In 2014, I joined The Spur Group as an associate consultant, equally wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. My mind was set on resigning to a sponge for at least the first couple years, eager to learn from some of the best and brightest business consultants in the tech industry.
Not 3 months into my tenure at The Spur Group, our Managing Principal (CEO) at the time was pacing the offices, as he often did when trying to locate the perfect person to help him with a task or work out his idea of the day. I watched, wondering who he was going to choose today, until he sat down across from me and my stomach jumped up into my chest.
“I need your help.” He said.
“Um… yes, of course.” I responded, thinking he must need notes transcribed from a meeting or a deliverable proof-read for spelling errors – standard work for someone of my tenure.
“We’re likely going to have the budget to take on a considerable internal project this year. If I gave you half a million dollars, how would you use it to transform the company?”
At this point I blacked out, but reliable sources maintain that with just the right amount of naïveté and over-confidence, I said “That’s a good question. Give me a week, and I’ll have something for you”.
They say when you’ve gotten yourself into a hole, the first thing you want to do is stop digging. However, apparently, I missed that day in training, so I continued hoping to eventually pop out somewhere near Beijing.
Over the next week, I painstakingly researched and designed a comprehensive 5-phase strategic planning process to identify the highest potential transformational strategies from the firm’s top executives, and developed an infallible 2x2 framework for scoring and prioritization.
Imbibed with pride, I presented my stallion of a strategic planning process to the Managing Principal. To which he quickly responded, “No, I don’t think we are going to do that.”
My heart sank and I wondered how difficult it was going to be to apply for unemployment.
“The idea is right, but the details are off” he continued, “this shouldn’t be an overly-structured, siloed process for just the executives, it should be inclusive, inviting and playful”.
He and I worked together to design a process where anyone in the company could prepare and present any transformational idea to the owners.
In the first year, over 60% of the company participated. The owners saw over 30 ideas (both serious and comedic) during the two-week submission period.
Presentations ranged from deadly serious to hysterically funny. Among the ideas were full-blown 3-year transformation plans, Free-Lunch Fridays, Community Service Programs, Business Consulting video game RPGs, and even Shock Collars for new hires to (as the presenter put it) “provide 10,000V of concise, targeted, and constructive feedback”.
The winners of each category (serious and comedy) presented at the company offsite at the end of the year and received up to $2,000 as a cash prize.
A Lasting Effect
Working at The Spur Group, you see these ideas everywhere. from The Spur Group Community Service & Giving Program, to Monthly All Hands Meetings, to our best practices, tools, and IP, there isn’t an area of the company that hasn’t been touched by at least one Spark Tank idea.
And while the ideas and their impact on the company is good, I would argue that the impact of creating a channel of open communication across the many levels of the business is far greater.
For any company that wants to grow and grow fast, it is critical that everyone in the company has a voice, that less experienced employees are not written off, and that the leaders of the company are not siloed in ivory towers.
Spark Tank offers anyone in the company a platform to communicate directly with the owners and it enables the owners to see what their employees are most concerned about. Anyone can express real concerns about the direction of the firm and convey ideas for transformation, or propose a spoof idea and spend time laughing and joking with the leaders of the company. Either way, it creates a culture where no one is ignored and everyone can have a real connection with even the most senior leadership.
2018 mission statement, goals, and upcoming events
2018 will be the fourth year of the contest and we anticipate it will continue to grow as the company does. With a CAGR of 30%, we need to scale the concept as we expand from 100, to 500, to 1000 people in the coming years.
By the end of this year, we may likely have more than 200 employees at The Spur Group. My personal goal is to get 100 of those to participate in Spark Tank this year, with at least 33% of said participants being new to the firm within in the last year.
Maintaining a strong culture as you grow is pivotal. As we grow we will continue to look for ways to ensure each employee feels comfortable chatting with even the most senior leaders. This approach ensures that transformational ideas are not left to only the owners and allows us to maintain a work environment that is “inclusive, inviting and playful”.
Want to know more? Want to DO more?
The Spur Group Community Service & Giving Program is one of the more impactful ideas to have been realized through Spark Tank. The inspired, generous, and driven creator and leader of the group, Clara Merlino – a consultant here at The Spur Group – wrote a wonderful blog on founding and running the program in its inaugural year. Check out the groups mission statement and goals for 2018, get inspired by some of their upcoming events, and learn more about how you can directly generate positive change, both where you live and around the world.
Feel like you have some transformational thinking on the business consulting practice or tech industry? Or just want to work with people who do? Drop us a line at thespurgroup.com/join-us to schedule an interview.
Leland is a Client Delivery Director at Spur Group’s Innovation Labs. Innovation Labs is a team within The Spur Group dedicated to integrating emerging technologies into our consulting services and offerings.