How long should you stay at a job? The typical employee stays at the same job just over 4 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And how do most people feel about their jobs? A recent Gallup survey found that 36% of people are engaged in their work and their workplace, while 15% hate it and 49% are…meh.
Here at (un)Common Logic, 24% of our team has been here longer than 4 years, and tenures of 6 or 8 years or longer are not uncommon. In fact, 9% of uncommoners have been here for 10 years or longer. And the best way to get that kind of longevity is when someone loves their job.
What is it about (un)Common Logic that makes people stay here longer than at other companies? What do people love about (un)Common Logic? I spoke with 4 of our team members to get insights into the answers to those questions and more:
- Barbara Cavness, CEO, who’s been with us since 2010;
- Daniel Vardi, PPC Product Manager, who came aboard in 2011;
- Josh Cuttill, Director of Website Strategy and Optimization, who joined us in 2012, and
- Richard Clark, Senior Technical Manager, who also started in 2012
Let’s see what they had to say about why they love their current jobs and what anyone else can do to have the passion and longevity that they do. (Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity…but yeah, this is what they said.)
When you started, how long did you think you’d work here? What attracted you to the company then? Has that changed?
Barbara: I was looking for something that I was excited about doing. I wanted to work with great people and stay in digital marketing and I just really connected with Jim and Jeff (co-founders).
Dani: I started as an intern, so I was just hoping that I’d make it to the end of the internship and be offered a full-time job. I knew I wanted to work in digital marketing and I wanted to learn as much as possible. I read about the company and saw that it was a smaller agency and knew that going to a small company means you learn more; bigger companies aren’t likely to invest in you as much.
Richard: I had a 5-year plan. My plan was to start as an intern, work my way up through the ranks and become a manager, then learn how to run an agency so I can run my own. The training aspect was what attracted me. But my plan changed because I never stopped learning: continuous training opportunities and the transparency of the leadership regarding the direction of the business meant there was never a dull moment, never a day I wasn’t learning, so I thought, why go do it on my own when I’m a part of this business?
Josh: When I started, my general goal was to work here for a while. I wasn’t planning on a decade or more. What attracted me was the conversations I had with the leadership and other interviewers. I appreciated they valued and were open to collaboration and solutioning how to best serve our clients. It wasn’t overly bureaucratic and I didn’t pick up on any concerns regarding the culture. Everything felt authentic. And I liked that they worked on a wide range of accounts. The previous agency I’d worked at only served oil and gas so this allowed me to branch out: an agency that’s more industry agnostic allows me to get a wider variety of puzzles to solve. The DNA I picked up in my interview process has remained today – a culture that is genuine, authentic, collaborative, with lots of fun puzzles to solve.
When did you realize you were going to stay long-term? Was there anything in particular that led you to that realization?
Barbara: It was gradual. I did not have designs on being a CEO [when I started but] when it occurred to me that I wanted to run the business, I knew I wanted to do it here because I wanted to do it with these people.
Dani: It was a gradual realization. I’m always looking for ways to improve and also help whoever I’m working with do better. The longer I was here the more I understood how much my feedback was taken into account. The more that happened, the more I realized I had a stake in the company. Going from analyst to senior analyst was a relatively quick transition because I was recognized for the work I was doing. There was no time requirement to get promoted. We’ve created multiple roles that didn’t used to exist here; as I was growing and developing, the agency was also growing and developing. We worked together to create the roles for me: what does PPC Product Manager mean for me and for the agency and how is that different from the technology manager role? Having the freedom to create my role and having a say in what I’m doing made a huge difference.
Richard: Over time I realized this would be the place for me. When I was an intern, they put me in front of the whole team to conduct a training on display. Everyone, from an intern to the CEO, is heard and can cause positive change, even at this place full of smart people. Because the people are the business, they are given a voice. Turning down business because of the probability that client would burn out an employee – I had never heard of that before. When you see and hear those sort of things over and over time after time, you know it’s not only a job, it’s a career because you’re valued as a person first.
How have things changed over the past 10 years? What has stayed the same?
Barbara: The constants are staying committed to our core values and having those be the cornerstones of the culture and how we operate every day. If Covid taught me anything it is just how critical it is to always be pouring into how the core values come to life every day – we can never stop working on that.
In terms of what’s changed, everything from our offering, which has continued to evolve and expand, to continuing to refine our training and onboarding. Obviously we are bigger than we were 10 years ago, so making sure we have the right processes, systems, and structures in place is really crucial.
Dani: What’s stayed the same is the type of people who work here and who want to work here: very smart, very driven, very collaborative. That’s a big part of why I’m here: because everyone is interested in their own and in others’ development.
What has changed is everything else because the industry itself has changed: it’s everything from what Google is doing to new social media channels, from automation to privacy. The agency has changed because we had to grow with the times. We grew our personnel; we had to modify how we train people, we had to modify our benefits. When I started we didn’t have the annual employee survey, so the leaders didn’t really know how the people were feeling or what they wanted. Adding the survey made a big deal in terms of deciding next courses of action. That also came from feedback from analysts and managers who said they wanted more input and that’s how the survey was born. A business who listens to its people is a business that can grow.
Richard: What’s changed is how the business operates – what it takes to execute digital marketing now is wildly different than 10 years ago. The ecosystem has changed over time but our philosophy has stayed the same: people first, deliver excellence. Being people first facilitates changes that make the business better. Years ago, flexible time in office was not a normal thing, and having that flexibility made it easy for me to transition from a single guy to being married and having my first child. I’ve never felt uncomfortable saying here’s what I need with regard to time off – you’re a person first. Goes without saying, summer Fridays to the hybrid work model we have now, getting feedback from the team and implementing what they say they want is only going to make the business better and it’s awesome to see.
Josh: What has stayed the same is the easiest part: even though we’ve scaled and grown as a company, it still feels the same: the culture, the core DNA, hasn’t changed in 10 years. What’s changed is the industry and the landscape. Over the last decade we’ve learned to leverage technology while not replacing the human/strategy side of what we do; we’re embracing technology not fighting against it. It has taken time and not always been smooth, but it’s a valuable process and we’re continuing to stretch and challenge ourselves with our technology and our capabilities. Always learn and try new things doesn’t just apply to individuals, it also applies to the company overall.
How do you define company culture? What is (un)Common Logic’s culture? What makes (un)Common Logic’s culture special?
Barbara: Culture sure as hell isn’t a barista or a foosball table. For us it’s everything. First, it’s clearly explaining the attitudes and behaviors that we want everyone to exhibit when they’re here. When people do those things, they then have the kind of employee experience that you want them to have. If people feel valued, respected, and appreciated for what they are, they are happy to come to work.
What is our culture? We’re focused on performance. We truly care about our people and try to have that show up in the small, medium, and large ways. We like to have fun and laugh at ourselves. We have a team culture.
What makes it special? Everybody cares about it and wants to participate in it – the key is first hiring the right people and having them experience it as new employees, then have them pass it on.
Dani: Culture is defined by the people who live it. It is not dictated by setting rules, it’s how people come in and work and live together. The (un)Common Logic culture is about caring, first and foremost. We care about our accounts and clients and each other. Because we care we strive to do the best we can to get excellent results and we always try to improve and learn new things. Those are some of our core values for the agency but how we came to them was by asking what defines US, then saying this is what defines our culture.
Josh: Culture is hard to define; it’s not a prescription. It’s a living, organic, intangible aspect of the business. The consistent throughline of all the interactions and components – all the people and experiences – core DNA is what it’s about. I like the concept of culture as a company’s soul – you can’t look at it, it’s not one or two people, it’s not a list on a wall. What makes character or culture isn’t what comes out when things are easy, it’s what comes out when things are hard and you’re being tested or questioned – it’s those moments when character or culture come through. The longer you’re with a company, you see it go through tough times and trials and what stays true through all that is the essence of the company’s culture. I don’t think you can know until you’ve been with a company for long enough to go through some highs and lows, however long that takes.
What do uncommoners have in common?
Barbara: Smart, talented, ambitious…and they really care about others.
Richard: Natural curiosity, passion for knowledge, striving for excellence.
Josh: A drive to exceed expectations. Competitive drive and also collaborative. The other part is that we have a lot of builders: people who like to work and solve problems, tinker, find new options for how to do something. When you want to grow a company, you need a lot of people who want to pick up a hammer and nails. There’s a difference between wanting to do great work and wanting to build the thing we’re in.
How do you know someone is struggling? What steps do you go through when someone is struggling?
Barbara: It shows up in their performance. Part of our culture is making it safe for people to raise their hand and ask for help. The hardest ones are the people who don’t realize they’re struggling or that a certain facet of what we do matters. Our culture makes it really clear: if someone is struggling we’re either going to help them or help them realize we’re not the right fit for them and then help them so that we part ways as friends if that’s the way it has to go.
Dani: For someone who’s struggling, the first thing you notice is the amount of hesitation: they retreat to themselves and get very quiet. We don’t have a culture of being very quiet, so whenever someone is hesitant and is quiet, that’s the time to get them into a 1:1 conversation, then work with them to see how you can help. When someone is struggling, it’s not because they can’t do the work or are dumb, it’s because they have some sort of gap they need to cross or jump over. We don’t believe in letting someone jump on their own but we also don’t believe in carrying someone across that gap, so we give them the connective tissue so they can jump on their own and then they’ll have the confidence because they did it on their own.
Richard: You can see it on their faces, hear it in their responses. The way I approach helping someone when they’re struggling is trying to understand their perspective: where/why they think they’re struggling. People might not actually be struggling, but they’re struggling with the high bar they’re setting for themselves. Helping people set the baseline for themselves: you’re doing fine, here are some areas where you could improve, break it into bite-sized chunks. Simplify everything. I do it for myself every day. It’s about breaking things down into bite-sized chunks. It all starts with figuring out where that person is and where they’re coming from and trying to craft a plan to help them overcome those struggles.
Josh: For me, the more you pay attention and spend time getting to know people and what makes them tick, you recognize their baseline, where they perform well and are in a good space. The more you pay attention to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it and how they normally operate, the easier it is to recognize when they’re off or stressed. We value direct and honest communication and encourage our folks to tell us they’re stressed. Having said that, great leaders observe and listen so they recognize an issue sometimes even before the person knows it themselves. Being able to read people’s cues and signs because we care and pay attention is really important, otherwise you aren’t going to notice those things.
What reason do you hear most for people leaving?
Dani: Sometimes people leave because the grass seems greener on the other side. I think we make it a very difficult decision for someone to make. You need a lot more money or a lot bigger title to make the transition for the most part. Another reason that people leave is if they’ve been here a long time and they want to shift their career to a different direction.
Richard: Oftentimes I think it has to do with a career shift. I don’t recall many people leaving this agency for another agency, instead they want to go do something different, like be a developer or work for a nonprofit. It usually is because that individual discovered something that they’re passionate about while they were here and want to go pursue that passion, which is a good thing for us. We want people to be better off than when we found them and if they want to go do something they’re passionate about then they have our full support.
What do you do to train managers of people (since it is said that most people don’t leave a job, they leave their boss)?
Barbara: Teaching our managers how to communicate effectively with the people they manage because if they don’t have a good relationship built on honest and direct communication they can’t service issues. Teaching them to be comfortable having difficult conversations is really important; for example, holding someone accountable isn’t being mean, it’s how you help someone get better. Teaching our managers how to be good by being good themselves: I have extremely high expectations of my directors and they teach by walking the talk. Teaching them warning signs to look out for. Finally, you have to have consistency across everyone you manage; you can’t do something for one person you aren’t willing to do for another.
Josh: The first thing is we train through setting the example. If you want to help people become great managers, you have to demonstrate it. If they experience that in you, they’ll see the impact of that and are more invested in taking the steps to become a great manager. Like most things, to be great, it comes with effort and attention. It also comes with mistakes and you’ve got to be willing to push through and learn from that.
Tell me about a time you felt like leaving and why you didn’t.
Barbara: I’ve had moments when I realized I’m running on empty so I take a vacation as fast as possible and recharge. I’ve never really had a moment where I’m like, nah, I’m outa here – lucky me!
Josh: I had a moment where I questioned whether this could be the right place, long-term. That came down to, was my original core experience of the culture of the company still in line with my vision and what I believed in. When I stepped back and took some time to reassess what was going on, I asked myself if my stress was a product of the moment or the environment, because if it was a moment, that would pass. The core people and environment hadn’t changed, so I knew that even during tough times this was the right place for me to be.
What do you do when it feels like it isn’t working?
Dani: You talk to the people you’re close to. You try to look at all the angles and options because at the end of the day, this is a job. You can’t be 100% happy 100% of the time. It’s not going to happen. There are going to be times when you’re frustrated or bored. The only way to work it out is to talk to someone who can help you find a different perspective on what you’re feeling. One perspective doesn’t make reality, so you need to rely on others in your life to get feedback and input. You want to have a vision like a dragonfly: you need to consider a lot of different angles to see how to move forward.
Josh: The first thing I do is pause and take a step back. When something goes wrong or there’s stress or friction, the least helpful thing is to get caught up or get emotional. We’re all trying to do great work so it can be stressful when things aren’t going well. The more I can step back and reassess from a more objective standpoint, the better I can understand where the breakdowns are happening so I can figure out what to do to fix it. Sometimes that solution is me, sometimes that’s how I’m working with others, sometimes it’s a process issue, but first you need to take a moment to collect yourself and look at all the factors causing the problem.
What keeps you coming back, year after year?
Barbara: The people AND the opportunity to help them grow their life as well as professional skills. There’s always new problems and challenges for me to face and most days I like that I’m never done.
Dani: What keeps me here is the people. The greatest happiness I have with this job is seeing other people develop. Since I’m in charge of a lot of people’s training, I see people go through the training and they get scared and then blossom – that’s why I stay in this job. I love ppc and digital marketing – but developing people is why I stay.
Josh: Free snacks! Seriously, what keeps me coming back is the combination of the problems to solve and the people that I’m doing that with. It’s not always the same people, but the same types of people. I’m still excited because I still feel, many days, that I’m still at the same place, still at the same type of company 10 years later.
Richard: I’ve been able to experience lots of walks of life here. I also get bored easily and this place means I’m never bored. I’ve gotten the growth opportunities I wanted here.
What do you think other agencies or companies in general could learn from (un)Common Logic with regard to keeping employees long-term?
Barbara: That’s for me to know and them to figure out! Ok, I’ll say this: for as much time as you think you’re investing in culture, it’s probably not enough.
Dani: How much we invest in our people is a big part of how we keep employees long-term. The way we train them, the way we work on their development: employees see how we move them forward. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve and aren’t afraid of people’s development, progress, and growth.
Richard: Keeping your employees long-term takes lots of intentional communication with people, focusing as much as you can on your people and their growth. If you have unhappy people, that’s going to come through in their interactions with their clients and each other. The other key is making sure you’re giving your people opportunities to grow and develop into leaders.