Many business leaders assume that focusing on “soft issues” like workplace culture, DEI, women in leadership, and values-based decision-making comes at the expense of building a high-performing team and achieving profitability targets. But for 25 years and counting, BrandActive has proven that the opposite is true.
In fact, we firmly believe that identifying and living out well-defined core values — and creating an inclusive, respectful culture where people can bring their true selves to work — has played a central role in our success.
At BrandActive, we live out two complementary but seemingly contradictory truths. We’re an agile, results-oriented business that plays in the big leagues to help Fortune 500 companies implement high-impact brand change. And we’re a compassionate commercial organization that refuses to prioritize profits above people.
How do we do it? And what can other leaders learn from the way we operate? Founding partner Robynne Budish, whose entrepreneurial spirit was a driving force behind opening BrandActive’s doors in 1998, shares her experiences and insights.
What do companies miss when they adopt a “people vs. profits” mindset?
There’s a pervading belief in the marketplace that organizations can either have a strong employee culture or they can be a successful business — the two don’t go hand-in-hand. But in reality, that’s backward.
Organizations that don’t prioritize building a healthy, trusting culture actually hold their people back from functioning at peak performance. And if employees aren’t working together as high-performing teams, the business cannot reach the levels of growth and profitability it’s truly capable of.
Employees in low-trust environments often don’t feel safe asking for help or admitting they’re struggling. As a result, they waste energy hiding their weaknesses instead of investing energy into growing their strengths. They’re afraid to speak up when they feel devalued or disrespected. This in turn leads to high attrition, which is obviously not good for business.
By contrast, when you take care of your people and commit to doing the right thing, success flows out of that.
BrandActive isn’t all profit; we want to make a positive difference in our employees’ lives and in our communities.
BrandActive’s strength comes from the fact that we’re a team of great people doing great work and having a great time doing it. We live that in every way — not just in terms of our internal culture, but in terms of how we work with clients and partners as well. It’s paramount to who we are.
Our attrition rate proves it. Even during the Great Resignation, only four of our employees moved on to other opportunities.
We’re really proud to be an organization that our people love being part of.
What does operating as a compassionate commercial organization mean for BrandActive?
When we say BrandActive is a compassionate commercial organization, we don’t mean that we’re not interested in turning a profit. We absolutely want to run a profitable, successful business — and we have done that for over 25 years now.
As BrandActive’s CFO, I’m very proud of the rigorous financial planning we undergo, the detailed monthly reporting we use to forecast growth and profitability, and our commitment to running a debt-free business. After all, part of doing right by our people is keeping our promise to create a strong business they can count on
But the “compassionate” part of being a “compassionate commercial organization” is just as important. It means our business isn’t all about maximizing profit. We want to make a positive difference in the lives of our employees and in the communities in which we live and work.
At BrandActive, we want parents to know they have the freedom to attend their children’s soccer games without worrying they’ll be penalized. We encourage employees who are struggling to ask for help because we truly want to help them in their time of need. And we love it when people carve out time in their days for non-work activities that bring them joy. This is all part of fostering our core values of trust, agility, and growth.
Yes, we expect our people to get their work done, show up for their clients and their teams, and maintain high levels of excellence. And we know that the best way to achieve that is to give them the holistic flexibility and support their individual needs.
One thing I personally enjoy is running BrandActive’s Community Impact Committee, which identifies opportunities for our employees to make a difference in the surrounding community. This year, food insecurity is the cause we’re rallying around, and we’re working on initiatives as a company to address this need. It’s gratifying and enriching for everyone to be involved in giving back.
How has your personal experience as a woman in business shaped your approach to leadership?
Sadly, I never had a female mentor. And in the early days of my career, there was very little camaraderie among women in the boardroom. I do have a group of very close girlfriends who are all successful businesswomen, and we rely on and help each other. But when I entered the business world, it was difficult to find other women on a similar path, let alone learn and benefit from women who’d blazed a trail ahead of me.
That’s why another activity I’m passionate about is mentoring and supporting the next generation of women leaders. I’ve done this in formal and informal ways over the years. But recently, we took steps to codify a dedicated program called Women’s Allyship to support women at BrandActive and intentionally foster their growth.
What do you hope the Women’s Allyship program will accomplish at BrandActive and beyond?
From my vantage point, very little has changed for women since I entered the workforce. Certainly, the #MeToo movement has exposed how frequently women have experienced harassment and has made it more difficult for men to prey on women at work. But that’s a pretty low bar.
It’s still common to view a man who expresses his viewpoints as assertive and label women who do the same as a derogatory slur —you know the one. So not only are women still treated as unequal, but the double standard they experience also becomes a barrier to their ability to take a seat at the table and feel like equals.
In my conversations with women, I’ve also discovered that many women still don’t feel like true businesswomen. We feel like women who happen to work in business. I’d love for our Women’s Allyship program to change that and give women confidence to step into leadership roles with a deep-seated belief in their abilities, their talents, and the value they bring to the organization.
We encourage employees to continue developing their skills so they can serve clients more effectively.
Women don’t have to reach celebrity status to be successful, like Sheryl Sandberg (former Facebook COO) for instance. She’s an extraordinary woman, but her circumstances are quite rare. I’d love for more of us “average women” to make the leap into senior leadership roles. When you look at the numbers, it’s astounding how underrepresented we are, even in 2023. And businesses suffer because there’s a lot of talent they’re not tapping into.
I also want to be supportive and empower the women in the allyship program to articulate what their experiences have been and what their values are to instill those concepts into the organization. These women are the future.
In one of our allyship meetings, our VP of Client Solutions, Nancy Adzentoivich said something I just love regarding the goals of the program. She said she wants other corporations, agencies, and consulting firms to look at the experience that women have at BrandActive, see what women can accomplish here, and become inspired to hear our story and learn how to create similar environments at their organizations. I think that’s another important aspiration of this program.
How does BrandActive’s commitment to its core values benefit clients?
Our core values are trust, agility, and growth — and we truly approach our work through this lens.
It’s vital that our clients to trust us so we do whatever we can to win their trust. We keep our promises and believe in always doing what’s right.
When it comes to agility, we’re never going to say, “Oh, we can’t change that deliverable for you because this is the way we’ve always done it.” We adapt and evolve our service offerings to meet our clients’ particular needs.
In terms of growth, we encourage and help employees to continue learning and developing their skills so they can serve clients more effectively. Our industry-specific Centers of Excellence are one example how we share knowledge and enable continuous professional development.
At the end of the day, BrandActive hires people who take pride in a job well done, no matter whose job it is. We collaborate. We have internal channels where team members will post, “Hey, I’m working on this project and I’ve got this issue. Can somebody help me?” And people help, even if it’s not their project.
Our people and our culture are the reason we deliver better results to our clients.
What advice do you have for leaders who want to improve their organizational culture?
Don’t assume that changing your company’s culture for the better will be detrimental to your business. It’s just not true. From the earliest days of building this business, we knew that our people would determine our success. So why wouldn’t we invest in them?
Your people are the foundation of your success as well. They’re the ones who determine how far your brand will go. Build trust with them. Give them opportunities for growth.
It’s time for a culture shift. I hope more leaders will begin to embrace that. Their business and our communities as largewill be better for it.
This article is the fourth in a series celebrating BrandActive’s 25th anniversary. If you’d like to learn more about BrandActive or explore how we can help your organization maximize the impact of brand implementation, contact our VP of Client Solutions, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website for useful information on how to successfully manage a rebrand implementation.