By Mike Schacherer, VP Creative Director
I was recently asked to give a Zoom presentation to senior-year design students on the attributes I’m looking for in a new hire. For the next week, I jotted down list after list of things I like seeing in a portfolio, extra-curricular interests, and social media dos and don’ts.
Then it struck me that the outline to this speech was much simpler than I was making it. At its core, we hire new grads and seasoned vets the same way, based on their alignment with Little’s values. And BOOM! The speech starts writing itself. (I love it when a plan comes together.)
To be perfectly honest, two years ago I would have had a hard time reciting Little’s values. They were like many others’, written from the generic-company-values playbook. Things like Integrity and Honesty…these are greens fees for anyone living in a civil society, not exactly differentiating to a company culture. That’s when our leadership team went through the Traction process, part of which included taking a new look at our values. To do it, we simply chose two of our best employees, and made a list of the traits that made them stand out from the crowd. Bringing the discussion down to this human level made so much sense: these are the kind of co-workers you want multiples of, and the attributes they embodied were the exact things we wanted in every new hire. And for the first time, our values not only felt like us, they felt like a tool we could use to find the right people moving forward.
So with that in mind, here are the four attributes, based on our core values, as I presented them to the students:
1. Be Hungry
At work, we define hunger as the drive to do great work. Work that makes our clients successful, work that gets noticed by our peers, work that creates an emotional connection, work that gets remembered. You could argue that “hunger” is a synonym for passion, but there’s something grittier about being hungry. We’re looking for wolves. A hungry designer keeps fighting even when the budget is tight and all the existing conditions aren’t perfect. They’re constantly looking for ways to push the work, to keep experimenting, to find a better solution even when everyone else at the table might think it’s solved. The best part? Hunger feeds itself…the reward of doing something well is a feeling in your belly you can’t wait to feel again. It pushes you to go after something great just as furiously the next time and the next time and the next.
2. Be inspiring
Perhaps the biggest benefit of working in a group of talented people is the ability to be inspired by those around you. To be surprised. To be pushed. To be forced out of your comfort zone. The people around me inspire me every day to try harder, to be a better designer, to be a more strategic thinker. And on the flip side, that’s an unwritten part of my job…to push them. It might be my solution to a design challenge, the way I handled a tough client meeting, or a piece of feedback that makes a difference during a group critique. I want to be surrounded by people who give me that “I wish I had thought of that” feeling. And yes, I want people to feel that way when they’re around me.
3. Be courageous
At Little we call this value “Courage,” but it’s really a mix of having confidence combined with a point of view. It means speaking up when asked, and whenever something needs to be said, even if you haven’t been. Everyone’s opinion matters, and everyone has a speaking part in this production. Our office shouldn’t be a game of telephone…it’s a party line.
Here’s a great example of what I’m talking about: A few months ago we were doing a critique…about seven designers were hanging initial logo concepts on the wall to discuss. Everyone from senior creatives to junior designers to our summer intern. And when I asked who wanted to pick a few winners from the ideas shown, the intern was the first one who stood up. She wasn’t letting her junior status be a cage that defined her behavior, she was using it as a source of freedom to say what she felt, knowing her opinion was as valuable as anyone else’s. And I loved it.
4. Enjoy what you do
There’s so much talk about the concept of “work/life balance” and usually it puts a negative spin on the hours you spend at work. We got into design because we love doing it, and some of my happiest hours are when I’m in that zone, making stuff I’m excited about, working late because things are flowing so smoothly and I don’t want to stop. So why try to put up walls between work and life? They’re eternally mixed. Instead of balance, shoot for something simpler, which is the value we call “Joy of Life.” When you’re doing your job, enjoy it, and when you’re not, enjoy that time to the fullest, too. In our field, sometimes we need to work long hours, but if you only focus on the fact that you’re working long hours and not on the reality that you’re doing the thing you love, you’re going to be pretty miserable.
And after all…who wants to be miserable?