The first time we decided to resign our largest client was back in the early 2000s. Obviously not something you take lightly, especially if you’re a small business in a niche market. Not only did we survive that major decision but we eventually thrived because of it. As a result, it was a lot easier to make a similar decision 10 years later. So what would drive us to resign our largest client for the second time in 10 years? It’s the health and happiness of our employees. I run a technology communications firm with offices in Silicon Valley, San Francisco and New York. Our people are our product, so if we want to be able to offer the best product, we need to be able to hire and retain the best staff. It’s why we have a philosophy for putting our staff first. That may sound altruistic and nice, but in reality it is the smartest business decision we could ever make.
What does it mean to put your employee’s needs first? It means being committed to attracting good clients that will provide challenging, yet fulfilling, work. It also means investing in developing your employees through a culture of continual improvement. We’ve always believed that being in the client service business doesn’t mean you’re servants. It means engaging with clients as trusted partners. There’s a big difference. We make sure we attract clients who are looking to engage with their agency partner that way and then we train our staff to deliver the kind of work that’s worthy of that trust.
The more recent experience of resigning our largest client came about when we realized that there was a big mismatch between the mission and vision of our company and the kind of work we were being asked to do. It had become clear that there was a disconnect in our values and if we didn’t do something about it we would risk losing some of our best employees.
We had learned during the early years of our business that a very large client can have a significant impact on our culture. So when it became obvious that the cultural impact was a negative one, it was time to make a change. Today we make sure that we don’t just chase revenue for revenue sake, but we evaluate client opportunities in light of the kind of work we want to be known for. We specifically target clients that fit our vision. Clients who want to challenge the status quo, who are not satisfied with doing business as usual and appreciate and value the importance of strategic work.
A very tangible outcome of our philosophy of putting employees first is our ability to attract and retain top talent during boom times when hiring is a challenge for companies. Our reputation for having a healthy culture that puts employees first is the best recruitment ad we could create.
We’ve learned through the years that giving employees challenging, yet meaningful, work is the best way to keep them engaged. Investing in their continued development will keep them here even longer. We are committed to creating a culture of continual development as a way to differentiate ourselves and, more importantly, make sure we’re delivering the best “product” possible.
First key to developing a culture of continual development is hiring someone whose job it is to develop and retain staff. Set aside budget and time to bring in outside development resources as well as leverage in-house experts. Include professional development metrics in everyone’s job description and reward employees who go above and beyond to grow their skills and who step up to train staff themselves. We’ve found that investing in training staff to grow their careers not only ensures a more engaged workforce but we have happier clients as well.
Barbara Bates is founder and CEO of Eastwick, a technology-focused communications agency with offices in Silicon Valley, San Francisco and New York. Eastwick brings together public relations, content, social media, advocacy, creative services and analytics to help some of the world’s biggest technology brands and emerging leaders create high-impact communication strategies. With deep Silicon Valley roots, Bates has spent the past 25 years working with brands to tell their stories, accelerate growth and build value.