PR’s Top Pros Talk… Building a Strong Company Culture
Dale Bornstein, CEO, M Booth
How can you find clients that inspire your workforce? Dale Bornstein, CEO, M Booth, emphasizes the importance of forging relationships with clients that energize your team and view them as partners. She also offers advice on how to foster company culture in a hybrid environment by replicating moments of togetherness.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: DALE BORNSTEIN
DOUG: Culture is so important in the workplace these days, and Dale, is that one of the reasons you put so much emphasis on finding clients who inspire your workforce?
DALE: Absolutely, Doug. We often say that our best clients are clients who inspire us as much as we work so hard every day to inspire them. And more and more we think the client partnership, especially in this new hybrid workforce and culture, plays an even more important role than ever. Our people are working almost 24/7 now and blurred, boundaryless… Well, I wouldn’t say 24/7, but you get the idea, blurred, boundaryless workplace. Our clients, we view them as our partners, inspiring, motivating, retaining, developing and energizing our talent as much as we do every day, our people.
DOUG: Yes, so how do you go about finding clients who will fit that mold and inspire?
DALE: I think there are a couple of ways. First, we’re really fortunate, the kind of relationships we’ve forged with our clients are what I call lifetime relationships. And so, as they move from company to company, they often bring us with them. And so, those are wonderful relationships to continue to nurture and to develop together. And then the other way we do it is to really have open, candid, good conversations with new clients and current clients about the values that we share, the norms that we want to share, how we show up for one another, how as the world shifts and changes, how the workforce in the workplace shifts and changes, how together we can create the kind of partnership that results in inspired work that makes a difference, that’s purposeful, that’s impactful, that is winning in the marketplace, but that also really creates opportunity and career growth, and just fuels the passion of our people. And I think active listening and conversation is really important.
DOUG: It is, and you faced a really challenging point in your career, taking over leadership of a company as CEO that was so associated with its original founder at M Booth. What are some of the challenges there, maybe some advice about how do you keep culture intact, grow the culture in that type of scenario?
DALE: I actually feel so fortunate and grateful, and Margi and I, the M in M Booth often laugh about that. We probably are a good case study in successful autonomous firm transition because there are a lot of transitions that didn’t go as well, right? And I think probably the reason it went so well is, at the core we do share the same values, and we knew each other for years in the industry, we meet once a year for lunch, hang out, just developed a really good relationship and friendship. And I remember years ago in a training I attended from a Harvard Business School professor, he always said that whether it’s a marriage or joining an organization, if your personal values align with company’s, it’s a marriage made in heaven. And for me and M Booth, that was the case.
DOUG: Yeah, and it also cuts to creating an environment with all the noise about the Great Resignation going on where employees want to stay, that’s so important.
DALE: Yes, and we have been actively listening because, you know, values and norms have to evolve with the times, but they have to be true to your north star, if you will, to your soul. And so, this year we just we re-articulated all of that under an umbrella we call “Be IRL: Inspired Relevant Leaders,” leaders for our clients, leaders for each other, leaders in the community. But what does it look like, right, when we’re not IRL, you’re actually hybrid? And so, we took our core values and shaped our ways of showing up. Make more room in the booth, bring your heart, win with each other, win together, champion each other, right? Respect boundaries. I mean, we had to evolve, given today’s workplace and the various factors that we are all navigating and figuring out together.
DOUG: Yeah, and there are pluses and minuses to this new hybrid workplace reality. I like to say no one’s getting upset, like “who put that in the oven in the kitchen, it’s disgusting!” So, you don’t get to deal with any of that, but you potentially can miss out unless you mitigate some of the circumstances because you’re not physically together. So, what are some tips for what you’re doing at your own firm and even how you’re advising clients who are in a position to have a hybrid work culture? What’s some advice that you have for them?
DALE: I would say, first and foremost, really listen to your people, really listen to what they need, whether it’s benefits, whether it’s support they need through the day. I mean, number one right now, I think is flex and options for how they get through day. We have even put in place training around how to manage, how to create your own better mental health, your own physical health, right? I mean, how you take care of yourself and how you take care of one another. We actually have a pandemic life coach and psychologist on part of our training. And so, last year we talked about recovery and making sure everyone was finding those breaks in the day. However, they did it for their situation. Just this week we talked about routine and what does it look like now as it seems like we will be working hybrid and in the office for the foreseeable future. How do you create boundaries and create routines, how do you signal, work is over, my family is here or my private life starts here. And I would suggest… We invited clients to these sessions, I would suggest we all need some good life coaching right now.
DOUG: Any final thoughts that you’d like to share about creating culture for others that maybe they haven’t thought of? Because everyone wants the best culture to keep their staff happy, to keep the goal forward, to have the best clients, but sometimes you can’t always do that. So, what are maybe some tips to work around those rough spots and sort of make sure those rough spots don’t really grow to be a conflagration?
DALE: Well, I think there are a couple of things. One, I think you have to rethink the old paradigms. So, we’ve seen all of the commentary around meetings, meetings, meetings. But if you have to have meetings, what do they look like? How are they more effective? How are they more practical? How are they more fun? We start our meetings with DJ CEOs, so you get on and we’re dancing and we’re singing, and we got the thing moving, right? It’s just an energy thing, right? But it changes the vibe. It signals, this is a fun place, but it’s also a place where we work hard and deliver as well, right? And I just say, how do you replicate the stuff we’ve lost when you go to get a cup of coffee or “at the watercooler?” The sort of invisible, right, dust that makes everyone the glue. Find ways through the day to do that, either virtually or if you are back in the office. We create destination dates. So, Thirsty Thursdays, where everyone’s coming in, even though there are opt in, no mandates, but they choose. That’s the day I want to come in, right? And so, we’re there, we make it fun, we make it meaningful, and we reconnect. I think every culture and every organization has a different DNA. So, show up authentically, listen to your people, survey them regularly because many new people are coming and we know The Great Resignation, folks are leaving, right? So, remember, you’ve got to constantly communicate all of the signs and signals around your culture, so that people can quickly, who are coming in, understand it,
and people who are there can help others be mentors, be buddies, create time and training in your day, in the way your agency, the rhythm of your agency to really make time for this. Pay close attention to how your culture thrives.
DOUG: Yeah, and, Dale, I always love it when there can be just practical takes and ideas that people can put in a place right away. Well, I might not be a DJ CEO, I do have an SVP who is a former hip-hop artist, so I think we might have to go DJ SVP at our company, and I’m sure there is a lot of great tidbits and advice for the others who are watching. Thanks so much for participating.
DALE: It’s a pleasure, Doug. Thank you.