Creating Space for Innovation at ?WhatIf?!
While many companies aim to embrace the idea of being “innovative,” consultancy ?WhatIf! is in the business of actually creating it. The 25-year-old consulting firm empowers companies to come up with new ideas to bring passion and a fresh perspective to their business.
Matt O’Donnell, ?WhatIf!’s talent manager, explains, “We bring human value to business by doubling down on the people side of innovation—values that companies and employees have—their behaviors, ways of working, mind set, and spirit.”
Matt’s role is especially people focused. He oversees recruiting, performance and professional development for employees, and collaborates with Megan Clark, the company’s facilities manager, on operational tasks. With a Master’s Degree in organizational psychology and a background in recruiting for a creative agency, Matt has learned to embrace the flexibility required by an innovative consulting firm requires and has moved his career towards that of an HR generalist.
?WhatIf! is driven be a set of core values including, love, impact, audacity, adventure, and passion, which Matt explains are “unique to the business world and very important to us.”
For businesses that want to bring a culture of innovation into their company, Matt discussed how ?WhatIf! integrates their company culture and office space.
A culture of innovation starts at the top
?WhatIf! has an employee-driven culture that encourages team members to share their skills, talents, and passions from outside of work. They regularly host employee-led skillshare workshops that have included improv comedy, salsa dancing, and knot tying, which was facilitated by two Eagle Scout graduates. The activities are focused on “showing the commitment to the company and the culture,” according to Matt.
Matt also has brought his talents to work. A musician, he wrote a song about the employee referral process, which he performed at an a company meeting. While he received cheers at the completion of his performance, it was also effective in delivering his point. He remarked, “a year-and-a-half later I’ve never had to remind my colleagues what counts as a referral and it allowed me to bring the human back to Human Resources.”
Matt explains that ?WhatIf! didn’t just invite their employees to participate in the culture—leadership led the way. “Our leadership is open, welcoming and fun. The first skillshare course came from a member of the leadership team. Innovation really does start at the top and we’ve seen the trickle down effect. If the most powerful people in the company are being the ones that are most outgoing and out front the rest will soon follow.”
The culture of bringing your whole self to work also helps the team be more creative as a whole. Matt elaborates, “It’s not about being the loudest person in the room, but embracing peoples’ whole selves, which gives people the authority to be different and to speak their mind in a meeting—and this is especially a change for people who come from more traditional roles or companies.”
Build innovation into your space
“Our space,” Matt says, “tells the story of ?WhatIf! better than I ever could.”
The ?WhatIf! office serves as a source of inspiration for their clients, an illustration of the company’s values for prospective employees, and a source of creativity for employees.
“The space is really a ‘wow’ moment,” points out Matt, “It’s different from what you are used to in a typical office. There’s a ton of pictures of staff up on the walls, including large professional portraits of employees who won our values awards, different spaces for different types of work, and photographs from company events. Visitors can see we’re a company that lives towards people.”
From bringing 50 live trees into the office for a client meeting to setting off confetti cannons to celebrate a team member’s birthday, ?WhatIf! certainly takes a different approach to culture building and space management than other companies.
The ?WhatIf! office enables and support multiple types of work and different varieties of collaboration. It includes areas for quiet focus, team meetings, and open space for collaboration. The office centers around “the hive,” an open area where client-facing staff members and consultants work which is always buzzing with energy. The space enables team members to have a real conversations instead of just emailing each other from across the office.
Matt explains that a space that facilitates excitement also supports increased engagement, “Energy is contagious. If you see other teams engaging with each other you want to get your team in that mindset too. When you see teams laughing and having a good time, you try to model that behavior.”
Make a proactive, flexible facilities management plan
With a non-traditional space, and a changing roster of employee needs and activities, Matt admits that the physical management of the space is a challenge. “We want to get messy, without the mess,” he adds. However, keeping the space presentable is imperative.
“I’m always touring employees around, and we’re bringing clients in—a messy space during one of those impromptu tours would be a detriment to us,” explains Matt.
To help keep the space clean and functional, ?WhatIf! works with Managed by Q for daytime assistant and nighttime cleaning services. Schnelle, ?WhatIf!'s day porter and cleaner from Managed by Q, has “become part of who we are,” according to Matt.
Keeping the space clean and presentable for clients and guests requires a flexible, “always on” approach. Schnelle is proactive, moving through the office, asking employees if they are done with the cups or plates collecting at their desks, and identifying where potential messy situations might occur.
“Because employees see her doing her job, and she goes the extra mile, she has helped make everyone more aware of how they are using our space. She has helped us build better behavior into our culture, where the employees do our part, help out around the space, and don’t waste resources” explains Matt.
She has also learned to roll with ?WhatIf!’s culture, whether unexpected foliage or confetti, which further empowers the team. “We can be messier in the moment because she will help us get the space back in order,” said Matt.
Bringing together their space and culture, and working with a service provider who understands the importance of both, has enabled the office to be a source of empowerment. When it comes to innovation Matt states, “Our office allows to practice what we preach.”