This is part of our How We Work series, which focuses on how successful southeastern tech companies are developing authentic work cultures.
In late 2016, digital agencies SapientNitro and Razorfish merged to form one global entity: SapientRazorfish. The agency helps companies reposition their branding and business model to be more customer-centric, concentrating their efforts where its most valuable to optimize relationships — and profits.
At the helm of efficiently merging these two formerly-competing agencies was Kendra King, VP, Strategy and Consulting Lead for the south region. King created and oversaw the programming behind obtaining feedback from the merging teams, as well as collaborated with the culture and people experience team to create a new work culture that both companies could embrace.
Now with more than 12,000 employees and 70 offices around the globe, SapientRazorfish has to be intentional about recruiting the right people to fit into their service-oriented agency. By promoting a feedback-based culture through multi-day onboarding sessions, King and the team add a personal touch to an often-faceless process.
“Sometimes you don’t even get to speak to someone, you’re uploading your resume on a portal and then you get an email six months later to let you know you didn’t get the job,” says King. “That’s not okay. The idea that you’ve taken the time to interview with us means we’re going to make it more personal and provide feedback.”
Here, King shares more about how the two agencies came together under one mission after being competitors, building a collaborative and feedback-based culture, and how their onboarding process provides immediate colleagues to new employees.
How did you start building the new culture surrounding this new integrated team?
Prior to the merger, SapientNitro had a culture and people experience team that was tasked with managing things just like this. It’s all about how are we going to build a culture locally. We assembled various teams, with one team dedicated specifically to thinking about the actions and behaviors that we wanted to co-create.
We also looked at how do we relate to each other as people? And that was focused on community building. We don’t use the terminology ‘legacy’ — that’s the Legacy RazorFish or the Legacy SapientNitro. One of the things we did here — and all the offices have their version of it — but in our region we had a campaign called “Better Together.” The idea that you can’t have peanut butter without jelly. And so if we’re better together, then we don’t think of ourselves separately — of course we recognize that we came from two very strong organizations, but now we’re together.
There was a lot of focus on the mechanics behind the merger, but then there was also a great focus placed on how are we going to work together as people and how are we going to move forward as once competitors, now toward the same goal.
Once leadership got on the same page, how did you encourage feedback from employees?
We wanted to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard. We conducted focus groups at that time; we had town halls in both offices, giving people the opportunity to voice any concerns and ask questions.
In focus groups, people could speak if they wanted to, but to help those that maybe did not want to vocalize their feelings we did a collage-building exercise and gave people the opportunity to pick images and phrases from magazines that really showed how they felt. We had these collages that were focused on the past, recognizing there was a past, how we may feel now and then where we want this to go quickly. One of the insights that came out of it was pretty cool. Before, if we were a movie we would be ‘Batman v. Superman’, and then the future state of what we wanted to be was ‘The Avengers.’
We shared the results at a town hall meeting and then we had various task forces, one focused on communication, making sure that everyone knew what was going on. We had formal communication that would come out from leadership, but then we also had managers make themselves available and give people bite-size information. That’s something that came out of the research that was really helpful — just a cadence of communication.
Now as SapientRazorfish, how do you approach recruiting?
I learned pretty quickly that we, as one company, have a process that reflected both organizations. We’re pretty thorough, so that’s one thing that I take pride in. We take a lot of care in terms of finding the people who are going to help our organization grow.
We will find diverse candidates at a career fair, marketing event or through a referral. We learn about the prospective employee and see if they would be a good fit. They would be vetted by a recruiter for a phone screening. If you don’t pass the phone screening then you would get a follow-up email and feedback about your interview. If you did pass the screening, the employees would go through interviews at the local office with feedback at every step of the process.
We approach recruiting from a macro to micro perspective. It’s not unusual for people to have to give a case study review. It could be a project we’re currently working on — we want to know if this person would be complementary to the team or provide some input that we wouldn’t have considered. Getting people more into real-life situations early on is helpful.
If not chosen as a candidate, you mention that you still give feedback to the candidate on why they weren’t a good fit?
We are a feedback culture. Because sometimes you don’t know how people are perceiving you — this isn’t just in the interviewing process, this is in general. At meetings, we always say before we adjourn, I want feedback, and this could be from the CEO, this could be from the president. It doesn’t matter about your rank in the organization. People want to know how something could be improved and this transfers over to the recruiting process.
We think it’s only fair that if someone has taken the time to sit and interview with us that we give them feedback in terms of how the interview went.
How does your JumpStart program for new employees help them feel more comfortable as the new kid in the office?
We educate new hires in a week-long, in-depth onboarding program. This is designed for all employees. You could be a junior associate that’s sitting next to a senior executive. Again, that’s another theme you’ll see throughout our organization is that we really appreciate diversity in different capacities including rank. Everyone has a say. We mix everyone together and all employees begin with this on day one.
During JumpStart, which moves around offices, you will have the opportunity to mix and mingle with some of the people in the local office. As a new employee you get to understand a wide range of topics, from the purpose of our company, to how you can grow individually, to expense reporting. You have a good sense of how to maneuver in your local office, but then also within the broader organization.
Everyone that starts at a particular JumpStart program will meet people from different locations, not necessarily in the same region. All of the sudden you already know people, which is important for our organization because while we have regional opportunities and local offices, you have the opportunity to work across the U.S or even globally if that’s what you desire. Those connections really come in handy.
Why is it important to sponsor diversity within the company? How does it benefit the clients once you’re working on the projects and the team?
You can look at diversity different ways, but regardless it’s about mixing things up. Innovation is not possible if you continue to do the same things that you have always done. And so having lots of different voices and perspectives and experiences at the table, being vocal in helping to construct new ideas, helps our clients make decisions. To help create what we don’t even know is possible is done, in my opinion, through diversity.
That could be diversity of age, race, gender, or experience. One thing that I have really appreciated being on the digital side is the fact that you have such varied talent at the table. So, yes, you have your people who may be in communications and advertising, but you’re sitting at the table with a technologist or with a consultant who has financial or healthcare experience, and bring all of those experiences together. It’s pretty cool when we start to make the magic happen because you have people being able to push you in different directions and really challenge you to be the best you can. I think diversity is extremely important for the employee personally, but then to our clients.
How does SapientRazorfish prioritize outreach within the community?
We are very supportive of different industry events. We’re doing quite a bit of outreach. We are participating in the 3% conference, a movement promoting women creative directors. We are there with the American Advertising Federation in support of their multicultural student program that occurs annually; Women Who Code as well. These are things that are really important to our people and something that the company gets behind and supports.
It’s important for prospective employees to know that this is a place that is really committed to developing our talents, but then also trying to create an environment where everyone feels valued.
All photos provided by SapientRazorfish