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August 11, 2015

Making Atlantic BT a “Best Place to Work”

Since our founding in 1998, Atlantic BT has been fortunate to win a number of prestigious awards. In recent years, some of these honors include the Fast 50, Inc 5000, 40 Under 40, and Best Places to Work in the Triangle. In fact, we’ve even won a few of these awards multiple times and it is always exciting to have your work recognized. But the single most meaningful award we have ever won is the one received last week: the  2015 Best Places to Work award from the Triangle Business Journal. It was our third time winning the award in four years, but I’d like to share a little about why this honor was extra special.

How Culture Became #1 at Atlantic BT

An amazing culture is more important to me than any other measure of business success, including how much revenue we generate. This is deeply personal to me and it has been since our first days in business and was even more so when I took over the reigns as CEO once again in October 2014. At that time, I told the entire company that I don’t care if we make a single dollar of profit in 2015; we had to bring back the amazing culture we are known for.

So where did great culture at Atlantic BT come from? When I started the company the salaries we could offer were not remotely competitive. We operated out of a one-room office rented from my parents’ law office. I had to convince amazing candidates how bright the future was for the company and what values were important to me.

When talented people joined the company we had to have a workplace that was fun, engaging, and rewarding to retain them. Our first employees had to trust their future and the livelihood of their families to me and the company. I am fiercely loyal toward our people, especially people that went on a limb and took a chance with us.

On a more practical basis, there were a few things I focused on that reminded me about the importance of our culture:

  • I didn’t want to work at a company that I didn’t enjoy and I doubted anyone else did either
  • You will spend more than 20% of  your waking life at work. It needs to be amazing if you’re going to spend that much time there.
  • I would rather spend money on our culture than recruiting new people. Just like sales and marketing, it is much more expensive to hire new people than it is to train and retain the people you have.

7 Keys to Atlantic BT’s Culture

As a company we have made every culture mistake you could make. Fortunately many of them when we were much smaller. At Atlantic BT, there are seven keys to our culture. To us they aren’t just words in a blog post. Ask our people if we live and consistently reflect these keys in our approach to people and each decision and they will absolutely confirm it. This isn’t something that you do a month before the Best Places to Work survey. For us, being authentic about our workplace culture the month the survey is taken is just like any other month.

  1. Ownership. Good people don’t work for a paycheck. They work because they feel they are contributing to something worthwhile. They don’t like to be instructed what to do. They want to be inspired to use their incredible talent to make the company better.
  2. Real transparency. You can fool some people with buzzwords and hocus pocus for a while, but you can’t fool engaged, smart, motivated people for long. The real question is why do companies feel they need to fool people at all? If you share the real truth about what is going on, what your objectives are, and how you are doing, you earn the trust of your employees. If you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. You gain respect by tackling rumors or questions head-on in an open forum. We encourage our employees to ask tough questions. The trust you build by being honest and transparent is amazing.
  3. Communication. Communication is related to ownership and transparency. You really can’t have either one without good communication. Each Friday we hold an all-hands meeting for 15 minutes to discuss news and deliver kudos to fellow team members. We all go to lunch together and the company picks up the tab. It’s a way for us to celebrate the hard work completed that week, recognize people that played an important part, and say a big “thank you” to everyone all at the same time. In addition, I personally send a “What’s Happening” email every couple weeks describing what is happening with our people, processes, and systems.
  4. Equal recognition. I grew up playing sports and nothing was more discouraging than giving your all to the team only to have it go unrecognized. Even worse was to have a peer recognized when they contributed less effort than you did. This is a challenge in the work environment as well. I continually ask ABTers to make sure they recognize the people that are working the hardest and putting in the best effort.
  5. Values. Organizations are built on values. Without firm values, every decision is a crap shoot. Our #1 value is “We care about people.” I didn’t want it wordsmithed and spruced up. To me it’s simple. We don’t make decisions because “we care about money.” We make decisions because we care about people and it gives everyone in the organization a very clear picture of what is most important to us, spelled out in plain straight-forward language.
  6. Good people attract more good people. Once you have good people and you treat them like gold they will attract other good people. We have gained so many amazing people, in both talent and personality, simply because they love the environment and the other people who work here at Atlantic BT. Likewise, bad people attract other bad people. And bad people drive good people away. You must be vigilant against the infiltration of bad people within your work culture.
  7. Support your people. When you work with clients or customers you might naturally assume the customer is always right. Right? Wrong. If you don’t support your people you will lose them and then you will lose your best customers. If a customer is wrong, politely tell them they are wrong and you will not continue working with them if they ever abuse your people in any way. End of story. Nothing is more valuable than your people. If your customers are abusive or don’t value your company, get rid of them. Fast.

These seven keys have been critical to Atlantic BT’s success for the past 18 years. We are excited to be recognized as a 2015 “Best Places to Work” by the Triangle Business Journal. But as excited as we may be about the award, we’re more energized about the place that we’ve built. Atlantic BT is a place where some of the best and brightest minds gather every day to solve some of the toughest digital problems that businesses face. And we do it in a fun and creative way. To me, that’s what every workplace should be like. I’m grateful we’ve had the opportunity to create it here at Atlantic BT.

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