand—to do kick-ass work. We take clients to their ignition point. Companies come to us when they change strategies or set goals that will help them achieve a different level of success than they’ve reached in the past.”

Get to The Ignition Point

As part of their drive to take clients to the ignition point (and beyond), Bates Creative Group conducts a weekly critique. All employees participate by critiquing work as it goes from the beginning to end of the creation, development and delivery processes. Bates-Schrott views the time commitment as both a differentiator and an investment in employee development.

“These meetings are an essential part of who we are. Being able to communicate about what you’re thinking is almost as critical as being able to do it. And clients really like the fact they get an entire team that stands behind the project. “

The weekly critiques also prevent functional myopathy. By joining the weekly meetings the business development team has a very clear understanding of how to screen potential clients for fit. Bates Creative Group wants clients to become part of their community, which requires alignment of attitude, basic business philosophies, and a sense of humor.

While Bates-Schrott will be the first to tell you that an open work environment is not for everyone, she will tell you that it forms a solid backdrop for mentoring. She likes to give recent college graduates an opportunity to grow. The open floor plan exposes young designers to ongoing feedback, spur of the moment brainstorming, and the ability to hear more experienced colleagues deal with clients over the phone.

Break All The Rules

After the interview, Shelton offered a tour of the office and introduced me to each person who works for the company. Everyone told the same story. One designer proudly showed me a Post-it Note that said, ‘I kicked ass today.’ Employees display this Post-it as a sign of cultural attitude and team spirit.

At that moment I realized that when Bates-Schrott deliberately embedded the culture she wanted the company to embody, she also followed the tenants Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman wrote about in First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. (See SlideShare by Greg Crouch below for highlights.)

So Forbes, this is why I disagree with the blanket statement that open workspaces harm employees. The ideas put forth in the article help perpetuate an outdated way of thinking and leading. People thrive in different environments. It’s as much the job candidate’s responsibility to find a cultural fit as it is the employer’s. More than anything, it’s obvious that leaders like Bates-Schrott treat employees in a manner that helps each one tap into his or her potential while also feeling valued.

Executive Summary First Break All The Rules from gregcrouch

Originally published by Modern DC Business Magazine.

© 2012. All rights reserved.

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