Think beyond posters and motivational sayings. One of the worst things companies or leaders can do is talk about culture but not have their actions or the way they run their business reflect that. People see right through “culture” when it’s not genuine from leadership, and when that’s the case it usually has a negative impact on the entire workplace.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joelle Brock, president and CEO of Leading EDJE, a leading technology consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio and Nashville, Tennessee that has grown each year since its founding in 2007.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
If you would have told me when I was in college that I would be the co-founder of a technically advanced IT consulting firm, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. After graduating with a degree in communications/journalism, I started my career as a sports field reporter and radio on-air personality, which I thought were the coolest jobs in the world. Oh, I also raced jet skis!
From there I went on to roles in sales and systems training, which led me to getting into IT consulting. I was fortunate to work with multiple leading IT companies in Columbus, Ohio.
I started Leading EDJE in 2007 with my business partners Erica Krumlauf and Dave Michels with Wendy Ivany to shortly follow. We had one goal in mind: to provide the best custom technology solutions possible while building a team with a passion for culture, learning, problem-solving, work-life balance and above all, having fun. Our brand slogan is “Real. Fun. Geeks.” and that holds true for both our team and our clients.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Even though we started the company with the vision of a strong family-oriented culture, I think I’m even surprised by how close-knit our team is.
It’s really important for us to have regular team-building events and family events, and it’s cool to hear how the kids of Leading EDJErs talk about how much they look forward to our events. We have an annual picnic at the zoo, and because our team is so into geeking out on technology, they built an app with a virtual game for families to play as they went through the zoo. This is just one of many stories that come to mind about how I am constantly in awe of how our team has truly become a family.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re super excited to be expanding our work into Nashville. Our firm originated in Columbus, Ohio, and while we work with clients located throughout the country, we landed on Nashville as there is a lot about Nashville that is similar to Columbus, such as tech talent and entrepreneurial spirit. We’re on track to hire 15 people in Nashville this year, and we hope to use the model of our Columbus team to replicate the culture and core values with that team.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It’s pretty unfortunate to think of the number of U.S. workers who are unhappy. The reality is it’s usually not about money — what people really want is to be heard, recognized and appreciated.
One of the things I’m proud we do very intentionally at Leading EDJE (as it’s one of our core values) is stressing clear, authentic communication and feedback. We use a number of tools to allow team members to provide candid and anonymous feedback on a number of items. We also regularly survey and meet with team members about their happiness factor. In fact, this is a measurement we use to hold ourselves as a company accountable to our core values.
We also have a ton of fun recognizing people on a regular basis for taking our core values very seriously and incorporating them in their daily lives. This recognition comes both from leadership and from peers. Anyone can nominate a team member for a Cheers for Peers award exemplifying our core values, and we celebrate successes at our quarterly team briefings with awards, gift cards, company swag and posting people’s pictures on our wall of fame.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
From my experiences throughout the years, I unfortunately attest that an unhappy colleague can pull your entire team down. There is research written about this, and I’ve experienced it both as a team member and as a leader. Lack of engagement and productivity can quickly become toxic and have a negative impact on team morale, energy, health and well-being.
That’s why we make it such a priority to invest in employee satisfaction and have a positive culture. And really, why wouldn’t you? It only makes business sense to have happy, engaged and healthy employees. When your team feels appreciated, they are energized and enjoy coming to work every day. Our culture is built around working hard and having fun while doing it, and I can hands down say that has had a huge impact on not only our business, but the level of talent we have been able to attract and retain.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Don’t make culture an afterthought. We were very intentional about creating our culture from the very beginning.
2. Think beyond posters and motivational sayings. One of the worst things companies or leaders can do is talk about culture but not have their actions or the way they run their business reflect that. People see right through “culture” when it’s not genuine from leadership, and when that’s the case it usually has a negative impact on the entire workplace.
3. Be intentional about your hires and partners. At Leading EDJE, we often say we have a “no jerks policy.” In that, I mean we don’t hire people who are jerks, and we don’t work with people who are jerks. We have spent way too much time building a culture of collaboration, honesty and respect, and we have made a decision to not jeopardize that with people who don’t share our core values.
4. Celebrate wins. It all goes back to appreciation and recognizing hard work. It can be so easy at the end of a project or milestone to move on to the next thing. But we should never be too busy to take a step back and celebrate hard work and accomplishments.
5. Don’t forget to have fun. We live by our slogan of “Real. Fun. Geeks.” We work hard for sure, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our team is just as passionate about writing code, building apps and solving tech problems as they are hanging out at happy hour.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
We are very passionate about supporting women in tech. Although there have been great strides as of late, there is still a large gender gap in the tech industry, and I think having more balanced diversity in companies of all types will only help improve overall culture and work-life balance for everyone. To support this, Leading EDJE supports women in tech through internships, scholarships as well as mentoring other women entrepreneurs and tech leaders.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
When my partners and I founded Leading EDJE, we wanted to create a company with an entrepreneurial spirit and a culture that reflected our core values. Since then, we have implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) that has been huge in helping us remain committed to those core values. Our business is 100 percent built around these values, which focus on putting team first, being dedicated to growth, doing the right thing…not the right now thing, and being passionate about problem solving — all while being clear and authentic. All team members at all levels are held to these standards and are celebrated for living out these values in their professional and personal lives.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been so lucky to have a number of professional mentors throughout my career. Columbus, Ohio — where we’re based — has a very collaborative and supportive community of business leaders and entrepreneurs. While it is impossible for me to name every awesome mentor that has had a significant impact on our business, one person who stands out for her many years of mentoring is Nancy Kramer, who has been a founder and pioneer in the tech world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m a true believer in that to be a good leader, you must be a leader of good. I also believe in spreading goodness and positive energy in the world, as life is too short for unnecessary drama and/or to bring people down.
I am passionate about numerous causes and am involved in organizations including the American Heart Association, Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hunger Alliance, Goodwill, New Directions Career Center, Veterans Now, Wounded Warrior Project, Volunteers of America, plus state and local organizations for cancer research, children’s causes and others.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” — Mark Twain
It all goes back to spreading kindness, and kindness being a universal language that we all speak.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As I mentioned, I am very passionate about supporting women in technology. I would love to see more businesses providing mentorship, internships, scholarships and job opportunities to help more women excel in technology and STEM-related fields.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.