During my tenure as Filter's Creative Director, one of my responsibilities was to reimagine the company's brand in a way that captured the essence of Filter's culture – which is rather unique, in that the company (at the time) was a combination of 50 full-time staff, 250+ and a network of 10,000+ remote contractors.
Skip to the pretty... or read on.
In the spirit of "seek first to understand," I needed to get a broader picture of Filter's culture beyond the core staff in their Seattle HQ – including trying to determine which values (if any) we all shared. Enter one of my favorite tools: Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan. We used the principles and techniques in the book to evaluate and categorize Filter's tribal culture. And we had to come to terms with what we discovered:
WE WERE A STAGE 3 TRIBE ON A GOOD DAY
Because of Filter's unique organizational structure, we had a multi-faceted challenge. First, the company's internal staff was spread across Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and rarely interacted with each other outside their market – the vast majority of staff was in the Seattle HQ and the handful of staff in the regional offices often felt isolated and forgotten. Second, there was a cultural rift in the Seattle HQ – those embracing Filter's new digital studio venture and those firmly grounded in Filter's legacy as a staffing firm.
Finally, the company's talent network of over 10,000 remote professionals was a bit of a black box – not in terms of skills and availability, but more in terms of needs, motivations, behaviors and concerns. The communication conduits available to the talent network were few and poorly managed, creating a perception that Filter wasn't interested in learning how to improve things for those in the network – either individually or collectively.
CANDID CONVERSATIONS GALORE
So how do we psychologically and emotionally unite thousands of people across the West coast – most of whom have and will never meet one another – around a common "noble cause"?
We first had to ensure that the leadership team was 100% committed to what could be a very lengthy and painful process. We had everyone read Dave Logan's book (at least twice), we had several planning meetings on how to apply the techniques to our situation, and we set a timeline.
We started with a survey, as it was the quickest and easiest way to reach as many in the network as possible. Response was lackluster and dripping with satire – understandably so, because folks in the network saw this as (and I'm quoting) "just more lip service that wasn't going to really change anything". We had to try something else.
Knowing that accountability breeds credibility, we decided on a bit of a risky move – a video love-letter to the network (and in a way to each other). We shot a vignette of Filter's internal staff and leadership team apologizing for the way things have been, expressing their appreciation for sticking with us, and offering a heartfelt promise that things are changing and will get better. We closed it by inviting them to join us on this journey and encouraging them to "sign the pledge" (located further down on the page with the video).
TIME TO LEVEL-UP
The video had two big effects. One, it cleared the air with Filter's internal staff and provided a powerful "reset moment" for everyone – marking a milestone that everyone could use to leave the past in the past and come together for a brighter future. Two, it quickly helped us identify those in the talent network who felt trapped by the pervasive stage 2 tribal mindset and wanted things to be different/better – those individuals were mentored in the ways of tribal leadership and then encouraged to mentor other members of the network (and so on). Incorporated into this process were intentional conversations designed to glean which stage each individual was in (to help customize the mentoring), and some contextual inquiry to identify that individual's core values.
We also hit upon the notion that the mentoring process should be, in part, a retraining process. From how we communicate with each other, to the terms we use. Much like a fresh coat of paint in a room, a new term or label can change your whole perspective. So we made the conscious choice to adopt new terms for existing parts of our organization.
Instead of network? TRIBE.
Instead of employee, staff, or talent? MEMBER.
Instead of job, contract, or placement? GIG.
IT'S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE TO YESTERDAY
There were also some hard decisions to make during this time of reflection and growth. Some people (both internally and in the broader network) were having trouble embracing the change, and in some cases actively railed against it. We had to be willing to "vote people off the island" for the good of those who wanted to see the tribe thrive - including culling the number of people in our talent network. A big part of evolving and maintaining a group's tribal culture is using the tribe's core values as hiring/firing criteria.
This process had also revealed to us that only half of those registered in our database were active members, and only a fraction of those were vocal enough to step up and participate in the mentorship program. But over time, we were able to reach approximately 3,500 people in our database, onboard them to this new tribal mindset, and capture their individual core values. But as a result, we had to let go of a long-standing point of pride – having the largest network of registered creative/technical talent on the West coast – in favor of a smaller but vastly more dedicated tribe.
There was one term we still hadn't landed on, though. We had started calling ourselves a "tribe" which worked well as an internal term, but lacked a sense of uniqueness externally – after all, we weren't the only organization who'd fallen in love with Dave Logan's work. We needed a term that we could own. Something sharp and classy, but not pretentious or forced. Something that people could embrace and give them a sense of belonging. Something that felt connected to our noble cause.
WE ARE THE FILTERATI
Marketing Director Lisa Weeks and I coined the term Filterati – intended to embody the meaning of both literati and glitterati – as a badge of pride that people affiliated with Filter could rally around and make a part of their identity. The term, and the associated tribal values, were an immediate success because they were born directly from the work we did to expose the common cultural threads that bound us all together and made us more than the sum of our parts. Aligned with the empowering brand calls of "welcome to the new world of work" and "join the tribe", the Filterati initiative served as a galvanizing moment in Filter's history.
Filter's brand and website experience have evolved significantly since my time there, but it's humbling to see them retain some of the best parts of the brand architecture – including much of my original "how we sound" guidelines in their content.
What you see below is a sampling of concept boards we created around the Filterati campaign.
In this incarnation they were intended for use in various print applications, but we did explore creating a web-app that would allow members to generate a custom version using their own photography and a list of pre-provided "headlines" – which could be used everywhere from business cards to Facebook cover photos.
An earlier approach focused on turning the perception of "the freelance lifestyle" on its head, and challenging the preconceived notions of disciplinary specialists. This approach was borne from a frustration shared by many internal staff – we lost count how many times we heard a client say "Wow, I didn't know Filter folks could do THAT; I thought y'all were just designers."
One of our Account Executives used the headline you see below as a response during a conference call and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I knew I had to build a campaign around it.