(This article originally appeared in Consulting Magazine’s “One on One” feature April 20, 2016.)
Censeo Consulting Group CEO and co-founder Raj Sharma takes great pride in the importance placed on culture within the Washington, D.C. strategy and operations firm. “Most people are good and want to do good things, they want to be happy, they want to take care of their families and friends. At the end of the day we all care about the same set of things for the most part. If you give them the right environment, the right culture, it allows them to do that,” he says. And that emphasis on culture isn’t going unnoticed—The Harvard Business Review recently recognized Censeo for its efforts in “institutionalizing a compassionate work environment.” Consulting caught up with Raj to talk about how Censeo’s culture creates happy consultants and clients alike.
Consulting: What is so unique about Censeo’s culture?
Sharma: Since we’ve started the firm we’ve always felt that at the workplace, where people spend probably more waking hours than anyplace else, they should really enjoy the work, the people they work with and the overall environment. We really take a lot of care to make sure the people we bring in are for one, super smart—that’s almost a prerequisite—but also really humble, down to earth. That’s the culture we’ve built here, and it’s a very laid back, easygoing culture that works with a lot of leadership, not a difficult, stuffy culture you might find in some consulting firms. That’s by design. We felt very strongly from the beginning that one of the qualities we wanted outside of people being super brilliant is we also want people who also don’t take themselves too seriously, people who are easy to work with. That makes it internally easier and more fun to work with those people but it’s also better from a client standpoint. Clients really love our people because they are so approachable.
Consulting: How do you make employees feel like their contributions matter?
Sharma: The entrepreneurial aspect of our firm. we encourage everybody and anybody to contribute and one of the mottos we have is that anybody on any level can come up with a great idea. We see that all the time here. We encourage people to get involved, especially on internal initiatives. Our Women in Consulting Club was a direct idea from several women in our firm. We try to be supportive and provide whatever budget they might need and be supportive from a leadership standpoint.
Consulting: How important is cultural fit as a hiring criterion?
Sharma: Very important. We do the typical interviews many consulting firms do, but we also spend a lot of time gauging cultural fit and things like, does this person align with our values? Will this person enjoy the kind of work we do? Is this person really kind of laid back yet serious and committed to delivering for our clients? We spend a lot of time with our recruits in different settings with a group of peer-level people taking them out for lunch, for example. Or we have happy hours where everyone’s there from the firm and they try to meet with everybody and see how they are in a social setting. It’s all to gauge whether this person would be a good fit. When people come in we’ll encourage everybody in the firm to go by and talk to them so we get that informal input. We try to find different opportunities to create multiple data points around fit. From a cultural standpoint, everyone talks about what a great culture we have, but we’ve also taken time to diagnose that and what it means. We started the firm not with just a strategic plan, but with a core set of values, because I always felt culture and values will crush strategy any day. If you really create a strong foundation with the culture and values you can continue to thrive. That’s what we’ve built the firm on. Values aren’t just a few words written on a wall.
Consulting: How is that emphasis on culture felt by the clients?
Sharma: For one, in our overall approach to solving client problems, especially with a lot of the complex organizations we work with, driving any kind of real change and results is about creating an inclusive approach. You don’t impose change on people; you bring people along in the process. When we’re engaged with a client, our stakeholder engagement is really about all the different levels we need to engage. This is where a down-to-earth, laid back culture also helps, because we’re able to build relationships and trust relatively quickly. That’s also helpful in winning over people on new ways of thinking or ideas. That’s built into our overall consulting approach and is a key part of how you deliver results.
For more information on Censeo CEO Raj Sharma and Censeo’s culture of compassion, contact Sarah Haack at firstname.lastname@example.org.