Ten years ago, this coming summer, I joined Fern as its “leader”. The truth is, the Fern Culture has come to lead me. Culture is an interesting term that is used in countless ways and takes on many meanings, some superficial and some profound. In its most straightforward definition, culture refers to the social norms and behavior of a society. It is the norms of behavior embedded in Fern’s team that make it a unique and powerful organization. At 110 years old, Fern’s culture is steeped in history, experience, commitment, and value. The Fern Culture is the one aspect of the business that I am passionate about protecting at almost all cost, and I tread delicately when making changes, always with the culture in mind. The Fern Culture is the Holy Grail of service businesses everywhere – and we have it. It is about the people, and is larger than any single person. It is about the society, the larger group. The Fern Culture polices and promotes itself. The Fern Culture maintains an environment for growth organically. The Fern Culture rewards all who interact with it.
There are many values representative of the Fern Culture, here I highlight just a few:
Service—I am always reminded of the commitment the entire Fern Team has to delivering exceptional service. With nearly every interaction I have with clients, which are many, I am reminded. During every interaction I have with the team, I am reminded. Our unrivaled customer tenure is a constant reminder. There’s a sense of pride about it. I can commit it, honestly. I know it will be delivered. The depth of that commitment also means that when we stumble, everyone takes the task of making it right personally and the standard is met again.
We also are committed to serving others, outside of our business, who aren’t customers. The Fern Team is anxious to serve those in need. Recently with no notice and organically, the Fern Team across the country jumped into action and organized their communities to provide many semi-trailer loads of much-needed goods to those ravaged by natural disaster. Nobody was forced, and nobody resisted, everyone jumped in and did what they could.
We’ve since implemented a program to provide paid time off for all full-time members of the Fern team to provide charitable service to those in need. I am confident this program will result in thousands of additional hours of service being provided to those in need.
Community—Fern is a community, we are members of the exhibitions and events community, we are members of the communities that we live and work in, and we serve the communities of our clients. We help build communities; it’s what exhibitions are all about. A key element of the Fern Culture is being part of something bigger; these communities add depth.
We also care deeply about our own. When one suffers, we all do. When one celebrates, so does the organization. Fern is a large family; many members of the team have worked together for decades and are emotionally tied to one another. These bonds are part of the fiber that is Fern; we wouldn’t be what we’ve become without it. The community that is the Fern family is the epicenter and heart of our business.
Trust—We inherently trust one another; we have to. We don’t deliver on our commitments without the complete trust of each other. We help organize each other and administer where needed, but most people “manage” themselves. We know what needs to be done and we do it. We count on the rest of the team to do the same, and they do. If someone struggles in this respect, the team helps them understand what is expected and we lift each other up. Like our clients, members of the team have typically been with Fern for a long time; often decades, trust is how this phenomenon occurs.
This trust is so deep that we recently implemented an unlimited personal time off policy for most members of the team (those paid hourly are compensated in a way that doesn’t make this feasible). This means that employees work with their manager to take as much time off as they can and need to in an effort to refresh, relax, and meet their non-Fern responsibilities. We trust our team to deliver on our commitments to our clients, so we can certainly trust them to manage their time at this level. It is also critically important to us that members of the team meet their personal and family needs, they can’t contribute at their highest potential if they aren’t meeting the obligations they have to their loved ones, aren’t in good physical health, and haven’t taken time to be replenished.
As I stated above, the Fern Culture leads me, and I’m honored to be its steward for a time. It developed over the hundred years before my time and will continue for generations after. I’m proud to work alongside hundreds of Fern team members who understand the culture inherently and live it with commitment. Like most cultures, the Fern Culture is best understood and valued after you’ve become immersed in it. There is nothing superficial or overstated about the Fern Culture. Join us, as a member of the team or a client. Expect to serve or be served, to be part of a community, to trust and be trusted, and to be rewarded.