How a journey of self-growth led to a culture of caring in an industry not known for that sort of thing.
Ask Nancy Pautsch, President of Madison, WI-based Envision IT, about her early years in the tech industry and you’ll quickly learn that it is not for the faint of heart. Sharp-elbowed and short-term focused environments notorious for a churn and burn mentality, tech industry corporate cultures can be challenging if not downright poisonous. Like the Atlantic killfish, which has adapted to living in some of the United States’ most polluted waters along the Eastern coast, many people in the tech industry adapt to a toxic environment because they’ve known nothing else.
For Pautsch, that was no way to live, much less thrive. She knew there must be a better way and she was at a crossroads. After a colleague suggested that she should just “trust her gut” when trying to solve a particularly vexing problem at work, she began a personal journey to truly understand what her gut was trying to tell her. All she really knew at the time was that something needed to change.
The Wake Up Call
Feeling conflicted and still in search of the path that she was destined to travel, Pautsch had what she calls her “dark night of the soul.” For years, Pautsch and her colleague, Bill Crahen had toiled together and fought the kind of foxhole battles that forge an unbreakable bond. The pressure of those constant struggles eventually took their toll. One day Crahen came to the office and was clearly in physical pain. His face disfigured, he was suffering from a textbook case of stress-related Bell’s Palsy. “That was a reckoning for me, and it shook me. I told Bill that we’ve got to get the heck out of here, it can’t be this way,” Pautsch recalled.
As fate would have it, Pautsch had discovered the book Firms of Endearment by Raj Sisodia, the co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement. “That book was really my inspiration. That was the intersecting point of my career and the personal growth journey I was on,” says Pautsch. “I started asking myself these big questions. What’s my purpose? Why am I here? I began to awaken and see the toxicity of the business that I was in. I was leading, but not owning.” After reading the book, she immediately went to Crahen and said, “Bill, this is the answer. There’s another way. I gave him the book and he read it just as quickly and absorbed it just as enthusiastically as I did. He was equally inspired, but how are we going to do this? Are we going to start our own company or what?”
Fate intervened once again and Nancy met with the founder of Envision IT, Beau Smithback, to discuss a project she was doing as a favor for one of her team members. One thing led to another and before she knew it, she and Smithback were talking about Firms of Endearment and their shared vision of growing a conscious business in an industry that was far from conscious.
“I gave Beau the book and told him that this is what we want to build. Beau is this brilliant, young, and kindhearted founder who was also searching for a better way to do business. He said this is what he wanted Envision IT to be, come on and do it.” So, in 2013 armed with a vision and a resolve to focus on the well-being of the people in the company, Pautsch and Crahen joined Smithback determined to build a conscious business positioned for the long term.
Starting with Purpose
While they didn’t know for sure where the journey would take them, the three leaders knew where they wanted to start – the organization’s purpose. “We knew from so many years of being treated, frankly, as not human, but as revenue generators, that we wanted to do the exact opposite,” says Pautsch. “We began with our higher or noble purpose – To Enrich the Lives of our Stakeholders.”
“When I saw the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism, I realized that maybe we’re doing something right. While we could certainly feel it, the business results came as well. But that’s not why we went ‘all in.’ It was truly focused on defining our purpose, creating meaningful rules of working together, and caring for people. That inspired us – and still does to this day. There is no finish line, no checkbox. The effort continues on and we are all deeply committed to building ourselves, each other and the company.”
You Can Feel It – That’s Intentional
Pautsch is particularly grateful that the other team members – they call themselves “Envisioners” – have embraced and emboldened the culture at the company. “It’s palpable. It’s just heartwarming. You can see how Envisioners care for each other, and all our stakeholders. It’s inspiring. They certainly inspire me every day. It’s fuel for me.”
While you can feel the spirit of the place when meeting with the team at Envision IT, it is important to remember that has only evolved because of the intentional, structured effort to build the company’s conscious culture. That structure allows a level of trust and fearlessness to permeate the business. “I think it fuels innovation and creativity, because with no fear of judgment, people can bring crazy ideas, wackadoodle ideas that might otherwise not be put on the table. We all know that we can trust each other and agree to give those ideas a look and build on them together,” explains Pautsch.
“I also think many conscious cultures are almost naturally diverse because if we're going to innovate and be creative, we have to have people with different experiences, different backgrounds, who bring new ideas that haven't been in our purview yet,” says Pautsch. “I think in the technology industry if you're not creative and not innovating and looking at things with a broader scope and empathy for things that you haven't experienced – you’re not going to be very competitive. That becomes an important competitive differentiator for us.”
That intentional focus resulted not only in positive financial performance but also is measured by their numerous industry accolades and global recognition for engineering excellence, project delivery and customer satisfaction. “After every engagement with clients, we send out a one question survey asking if we did ‘Awesome, Good or Bad.’ Our latest survey results reflect a 97.7% ‘Awesome” rating,” Pautsch exclaims proudly.
Don’t Mistake Kindness for Weakness
A self-described “Type A-cubed” personality, Pautsch’s dynamic intentionality as a leader, teacher, coach, cheerleader and “mama bear” to her work family at Envision IT manifests itself in the numerous ways that she and her team foster what she refers to as the ‘beautiful interdependence among thriving Envisioners and stakeholder success.’
“When I say thriving, I mean supporting a whole life. We’ve learned that employee engagement plus well-being equals thriving,” she explains. “It comes from wanting to care for people. We learned that ‘cared-for people care for people.’ We looked at the interdependence of the bad carrots and sticks that we had experienced before and how they hurt reputation, hurt personal brand, hurt quality, hurt culture and everything. We just turned it on its head. We didn't have any answers at first, but we said let's start with caring for people and the rest will come.”
Pautsch believes that when Envisioners are thriving, they’re working from their ‘zone of genius,’ a concept author Dr. Gay Hendricks discusses in his book, The Big Leap. “When folks are in their zone of genius, they’re loving their work and they’re doing their best work, they’re thriving in their best work. When folks do that, they have a great day at work. It's an awesome day at work! When they leave work, they're their better selves when they see their family. They're their better selves out in society and we've helped contribute to that great day,” Pautsch explains.
The love and compassion integral to building this type of culture, as mentioned before, is typically not the norm in the technology industry and could be interpreted as a weakness. Pautsch disagrees, saying “If Envisioners are doing their best work, they're doing their best work for our clients and our clients are really happy because they're getting such quality work. So, if our clients are happy because they're getting this great output, they will talk to other companies and spread the love. That leads to business development and that's a beautiful thing!”
Going “All In” When Leading with Purpose
Pautsch credits fellow Conscious Capitalism advocate, Roy Spence, Co-Founder and Chairman of GSD&M and Co-Founder and CEO of the Purpose Institute with saying ‘Purpose makes things clearer, not easier.’ “You need a sound business strategy. I mean come on, it’s not all daffodils, rainbows, and unicorns for crying out loud, especially in our industry. You need a sound, well-founded, and structured business strategy and you’ve got to work hard. But there is a better way. Be inspired, it works. Start with people. Care for them, endear them, enrich them, and it will come.”
To borrow from the catchy insurance commercial, Nancy Pautsch, and her fellow leaders at Envision IT “know a few things because they’ve seen a few things.” When faced with a turning point in their lives and their careers, they all knew what they wanted to build – a company founded on a noble purpose. Their passion, inspiration and dedication led to doing business in a way that enriches the lives of all their stakeholders. That is the “All In” embodiment of Conscious Capitalism.
“Not All Readers Are Leaders but All Leaders Are Readers”
A life-long learner and voracious reader, Pautsch embodies the spirit of the quote from President Harry Truman regarding the importance of leaders seeking out new perspectives and ideas. At any given time, you will find her reading the latest books on purpose, leadership, personal empowerment, and growth. Asked what five publications were on her “Mt. Rushmore of books” on those subjects, Pautsch offers these suggestions:
Finding Your Tribe
While reading is important, nothing solidifies a deep understanding of the power of the Conscious Capitalism approach better than building relationships with like-minded leaders. Pautsch and the team at Envision IT have found that is especially true through their active support of the Conscious Capitalism movement. “Early on it was really awesome undoing everything we had learned and trying to do the opposite. We had not found the Conscious Capitalism community yet, but when I go in, I go all in. So, it was a lot of self-work including therapy, workshops, and coaching, plus doing a lot of research and reading a bunch of books. Finding the common language, support structure and community of like-minded people at Conscious Capitalism has been like an explosion of love,” she says.
“We help Envisioners with their individual conscious leadership journeys and share all the resources that we have – books, podcasts, videos, workshops, etc.,” Pautsch continues. “We are actively involved in the Conscious Capitalism Chapters in Chicago and the Twin Cities. Chicago conducts a course called Conscious Capitalism 101, which we offer to all Envisioners. There’s so much to offer to our team from the chapters and the national organization.”
If you or members of your organization’s leadership are interested in building and supporting an “All In” culture founded on your Noble Purpose, please visit the Conscious Capitalism Chicago Join Us page to learn more.