Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: This evening, we’ll be making our way down to Arlington, Virginia and the headquarters of PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, tremendous pride and dedication to the mission as you will hear from members of the PBS team.
Aparna: If you ask any American, they can tell you their personal story about how PBS and our programs have impacted their lives whether it’s early childhood programs watching Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood; or news and documentaries that have really changed their lives.
Karen: One key thing is communication. I sat at my very first staff meeting, all-staff meeting here, with my mouth hanging open as they were talking about all of the hot issues or all of the problem areas that people were thinking about in relation to what was happening at PBS.
George: “We’re here because we do things that no one else will.” We’ve got something special. We’ve got a culture of people who are personally invested, thoughtful, intelligent, passionate about the good that we do. You can’t beat that.
Leif: And that both of my bags that I was carrying on had PBS luggage tags on them. The woman in front of me when I was going through security stopped me after we went through the wand thing. She said, “ I just wanted to stop and say thank you for all that you do.” I was like, “Why?” at the airport. I didn’t know what was going on, and then I remembered I was emblazoned with the P-head and stuff. She gave me a hug, and she said she’s a Denver local and really loves what we do.
Renard: When I got to PBS, they were in need of a change in what we were doing. The systems that they had when they brought me in were very antiquated. So, it gave me an opportunity to begin to work towards the stuff that I love which is the technology and the blinking lights and all of those fun things. But, there was also a culture of stability and there was no risk-taking. It was very stable. So what we started to do is train people who had been here for, some people who had been here for over 40 years – that risk was good, fail fast, recover, learn from that, and then move forward. That’s the culture that we’ve instilled in our tech side now which was something that wasn’t here too long ago.
Natalie: But I felt very much that it was really special to be at a place that put the focus on first and foremost, how is this meeting the objective of giving kids something that they can use in their lives that’s going to get them to a better or that’s going to be helpful to them or memorable to them. That really touched me.
Michae: Wow, you’re going to learn so much just on a daily basis, by just the sheer content and work product that we’re going to touch.” And I didn’t really understand what that meant until maybe at the conclusion of my first year here where I was able to work on a variety of projects that really did allow me to learn. As an employee here, I’m learning just as our viewers are learning along with the programs that we output to America. That has just resonated with me after all these years. One of the reasons why I have stayed so long is because of the content and the projects that I’m able to touch on a daily basis.
Renard: When we began to launch the channel for the 24 /7 Kids, the opportunities that came forward for us to work across teams that have typically been sort of siloed, just really blew the doors open for every single thing that we’re doing now. When we think about different projects and initiatives today, we automatically think about, what other team is going to be affected by what I’m doing? And how do I get them engaged at the very beginning of what we’re doing? So, the culture, it goes beyond collaboration. It really is getting into the world of partnership. And I think that’s one of the things that makes it really great to work here.
Jennifer: I’ve gone from being a person that was on a team to managing what’s now a decent-sized team, and I’m really thankful that I had good role models to do that because I have a great team now I think largely because I learned from people that came before me. When I think about hiring, I definitely think about the culture we have here. Is this person going to add to it and embrace it and make it better? Because it is such a part of why we all work here, that you really want to think about who those people are and are they going to bring their A game to the culture part not just the work part and be part of a team or are they just going to come in and do the job? That’s not what we all want.
Talia: One of the things I really wanted to avoid and one of the reasons I was leaving the law firm is because the business model there and all of them, is really about specialization; becoming an expert in some very narrow niche category, and when I came here, I told my new boss, what I really wanted was a broad portfolio of different projects to work on and boy, have they delivered. What I love about this place is the opportunities for cross-training and how unpredictable the days are.
Jessica: We have a three-year strategic plan at PBS. Our current strategic plan runs 2018 to 2020. There are four pillars of the strategic plan. Because Paula and Jonathan, our CEO and COO, are so passionate about that the people make PBS what it is and really defining and focusing on our culture, they actually made culture one of the four strategic pillars. It’s in our plan, and we’ve really been focusing on it, and it’s super exciting from an HR perspective to be able to work on that at a strategic level. One of the ways that we’ve been focusing on it is defining our core values. The way that we’ve done this is through a cross-organizational sprint team.
Aparna: But what I would say that I am now in a stronger position. I’m much more contributing or willing to contribute in that forum on that call, I’m more willing to go and seek the advice of a manager or HR when I have an issue just to get advice, and just in light of everything that’s going on in the country, I think that’s why I picked this example is because I wish there were more places like PBS where it’s a place that really is committed to all of us doing our best and to evolving where we need to evolve and to being and inclusive and diverse place and living its values.
Karen: Thinking about rituals or recognition, I was going to say fabulous prizes. When we have our all-staff meetings or different gatherings, oftentimes there are drawings and prizes, giveaways. As Leif mentioned, a whole wardrobe of T-shirts and PBS memorabilia. I think that really creates a spirit, a team spirit here that is really special and unique and something that you don’t get a lot of in other places.
George: It’s amazing how committed, professional, just plain out – nice, it is to deal with HR. I thought I’d never say that. In a corporate environment, it’s the death march up to the HR suite. Every stern-looking person is there. That isn’t the experience at PBS.
Leif: One of the things that he revealed to me last year was that one of the reasons he said he checked the box to hire me was because of the culture attitude I had – working with other stations, helping other stations collaborate and teach them things that I had learned my job, and I’ve always been sort of a giving and sharing person, probably to a fault. I want others to succeed just as much as I have and as much as my organization did and will, and this is a system that encourages that every single day. It’s very easy to feel welcome at a place that wants you to share success not just horde it.
Renard: The average length in tenure of my staff is about 27 years. I often ask them why did they stay, and they tell me, flat out, “It’s a good job, and it’s a good place to work.” They actually love it here. They love it so much that they are not afraid to be critical of things that they feel are not going well. And that’s often sometimes in an abrasive manner in which they display their discomfort. However, I can tell you that every time that something like that has happened, we’ve been the better for it because we go through the process of working with them to figure out what we can do to make it better or to understand where the problem is. We come out on the backside of that with a better environment for everybody involved – managers and employees.
Natalie: We try to really give thoughtful feedback in the rejection letter so not just say no. This won’t work for us. Say, it’s not really the right fit for us because we’re looking for this or because we didn’t quite see enough of that in your pitch and you might want to consider working on that when you take this out again. Things like that. I’ve heard now from a number of people who have either met in person at an industry event, who have emailed me back just to say that’s not something that happens. We send this out a lot. We’ve been in this industry for a long time. We normally just hear no. It’s really great to get that kind of feedback. Again, this isn’t sort of a pat on the back for us but more just to say that it’s a reflection of the fact that we do really appreciate all of the thought and effort that people put into the work that they do both in this building and outside the building, and we want to really take the time to thank people for that. Again, something really special about PBS.
Michae: One of my very best friends works at PBS. Just going back to the culture of how I have felt as a PBS employee when I had a friend who had been laid off from her job and is in the media field and was looking for her next thing. There was an opening in the department for which she works. It was just the perfect synergy. Everything fell into place, and I was happy to make that connection and I wouldn’t recommend a best friend of mine to come and work here if I wasn’t having a great experience myself.
Jennifer: One thing I just wanted to mention in terms of recognition is that PBS does have our progress called Bravo Awards. It’s where you can nominate people to get an on-the-spot cash performance bonus. What I love about it – I love the idea just in general – but I also love that you can nominate people in other departments. It doesn’t just have to be people in your department. So, I’m a big over-user of that, I feel, a lot. We just did some for you. I just think it’s great to recognize people. Especially when there’s a great collaboration. You want to recognize it, reward it, and have them feel good about doing it again. You may want to reinforce that good behavior that people are modeling.
Talia: I think the main I wanted to talk about is how everyone here is such a nerd and I love it. It’s a place where you can geek out about things and everyone geeks out with you. About the content, about the work you’re doing. I was working the other day on the documentary about Neanderthal’s skeletal structure, and then we were all getting into that and talking about what they could do. We were working on a drama about midwives in 1950s England, and everyone wanted to make sure that the outfits were period-accurate and period-appropriate.
Jessica: We really capitalize on this to say, yes, we are nerds. Everybody is a nerd about something I think is the motto of PBS Nerd. We have shirts and glasses. For a while we were even internally awarding PBS Nerd of the Month, and you could nominate a colleague who totally nerds out about something, and they did interviews about what are you a nerd about, and I nominated my colleague, Christy, who is amazing, and she was so excited to win Nerd of the Month. It was awesome.
Denver: I want to extend my thanks to all those who participated in this piece, Aparna Kumar, Karen Avery, George Molnar, Leif Brostrom, Renard Jenkins, Natalie Engel Michae Godwin, Jennifer Allen, Talia Rosen and Jessica Driscoll. To hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants, just come visit www.denver-frederick.com.
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