I’m often humbled by our organization’s unparalleled growth. Being named to Inc. Magazine’s List of America’s fastest-growing companies for 11 years straight is a pretty remarkable accomplishment. Growth for me these days is less about the speed of acquisitions and more about building a culture with colleagues who see the world through a similar lens and are collectively focused on growing professionally and personally—together.
Every day, I see our talented team members, our strategic direction and our commitment to excellence all working together to help us hit our stride as an organization. Yet—there’s still so much work to be done—especially when it comes to nurturing this pretty good thing we have going—and that requires nurturing our open secret.
I like to think that I play a small part in our work to attract fresh-thinking, humble professionals in the benefits arena to our organization. I lead a team of colleagues who have met with literally hundreds of potential partners for OneDigital. We know almost immediately whether an individual or team will fit our culture and if there is enough common ground to try and understand whether alignment for the future makes sense.
Mergers are not about the math. They are about the people involved and building trust in determining whether we can see ourselves working side-by-side to drive a mutually successful future and have fun doing it.
Say for instance, a merger looks like a great fit for us. It makes seemingly smart business sense, the numbers add up and the team will open up a new market to our growing national footprint. All systems go? Perhaps not. In the end, there is an ingredient so crucial to our success that it’s almost organic at OneDigital. That ingredient is our culinary secret sauce, our open secret—it’s our culture.
If the numbers align, but the people are not a good fit—we find a polite reason to walk away. I can confidently say that no one else in the industry applies this construct with such relentlessness like we do.
In an industry that is rapidly consolidating, it can be difficult to differentiate one national firm from another. Often a seller wants to understand pricing right out of the gate. Trust me when I say that the economics of a deal has nothing to do with whether firms will “fit together.”
I have come to realize that we don't have to lose what makes us special while we continue to grow. What we have to do is be true to our culture and not take short cuts—or let the “math” take priority, and focus on building a truly great company. Our vibe is more vibrant at 1000 colleagues than it was at 100.
Stewardship of our growing “squad” is an incredible responsibility.
For me, it might show up when I am chatting with a broker and while talking about the importance of team and culture, they treat the waiter rudely at lunch—which has happened. Again, if the numbers appear to show value but the real values feel wrong—I’ll walk away—every time. And everyone across our organization approaches this situation the same way. Only in this way can culture become not just organic, but a competitive advantage with clients.
I know this is a subjective area, but I think about culture this way: I enjoy the work we do, I enjoy doing that work alongside my colleagues. I have fun with them, we have fun together. I care about them as people. We are connected by an invisible thread that when pulled brings us tightly together, into a kind of tribe—a high-performing group of talented people who care about one another and are deeply invested in each other’s success.
Our culture came vibrantly to life for me a few weeks ago. I was standing in a large venue—there was a stage, bright concert lights, thumping music, wildly raving fans, awards being given out, dancing between tables, selfies going off like mad. The event was our OneDigital Client Services Awards Night. The evening was designed to celebrate the incredible work being done on behalf of our clients every day around the country.
The room was filled with more than 400 colleagues from across our organization having flown in from over the country. Some were veterans of the employee benefits industry; some were just starting in their careers. Some had been with us since the beginning; some didn’t yet have their OneDigital business cards in their pocket. There were a thousand reasons why this group shouldn’t necessarily feel connected—especially given that the majority of them had never met. But the community, the connection, the friendships and the fun happening that night was incredible. I saw the magic of our tribe and our culture and our open secret at work.
What I realized in that moment—looking around the room, was that these groups of people were united in a sense of being a part of something bigger. They were connected by shared values—to show up every day with an optimistic attitude. To be invested in the success of their clients and each other. They were united in a shared vision of what our company is trying to achieve in delivering a new generation of health and benefits and their role in it. That is our open secret.
We don’t leave culture up to chance. The next time you’re making a decision about how to take your business to the next level as part of an expanded team—put the growth forecast aside and just ask yourself—does it feel right? Does it feel good? Do I feel connected to this group of people in a way that feels special? Are we talking about only money, and double bites of the apple and up-front cash? Life is too short to not find the perfect balance between the economics of work and working as well as passion for a thriving culture that you actually make your own.