Jeanne Martel founded ClinicalMind with the idea that a great company culture is a winning business strategy. In this conversation we talk about culture, what makes great culture work, and the impact it can have on a company, its people and for its clients.

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Larry I’ll give you a cue here. Mmm agency 100 Studio sessions political mind. Okay, we’re rolling.

Hello,

my name is Larry dobrow. I’m the editor-in-chief of mmm and I am ready for you to plug into this episode of the agency 100 Studio sessions a new podcast series, which gives members of the mmm agency 100 and opportunity to Riff on what sets them apart.

Today, I am extremely happy to be joined by Jeannie Martell. Who is the CEO of clinical mind?

Jeannie welcome to the podcast

Larry. Thank you so much. It’s so nice to be here with you

and we’re gonna be talking a little bit about culture not necessarily in the sense of making sure everybody’s happy but culture as a winning is this strategy and over the course of assembling the agency 100 we have had a lot of conversations about culture, but we really haven’t approached it from this particular angle. So I’m looking forward to dive into it.

Great, sounds good.

Alright, um, I guess the first question is, you know, the most ridiculously broad thing I can ask you how would you describe what you mean by company culture? There’s certainly a lot of dialogue around it. But I think a lot of people aren’t exactly sure of the kind of of the basics of it.

Sure. Well, I think you know, everybody sort of understands like in its most simple definition company cultures, you know your set of customs and Norms that form within a company our company is still relatively young. It’s 11 years old, but we definitely have created a really great culture but I think in the broader sense, it’s how these things are actually lived out how you demonstrate those things on a daily basis both internally and externally, you know the way I think about culture it’s you know, you have your mission which is something different and it’s important because it it really does kind of galvanize people around why you do what you do. The culture is really about the how you do it. You know, how do you get there?

You mentioned a mission over the course of that last answer distinguish for me the difference between a culture and a mission. I think a lot of people erroneously use the two of those terms interchangeably.

Yeah, I think a mission is more why you do what you do and what you do as an organization and culture is really a big part of how you get there. We’ve been really successful as an organization over the last 11 years and I think one of the things that I talk to the team a lot about is being really proud about it’s not about the numbers. It’s not about the revenue and the ebida at the end of the day. It’s it’s about being successful by how we got here not the fact that we got here.

And I think that’s a really big part of our culture.

Tell me a little bit about the clinical mind culture. So maybe some of the big wins along the way obviously the company’s been doing this for a while and doing it. Well, yeah,

I mean, I think we like to talk about our culture in terms of a courageous culture where we make we do hard things. We make hard decisions, but also a very value-based culture, you know, we have our five C’s that really sort of guide?

Our Behavior inside and an externally at the organization and those are compassion collaboration creativity commitment and character and you know, they’re just words, right? They’re just words and they could be meaningless. But I think we really try to remind the team all the time not about the words, but about the intentionality of living those words and we talk a lot about what they mean for behavior and how we treat one another how we treat our clients how we approach the business how we approach our colleagues and it really does become a set of behaviors More Than Just Words on a on

a page.

There’s actually leaves very nicely into my next question what has shaped that what are some of the things on whether there are specific incidents or just some of the thinking that has helped shape clinical minds are company culture.

I think for me as a Founder, you know, there are certainly plenty of people that leave companies, but maybe they didn’t start that company from very beginning

and

for me as a Founder. It’s super personal, you know, I am

I have worked in this industry for oh my gosh. It’s now coming up on 30 years in a couple of years. It’s been a long time. I’ve always been on the agency side. So I know this I know sort of the ups and downs and the the good and the and the bad about, you know, working in this business and I think

I have had some incredible mentors and some amazing experiences at some places that I’ve worked. But I’ve also learned just as much from the things that I wouldn’t want to repeat. So, you know, I kind of reached this Crossroad in my career 11 or 12 years ago and had

Really a little bit of a you know a decision to make about whether I was going to continue in this business. I was I did have a teaching degree. I was a teacher at one time and I really thought hard about whether it was time to dust that off and go back to that type of a role, but I really loved what I do. I love clients. I love solving problems. I Love Leading teams and I just you know, I thought long and hard about

A couple of things. I was seeing a lot of other women that I worked with leave the business and never come back.

That really bothered me.

It bothered me so much because I just felt like it doesn’t have to be like this. Like does it just like working in an agency at the time, you know was like one Sweatshop or another, you know, like I just felt like it didn’t need to be that way. So I think for me it was very much. Like if I’m gonna stay in this business, I have the opportunity to create something that I can see myself in and therefore can see other people. Hopefully other people could see themselves in and creating something that was that was different and special and really fighting hard from the top, you know to keep that and maintain that and and, you know create something a place where other people could Thrive, you know, as

well.

So this was very clearly personal for you without asking you to name names or give any other identifying details. What were some of the things you saw at your previous stops that made you think like, all right. This is not the way I want to do this when it’s my company. You know what we’re some of the some of the things that help fuel your vision.

Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of it was

right. I

use a lot of consolidation in the industry and things that go on in the business that you know, maybe there’s different leaders coming in and different leaders going you see a lot of transition and sometimes like that can really change the culture. I yes, I always felt it was interesting to me. I learned a lot in the process because I always thought like

When I was managing my team of 20 or 25 or 30 within an organization, I was felt like oh I can I can protect the culture on my team. I can drive this myself. Like I don’t have to worry about what happens around me and I realized pretty quickly that I can’t because if it’s not intentional if it’s not driven from the top if it’s not resource and really thought through it will erode and nothing that I could do was gonna be able to sort of protect that you know in the in the long run. So it made me realize how important of our role I play as the founder and the CEO of this company to make sure that we are making the right decisions and it’s a it’s and then beyond that it’s a lot of little things. It’s flexibility.

It’s leading with empathy. It’s being authentic. It’s being transparent. It’s really, you know, creating an open environment where all people can Thrive but also share ideas. It’s making them really hard decisions that you have to make sometimes to

Have a tough conversation with a client that just must be had, you know, or to

to

have you know, make a difficult decision to move out of top performer that’s toxic. You know, those are the hardest things where you might have somebody who is really impactful to the businesses doing a great job. As far as the the work goes but is a toxic colleague or is not supportive of the people around them and you have to make you to be willing to make those really difficult decisions

to that end so much, you know when people talk about culture especially in the pandemic you’re or the post pandemic you’re or you know, wherever we happen to be right now a lot of it is like, okay. Well our culture is, you know, every Thursday night we go up on the rooftop of our offices and have a couple drinks, you know, we you know, we have pizza in our meetings. What what about building a culture?

Is maybe understated you mentioned the notion earlier of building a culture with courage? Tell us a little bit how you do that and in a way that’s not commonplace in a way that distinguishes you yeah.

I mean, I think look all those things matter. You know, how you bring your team together how you show your appreciation for them, you know, really putting your employees first in those situations is really important. I think we’re the courageousness comes in is when you are it’s a big buzzword now, right Larry. I mean everything is right about leading with empathy and leading with authenticity.

I have that’s just the way I lead because that’s just how I’ve always been but it is not something that has to be. I don’t think inherent to your personality is a skill that you can learn but it takes a sense of vulnerability and opening yourself up and really forming really deep relationships. And I think really understanding where your employees are coming from and having some of those conversations. So beyond, you know, the free coffee and the snacks and the events and the things that you do which are not unimportant.

It’s things like I try to connect with people on a regular basis, so as a leader.

It’s very easy to be surrounded by an executive team and get the same inputs day in and day out but I’ve started doing a listening tour. So every month I meet with eight employees and I talk to them and I take notes and I look for Trends and I try to understand what are some of the things they’re experiencing. What are some of the things that might be getting in their way. How are they doing? How are they feeling about being a part of this organization? You know, what’s motivating them and I do those meanings they are they take time and they take I guess that before intention but I do those meetings because the last thing that I want as a leader is to be in an echo chamber and I’m not saying that I’m courageous for doing them. I’m just saying that these as an organization or things that employees need to feel comfortable being honest in those meanings that takes courage, you know, I then have to take what I hear in some of those meetings and figure out how to solve those problems, which can

Which can be hard, but that’s what I mean. When I say like, you know, we got to do hard things. We have to make tough decisions and you know being able to have an ear. I don’t have a floor that I can walk out on the way. Maybe I did and

The nineties or the early 2000s right where I walk before and just talk to people and find out what’s going on with them. Now, you know, you have to be very intentional if you’re going to gather that information and step out of your

Step out of your Echo chamber, you know in here, you know directly from your your team.

What are some of the things that you’ve learned during those listening sessions that maybe you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise,

yeah. It’s really interesting. I mean, I think that what I hear often is

Just a lot of like little ideas for improvements, you know, and just and also sometimes what I think is surprising to me but also really helpful is that people could be sort of caught up in one area that you just wouldn’t know unless you had that conversation. Maybe it’s a it’s a process or it’s just an annoyance that you know, one thing. I think that I heard from people recently was there’s a lot of platform fatigue. We have a lot of different systems and we have

you know, you

know too many user names and passwords and people have to go into this system to do one thing and another system to do something else and think that’s probably very common. A lot of people can

blow up all the systems blow the systems up

but it did I immediately like kind of calls a team together and we started talking and we figured out that we could you know with some integration of systems we can do away with probably two of them, right? And so we’re you know, we’re in the process of investigating that now and what we can do and how long that’s going to

Take but those are things I take seriously like it’s that sounds small, but it’s a part of an everyday obstruction. You know that people have to deal with another thing that I sometimes hear.

which is always a little challenging is that

you know, maybe their individual team the culture isn’t trickling down or they’re not feeling it in the same way that they think other people feel it or live it and then it becomes a conversation that we have to have, you know at a manager level and getting everybody on board with you know, how how this culture is being driven, you know within the organization and those conversations are also really important. So it really runs the gamut but I think I definitely can see certain Trends and pick up on things and I feel like it allows me to know where I should parachute in and help solve a problem versus where I need to just get out of everybody’s way and let them do their job and that’s enormously helpful for me.

That’s extremely well put how about this? What what are some of the things you know, you mentioned some of the programs and activities are there things that you’ve tried that maybe haven’t worked as well as you expected that they might have were there any kind of I don’t know dead ends that you went down a Mulligans that you’d like anything along those lines.

That’s funny. I think we’ve all tried so many things right, you know being

Being in you know through the pandemic and you know being remote, you know, I will say Larry that we were a remote company back in 2012 when we started so we did have an office and we had a certain number of people that were in the New York metro area, but we very quickly were growing and we decided to focus on Talent over geography and so we started hiring remote staff from the very beginning and even our staff that was in New York had the opportunity to work at home one to two days a week, you know based on on their choice. So that was something that we were a little head of our time with but then all of a sudden the pandemic came, right and everybody’s virtual.

Yeah

and you’re trying to figure out how to keep this culture and hold this culture together. So I think we all try it a lot of things that didn’t work whether it was, you know, you know events, you know in the evening or wine tasting or this or

that

or you name it like these are all fun things to do about what we found really

Quickly was people are really tired are they’re tired of being on the computer. They’re tired of being in there, you know in their environment all day. And so, you know, we realize that adding more in some of those ways especially after hours was something that people really very quickly were like, whoa, wait a minute. We don’t want to do something at five o’clock, you know, if we’re gonna get together and do something with our teams, you know, we want to do it during during the day. So carving out that time really encouraging the managers and the teams to carve out time during, you know, during the work day to take a break to do some fun things together. I think that kind of stuff is still important to build culture.

This might overstate the this might overstate things considerably but why did it take a pandemic for a lot of organizations to start thinking about their culture in a different way?

I don’t know because I think I think you know, I I did have a little bit of a light bulb moment myself and I feel like I’m someone who is very intentional about culture and really thinks about that constantly. It was the whole reason I started the agency to begin with right was to create an environment like that, but I heard something.

In the pen in the middle of the pandemic when I was talking to employees my remote people who’ve always been remote said we feel like this is finally been The Equalizer like, you know, all the culture was sort of focused on the people who were in the office who could come to the events who could do these things

and

suddenly this was the great equalizer where they felt like, oh now everybody’s focused on us and what and that was that was really an eye opener for me because I thought oh my gosh, you’re right. Like, how did I miss that? So I think it’s easy look, you know, we’re all running a business. We’re all focused on you know agency life is is crazy. It’s hard. There’s a lot of it’s a there’s a lot of demand

It’s very fast-paced. I think you know people who come into this agency life maybe from you know, another area are always like that’s the first thing you hear is like, oh my gosh, it moves so fast, you know,

not only

Parts it really is. So I think it’s easy to forget. I think it’s easy to not be really thoughtful about you know these issues so I think and we’re not believe me. We don’t have it all figured out. We’re still trying things. We’re still doing things. We’re still exploring how we can make sure to keep this culture, you know in a remote environment and we’re learning every day and I think listening to listening to the team and getting input from them is really one of the most important things in doing that.

So, you know, we’ve talked a lot about culture and specifically about clinical minds and model for it. But at the outset, you know, we talked about it’s important in terms of business about how you know, a lot of people view cult.

Most as an expense on tell me a little bit about how clinical Minds links its external results to the work. It does

internally on culture.

But it’s such a good question and I think about this a lot.

especially those of

us who lead companies and we have you know boards and we have other Financial risky of shareholders and financial responsibilities. I think it’s really important that everyone understand how much this does Drive the business. So, you know, this is the first time we’ve made the agency 100 and I’m so excited about it because I think we are very deserving of this. We’ve really kept our heads down did great work. We’ve hustled for our clients while we’ve been growing strong, but we’ve done all that because of this team because of this the staff that we have their commitment their expertise and and what they bring to the table this is not about me it’s about them and I feel really happy that they are getting the acknowledgment. So how does this drive business? I think it’s all about, you know, does it cost something sure, you know, but that’s intentional. You know, you think about what you want to

In your team what you want to invest in your company, you know how you want to drive that culture and we can’t think about it transactionally right some things you do you do just because they’re right not because they’re going to have a return on your p&l.

I’ll tell you a quick story about that in a second. But it also like I said before I think really comes down to you know, people being your greatest asset it not only attracts them but it helps them to evaluate the type of environment they want to work with it will work within how do colleagues support each other the level of camaraderie respect support empathy shown to them not just by their colleagues but by their leadership,

yeah,

and I think it creates an open environment where people can share ideas more be more creative. No one in this company, at least I hope

Is afraid to come forward with an idea with a suggestion with something that they think would make us stronger and I think that is really powerful to moving the business forward and just to talk about clients for a minute. I have seen a huge shift in the last five years. I would say in when you’re doing pitches and when you’re having conversations with a new client, there is so much more of a focus on are we aligned culturally are we going to work well together do we have similar perspective on things that are going to make us good partners? And I think that when you have a good culture and you have happy people

That definitely resonates with the client for sure.

100% hundred percent

I did want to just talk about that one comment about just that whole transactional thing about you do things not because of the impact it’s going to have on your p&l. But because you it’s the right thing to do. We went through two Acquisitions in the middle of a pandemic.

If I can just tell you how incredibly interesting stressful that

was

to think about imagine

building culture integrating companies integrating teams, and people when one of the teams was in Canada, and the Border was closed for a very long time, we went and had a conversation as a team and we’re really lucky that we have investors in our company that understands the importance of culture because we went and said we want to you know, last October we wanted to pull the whole company together at that point. It was close to 250 people.

And we wanted to do a retreat for several days where we could bring the team together the first time ever because of how much the company had grown during a pandemic that we would have able been able to have the entire team together and we didn’t Focus that meeting on necessarily talking about the business or talking about clients. And and where where our next growth was going to come from we focus that meeting on galvanizing the team around our mission our values our culture and really spending time together having fun letting loose having having opportunities to ask leadership questions. We did something that I thought was really fun. But also, you know, maybe a little bit scary for people but we we took questions from the company really tough ones and

free screens

not pretty well. We did we took them ahead of time, but we didn’t we answered every question. We didn’t take any out.

Be committed to we were going to do this management panel. We were going to answer.

The tough questions and people could stand up and ask follow up questions. So it was all live and we did that and it was of all the sessions that we did during this two and a half day Retreat it got the highest marks I think because we were able to really just honestly talk about some of the burning questions and tough questions that the team wanted to ask us whether it was about the great resignation or it was about pay scales or it was about benefits or whatever. It was that they wanted to talk whether it was about you know, Hey, where’s the company going in the next two years? And are we gonna do you know, how are we gonna grow? And where are we going to grow and people want to know what is happening in the organization that they belong to and why we make the decisions we make so that was also a really great opportunity. I think to speak really honestly and really directly and really transparently to the team and I think that not everybody is gonna like every answer

But it it is really important that they feel that they have that from their leadership and that’s not just me. That’s the entire executive team. So I was really proud of that and I think we invested a lot in that program.

And again that wasn’t helping our p&l but it’s certainly helped our team and it certainly helped. I think Drive what what motivates us as an organization.

Were there any questions during that session that surprised you that you know, you might not have expected to be asked during it.

To be honest with you. Some of them were really hard but I think they were not unexpected. I think maybe what

everybody’s gonna want to talk about benefits. They’re gonna want to talk about, you know, work-life balance. They’re gonna you know,

I think those were all like the questions you would expect I think maybe some of the stuff that surprised me a little bit more were how much people were focused on wanting to know the long term plan for the organization and what were strategically some of the areas that we felt like were areas where we wanted to expand our services or grow as an organization. It really made me realize

In some of those questions how much people really care about the Long View and not just the short View and how important it is for us to be sharing that information with people because they’re not just in it for today or next week or next month or this year. You want them to be in it for the next three five seven years and that’s the kind of organization. We’ve always had so I was really happy that people were asking those kinds of questions because I felt like we had an opportunity to really share with them. What our vision was. That was a really great opportunity

one more question about culture. What’s next? How do you purposefully say? All right here is where we want to be. Is there something is there a metric that you can look at? Is there something that you’re looking for? I don’t want to say anecdotally, but you know if you’re looking for when you’re having those listening sessions or anything else.

I think we are always learning. I will say that I think everybody is and if you’re not then there’s a problem, right? So I think we’re like we’re always listening. We’re always learning. I think there’s like some interesting things that we are tackling. I think that it’s not just about sort of training or putting in policies. It’s really just kind of continuing to reinforce how we live and breathe every day how we approach, you know, the business I think continuously pushing ourselves to answer employee questions to be transparent to engage, you know, I think we learn a lot that way.

I think it’s also like all the de and I efforts that are going on and the things that we’re doing in that area that are really critical. You know, we have some really intensive training some really Frank discussions about race some things that are going on within the organization that I think are really important to provide skills and our current world and to Future proof our team as they whether they stay here or

go

somewhere else.

I think it’s really important. We’re doing a lot more work around Health Equity as well, which is you know related but also different and

And how that’s going to drive our policy as an organization, you know, we’re really looking at those things that it’s not just about checking a box. It’s really about building skills. So I think that’s really exciting and interesting to be doing I also think you know, there is so much consolidation going on in our industry and I don’t think that’s gonna stop or slow down. You know, like I said earlier we’ve completed a couple of Acquisitions in recent years and I can say for sure that companies with a healthy positive culture. We’re going to integrate much more gracefully and and you know, you always talk about those one plus one equals three, but that’s how you make that one plus one equals three by by really integrating well and and combining really positive cultures and one more thing. I just like to say how honored we are to be celebrated in the agency 100. It’s such a huge milestone for us, but even more important than that is how much more enthusiasm and conversation about building great agencies.

Our own cultures, you know, we’re really excited about that and what the future will bring to our industry.

Genie this was an absolutely wonderful and uncommon conversation about culture, you know, certainly it’s

when we talk about this and we’ve talked about it quite a bit over the course of our agency 100 reporting, you know, it’s very much. It’s kind of a surface type conversation this went much deeper and it was wonderful. Thank you so much for your time.

Thank you so much Larry. I was really pleased to be able to share my thoughts on this with you. Thanks a lot.

All right. And since this is the agency 100 studio session podcast, we have to send you off with one question that has nothing to do with culture.

Okay?

What was the last song that you listened to?

Tell you islands in the sun. I think is that what it’s called right

Weezer?

Yes. That’s my that’s my get off the path walk to work song that always peps me up when I’m going to work. Maybe that’s not a good thing because it’s thinking about vacation, but it is a peppy song that I enjoy listening to.

It’s a great song and it’s aspirational, right?

Genie this was this was an absolute Delight for the m Eminem Studio sessions podcast. I’m Larry dobrow and be well,

thank you be well, too. Take care.