SUCCESS Partners Case Study: Creating a Space for Employees to Thrive

Find out how SUCCESS Partners created an environment where employees can thrive in this case study, sponsored by Corgan and Herman Miller.

Photo by Kurt Griesbach, courtesy of Corgan.

Case study

Click here to download the full PDF version of the case study, How SUCCESS Partners Created an Environment Where Employees Can Thrive

The case study is chock full of images, drawings, and interviews with SUCCESS employees, Corgan designers, and Herman Miller experts. The full text of the case study, along with select images, is copied below.


Summary

SUCCESS Partners is a marketing firm that provides creative products and solutions to help their clients grow their businesses. Ten years ago, they acquired SUCCESS, a personal and professional development magazine. They publish it each month along with Direct Selling News, a trade publication for executives in the multi-level marketing industry.

At its core, the organization is dedicated to empowering their clients and readers to reach their full potential. In the fall of 2015, driven by the desire to create a workplace that promotes the same vision for their employees, they moved into a 50,000 square foot office (with 30,000 square feet of warehouse space for future expansion) in Plano, Tex.

With the help of Dallas-based design firm Corgan, the company has:

  • Created an open office environment where their employees and business can thrive, the result of an in-depth change management program that helped them to identify five guiding principles for the design of the new space: brand, collaboration, openness, innovation, and success
  • Achieved their goal of promoting more interaction and collaboration among employees by applying Herman Miller’s Locale™ furniture system, which was designed to support seamless transitions between working together and alone
  • Significantly increased client satisfaction and sales for their SUCCESS Partners business because of better communication and more collaboration
  • Doubled the digital readership of SUCCESS since moving into the new building and executing a magazine rebrand in tandem with the workplace design
  • Attracted more interest from a bigger crop of top talent with a new building and amenities, including a more desirable location

“The first week here, everybody just stood a little taller,” said Jim McCabe, VP and general manager of SUCCESS. “This is just a natural extension of our mission. We did for our employees what we try to do for our users and clients everyday.”

Photo by Kurt Griesbach, courtesy of Corgan.

Creating a work environment where people can thrive

SUCCESS Partners’ move to Plano was a long time coming: they’d been in their
old building — a warehouse the company owns in nearby Lake Dallas — for nearly 25 years.

“We came out of an environment that was so chopped up,” said Paul Adams, senior VP of strategic marketing for SUCCESS Partners. “It was never designed to [support] what we did. It became problematic in that we weren’t talking. We had 200 people under one roof and you weren’t seeing most of them over the course of a week, much less a day.”

With the new office, company leadership resolved to create a space that would encourage more interaction among employees. They were also keen to locate the office in a place that would be a draw for top talent, which is why they chose Plano — “one of the fastest growing, boomingest parts of the U.S.,” according to Adams.

“And from there, we asked, what happens if create an environment where people can actually thrive,” said Adams. “What happens to the business if you put them in a place where they can do their best and feel good about it?”

Don’t design the space to hold people. Design it to facilitate people.

The answer is, of course, good stuff. But to get there, the company would have to undertake an extensive change management program. They began by visiting over 25 like-minded businesses across the U.S. to get ideas about using office space to support organizational goals.

“We looked at so many different spaces and offices,” said McCabe. “We took advantage of scouting and I think that really helped us, to just observe how other companies interacted in those particular spaces. You see things you like and then you have to have enough discipline to say, ‘OK, what’s going to fit into our core mission?’”

They also formed a change committee of about 10 employees, handpicked from across the organization for their influence in their departments. In early conversations, Corgan led the group through visioning sessions to further refine their goals for the new office, exploring high-level questions like “What do you believe in?” and “Who do you desire to be?”

“Corgan told us, ‘Don’t design the space to hold people. Design it to facilitate people,’” said Adams. “Change management got to the core of what we believe.”

Photo by Kurt Griesbach, courtesy of Corgan.

They did have their detractors: one long-term employee was especially vocal about his resistance to a more open office environment. To assuage his skepticism, leadership intentionally included him in the design process. They also gave the employee — a senior artist for SUCCESS Partners — the opportunity to create two wall murals in the new space, both of which express the company culture graphically and make a big impact in the space. And now that he and his colleagues have settled in, he’s one of the building’s biggest fans.

Rachel Wittman, Corgan’s lead designer on the project, said that the positive result of such an in-depth change management program is that it helped to distill a handful of specific goals into a game plan for the new building.

“We wanted to get a good set of guiding principles that we would then take throughout each meeting to ensure that anything we showed is connected to them,” she said.

Here’s how they defined each principle:

1. Brand:
Provide opportunities to express the company’s unique identity and history
2. Collaboration: Bringing people together by connecting a variety of environments and enhancing communication
3. Openness: Energize the workplace with daylight and views, promoting wellness and productivity
4. Innovation: Stimulate creativity, resulting in leading-edge ideas
5. Success: Support a dynamic culture where the company’s employees thrive

Once the design process began, Wittman continued to meet monthly with the change committee to discuss progress, share exciting amenities, and show off the most recent renderings.

When move-in day arrived, they made the process as simple and fun as possible for the employees. On the Friday before the move, the committee invited everyone to drop off their boxes of supplies during a happy hour in the new space. When employees arrived at the office on Monday, their boxes were at their desks, their computers worked, and they were up and running in 30 minutes or less.

Photo by Kurt Griesbach, courtesy of Corgan.

Designing a space to support SUCCESS

If you make a mental list of the five guiding principles before visiting the SUCCESS Partners headquarters, you’ll get to check a few of them off the moment you arrive: the latest issue of SUCCESS towering over the reception desk (brand!); the soaring, bright atrium with a beckoning staircase (openness!); and employees crisscrossing the lobby between meetings, heading to a conference room, the “Library”, or the popular “Hub” (collaboration!).

Aspects of each principle emerge even more meaningfully as you walk through the office, leaving a larger — if less visually obvious — impact. Much of the innovation and success, in fact, comes thanks to Herman Miller, whose products are installed exclusively throughout the space. Most notably, the Locale product solution sets the stage for the increased collaboration among employees that currently has SUCCESS Partners on track to exceed nearly every sales goal they’ve set for this year.

The furniture solution

During the design process, Corgan spent a day taking the SUCCESS Partners team through several furniture showrooms to see products that might work in their new, more open office environment. The group was exhausted when they arrived at their final meeting in the Herman Miller showroom. There — in spite of plans to see a different furniture system — the SUCCESS Partners team was drawn to the Locale installation, where they gathered comfortably and casually, and began to discuss all they’d seen that day.

A light bulb went off: there’s something unique about this one. People liked it! They naturally collaborated around it.

“It shows what an intuitive solution it is, to allow for that atmosphere,” said Kim Slinkard, a workplace design specialist for Herman Miller, who — once the team inevitably chose Locale for the new HQ — partnered with Corgan and SUCCESS to program and implement the furniture in the space.

Today, every employee in the new headquarters works from Locale — it was, up until last year, the largest installation of the product in the world — and the company’s leadership feels it has been integral in encouraging the collaborative and creative nature of their employees.

Wendy Muth, a market development lead for Herman Miller, is not surprised that Locale appealed so strongly to the SUCCESS Partners team. “They wanted to create more ‘collisions’,” she said, “and Locale’s designers, Sam Hecht and Kim Colin, designed this system with serendipitous interactions in mind.”

Slinkard added that the inspiration behind Locale was a perfect fit for SUCCESS:

“The design is based on ideas behind urban planning and the English high street, where a variety of activities take place in close proximity,” she said. “An office environment with Locale does just that: it helps people feel better connected to their work, and to each other.”

The SUCCESS team has found that Locale is seamlessly supporting more focused individual work while also promoting more interaction and collaboration, since the height-adjustable work surfaces also allow for stand-up conversations at each desk.

“They’re more than workstations,” Muth said. “The reason they’re designed in a curvilinear nature is so that you can collaborate all around them. You literally have a meeting table at your own desk.”

The workspaces

After the team decided to use Locale for every department across the company, the next step was to work with the flexibility of the product to accommodate the different tasks associated with each group. This turned out to be another opportunity for Locale to shine.

At SUCCESS, Locale is used to create three different work settings, or — in Herman Miller Living Office® parlance — Hives, Coves, and Clubhouses. Hives are a group of workstations for people to harmoniously engage in individual and collaborative work; Coves are for people to assemble and engage with each other for a short period of time; and Clubhouses are neighborhoods where teams are assigned to specific tasks. These concepts resonated with SUCCESS as they sought to create workspaces where employees could more freely cycle from individual work to more collaborative settings.

Photo by Kurt Griesbach, courtesy of Corgan.

“We didn’t want to just put every employee in this environment that might not make sense,” said Wittman. “So, for example, accounting has a little bit more space, and they’re spread out with file banks in between.”

Likewise, they assigned employees in more creative positions — those who generally work from Macs with one monitor instead of PCs with two — to different Locale settings that better support their unique setup.

And while the majority of the employees work in the open space, a handful of executives occupy glass-walled offices. But, given the transparency, they’re hardly private. McCabe called the transparent walls “a great equalizer”: “In my office, I have about as much privacy as anybody else does, because I have glass all around,” he said. “You see in there.”

The openness of the environment, anchored by Locale, reflects the company’s core mission.

He added that the openness of the environment, anchored by Locale, reflects a large part of the company’s core mission. The increased visibility alone has made an impact on employee performance, inspiring friendly competitiveness in an environment where people can no longer hide.

“We wanted to maximize employees’ abilities to use their talents and contribute in a positive way to the collective goals of the company,” he said. “And one counterintuitive way that that worked was to go into a really open office environment. You would think that would be difficult — that [instead we should] give them their own space, give them their own ownership. But in empowering people to do their job in a way that was a little bit more public, I think we got people to be a lot more creative,” he said.

The collaborative spaces

In addition to the open work environment and the collaborative settings within it, the team knew from the outset that a variety of social spaces would be the key to creating more interaction. This is expressed most completely in “The Hub” — the dedicated social space that spans the ground floor of the west wing of the building. There are three conference rooms on the ground floor, too, each suited for a different kind of meeting.

“There’s a place to get whatever you need as far as an environment goes,” said Adams.

Photo by Kurt Griesbach, courtesy of Corgan.

The Hub includes everything from kitchen and dining space, to meeting nooks, booths, and a foosball table. On top of that, there’s a library full of professional development books where employees can go to read or for quiet heads-down work. There’s also a training room for internal programming, client sessions, and — when it’s not being used for either of those purposes — yoga.

Beyond the individual spaces, the designers were intentional about the relationship between each of them, and they’re connected by a thoughtful circulatory progression on the ground floor.

Wittman said that it’s in these social spaces that the company’s brand and dedication to their employees really shows forth.

“We could have continued to just put workstations in and try to get as many people in that we could, but it was more about creating the right space for the company,” she said. “When you [compare] the social and circulation square footage with the occupancy, we gave them an almost one-to-one ratio of a seat to a collaborative space.”

How the new workplace has energized the company

The creativity spurred by the new environment has paid off in a number of ways, both for employees and for clients. According to Paige Dungan, the marketing director for SUCCESS, regular employee engagement measurements show a dramatic impact.

“From a client standpoint, we found several opportunities to create new products and new designs that we can point directly to the collaborative atmosphere as a reason why they took shape,” she said. “These led to some impressive revenue increases and, more importantly, a higher level of trust and belief from our clients.”

Additionally, before the move, the SUCCESS team was mulling a redesign, and work began in earnest when they moved into the new building.

“There’s no mistake that the redesign hit when we were able to come here,” said McCabe. “Everybody’s idea of creativity opened up, and you’re in an environment that’s free and open, colorful, expressive, and lent itself to saying, ‘Hey, let’s communicate what we feel in the products we produce’.”

Photo by Kurt Griesbach, courtesy of Corgan.

On the SUCCESS Partners side of the business, Adams said that the new workplace has contributed directly to a much happier client base.

“It’s not even a question,” he said. “You get a happy client and a happy person doing the work, then the happy person goes back to the client, that dynamic tends to snowball, and client satisfaction has increased. And a lot of it goes back to not having the silos we used to have.”

On top of that, the business is having no trouble at all attracting new talent.

“I have a much better looking magazine and product because of the creativity and talent we have here,” said McCabe. “And over the past year we’ve attracted a lot [more] top talent. Employees from major journalism schools are coming here because they like what the product looks like, but also, when we interviewed them, they’re like, ‘Ok, this is a forward-looking place’.”

Since moving in to the building, McCabe said the magazine’s digital footprint has doubled, and the total footprint has increased, as well. He added that all of this contributes to getting more compelling public figures to be on the cover.

Altogether, Adams said the most important outcome of the project is a new attitude across the entire organization: people are excited about working, excited to collaborate, and excited to be in a team environment.

“Nobody’s grumpy,” he said. “We were always trying to build a sense of pride.”

They built that sense of pride, with the help of Corgan and Herman Miller, by looking within to determine what would really energize their brand, promote more collaboration, create a sense of openness, and stimulate innovation. Those principles turned out to be just what they needed to create a space for their employees and company to thrive.

You might even call it a recipe… for SUCCESS.

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