What makes a workplace great?
Every 2 years, Washingtonian magazine tackles that question to compile its list of “50 Great Places to Work.” They sift through hundreds of submissions and reams of qualitative and quantitative data to identify workplaces that stand out for vibrant cultures, engaged employees, and meaningful work.
At HWC, it’s a little bit simpler. We believe a great place to work starts with great people.
That’s why we’re so happy Washingtonian included HWC in its 2017 list of Great Places to Work: it’s a statement about our people.
We asked a few of them to talk about what makes HWC special. Here’s some of what we learned.
The key is to keep putting people first as we grow together.
We heard it over and over: it’s all about putting people first.
Founding partner Wayne Willis said, “Working with fabulous people on critically important topics is reward enough.” He’s also proud to see the company win this recognition less than 12 years after its founding, but he sees the award as a beginning, not an endpoint. “The key is to keep putting people first as we grow together.”
Our take on a great workplace starts with hiring. Partner Kira Brooks said, “I believe our company’s strength starts with the individuals we employ.”
Or as Jon Darby put it: “Excellent people are the foundation.”
Kyle Pipkins has been with the company since 2012 and now leads our Data & Design team. Kyle’s view is simple: “If you hire great people, the work will follow.”
And Sue Liblong, who joined HWC 2 years ago, said: “We respect each other as people, and we respect each other’s expertise. This shows up in a lot of different ways, both professionally and socially.”
But hiring great people isn’t enough to create a great place to work. Christian Howieson, at HWC since 2014, said the company “puts people first.” That people-first philosophy is the heart of our culture.
People + culture
A great place to work is about people and the culture you create together.
“A great place to work is about people and the culture you create together.”
That’s from Wendy Henninger, our Chief of Human Capital.
Wendy thinks building and sustaining a great place to work requires “a relentless commitment to our vision of the kind of company we want to be for our people.”
Liz Lake, who’s been at the company since 2009, said, “HWC’s culture has always been centered around its people.” That’s a big part of why she came to work here.
“It’s exciting to see that 8 years and a hundred employees later, the company has not only maintained but strengthened its people-centered culture.”
Gram Slingbaum said, “When HWC says ‘culture,’ we mean hiring people that are self-motivated, not self-important.”
Partner Philippe Lopez would agree. He’s proud of HWC’s “intentional focus” on creating an environment that increases “total motivation.”
Individuality + teamwork
We try to strike a balance of autonomy and teamwork and create an environment that values differences. Jon Darby said a great work culture “is one in which we can all thrive; where individuals have the freedom, autonomy, and resources to do their best work. One in which we are all empowered.”
We flourish in part because of our unusually diverse range of professional disciplines. Few companies our size employ both management consultants and microbiologists. Kira Brooks said, “It’s very powerful when we merge these diverse disciplines to tackle tough problems. I think that is the secret to our innovative and implementable solutions.”
It’s powerful because we ground this respect for the individual – and individual differences – in a team-oriented culture.
Kate Hochstein, at HWC since 2010, spoke of “connectedness” and our “collaborative approach.” Gareth Riley-Ayers called his co-workers “equal parts intelligent and welcoming,” while Parul Agarwal described our environment as “consistently warm and inclusive.”
We work hard at this. We hear it from employees across the country, not just here in DC. Ron Burger works from Florida but feels like “an integral part of the team.” When he needs something, the team empowers him.
Our mix of autonomy and teamwork frees each of us to stretch ourselves and try new things.
Support + growth
Everyone feels supported and encouraged to continue to grow and develop in their jobs and as professionals.
This theme emerged over and over.
George McAleese, at HWC since 2013, said, “Everyone feels supported and encouraged to continue to grow and develop in their jobs and as professionals.”
Sue Liblong likes the variety of challenging work. “If you want to learn something new, there’s probably an opportunity to do so either now or in the near future.”
Human Capital Chief Wendy Henninger spends a good deal of her time ensuring that staff are “happy, involved, and growing.”
This focus on individual growth benefits our clients, too. Kyle Pipkins spoke of how exposure to colleagues’ diverse disciplines spurs growth in our employees, and how that growth in turn drives creativity and innovation for the company as a whole. As we grow as individuals, we grow together.
Balance + congruence
From being at HWC for over 6 years now, I’ve seen the company adapt and change to meet employee needs, and be flexible to support work-life balance needs.
Several staff spoke of valuing HWC’s work-life balance, and the congruence between what we say and what we do.
Kate Hochstein said, “From talking to many friends and witnessing other company cultures and structures, very few — if any at all — really put employees first when it comes to overall company decisions and organization.” She added, “From being at HWC for over 6 years now, I’ve seen the company adapt and change to meet employee needs, and be flexible to support work-life balance needs.”
Flexibility matters a lot to Liz Lake, who has two small children. She said the company makes it possible for everyone to “creatively pursue his or her professional interests while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.”
The idea of congruence also applies to values. Christian Howieson said the company “lives by its values.”
And from Jon Darby: “Partnerships are reflective of our values, both as a company and as individuals.” Our company’s core values — creativity, flexibility, and tenacity — let us build “lasting solutions to difficult problems.”
Work + play
It’s legitimately great to feel like I am surrounded by smart people who understand that it’s important to have fun and bond, not just come in to do a job and leave.
We organize our company life around three principles: play, purpose, and potential. Kira Brooks said, “I can sense the feeling of play, purpose and potential when I walk in the door.”
We heard a lot about all three Ps, but play came up more than one might expect.
Kate Hochstein’s team works on a client site but loves to come to the main office. “They stay way past close of business to spend time with other colleagues — even non-direct project colleagues, which I think says a lot about the atmosphere HWC has cultivated.”
Play is a fundamental part of work at HWC. Jon Darby said our company culture “values collegiality, work-life balance, having fun, and doing great work.”
Gram Slingbaum said, “It’s legitimately great to feel like I am surrounded by smart people who understand that it’s important to have fun and bond, not just come in to do a job and leave.”
And our work can be stressful — homeland security and our other focus areas can be intense — but as Liz Lake said, we laugh a lot, “even when our hair is on fire.”
Pride + excitement
I am so proud of the work that we accomplish and the fun we have while doing it.
There’s something special about what we’ve created together, and about seeing it recognized.
Pride and excitement came up a lot when we asked staff how they feel about being part of a Washingtonian “Great Place to Work.”
Gareth Riley-Ayers said, “I am so proud of the work that we accomplish and the fun we have while doing it.”
George McAleese called himself “tremendously excited,” while Parul Agarwal described herself as “incredibly proud.” Lori Gordon said the award speaks to HWC’s “shared sense of enthusiasm” around our mission and values. Christian Howieson used the word “thrilled” to characterize his feelings.
Gram Slingbaum spoke for many of us: “It’s pretty great to see that enough of us feel [this] way about HWC to get the Washingtonian to recognize what we already knew!”
In the end, of course, it’s not about the award. It’s about the people and the culture we build on each day, a culture that values the opportunity to do meaningful work, and to do it together.
As Wayne Willis put it, “It is such a pleasure to watch HWC becoming a better place to work every single day.”
It really is.