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Podcast Pit Stop: William Warren on Building Culture & Casting Vision

Culture by design, not default. 

In Episode 15 of Pit Stops to Podium, William Warren, Founder and CEO of The Sketch Effect, offers understandable and actionable insights for scaling companies on culture and vision. Prior to The Sketch Effect, William worked in Marketing at Chick-fil-A, Inc. and has a Masters Degree from SCAD. 

William is a creator turned entrepreneur. As such, one of the things William is most passionate about designing is an uplifting and enriching company culture at The Sketch Effect. Check out their Core Values and read below for more details on the reasoning behind them.  

Take 19 minutes to listen and then head back to the races! 🏁🏆

Pit Stop Highlights

1) Why William writes out his purpose statement and how he uses it to frame the impact of his business and team.

2) How Core Vales can be defined, modeled, and reinforces so that they are both a reflection of who they are but also an aspiration they hold.

3) Some fantastic examples of how to move Core Values from something that is described to signature behaviors of the whole team.

4) A fun tradition that they have at The Sketch Effect to celebrate when someone embodies a Core Value. Here's a hint :)

It takes creativity to craft a culture and cast a vision in a way that impacts all levels of an organization. Learn from an expert designer! 

Connecting with William

Full Transcript

BT: Hey everybody, welcome to Pit Stops to Podium the RevPartners podcast where we talk to the execs who have brought their companies from high growth to high scale. My name is Brendan Tolleson and I am the co-founder and CEO of RevPartners. And I'm excited to have my good friend William Warren here with me today. Welcome, William. 

WW: Hey, Brendan. I'm super excited about this. This is a lot of fun. Thanks for having me on. 

BT: Yeah, it's always fun when you get to do this with friends and William, just so well, I know who you are. But for the audience, just to give you a little bit of background, who William is, William's awesome. William is the founder and CEO of a great company called The Sketch Effect, which he started about seven years ago. Prior to The Sketch Effect, William was actually at the Chick-fil-A marketing department. And William also has the lovely distinction of probably none of our other guests, which is he has a master's degree at Savannah College of Art and Design. So William is creative. And one of the best creatives that I know. So, William, welcome. And before we get into the big idea, how do you let our audience know who the Sketch Effect is? 

WW: Sure, I am a creative turned entrepreneur, so I never set out to do this whole small business thing. It was never part of my master plan for my life. something I just sort of stumbled into and I am having an absolute blast doing it. So my background is that I historically have always loved drawing. I've always loved illustrating and sketching and cartooning. And so that's why I went to SCAD to get my master's degree in illustration. And then like most of us are, my career took a few twists and turns. I ended up in an entry level marketing job at Chick fil A corporate, which is a small local chicken restaurant here in Georgia. Maybe you've heard of them. And so that was kind of like my crash course in business. And I learned a lot about branding and leadership and marketing and sales and processes and product and all that great stuff. And while I was in that role, I felt like my creative gifts, the gifts that I was given, the things I love, my passions were not being fully leveraged in the sense that I wasn't actually doing any drawing or any traditional creative type work. So in order to have an outlet, I would sketch during meetings, I would draw my notes out. If I was presenting, I would sketch out my concepts. I'd put them into my PowerPoint deck. And so at present, my ideas with visuals. And what I realized is that people found value in that form of communication. They found value in taking ideas, marrying them to compelling, relevant visuals, and then presenting something in a way that's more clear, more understandable and more actionable. So I kind of pursued that a little bit. Got a couple little side gigs, made it a side hustle, grew that. And then when there was enough demand, enough interest and I was personally interested, I decided to quit my job and start the sketch now a 7 and 1/2 years ago. And we've had eerier growth ever since, with the exception of last year, when something happened you may have experienced as well called covid, which disrupted our business model. 

BT: Never, never heard of it. 

WW: But we're back on track and we're back to growing. And we're having a great time. 

BT: And that's an amazing story. I love how you essentially were able to find your passion with a problem and kind of start as a side hustle, as you described, where you took something of interest. It's all a need and actually build a company as a result of that. So kudos to you for doing that, Sir William. Before we get our big idea, we have a tradition here with our guests, and it's who is William outside of this? So what are three fun facts that our audience should know about you? 

WW: So one fun fact, which I think is fun, most people might think it's terrifying is that I actually like to catch snakes by hand and not just snakes, actually all kinds of animals. I've caught a squirrel with my hands before. 

BT: How did this passion come to be? That's an interesting passion to have. 

WW: Yeah so I learned it from my dad. My dad has always had a passion for animals and critters, and growing up I would watch him do it. So we would be walking in the woods and we'd see a snake. And he would just go grab it and catch it and/or a lizard or a frog or whatever it was. And so, yeah, I learned from him. And I think the secret, which is that you could probably write a book about this or draw some really amazing life lesson from it, is that my dad taught me to know which snakes were venomous and which ones were not. So, and in the state of Georgia is only for venomous snakes. So I can identify all four. So if I see a snake in the wild and it's not one of those I know it won't kill me so I can have the courage to go grab it. So what we have, we have a copperhead with a rattlesnake and we'll have copperhead rattlesnake, water moccasin and then coral snake. OK, that's so. And they're all pretty easy to identify. So sorry I'm hurting out here. But you know, as long as it's not one of those, you can grab it and then it might bite you. It's not going to hurt too much. But yeah, we got snakes. What else? I also love traveling and I was determined not to let COVID stop me from traveling, and so in the last year, I've traveled to four countries. 

BT: What is your favorite? 

WW: So I went to Serbia, I went to Belgrade, which is the capital of Serbia, because it was one of the only countries that were letting in American tourists. And we had an amazing time. I mean, who goes to who goes to serbia? Not many of us, but amazing time, great history, great food. So that's probably the one that I'll put high on the list. 

BT: So you got snakes, you got travel, then what's your third? 

WW: And the third one, as I was preparing for this, is that I've actually met two US presidents, George W Bush and Barack Obama. And so. So, yeah, that's cool. I'd like to meet them all. I think I'd be kind of fun, but I know those photos of both of them. And it's kind of a neat, neat thing. 

BT: You’re friends with two presidents, that's impressive. 

WW: I wouldn't say friends. They might not remember me. I'm not that impressive. Even though you said I'm awesome. I'm which is pretty cool. 

BT: Well, there's a lot of weight in that. Yeah, well, that's great. Let's transition into the big idea. So I think one of the things you talked about as you are giving our audience an understanding of what was the catalyst for the sketch effect, I think one of things you're also not only building a company, but also creating a culture and casting a vision. And that's a really foundational piece for any entrepreneur. You think about, how do I go from high growth to high scale, how to get the right people to join me in this idea, this crazy idea, I have to start a business. So let's kind of use these three anchor points as we kind of talk to this concept of vision. So there's a purpose statement, there's core values and there's key behaviors. Let's start with his purpose statement. What does that mean to you from a context perspective?

WW: Sure, just to back out a little bit from when I started my business, as many people do, I was excited about the product. I was excited about the idea of taking the product of the world and sales and all that. But what I was most excited about was building a culture and growing a team, which I know you and the RevPartners team are keeping top of mind as well. So from the outset, I want to build a culture that was by design, not by default, a culture that was uplifting, a culture that was enriching. So that was to back out. That's kind of the preface or the premise behind all this. So with the idea of purpose statement I had one of my coaches recently challenged me maybe a couple of years ago to ask me why am I even doing this thing of business? Why am I even I'm waking up. Why am I grinding every day? Because it's hard. There's a lot of hard days. And he encouraged me to think through what is the why and then to extrapolate that to come up with the wife for the business. And so that is what we call our purpose statement. And we've identified it for us. It's not something we like market or promote, but it's also not something that we're unafraid to share. So our purpose statement at the sketch effect is to create an uplifting environment where people become their best while giving their best. So that's in one statement. 

BT: Can you say that again?

WW: Sure, it's to create an uplifting environment where people become their best while giving their best. So there's three parts. The first is the environment, which is we want to create a culture that's uplifting, that is challenging people, that's pushing towards growth, towards development, that's safe. We want to create that environment and we want that environment to facilitate people becoming the best version of themselves, developing, getting better, making it better both inside and outside work, establishing healthy rhythms, healthy habits, all that, and then as they're becoming the best version themselves. And that, in theory, should translate into them giving their best work because we want great work. Excellence is a core value to the sketch effect. And we'll talk about core values in a second. But we want people to give their best work and you can't give your best work if you're not at your best. Personally, you might for a short time, but it's not sustainable. And then that cycle, that virtuous cycle repeats as you're giving your best work. Do you feel good about that? I mean, there are studies that show that when you're delivering work that you're proud of, that encourages further growth and that leads to even better work. And then the virtuous cycle continues. So that's our purpose statement. And I think it's critical for all leaders, but also all businesses to establish what is their purpose statement because then that becomes a filter if a team member does not. Fit that purpose statement or they don't get excited about that or they don't want to be a part of it, and that's a good indicator that they're probably not in the right company or the right team and stuff like that for me and some homework that I will have after this conversation. 

BT: And it really speaks back to what you mentioned in terms of taking a step back of the culture by design, not by default. And you had to be intentional. And it really gives you direction and clarity as to what you're building. All right. So we talk about purpose statements. Let's move on to core values. 

WW: Awesome Yeah. So core values are a critical part of building culture. And what's important with core values is not only to define them, but then also to model them and then to reinforce them. It's one thing to be able to list a bunch of things on the wall and publish it. And print it out and make a poster of it. And it's one thing to publish it, but the other thing to actually live it out. And I think that starts first and foremost with the leader, with and with leadership. They need to be modeling their behaviors because if the leaders aren't modeling it, then you're not the team members role model. They're not going to live it out. So it starts first and foremost with the leadership. They need to model it. But then it also has to be published. I'm a big believer in literally publishing it onto something, a piece of paper. We have a big mural here to sketch all of our values on the wall. But by the way, it's cool. Yeah, check it out. And so publish it where people see it or they see it often where it's constantly being reminded, it's a constant reminder to them. And then third is to the values need to be reinforced. They need to be actively reinforced. And you can do that in a couple of ways. One fun way is to do like a core value shout out. So if somebody does a great job of embodying core value to publicly recognize them, give them a gift card, give them a prize, whatever, but you can also reinforce it through like having retreats and doing internal shout outs, things like that. But it also can be reinforced in the form and kind of I don't want to say disciplinary ways, but but if somebody strays from the core value in a way that you aren't cool with is to privately talk to them, tell them, let them know where they went wrong. And then I always tie it back to a core value. So at the sketch effect, we have six core values, their positivity, adaptability, integrity, excellence, courage and whimsy. And if any and we both reinforce good behavior by publicly recognizing it. And then we also call out behavior that's contrary to those by publicly or by privately tying it back to those core values. 

BT: So, one of the practical examples that I have seen you do that I appreciate and admire is you have awards at the end of the year, right? Where essentially based off of those values, somebody gets recognized for that, which I think is a great example of how you have demonstrated what's important to you as a business and rewarding that behavior. 

WW: Yeah, you got to make it fun. I don't know if you can see behind me, I've got a couple of trophies back there. Those are “sketchies.” So every year we have our annual internal team conference called the sketch summit, and we give out sketches, which is modeled after the Dundies. For those of you who are office fans and yeah, we do a core value awards, then we do some silly awards like some goofy ones. And so that's a fun way to reinforce it is to make it fun, make it silly awards do it. And it's just a silly plastic trophy. It really is a big deal when you get a core value award at the sketch factory, get the Mission Award or the purpose award.

BT: In the words of Andy Stanley, what's rewarded is repeated. And so you can understand what those things are. People know what they need to be doing. Let's talk about the third leg. We talked on purpose statement. We talk about values. Let's transition into key behaviors. 

WW: Sure, so key behaviors are an extension of core values. So it's one thing to list out the values that you want your team to live out. It's another thing to actually identify. What does that look like? What does that actually look like when it's lived out and you referenced and externally? So I was inspired by what the team at Northpoint did with their core values. They took the core values and then they made a key behavior for each one. So this is what so I'll give you our example, which is positivity, one of our core values, positivity. What does that mean? Like what does that actually mean to demonstrate positivity? So what we've done is we listed out key behaviors for each value. So positivity means we brighten everyone's day. We brighten everyone's day. That's what it means. So that applies to our clients. So when our clients are on the phone with us, we want to brighten their day. We want to be a bright spot in their day. We want them. They might be having a terrible day, but we want them to walk away from their call with such effect thinking, wow, that was a little bit of positivity in my day. Or maybe it's the mail guy, or maybe it's a vendor or maybe it's each other, our employees. We want to be constantly. Brightening each other's day. So we've listed out our key behaviors for all of them. So another one that I love is adaptability. That's another one of our core values. And we identified the key behavior of adaptability as we happily adjust with confidence. We happily adjust with confidence in our business, with our business model. We are constantly having to pivot and adjust, sometimes in big ways, like when COVID almost put us out of business, sometimes in small ways, like when a client's agenda changes or the scope of work changes. So we do two things. We confidently or we happily adjust. So we're willing to adjust. We're willing to be adaptable. We're willing to do it with a smile. But we also do it with confidence. We do it confidently. If we need to readjust scope, we do that confidently. If we have to pivot and make a new plan, we do that confidently. We're not going to be thrown off our base. We're not going to be shaken. So, yes, I would encourage anyone as you're building out your culture, as you're thinking through culture, to not only to unify, to keep the core values, but also what is a tangible key behavior. What does it actually look like in practice? 

BT: And one of things I love about what you described is you made it practical oftentimes to your point about values are just words or white noise, but how do you actually reinforce that? And the great thing is for any leader is you can control it. And if you actually just take the effort and time to focus on it. And oftentimes I guess I'd prioritize because I think other things are more important. But in reality, culture is the DNA of your company. That's what's going to set you apart from any other company that you're competing against. And you'll do it right. They're not going to have a great company.

WW: Exactly and I think the last maybe not the last thing, but one thing I'll add to that is that with core values, they should be at one at one point a reflection of who you are, of like your best traits. So, like, for me, I'm not like I'm trying to be an example. OK, skip that, they should be a reflection of who you are, so they should be a reflection of what's already in you, but they also should be aspirational. So they should be things you're also striving to constantly become and constantly, constantly get better at. So, like I know for our team, like adaptability, we talk about that like I think we have adaptability baked into our business model, but we also need to constantly be striving to be more adaptable, more flexible. So as you identify your core values, you shouldn't just take some value because you think it's cool. It should be something that's already naturally part of your DNA. But you also want to aspire to become even better at. 

BT: Yeah, I love that tension that you just described, especially the aspirational part. We always will be a better version of ourselves and push others to experience that as well. So I really do. I love our time together. I learned a lot personally. I know our audience did. If they want to engage with you further, what are some practical next steps they can take to learn more about William and/or the sketch effect? 

WW: Yeah so the sketch effect - we offer two main services. One is a live event sketching service, but for in-person and virtual events. And also we do video animations and motion graphics, whiteboard videos, explainer videos. So if anyone wants to learn more about that, check out our website. It's, and reach out. We'll get back to you very quickly. We have an awesome sales team with the sketch effect. We'll get back to you quickly if you want to learn more about me. I have a personal platform, which is pretty new. It's called the conquering creative. It's also on Instagram the conquering creative. And that's really more an outlet for me to share some business advice, some business resources, some things I've learned along the way, because, like I said, I never set out to be an entrepreneur. Everything that I've learned, I've learned by doing or by replicating what I've seen other leaders do, other small businesses do. And so this is just a way for me to give back and share back what I've learned so well. 

BT: I appreciate your humility and your vulnerability and sharing kind of what you've experienced with the fact that I know will be of value to our audience. So thank you very much. Really, really do appreciate it. 

WW: Awesome thanks, Brendan. 

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