Recently I had the opportunity to interview Curtis Sparrer from Bospar for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.
Curtis Sparrer is a principal and co-founder of Bospar, a highly successful all-virtual public relations firm. In three years, the agency has grown from zero to an almost $5 million run rate and was named PRWeek’s 2018 Outstanding Boutique Agency
Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?
Be responsive. We know that a top irritant for clients is not hearing back from their agency promptly, so we make it a priority to be responsive. We ensure that clients hear back from us quickly — weekends included. During my honeymoon, for example, one of our clients was being acquired for $500 million. I had no problem providing minute-by-minute counsel while their acquisition was taking place. Luckily, my husband didn’t mind, either.
PR works. We work with all of our clients to make sure that the PR campaigns we execute have a business purpose. Recently, we began practicing what we preach — in other words, doing for ourselves what we do for our clients. It serves as a great reminder of how powerful PR is: it drives awareness, brings in clients and makes employees and colleagues proud of where they work.
Everyone has a say. If I come up with an idea and everyone hates it, knowing that it sucks is important: if my colleagues hate it, it is unlikely to be well-received by the public. That feedback allows me to come up with a better idea likely to get better results. So, we encourage our coworkers to be frank with each other.
Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”
- Let them be on their phones. It is their way of staying engaged and productive.
- Don’t fear Google. It’s a powerful resource, and they know how to use it better than you do.
- Don’t be a jerk; in other words, don’t pull rank.
Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.
Curtis: Get feedback from everyone. I did an anonymous SurveyMonkey about myself and was surprised by some of the responses. Sure, no one likes criticism. But I would rather hear that I annoy my colleagues than work behind rose-colored glasses. Each week we have an all-hands session where everyone is encouraged to speak out about the issues that are keeping them up at night and how we can do a better job as an agency. Additionally, we have several layers of mentorship so staff can find safe spaces to talk about the issues that concern them.
Tune-in to colleagues. Company culture isn’t just created from the top down. Sure, people might be inspired by what their management does, but culture is ultimately a two-way street.
Apologize, apologize, apologize. You are going to screw up, and people would rather hear acknowledgement than excuses. Nobody really thinks the boss is infallible. Similarly, your colleagues are going to screw up, and you must give them the same benefit of the doubt you expect from them.
Reward people for asking for help. If you punish people for coming to you when they are uncertain of what action should be taken, you’re asking them to fly blind. It’s always better to avoid a mistake than have to clean up a resulting mess.
Be entertaining, as appropriate. I recognize that when I talk to clients, colleagues, journalists and just about anybody else, they have one thing in common: stress. So, I try to make calls quick, effective and, if at all possible, a bright spot in their day.
Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?
Curtis: I think too many entrepreneurs develop a top-down approach to culture that comes off as corporate double-speak that is as inauthentic as a power point. Culture that works is authentic and organic.
Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?
Curtis: Putting money into physical addresses.
Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?
Curtis: I use email to not only communicate but also to manage tasks.
Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?
Curtis: The co-founder of Bospar, Chris Boehlke, is a constant source of advice and inspiration. She is my partner but also my friend and mentor.
Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?
Curtis: Some bad bosses cannot be improved, just studied. I had one boss who was susceptible to flattery. I had another that just didn’t take her job seriously. And I had another that was tone-deaf to his employees.
Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?
Curtis: Have every email include “when.” It pushes things forward.
A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.
A special thanks to Curtis Sparrer again!
Stay in the loop — Follow me and get updates when I post new leadership articles and interviews — check me out here: