When Carter Ryley Thomas broke away from its parent agency in March 1996, the new employee-owners had high aspirations and dreamed of creating a PR firm where practitioners could create quality work while being fulfilled by the company vision. CRT knows one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is a strong internal communications program that gives all employees the information - and therefore the power - to make a difference.
CRT believes that its internal communications philosophy and practices have enabled it to create a one-of-a-kind workplace culture unique enough to be named by the Holmes Report* as the “Best Agency to Work For.”
Internal communications is part of a culture, not a simple tactic. It’s a way of living, not a program. CRT’s internal communications are driven by our set of nine shared values – the basis on which this company was founded. CRT’s senior management has seen many different cultures within this industry and firmly believes that informed employees who participate actively in decision making make for a healthier company – culturally and financially. It is under this premise that CRT always communicates with its employee-owners openly and honestly (Value #2). Provided with a wealth of information, CRTers are empowered and encouraged to make a difference within the agency, the community, the client’s work and the entire industry.
Creating an Open Culture
100 Percent Employee-Owned – CRT’s 100 percent employee-ownership plays a big role in its communication practices, as every employee is an owner and therefore has a vested interest in understanding the ins and outs of how to grow a healthy company. CRT’s management communicates a great deal to its owners around the meaning of ownership. And because CRT is 100 percent employee-owned, the sharing of information and all decision making is extremely democratic – every employee-owner shares responsibility for the success of CRT.
Staff Visioning 2001 – Now that CRT is five years old and has grown from 20 people to nearly 60 people, the company decided to update its vision statement to ensure that the company direction is determined by all employees. All employees were interviewed by an executive committee member to determine their personal vision for the company and themselves. The next step involved dividing into groups to brainstorm new goals for the next year. CRT’s executive committee then compiled the information to create a new vision that each employee-owner had a role in creating.
Monthly Town Hall meetings - CRT holds monthly, optional town hall meetings where –both positive and negative - interested employees can sit down and discuss company issues with members of the executive committee – positive and negative. Discussions can take the shape of detailed explanations about financial topics to discussing how to better achieve a balance between work and family. The meetings are fairly unstructured to allow employees to bring up any topic of concern or interest to them. The meetings provide a forum for ongoing dialogue across all levels, departments and offices within the company.
An Open Door Policy – CRT considers itself a fairly flat organization with no office politics. An associate or intern can walk into the office of the CEO or any other executive or senior manager at any time. Everyone is encourage to share their opinions about where the organization is headed, especially when this thought goes against the grain.
Openly Sharing the Good and the Bad – CRT’s value of open and honest communication lives throughout all types of communication in the company. Employee-owners join at the wishing well to learn about new business wins, new babies, and other CRT news. CRT executives openly discuss perceivably touchy topics such as merger/acquisition possibilities and financial issues. When the company learned about a significant cutback with one of its largest clients, the entire company found out only minutes after the executives learned the news.
Values training – CRT’s shared values are the core of everything it does. The company conducts values training twice a year. One of these training sessions is focused on how to communicate openly and honestly on a daily basis. These training sessions also serve to keep the values alive.
Annual Company and Team Retreats – CRT holds an annual staff retreat that focuses on hot topics for the upcoming year, ranging from keeping creativity fresh, to how to grow into a more diverse company. Regardless of the topic, all employee-owners are given the opportunity to express opinions as well as to spearhead various initiatives. Additionally, each team within the company goes to the company beach house for a two-day retreat to talk about client planning, new business and personal goals for the next year.
Biannual Performance Reviews – All CRTers must participate in performance reviews twice a year with their supervisors to ensure there is a mutual understanding of personal goals and sources of fulfillment, and to resolve issues with communication.
Quarterly Culture-based Newsletter – CRT distributes a quarterly newsletter that is focused on company culture, values and fun. The newsletter also is distributed to family and friends of the agency.
Growing a Financially-Informed Company
Monthly staff meetings are an open book at CRT. All information, barring salaries, is openly shared with employees during staff meetings. Everyone has a voice in company decisions, from the president to the newest employee. CRT President Mark Raper reviews the line items in the P & L statement from each office every month and discusses Accounts Receivable issues and financial goals. Everything from HR issues to new business to recent account work is covered. These meetings aren’t quick, but as a result our employee-owners know and understand all financial issues related to the company.
Financials Training – Each year two of CRT’s “Jackson’s University,” the company’s training program named after one of an employee’s dog, sessions focus on the financial aspects of running a fiscally sound agency. All employees are required to learn more about a variety of topics ranging from the importance of a billable hour to an all-encompassing session on “What Makes an Agency Tick.”
It is CRT’s philosophy for internal communication that has enabled employee-owners to feel fulfilled when they come to work every day. As stated in The Holmes Report, “When we asked employees whether they agreed with the statement, ‘Overall, I find my job rewarding,’ Carter Ryley Thomas ranked first. Not only did it rank first, it scored a perfect 5.0.”
CRT provides a lot of perks for its employees from a company beach house to an onsite daycare facility, but it is access to information and the openly shared details about the agency that is the most far-reaching perk of all.