For Greg Blaisdell, culture is the most important aspect in any organization. Without a strong and defined culture, a business is indistinguishable from any other organization in the field. With Evoke Consulting LLC celebrating its 10th anniversary, Blaisdell, President and Founder, accredits the company’s success to its strong culture and sense of mission.
Blaisdell has built the company around the notion of being proud of where you work and what you do. He openly encourages his employees to seek out more and more challenging takes while engaging in any opportunity to give back to the community.
WashingtonExec also discussed with Blaisdell his decision to become an entrepreneur and why today’s succesful employee engagement tactics are much more than “the company email update.”
WashingtonExec: 2015 marks 10 years since the founding of Evoke Consulting. Did you achieve your fundraising goals for the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) Medical Brigade during the Casino Night Fundraiser anniversary celebration?
Greg Blaisdell: It was a great event and the people on our team did an amazing job of putting it together. The initial thought was that it seems a little silly to just throw a party and celebrate the 10 year anniversary. Once we decided to also make it a fundraising event for the Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade, it became a lot easier to get behind it from a personal standpoint. We had a blast. It was just fun to have the VHC Medical Brigade there; Dr. Barry Byer, Mary Ellen Gannon and some other folks from his team. I think the total raised was around $15,000. It went well, but we feel we can do more. The focus has shifted from an anniversary celebration to a fundraiser for the Medical Brigade; we are thinking of hosting a similar fundraiser next year.
WashingtonExec: Plenty of companies have 10th anniversaries but you all chose to focus your milestone around a non-profit. Could you tell us a little bit about your corporate culture at Evoke and your goals for your company culture in the future?
Greg Blaisdell: Our culture is built upon a few key concepts. We have very high standards, but we also offer an environment that nurtures, supports and rewards those who perform at a high level. We offer an opportunity to be responsible for your own success with support and guidance from your company.
We also insist on making a positive impact on our community through philanthropy. Those contributions. I don’t think the culture has really changed in that regard over the past 10 years.
We have focused on a few key aspects consistently. First, making sure the content of the work is challenging and meaningful. Second is guaranteeing a highly productive and rewarding work life. Third, if you are on a high performing team it is just more satisfying, so we surround our management consultants with other talented professionals and work to establish a collegial environment with friendly and supportive competition.
Before starting Evoke, I worked for some companies I was not particularly proud to put on my resume. Everyone wants to take pride in their work and the company they for. We take great pride in the work we do for our clients, but we also have to be a good corporate citizen. We are very proud of the impact our employees have had on the community.
The fourth critical element is professional development opportunities. We hire ambitious people. We realize that they are constantly looking for ways to propel their career inside Evoke. We also realize that if they aren’t able to move forward, they will start seeking other opportunities in order to make that happen. Through our Career Mapping process we are trying to give everyone a plan that is aligned to a career path.
Finally, the last thing is that recognition. Exceptional performance that supports our values, goals and vision is encouraged, recognized and rewarded. I would say that in a nutshell those are the five things that we’ve always cared about that are never going to change.
WashingtonExec: How do you all retain your strategic hires as the govcon space, in certain areas, is flatlining? What is your secret for retaining top talent?
Greg Blaisdell: We have made Evoke a destination employer. That’s a difficult status to maintain. Everybody is facing the challenge of turnover. I think LPTA hurt a lot of companies and clients. It may even hurt our government clients more. If a government client accepts a company offering the lowest price possible, that company is likely not offering employees training or professional development as part of their career path. The lack of talent may hurt some of our potential clients tremendously. There are certainly those companies that are wildly successful in the LPTA market and they may even do tremendous work but we prefer to offer a good culture, structure, methodologies, and a broader means to help our clients beyond just offering the lowest price. I think the people that we attract recognize that in addition to fair compensation, the things that make Evoke a destination employer are the content of the work, quality of the work life, professional development and their career path, a company that they can be proud of, and recognition for a job well done – all of those things matter.
WashingtonExec: Many organizations in the federal IT space have a difficult time executing a disciplined social media strategy. How have you all been able to use social media effectively?
Greg Blaisdell: We have a very diverse workforce. We’re at 11 different agencies in 6 different states. The bulk of our work is in the DC area. Even so, with a disparate workforce it is tough to bring everyone together. We talked about it internally and reminded everybody that communication is not sending out “the email”. If important messages are not communicated frequently, it’s like they were never said at all. Companies need to repeat messages frequently to keep making them real. It is important to also communicate these messages in different forms.
To be effective, all messages need to be supported by multiple means. There is a time and place for email, but broader messages like corporate strategy, fundraising or community events there is a larger audience that needs to hear our message. The approach our team has taken with social media has been great. We are sometimes shy about boasting about our accomplishments and community involvement, but our marketing folks are all over it. Certainly social media helps provide a well-rounded view of the company and our social media campaigns have offered a different perspective of Evoke to the world.
WashingtonExec: A different expertise is required when comparing a successful SVP to a successful entrepreneur. What is your advice to those thinking of making the leap from strategic leader to entrepreneur?
Greg Blaisdell: Starting your own business is harder than think. However, it’s worth it. If you are a true entrepreneur, you thrive on creating and innovating. If you are ready to start your own company, then you thoroughly enjoy designing, developing, and working insanely long hours, but making an impact, no matter how small at the start, seems worth it to you. We used to joke that the worst malcontents can make the best business owners because they are just not satisfied with the current way of doing business and believe there’s got to be a better way. The last box to check for those wanting to make the leap is having a vision. They need to see the end, even years in the future, and then have the guts to jump out and go do it.
WashingtonExec: What advice would you give your younger self when you started the company in 2005?
Greg Blaisdell: I would love to talk to myself in 2003 and say ‘do it now because it never gets easier’. I waited until 2005 to start Evoke thinking ‘in a few years I’ll have more experience’ but in hindsight it seems like ‘today’ is always the best time to do it because many of the lessons learned don’t change. Also, lessons learned are just fancy words for failure. No amount of lessons learned will prevent failure, so get used to it. Of course you always hope you don’t repeat the same failures, but success rarely happens on the first try.
WashingtonExec: What are a couple of your favorite books which you might recommend to your more junior employees?
Greg Blaisdell: A Hope and the Unseen is about Cedric Jennings, a local DC resident. The book tells about his odyssey going to Ballou High School in the inner city near Bolling Air Force Base and working to get accepted to an Ivy League College. He overcame his circumstances, worked incredibly hard and got into Brown University. It highlights the fact that you do not have to accept that your circumstances dictate your future and that working less hard than your competitor has never been a successful strategy. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is just a fun, very creative book. It is certainly out of the box thinking that pokes fun at a number of clichés if you want to try to translate it to something valuable from a work perspective.