Brand awareness Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

Beverly Bethge believes that a good business leader shares one important trait with a tightrope walker.

She says that both need to have a finely tuned sense of balance — which comes in handy when a leader is deciding when to be hands-on and when to be hands-off with your employees.

“If you never dive in and really help them solve some problems, they’ll never see you as being able to do that or understanding their world,” says Bethge, founder, partner and chief creative officer of Ologie. “At the same time, you can’t get stuck in that. You have to rise up and always be able to paint that big picture for them. The key to leadership is walking that tightrope.”

Bethge has maintained that balance well at Ologie, a 55-employee branding agency that posted revenue growth of 118 percent from 2004 to 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Bethge about why creating a great culture isn’t as simple as taking the troops out for happy hour once a month.

Q. How do you attract quality employees?

You have to create value for them. Value comes from having really high standards. As a leader, if you don’t believe in quality, they’re going to see that. They’re going to sense it and sort of sniff it out. So quality has to come from the top.

Quality and high standards doesn’t mean being huge. It means being significant. Whether you’re big or small, be significant.

Q. How do you achieve significance and value?

Value is doing great work. Great work is innovation, accuracy, and, in our case, great work is based around creativity.

When you’re doing great work, you get a more significant client base. Then that leads to a career path for people. If you’ve got the huge desire to do great work, other things follow. Money follows, great clients follow and opportunities for people follow.

For us, the huge part of having great employees and getting them is creating a great culture.

Q. How do you create a strong company culture?

People think that’s about dropping some happy hour on people once a month. Wow, that’s great culture. You can do that — and we do — but that’s the icing on the cake. That’s not where it starts. You walk into your company, and how does it feel? What does a day feel like in your company? What’s the mojo in the building?

A negative work environment can alienate people who don’t want to be part of that. Are they learning something every day? Can people grow there? Those are the things you have to create for people to want to be there.

If you sell that when you’re recruiting people, you have to deliver it. You can’t just say that.

Q. How does creating a strong culture help you attract good employees?

I believe a company is like a person. When you start a company from the beginning, you kind of protect it like a person.

We’re in our 20th year now. The company has a personality, it has a voice, and it has a point of view. That’s like a vision and mission on steroids, if you really think about what the company is all about.

If you can clearly articulate those things, then you have a huge foundation for making decisions about anything.

To articulate it, you usually need something very tangible that people can hold on to and say, ‘This is what our company stands for.’ Sometimes people do that in a paragraph-form mission, vision, and I think it’s important to have those things in place, but there’s no human voice to that. It’s very important that you put together the document; it’s almost like a mini manifesto that people can get their arms around.

If you communicate those things really clearly, you’re going to attract certain people, and you’re going to repel certain people. Certain people will just go running away from you when you really clearly articulate your company vision.

That’s a good thing because you can’t be all things to all people. There’s a certain kind of person who fits in our company, and we’re OK with that. If you have good alignment like that, you’ll have great retention.

Q. How do you create that alignment?

For starters, in order to have a good culture, you have to spend the time on it. You have to make it a value. You have to talk about it as a company.

It also has to come from the top. One of my partners is very much about the HR function.

It’s a big part of who we are. Our culture permeates through our entire environment. We call it propaganda, but it’s all over the place. The things we believe in are loud and clear in our space.

We do that for our clients, too. We call it environmental branding. It lets your clients know what you believe in, but it lets your employees know what you believe in, too. Then, they can live by that every day — even more if it’s really in your face every day.

HOW TO REACH: Ologie, (614) 221-1107 or www.ologie.com