Top Workplaces No. 1 Small Company: Think Up Consulting
By Leigh Savage
Think Up Consulting started with one person and an idea, but in 18 years, it has expanded to include 36 employees with a variety of unique titles, including Idea Ace, Dot Connector, Maestro of Minutiae and Organizational Diva. The company, which offers strategic consulting, brand strategy and alignment, change management, training and events, was named No. 1 in this year’s Top Workplaces awards in the small business category.
Ron Doney, Creator of WOW (as well as founder and CEO), had spent 13 years with Marriott International, focusing on learning and development, human resources and internal consulting, when he decided to hang his own shingle. Michael Allard (Champion of Opportunities), who also had experience at Marriott International and Auro Hotels, came on board as co-owner in 2006.
Think Up has been ranked a Top Workplace for three consecutive years, last year taking the No. 3 spot. Doney says a key to success is the company’s focus on practicing the same strategies it preaches to clients. “A big part of what we do for clients is innovate, and we try to walk that talk, doing the things we profess,” he says. “We want to make things easier for employees.”
Employees say they value the opportunities to learn, the flexibility and the focus on innovation and business challenges. “My role is very dynamic,” says one employee, “allowing me to constantly be in learning mode.” Another says no two days are alike, and the team members push each other to become better.
Doney has implemented many ways to keep the team connected, including the Scramble, a get-together held once a month focused on innovation. Since employees are working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he recently held a Scramble via Zoom where everyone discussed how businesses are creatively responding to social distancing.
The unique titles are another way the company lets employees showcase their individuality while highlighting the skills they bring to the team. “We never went with traditional titles,” says Doney, who wanted to create a flat company. When a new employee comes on board, they take a month or so, then brainstorm and ask for feedback before landing on a title that creatively expresses their expertise and role.
The process has become an important part of company culture, which Doney says is pivotal in his field. “We are a consulting firm, so our product is our people,” he says. “It’s important that we all model what our culture is. Ours is built around people who care about each other and are rooting for each other. It’s competitive, but about how we can outdo our thinking, not outdo each other.”
The business has been hard-hit by the pandemic. “We were on track to have our best year yet,” Doney says. But with 40 percent of business coming from the hospitality industry, devastation among hotel companies meant “40 percent of our business went away.” Think Up also has several clients that offer live events such as conventions, so that area has taken a hit as well.
“We think in July we can start to get ourselves back together,” he says. “We’re doing all we can to hold on to everybody. We’re doing everything we ever dreamed of getting done, tackling tasks and hoping to come out of this very well-prepared.”
When the staff gets back to the office, Think Up will continue offering the perks that employees appreciate. The company brings car detailing on-site, offers dry cleaning drop off and pick up, free coffee and espresso and daily lunch pickups from area restaurants. “These aren’t free services, but we want creative ways to bring the things in, to take the regular stresses out of life,” he says.
The work environment is designed to bring out the best in employees, with standing desks, collaborative spaces, “Thinking Pods,” a creative lounge and a deck overlooking Cleveland Park. Some employees opt to bring their dogs to work - a practice management encourages.
An anniversary dinner tradition offers another way to celebrate employees, and Spirit Ambassadors make sure to commemorate any important life event. Team-building events include murder mystery adventures, Top Golf field trips, tailgates, Chocolate Milkshake Day celebrations and anything else the Spirit Ambassadors can dream up.
Community involvement is a bedrock as well, with team members involved as a group and individually in organizations such as the Warehouse Theater, the Peace Center, The Cake, the Power of Sail and The Human Rights Campaign. “We want to give back to each other and the community,” Doney says, “and having things we participate in helps us grow our minds and grow what we do.”