Year One in BrightWave HR: A New Department for the People >


Just over a year ago, BrightWave decided to do something it had never done before, and hire someone with a robust and dedicated human resources background. It was a big investment in a company of our size. But to be among the best, BrightWave had to focus internally. And I don’t mean the decking out our space with ping pong tables or filling our fridge with free snacks – that part’s easy. What isn’t easy, and what’s much more important, is focusing on and listening to our people. This was crucial for Brightwave to reach its potential. After all, one of our goals is to become one of Atlanta’s best workplaces.

One year ago, I started as BrightWave’s first Director of Talent Management. During my first week, I sat down with CEO Simms Jenkins and Raj Choudhury, who would become our first President, to begin outlining priorities. We decided that simply “listening” to the employees – every single employee, up, down and side to side – would be the best way to define a plan of attack. So listen is what I did. Over the next two months, I met with every employee one on one. I wanted to know what they love about BrightWave, what they do every day and where some opportunities for improvement are.

One thing became immediately clear: the foundation was in place. Every person I spoke to was passionate about the work they do. When I asked employees their favorite thing about BrightWave, the overwhelming response was “my coworkers.” Phew, at least the hard part was done – we had the right people in place. These meetings were energizing but the amount of opportunity I saw was almost overwhelming. Each person provided thoughtful and mostly practical advice and the question quickly changed from “What to do?” to “What to do first?”

My mind raced with next steps – enhancing benefits, rolling out a better performance management structure, shaking things up with orientation and onboarding and building a stronger culture of accountability. To say that it didn’t happen overnight would be an understatement. But, slowly, we were able to accomplish the things we envisioned.

People Project #1: Performance Snapshots

The first project was performance management. This one was especially tough as we were starting with a clean slate. With all the info out there of late nixing the traditional “review,” it was hard to say which path would work best for us. After conducting seemingly endless research, we decided to go the innovative route, ditching the traditional review and developing an entire performance management lifecycle. Our approach fosters continuous conversation and focuses on future opportunities instead of reflecting on the past. There are no cumbersome forms to complete and the review meeting is a conversation driven by the manager. This particular approach aligns well with our culture while still hitting on key development areas.

People Project #2: Restructure a Bit to Let People Grow & Shine

Restructuring Client Services became another major task for 2016. In a small organization, employee growth can be a challenge because of the flat structure. But growth is something we always need to be thinking about to stay ahead and keep our employees engaged. After going through the review process, we couldn’t ignore what we needed to do to keep our talent happy. We decided to restructure our entire client services team, creating new positions and levels to provide additional internal opportunities.

People Project #3: Never Lose Sight of FUN!

To keep things going as far as culture’s concerned, we even created a fun team! BrightWave does a ton of cool stuff around culture and fun including monthly lunches and happy hours, quarterly outings, annual field day and more. To build some cohesion, we created a party planning committee or “fun team” of manager-nominated employees. This committee has taken the reigns on all things fun, and it’s been a smashing success internally.

This first year has been an exciting time of discovery, building, learning and implementation. On top of everything I’ve outlined thus far, we also rolled out a sabbatical policy and upped 401k enrollment to nearly 90%, a considerable percentage jump. Looking back on the moves we made, we realize that we can’t become complacent. So early next year, we’ll refocus again, analyzing strengths and gaps, and ensuring people are in the right positions. I’m excited to spend my second year refining BrightWave’s HR function and driving the agency forward with passion, purpose and pride, enabling us to be the best we can for our clients and for each other.

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