Company culture isn't born overnight. It's the long fought journey where vision meets humanity and incredible daily experiences are made. Culture is what makes the commonplace happenings of daily life become something artful, meaningful and rewarding.
We recently connected with the team at Red Nova Labs in Westwood, KS. These guys are awesome. On paper they are a leading web-based technology provider for the self storage industry, but we quickly figured out that they are way more than that. 2:30pm ping pong breaks, edgy workspaces, and inter-office nerf gun wars are just the edge pieces. When we got to the heart of RNL, we found an environment where talent is rewarded, ambition is applauded and every day work is actually fun.
What we found at RNL inspired a collaboration that ultimately led to this list. Together with RNL, we set out to find the companies that are waging war on boring work life. These 12 companies are pioneers, not just in business, art and technology, but they are pioneers in finding spectacular moments in everyday life.
#1. Hufft Projects
Matthew Hufft and his team blow our minds a little bit. They are architects, craftsmen, designers and artists. The work that the team produces is nothing short of genius. But it is the philosophy, the passion and the purpose that goes into the work that puts them on this list. Their vision is to close the gap between disciplines and create a collaborative environment that allows creativity to breath life into modern building design. The Hufft location is absolutely striking and brings a wood studio, metal studio and design studio onto one floor with only glass walls separating them. There is this feeling that Hufft Projects is still just getting started and we're looking forward to seeing where their culture leads them.
#2. Oddly Correct
Oddly has made several of our lists for roasting some of the best coffee in town. They make this list though, for something you wouldn't always expect from a coffee shop. Gregory Kolsto started Oddly with a small but mighty team in 2012 and he recently talked in an interview with Sprudge about the importance of culture to his shop. "If our culture doesn’t stay healthy, we’re toast, and we’re gonna hate life, and hate you, hate coffee, and none of that stuff works. We want a culture as a company that allows people rest, play, opportunity for growth, and time with family, so we have limited hours, limited menu, everything." Oddly is the home away from home for coffee lovers in Kansas City but we really believe that their commitment to culture is a reason that they are here to stay.
VML is an ad agency. Exposed brick, pool tables, neon beer signs and overgrown beards are right at home inside their three KC locations. The agency works in social media, strategy and design for brands like Gatorade, US Soccer, Southwest Airlines and Wendy's. The agency is an everyday party with beer on tap, rooftop and patio space and open office layouts. It is the leadership though that defines VML culture. VML leaders have been recognized both locally and nationally for their philanthropy, innovation and thought leadership. VML is on a 20 year winning streak in Kansas City and from our view there isn't an end in sight.
#4. Culinary Center of Kansas City
The mission of the Culinary Center is to take the mystery out of cooking and provide a comfortable atmosphere for “culinarians” of all skill levels to gather together and celebrate the culinary arts. The center hosts a variety of ways to facilitate the loving and learning of cooking, including classes, demonstrations and interactive cooking parties. Employees get daily chef-prepared staff lunches, group field trips, and “Fish Mondays” to help employees get back on track after the weekend. The company is focused on holistic health for its employees and offers subsidized yoga and gym memberships. Associates are also encouraged to take “well days,” as opposed to sick days, for personal rejuvenation.
#5. Burns & McDonnell
Burns & McDonnell was the only Kansas City based company to make Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2014, and it came in the top 15 spots. The engineering consulting firm is employee-owned and boasts one of the best stock-ownership plans of any company nationwide. Associates rank the company as one of the most rewarding companies they have ever worked for and employee stock ownership program fosters a culture of a strong sense of ownership among associates.
#6. Parris Communications
This small-but-mighty public relations, media and marketing shop is turning heads for its innovative culture. The approach they take with their clients has been clear: build relationships grounded on trust, commitment and creativity, and the results will speak for themselves. For their associates, Parris Communications works to foster a familial culture, where “Parrisians” treat one another like family and family obligations are a priority to the company. Parris knows that happy employees are productive employees and tries to create an environment that provides the flexibility to help team members achieve a work/life balance. Their commitment to the community is just as strong as their commitment to their clients and associates. In 2003 they were named the Kansas City Small Business Philanthropist of the Year for their longstanding pro bono service to local community service organizations like Children’s Mercy Hospital, Starlight Theater, the Jewish Community Center.
Netchemia is a technology company that is taking on the tough challenge of improving education across our country. Their technology solution helps schools find, retain and track their teachers to help them perform better over time. The Netchemia culture is centered around a passion for change but they do lots of little things in there office to create a culture where people can enjoy what they do. The 'healthy and happy' committee plans regular outings to Royals and Sporting games and happy hours happen organically as a way to get out and swap fresh ideas. At the end of the day, the people at Netchemia are dedicated to one of our culture's most pressing needs and that passion is driving some pretty exciting culture and opportunity.
#8. Google Fiber
What’s not to love about Google? Or free Internet? Google Fiber is one of Google’s proudest new endeavors and Kansas City was chosen as a test site for one of the fastest networks in the US. Users here in KC are experiencing the future of broadband through Google’s innovative new Internet initiatives. From software engineers to project managers, Google Fiber KC is hiring local experts to help reshape and revolutionize the way people connect to the web.
#9. Child Health Corporation of America
CHCA is an alliance of non-competing children’s hospitals. The employees of CHCA represent a collective voice of children's hospitals nationally. These people are passionate healthcare and are making a difference for kids in the moments they need it. Employees are an integral part to bringing safe pediatric health care breakthrough products to market and launching groundbreaking shared-services programs for hospitals across the nation. Kansas City Business Journal lists the company’s employee perks as low-cost health benefits, free lunches, book clubs, new employee mentors, massage therapy, emergency child care on snow days and a volunteer group that cleans snow from vehicles on winter evenings. Just to name a few.
Populous is the genious behind many of the world's most famous sporting venues and several of our local masterpieces as well. They've been innovating for more than 30 years which really says something on its own. It's fun to watch new companies find themselves, but sometimes it is just as fascinating to watch grown up companies stay on the bleeding edge. Populous has built culture of innovation on the idea that its buildings are about more than just entertainment, they are about designing a gathering place for urban communities and transforming local economies. Populous has a full suite of great company benefits but their 'opening day' might just top them all. When each new stadium holds its opening day, the employees that worked on the project are sent with their families to experience their masterpiece in person.
#11. Utilitarian Workshop
The Utilitarian Workshop is a retail space, design shop and cultural center for communal thought and collaboration in Kansas City. John Anderson and Nicole Williams aren't just fostering a culture for their own company, they are carrying something for the whole city. Their designs range from spaces like Port Fonda to heirloom furniture pieces in homes across our city. Anderson and Williams have set a culture of re-thinking everything, going back to what really matters and putting passion back into just making things. After years of designing furniture and spaces, they opened their retail shop in the Westside. Their art and collaboration with other local makers might just re-define the way that retail is done in Kansas City. Keep your eye on these guys.
#12. Skyline Downtown Salon
Arlen Wickstrum and Carmen Gramajo have worked together to create a culture where that has put them into a class of their own in Kansas City. The idea that they seem to breath in and out is that they can bring a little bit of joy into people lives through what they do. That means that customers are treated to a completely different stylist experience than most are used to. The staff takes their creative position seriously and have worked together to make the Skyline something pretty remarkable.
In the end, our search has lead us to a fairly simple conclusion. Culture isn't something you buy. It's something you inspire, imagine and work for. It isn't just KC's biggest companies that are winning the culture game, in fact, those companies have a lot to learn from the innovators, startups and ping pong masters popping up all over our town. To borrow from our friends at Red Nova, "Life is Too Short to Hate Your Job." You can check out their job listings here. http://www.rednovalabs.com/why-work-here/