Friday, July 20, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 010: Tom Sternal of Generation

Generation is a branding and communications firm that works exclusively with clients in the non-profit sector. Their trademark thought process revolves around culturally and politically engaged human beings who don’t need foosball to be creative. 

I sat down with president Tom Sternal and posed three crucial questions about belonging:

1.     Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

We’re informal, small and there’s a high intellectual dialogue. What people are turned on by is an agency that’s deeply aligned with the social concerns & sensibilities of non-profit organizations. But we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our own brand, even though we’re in the branding business. It’s all about the work we do with the clients. You get word of mouth by making other people happy, not by making your own brand the focus.

2.     The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture?  

Our eyes have been known to involuntarily water at videos. And since the role of print is changing in the lives of our clients, last year we got into video to provide master narratives for institutions. Not to be exploitative, but to feel more like a documentary style. And what struck us on the first video project was that we were able to create emotion and give dimension to the client in the way print couldn’t. That’s soul. The next step will be merging all those visual assets that blend into a medium that is anticipated.  
3.     Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?

We’ve been virtual for a while. Our environment has a great collegiality, but at the end of the day, people should be able to go about their regular business. We were never really the social hub like a lot of other firms. Everybody is out the door at six o’clock because we want our people to have a normal life outside of the office. That’s how we create a culture that simulates a liberal arts program at a college. Employees cultivate their interest and develop a visual vocabulary outside of the workplace. After all, the connections only become obvious when you're not thinking about them. The city, for example, is a wonderful palette for that kind of exploration. There’s a nomadic quality for what we do. It’s the “invisible curriculum,” to borrow a phrase from our high ed clients.        

Thanks Tom! Learn more about Generation here.