It didn’t take long after her arrival from North Carolina for Janice Bryant Howroyd to realize she wasn’t a natural fit in Southern California.
“When I came to California from the East Coast, I really was just so aware of how different I seemed to be than the people I was leading,” she says. “Mind you, I came to So Cal and I worked and moved around in the Beverly Hills and Hollywood environment, so I didn’t look like the people I was seeing; I didn’t speak the way they did.”
But one thing she did do just as well — and probably better — than her compatriots was come up with and act upon creative ideas. So while she was different, she was able to pose a question that was pretty important: So what?
“I was having this conversation with my mom, and she told me, ‘You’re really going to have to stay true to who you are and this adaptation has to occur from their part as well as yours if it’s going to fit,’” Howroyd says. “That means that I adopted a very firm position in making sure there was mutual enjoyment in how I lived in an environment, not getting away from who I am in order to succeed. And I believe that companies should recognize that their people can have that same enjoyment, while naturally following the law of the land and the processes you have, and there’s still a lot of room for people to be themselves in your organization.”
There certainly is a place for those people at ACT 1 Group of Cos., the staffing, human resources and management solutions juggernaut founded by Howroyd more than 25 years ago. Howroyd, who is also the company’s CEO, has grown the company up on those principles, laying down a foundation for a culture where people grow their careers at the company through creativity and educated risks. From that culture, the company has grown, mushrooming to 1,745 employees since late 2005 — a 42 percent increase — while growing at an average rate of 9.2 percent over the last five years.
Building that kind of culture isn’t easy. First, you have to set the tone and give employees the ability to make their own path. And you have to do all of this without completely obsessing over creating a homogeneous culture, instead realizing flexibility breeds growth.