Power lies within

HOW Magazine | By Darren Painter

See how creative firms are using technology to manage team resources and develop closer client relationships.

Steve is the go-to guy when any of Currency Marketing’s 10 employees forget the preferred way to reorder pressure-sensitive laminate or need the firm’s username and password to access a stock-photo website.

He’s thoughtful, the kind of guy who remembers that Sandy Pitkethly, Currency’s director of client services, prefers chocolate pecan pie instead of cake on her birthday, February 12. He’s also resourceful (he reminds the team that garbage is removed from the premises on Fridays at 9 a.m.), a little nerdy (he knows that each employee’s short-term disability benefit is two-thirds of weekly earnings or $800, whichever is less) and unabashedly eclectic (the best way to cook “turducken”—a chicken stuffed in a duck that’s stuffed in a turkey—is for about nine hours at 225 degrees F).

"Steve is the man who knows everything and has the lowdown on everybody,” says Tim McAlpine, president and chief strategist at Currency Marketing, based in Chilliwack, British Columbia. “He’s a superhero. If you need anything, you turn to Steve."

Actually, you turn him on.

Intranet infuses new mission

Steve is the name if Currency’s intranet, which McAlpine launched in 2003 after a strategic review of the agency’s branding, positioning and operational procedures. At the time, the firm, then called McAlpine Design Group, served 130 clients and had experienced two years of sales stagnation. “Most marketing agencies try to offer something for everyone, and we were no exception," he says.

So McAlpine repositioned his company as a specialist, concentrating solely on helping credit unions and travel firms promote and reposition their brands. Today, Currency Marketing works with only 15 clients, yet brings in twice as much annual revenue as it did five years ago. As the company repositioned, it also streamlined internal processes. Workflow had been driven by different software systems, and knowledge among employees was fragmented, McAlpine says. For example, folks in the firm’s interactive department saved important IP addresses, usernames and passwords on the company’s server, but not in a common folder that everyone used.

McAlpine turned to one of its technology partners, K1 Technologies of Abbotsford, British Columbia, which specializes in developing and deploying website tools for businesses. K1 designed an intranet for Currency Marketing that adhered to the agency’s new branding mantra of being "smart, solid, surprising and single-minded" when working with clients.

And so, Steve was born.

Why "Steve"? Once, a client of McAlpine’s (who wasn’t named Kevin) said he no longer wanted to sign going-away cards for departing co-workers with short, insincere messages. So he began signing each one, "I will miss our lunch-time basketball games. Take care!—Kevin." Says McAlpine: "I loved this story. And since we already have a Kevin at the office, Steve was the next best name."

Today, Steve serves as a valuable information repository with a kind of multiple personality disorder, a central place from which employees can access answers to common HR questions, read and contribute ideas and improve business, and post irreverent musings. Additions and edits aren’t made in real time, as done on a wiki. Rather, employees submit them by completing short forms on the intranet that are approved by McAlpine and uploaded later.

Steve’s four content sections—Smart, Solid, Surprising and Single-minded—reinforce Currency’s mission. The first includes day-to-day operational and HR details, such as the employee handbook and a discussion about the firm’s profit-sharing plan. The section has a widely used “Technology Information’ link that includes directions for accessing server paths, company licenses, website administration tools and other sensitive information.

"A key goal for Steve was not to make him a management replacement," McApline says. “An intranet can’t fix every problem or solve every challenge, so we have to continually engage with each other. Steve is a place where we can go to solve issues, but it’s not a place for conflict resolution."

The second section, Solid, embodies one of McAlpine’s management principles:

"I think management and employees should be in business together,” he says. “Employees want open leadership and the empowerment to know what’s going on now and what they can expect in the future.” To that end, the area includes new-business news (who the firm is wooing and who’s biting), client rankings by revenue and gross income, monthly and quarterly sales data, supplier file specs and more.

Steve’s Surprising and Single-Minded sections showcase Currency’s penchant for fun and focus, respectively. Employees in a sharing mood can post a movie review, video or their favorite recipe; new hires or employees preparing for a presentation can read about the agency’s recipe for market specialization. A believer that the right idea can come from left field, McAlpine added a Business Ideas area on Steve where employees can complete the sentence, “If I ran this place, I’d…" Once recent idea was to include all Currency staff on the press release distribution list, so employees can reply more knowledgeably to clients who respond to those releases with questions.

McAlpine says he’s considering making the next generation of Steve an open-source wiki, but that the current version achieves a “good balance between comprehensive and controlled."