Culture + Talent: Q&A with Cathy Atkins from Metis Communications

We often sit down with leaders of growing businesses to get their take on culture and talent. I recently spoke with Cathy Atkins, co-founder of Metis Communications, a public relations and marketing firm. Cathy has more than 17 years of experience helping companies get in front of the right audiences at the right time. With a mission of “doing our best work ever,” Metis works closely with high-growth, emerging companies that need a true business partner to help them build influence and create measurable results. The “Metis way” is something the company’s team embodies daily, which Cathy hopes will have a long-lasting effect in redrawing the boundaries for PR and marketing.  Here’s what Cathy has to say about culture and talent at Metis:

Lexi Gordon, exaqueo (LG): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for the exaqueo blog. Let’s dig right in. Does your company have a set of stated cultural values? If so, what are they?

Cathy Atkins, Metis Communications (CA): We list them on our website for everyone to see. Here they are:

  1. Show our customers the love.
  2. Be a lifelong learner.
  3. Work hard; play hard.
  4. Make your own opportunities.
  5. Follow the no-a**hole rule.
  6. Achieve the flow.

LG: Can you describe your corporate culture in 3 words?

CA: Creative, proactive, persistent

LG: How do you live this culture everyday?

CA: When a client has a need outside our standard services, we see that as an opportunity to stretch our capabilities, bring in additional skill sets, test run new offerings and roll them out agency wide once they’re polished. In this way, we’ve been entirely focused on helping our clients achieve their business goals as opposed to deploying a cookie cutter approach to PR.

LG: That’s great – you can definitely see all 3 of those adjectives in that example. What sorts of tools or processes does your company use to help support your culture? How do you use them?

CA: Some of the tools we use include Know Your Company (a helpful tool that gives us insight into how our people are doing on a weekly basis), Google Hangouts and Skype(for easy, remote communication), and Basecamp(for project management).

LG: I’ve heard “Know Your Company” is a really neat tool. And we use Basecamp for our project management at exaqueo too. What results/effects have these tools had on helping you with your culture?

CA: Our home base is in Boston, but we have staffers in NYC, the North Carolina Research Triangle, and beyond. Our local team members also work remotely at least once a week, so collaborative tools are key to making sure we stay connected mentally and creatively, no matter where we all are geographically.

LG: Let’s shift a little from culture to talent. What are 3 characteristics you look for when you are hiring new talent for your company?

CA: We hire results-oriented, strategic problem solvers who can function as both leaders and team players.

LG: What are the first 3 things you notice about an employee?

CA: We notice which questions they ask, how assertive they are in pursuing the information they need to succeed, and which projects get them fired up.

LG: How do you encourage employees to do their best?

CA: We celebrate successes publically, and we are very open about how high we place the bar to measure that success. We also try as hard as we can to bring on team members who are passionate about their growth. If they are committed to learning and perfecting their craft, then our job is much easier. We really don’t want it to be just a day job around here.

LG: How do you handle a frustrated/difficult employee?

CA: The team is focused on proactively providing feedback at all levels, so most everyone knows where they stand as far as their professional development; there shouldn’t be any surprises in that area. We also try to sniff out frustration before it becomes a problem. We ask a lot of questions about workload, passion projects, career goals and more, so we can keep a handle on what everyone’s day-to-day is like and make sure it reflects their professional development interests. We can respond and react to small frustrations quickly before they become significant issues.

LG: As a growing company yourselves, how do you manage having the right talent to meet rapid growth?

CA: We have specific benchmarks by which we measure every candidate, and we make sure that we’re bringing on not only the best people, but people who want to be here.

LG: Why does talent + culture fit matter?

CA: It’s all about the people. Our team spends so much time together – whether in person or through remote collaboration – that we find it absolutely essential to bring on people who will fit our culture as much as our business needs. If your team doesn’t value your mission, you won’t do your best work.

LG: What legacy is your company going to leave behind in 5 or 10 years from now?

CA: We see our legacy in the many startup and enterprise clients that have launched or grown their companies with our help and made deep impacts on their markets. Also, from a team perspective, we hope that we’ve made a lasting impression on employees for their future endeavors – that they know what they meant to Metis while they were here.

LG: Finally, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs about starting a company?

CA: As you grow, protect your culture. If that means you need to grow more slowly and methodically to ensure you hang onto the essence of what makes your business special, that’s fine.

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