Why would a company of over a 100+ executives, managers, strategists, creatives, multi-disciplinary designers, writers, technologists, developers, producers and project managers hightail it to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico after nearly 15 months of working remotely? Because we learned a lot through the pandemic, showing us new opportunities to keep our culture thriving. Known as our inaugural Butchershop® La Creme Summit, employees traveled from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Guadalajara to join a three day summit-like experience. Our intention was to come together to grow our connections to one another and begin to define the future of Butchershop Global, a Growth and Transformation Company.
There’s been tremendous movement and innovation at Butchershop lately. Work retreats, summits and offsites aren’t a novel idea; but in a year of extreme change – transitioning to a full-time remote work program, the opening of an office in Europe, the launch of a venture studio in ImaginedBy, the acquisition of digital powerhouse agency, Maniak and a merging of a growing global workforce – it was vital for our team members to come together.
As a crew and a company, change is exciting; it can resonate as an opportunity, which is what we strive to create, both with our employees and our clients. It’s been a time of incredible growth and expansion as we get more global and focus on becoming an agency built for the future of culture and commerce. The emphasis is on developing products and services that help grow and transform companies, brands, businesses, products and services. But the only way to do this successfully is to create an environment where people can contribute in meaningful and impactful ways by doing their best work.
We set out to accomplish a lot in a 72-hour period, and while every exercise and presentation was thoughtful and well-received, the opportunity to simplify and streamline is not lost on us. It showed us that our employees can get more out of a three day summit that can carry us months into the future, rather than 365 days in an office environment.
La Creme Summit served as a moment to plan AND play. To celebrate the wins and chart a path forward as a collective of individuals. A few of the most significant takeaways from our inaugural La Creme Summit 2021:
1. A Recommitment to Transparency
There has been a premium placed on transparency within our organization for several years now. We’re a culture of testing and trying – we often share ideas before there is a fully baked action plan, which allows for people to pop up with concerns and questions early in the game. There is an understanding that we are all building this together and that no single person is the keeper of all the keys. La Creme Summit (LCS) was an opportunity to double down on our dedication to transparency and share new programs and opportunities with the larger group. We also went away with the promise that there is so much more to come, but that in the meantime there is a direct throughline to leadership to help connect any dots.
2. Path Forward
Bringing our people together is a chance to share information and gain insights, asking questions and workshopping various aspects of our business.
As a group, we performed a Priio® session, asking the question collectively “What Would Cause Butchershop to Fail?” Groups workshopped for the better part of two hours and were able to boil it down to 20 things. These were pitched back to the group and it was clear that everyone felt heard, but also that a sense of ownership and responsibility was sparked.
The design of the workshop is one that leads to assigning accountability to people who are responsible for preventing something from happening. The most telling part of the entire exercise was when we asked people to assign responsibility for these concerns; every single group acknowledged that while our Leadership and Operations team had a lot of work ahead of them, each individual would need to take part in our success.
It also gave out leadership team insights that validated our preconceived ideas of where we needed to focus as a company. It gave us a path forward with confirmations and some new focus points. It also shows us where we can ask more people to be involved. And because we give a shit, it allows us to execute faster and share progress with the entire crew.
3. A Moment for Clarity and Uncertainty
A few failure points underscored in the Priio session were not surprising. Many were concerned about the distance, the language barrier (German, English, Spanish), and a clear mission the entire team could rally behind. A primary objective for LCS was to acknowledge the possibility of “proximity bias,” a term I coined during the pandemic to denote the favoritism employees that are physically closer to their managers may experience, and to make clear that we are incorporating safeguards against it. Beyond our annual summit, our leadership team gathered in San Francisco in July for planning, with another trip scheduled for Vienna in November. We have smaller, monthly trips for our US-based employees to work from the Guadalajara office and spend time with their LATAM coworkers, and project-centered trips for our global project managers and designers to visit New York and San Francisco.
As far as language as a barrier, we cover expenses for our team to use Pimsleur, an alternative to Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, as an investment for everyone to level up their language skills.
And more recently, we presented a mapped out North Star for the entire crew that lays out succinctly where we’re going so that no one is left in the dark about our ambitions as a company.
4. A Wave of Connection
Trust is built when people get to know each other in a more casual, in-person setting. I’m absolutely not going to argue that requiring employees to commute to an office everyday is a necessary component of the digital economy. In fact, I would argue the opposite, as our team has pulled together and accelerated our growth remotely in a very concrete way. What we do believe is the importance of occasion-based collaboration. The coming together of employees to play, plan and participate. Most of what we do can be worked on in a virtual environment. But there is no stand-in for the connection people feel with one another after spending time together. Beyond this, connection can play a major role in our success over the months to come. Of course we’ll have to reup these connections overtime. Yes it’s an investment, but an investment we are more than willing to make. Reykjavík, Iceland – we’ll see you next year.
5. Origin Stories
Before La Creme Summit, 60% of our employees had never met each other in person. Most of the work we do with clients requires us to dive in deep, and yet sometimes our interactions with our peers at work can remain at surface-level. In order to find connections in a limited amount of time, it was important to create occasions at La Creme Summit where people could share their origin stories. We brought in our Leadership Advisor, Jeremiah Miller, to help design some of these moments, including an exercise where people timelined the most impactful moments in their lives, both positive and negative, and shared with peers. While some of the moments were emotional, it made some people feel safer and gave them permission to have more genuine conversations during the remainder of the trip.
6. Slack Factor
One of the measuring sticks for the success of La Creme Summit was answering the question: “Do people feel more connected and like we are one company?” While we certainly felt the answer was yes, our Slack data proved it. We saw a significant increase in conversation among global teams following the event. The quality of communication also improved, with people being more solution-oriented in the work because they had bonded over the 3 days in PV. The energy of sharing a Margarita at midnight on a beach carried over into our day-to-day chats, both in personal and professional communication.
7. Itinerary Optimism
When we started to plan La Creme Summit, we had three months of lead up filled with sharing and planning across the company. Building the event, contributing to its success, communicating the plans, getting feedback and incorporating team ideas was part of the success and engagement. The energy, anticipation and build up was vital to creating an atmosphere. We were able to share the plans and itinerary that helped people prepare and also get excited.
What we learned from this is to plan out the next few summits so current employees and new employees joining our team have notice about future La Creme Summits. It gives people something to really look forward to and anticipate; perhaps even do their own research and discovery on our next location. It creates an environment that you’d have with friends or family planning an exciting trip: what to wear, sharing articles of things to do, searching the internet for photos and stories, and just the little logistics that most people get excited about. Our key takeaway was to turn La Creme Summit into a sub brand of Butchershop with a runway and outlook for the future to keep people looking forward.
8. Make Some Mistakes
Sometimes getting into a bit of trouble or having a story that people can tell over breakfast the next day brings people closer together. When you put 115 young people together to cut loose at a beautiful resort on a beach, things are bound to happen. One of our employees from the US was throwing the football around in the pool. A bad catch dislocated his finger. Two peers from the Mexico team took him to the nearby hospital, despite having been near strangers only hours before. It took several hours before they rejoined us that evening on the beach. Stories started flying and connections were made. Trust that even mistakes will happen that bring people closer together.
9. Smart Investments
But what about finances and costs? Well, we don’t look at this as an expense. We look at it as an investment. Since surrendering our office in San Francisco, our company has added back almost a million dollars to our bottom line. This isn’t about being more profitable, it’s about using funds to invest in our people in new ways. It allowed us to hire more people, acquire a company, expand into Europe, increase salaries, invest in new ideas, add new services, create new roles, help fund more tools for our team, and think about what occasions we need to invest in. Hosting these summits for our entire employee base is now part of our culture. The expense is an investment into one of the most important things we must have to be successful or to Beat Failure – connection to each other. Funding travel, monthly team trips to Guadalajara, San Francisco and Vienna, and planning two summits for our global crew and one for leadership are not lavish or unnecessary, they are vital. They give us something to look forward to and to take away for the months in between.
10. Your Choice
We often sit in a place that is highly reactionary when there is change or unknowns. Uncertainty can cause stress, gap-filling with opinions, compounded beliefs, and speculative thinking that festers into “facts”. They aren’t. Even in a company as wonderful as Butchershop, this is inevitable, because we are all humans. There hasn’t been a decision made in the history of humankind that wasn’t, in some way, emotional. So here we were at La Creme Summit. New information, relationships, conversations happening all around us. Each person had a bucket that they fill with their own information. The things they choose to put in that bucket are a great self-indicator on whether or not people want to be a part of what we are building. They have a choice to participate, be patient, stay curious, and to look for opportunity. And in the same breath or bucket – whether they don’t. That choice remains in each individual’s hands.