Evans Incorporated is celebrating 25 Years of Human-Centered Change. Founder Sue Evans reflects on the lessons she has learned since Evans’ inception.
Sue Evans, Founder, Evans Incorporated
What is corporate culture? A positive workplace culture is something observable and can certainly be felt when you are part of a high-performing organization; a cohesive and engaged team are some of the characteristics. While these qualities are important, culture is more than a feel-good sense of belonging. At Evans, we say our culture is “how we show up.” It is the set of shared values and behaviors that create the standards for the way we engage with our work, our clients, one another, and our community.
When I started Evans at my kitchen table 25 years ago, I had a vision of what a human-centered consulting practice might look like. To put people before processes, we had to cultivate a team that was not just technically capable but had the capacity and willingness to connect with others in a human-centered way. In the beginning, it was relatively easy to pinpoint individuals who would mesh with our small team. As we have grown, we have codified our culture, and the values, behaviors and norms that define it, to ensure that it can be shared and preserved among a large, diverse staff.
#1 Assess your team’s behaviors
Does culture evolve organically or are they intentional? It originates organically, with leaders setting the tone for how it is exhibited and molded over time. In our early years, when our team was under ten staff members, we conducted our first DiSC® assessment of team behaviors and communication styles. Of the four DiSC classifications, a common behavior was “conscientiousness”, emphasizing accuracy, competency, and objective reasoning. This was ideal for serving clients that put high value in the details and reasoning behind a recommendation. That behavior alone could stand in the way of getting to the bottom line and accomplishing results in a fast-paced environment. Understanding the natural behaviors of the team and the behaviors that would allow us to grow allowed us to be intentional about the behaviors and values we would encourage in our team and seek in new hires. As we’ve grown, so too has the range of styles represented in the company. We strive to have a mix of do-ers, influencers, calm supporters, as well as the conscientious detail-oriented that best fits the project at hand. Understanding individual strengths and challenges is the first step in pinpointing the values you want to influence your culture.
#2 Define and affirm your values
Core values are the guiding principles that define how Evans operates. They support our vision, shape our culture, and reflect our identify. Evans core values reflect our beliefs and behaviors, and guide hiring, management, coaching, client delivery, internal and external interactions, and all aspects of leadership.
Over the years, we’ve revisited our values, and boiled the list down to four that we use to guide our daily work: delight clients, exhibit leadership, foster commitment, and ensure corporate health. We set expectations on what the value means by providing specific examples of the behaviors that exemplify each value. We also reinforce the values and recognize individual successes through peer-driven celebrations – using tools like Goodseeker, a web platform that allows staff to call out their peers for note-worthy demonstrations of Evans’ values—whether towards their colleagues, to a client, or to the community.
#3 Unicorns exist – hire for behaviors AND skills
We often see companies create generic standards for hiring that focus on precise technical skills or specific academic pedigree, and ignore the whole person. Many candidates that list an untraditional academic or alternative professional background are overlooked. At Evans, we are deliberate in looking for the right behaviors and beliefs, relevant core skills, and potential to develop specific technical skills. It is easy to fall into the trap of hiring technical skill alone if you are focused on checking off keywords on a resume. We believe it is crucially important to select candidates who embody our values first and foremost. We have learned to “hire slow and fire fast” because our culture–how we individually and collectively show up–is our greatest differentiator.
Technical skills are valuable and depending on the position and responsibilities, cannot be acquired over a short orientation. Even when technical skills are critical–to ensure long term corporate fit– culture alignment is equally important in the hiring decisions. Our staff composition reflects this diversity of expertise and thought, with backgrounds ranging from hard science and engineering to the social sciences and humanities. Unicorns do exist – individuals with a balance of left and right brain skills and problem-solving. With a well-defined culture assessment, we are more successful in selecting and effectively integrating those who span the spectrum of thought.
#4 The value of career coaches
Members of Evans’ coaching cohort are a critical touchpoint for reinforcing culture and values with staff. Every Evans’ staff member is assigned a Career Coach, a principal or manager in the organization who provides career and development support and guidance. This coach serves as a sounding board for staff and helps to create a professional development pathway that provides the most value to both the employee and the company. Our Career Coach program has the added benefit of ingraining our culture through leadership and fostering commitment. We believe that providing a range of professional development opportunities (from on-line training, to professional certifications, to financial support for college degree programs) results in enhanced performance that feeds into the success of the company. Mentoring and providing tools to exercise one’s passion is a two-way street, in that the employee will bring an enhanced skill back to the company, making everybody better as a result. At Evans, we believe leadership is a verb not a noun, and that culture is not something “to do” but rather “to be.”