How a journey of self-growth led to a culture of caring in an industry not known for that sort of thing.
This issue of CATALYST features the story of someone who got a glimpse of the future and didn't like what she saw.
Nancy Pautsch, President of Madison, WI-based Envision IT, LLC decided to take control and change forever her life and the lives of countless others all while building a successful business with her team members.
Nancy is what the people who came up with the saying "lightning in a bottle" had in mind. A dynamo who will greet you with a broad, sincere smile and a servant's heart, Nancy shares the story of how she came to the Conscious Capitalism movement and hasn't looked back.
Nancy has served on many local and national charitable boards and is currently the Chair of the Advisory Board to the Chicago Chapter of Conscious Capitalism.
So...try to keep up! Envision's story is inspiring.
ENVISIONING SOMETHING BETTER
Ask Nancy Pautsch, President of Envision IT in Madison, WI, 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 killifish, which has adapted to living in some of the United States’ most polluted waters along the East Coast, many people in the tech industry adapt to a toxic environment because they’ve known nothing else.
For Nancy, 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.
Feeling conflicted and still in search of the path that she was destined to travel, Nancy had what she calls her “dark night of the soul.” For years, she and her colleague, Bill Crahen had toiled together and fought the kind of foxhole battles that forge an unbreakable bond. The pressures of those constant struggles eventually took their toll.
One day Bill 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,” Nancy recalled.
As fate would have it, Nancy 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,” she says.
“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 when 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 Beau 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," said Nancy.
"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, Nancy and Bill joined Beau determined to build a conscious business positioned for the long term.
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 Nancy.
Nancy is particularly grateful that the other team members at Envision IT – they call themselves Envisioners – have embraced and emboldened the culture at the company. “It’s palpable. It’s just heartwarming," she says with pride and gratitude.
"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.”
“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,” she says.
“In the technology industry if you're 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,” Nancy exclaims proudly.
A self-described "type A-cubed" personality, Nancy'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 thoughtfully looked at the interdependence of the bad carrots and sticks that we had experienced before and how they hurt the company's 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.”
Nancy 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, 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,” Nancy 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. Nancy 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!”
When faced with a turning point in their lives and their careers, Nancy Pautsch, Bill Crahen, and Beau Smithback 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. While these leaders didn’t know for sure where the journey would take them, they 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 Nancy.
“Early on it was really awesome undoing everything we had learned and trying to do the opposite. We began with our higher or noble purpose – To Enrich the Lives of our Stakeholders.”
"We had not found the Conscious Capitalism community yet, but when I go in, I go ALL IN," she admits. "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."
Nancy says that finding the common language, support structure, and community of like-minded people at Conscious Capitalism has been like an "explosion of love."
“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," Nancy says. "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."
Nancy 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."
Nothing solidifies a deep understanding of the power of the Conscious Capitalism approach better than building relationships with like-minded leaders. Nancy and the team at Envision IT have found that is especially true through their active support of the Conscious Capitalism movement.
"We help Envisioners with their individual conscious leadership journeys and share all the resources that we have – books, podcasts, videos, workshops, etc.,” Nancy 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.”
One More Thing...
A life-long learner and voracious reader, Nancy often shares that passion for seeking out new perspectives and ideas. Asked what five books on purpose, leadership, personal empowerment, and growth she recommends to Envisioners, Nancy offered the following suggestions:
Notice how she snuck in a sixth suggestion in that list? As you might expect from a “type A-cubed” personality, Nancy provided additional examples of books that inspire her in her personal growth journey.
Conscious Capitalism – Chicago Stories
As the first national chapter of Conscious Capitalism, the Chicago chapter has striven to tell the stories of Conscious Leaders in our community. Chicago Stories is a celebration of people throughout the Chicagoland area who understand that business, done well, can elevate humanity.
You are invited to join our community of business leaders who know that Chicago is and always will be the City of Big Shoulders AND Open Arms. Visit us at www.consciouscapitalismchicago.org to see how you can get involved.
Maybe we can tell your Chicago Story!