By Elizabeth Kiehner (Co-Founder & Principal, Thornberg & Forester)
As Thornberg & Forester approaches its five-year anniversary next month, I am reminded of our stellar employee retention rate. With a staff of sixteen at present, we’ve had only one person leave our team these past years when she moved closer to her parents after having her first child.

So, how do we do it? Easy.

#1: First of all, HR is not a department — it is a way of thinking

Almost every employee has his or her own custom deal based on personal goals and priorities. Some choose to have more substantial vacation time while sacrificing a bit of salary. Others have more flexible schedules that allow for R&D time.

#2: Dynamic culture

Like other firms, we not only have an open floor plan, but an open door policy and open minds to any individual wanting to pitch us ideas or self-generated projects that the company might see fit to support.

#3: The Value of Time

Many startups burn the midnight oil for the first year or two, however we believe in a sustainable pace and quality of life for everyone. That means no late nights or weekends unless absolutely necessary. Any employee who works these extra hours will receive additional compensation.

#4: Consistent and Continuous Education

Almost all of us have taken and/or taught classes over the past five years outside of Thornberg & Forester. This year we will be holding master classes once a month to share the knowledge we harness within our talented team in addition to allocating budget for education at other institutions and universities in the city for our employees.

#5: Listening

Listening is a huge part of our culture, and from my standpoint, it is genuinely hearing and understanding the needs of our clients so we can provide the best and sometimes unexpected solutions. This concept applies to our staff as well. We get people to talk — even the shy ones — and we strive to play to everyone’s strengths, as well as understanding their concerns or frustrations.

#6: Laughing

A positive, upbeat atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable joking around in cultivates a work space which allows people to get to know each other and actually like each other, which is not only productive, but is fun. Many new ideas spring from the communication and real interactions between people, rather than just keeping to oneself.

#7: Creating Experiences

Since we do a lot of experiential design, it only makes sense that we create quality experiences for our staff. Whether it is going to 6 Flags or enjoying a tarot card reading at one of our custom-themed birthday parties, our management dreams up ways to bring people together and generate profound camaraderie.

#8: Balancing Act

The key ingredient to maintaining this great workplace environment stems from the mutual respect we all have for one another and our specific talents. We expect as much from others as we do from ourselves. Balancing work and play allows for us to challenge, encourage, and realize each other’s ideas, and allows for our entire team to reach new heights.

In short, maintaining a lively, positive, dynamic environment while being open, realistic, and flexible with employees’ ideas and needs, will not only lead to a high employee retention, but it will communicate your culture externally. A culture like this will not only help attract fresh, new talent but also new clients. This is an essential ingredient to bake into your business model early and maintain.

What do you think?

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Elizabeth Kiehner is Co-Founder and Principal at Thornberg & Forester, rebuilding the traditional agency model. Elizabeth brings years of management and business development experience to Thornberg & Forester, giving her a deep knowledge of how to both lead a team and produce powerful, experiential branded storytelling experiences. The great-granddaughter of a coal miner, Elizabeth left rural Pennsylvania to study visual media at American University and FAMU in Prague. Follow her on Twitter at @kiehner.