In this seven-part series, we’ll talk with Catherine Allen, Senior Vice President in our Boston office, and look in-depth at what each of the 7 core values means and how they affect our work, our clients, our employees, and our community. In this post, we look at what it means to be ballsy at SHIFT.
Ballsy goes with creative to some degree. What’s so creative, so ambitious, so out there that no one would have dared to do it? You’re gutsy in what you do, in what you want to do. You tend to ask for forgiveness later rather than permission first, taking no prisoners – within of course, the boundaries of what’s professionally acceptable. You’re persistent, forward, and assertive.
We actually struggled with this term a fair bit when we were fleshing out our core values. It’s more than mojo, more than just being in the groove. Ballsy is much more powerful. We wanted to surprise people with what PR was, what it could be, and we knew we couldn’t do that by playing it safe and being conventional. Ballsy is about calculated, measured risk-taking and stepping as far outside your comfort zones as possible.
When hiring for it, I ask about people’s lives. Do you do things that require you to step outside your comfort zone and take (measured) risks, like jumping out of airplanes? I look for that twinkle in their eye about a story they’re eager to retell, a hint of that spark, that fire that shows they’ve been outside their comfort zone and they like it there. I’ll ask for stories about overcoming challenges and listen as people share things that really took some guts, some intestinal fortitude to get through. I look for when people knock it out of the park, when they display clear ambition to go far beyond meeting minimum expectations, took some risk to get amazing results.
With staff, in order to create that environment, I have to actively foster that by pushing back constantly. I’ll look at a project and say, nothing in here got me excited or eager to show this to a client. It met expectations, which is a polite death sentence for any work in the agency world, because the goal is always to pole vault over expectations. I want to see ideas that are shocking, surprising, and engaging. I want to see our staff taking calculated risks with their work. We can always throttle back – that’s easy. Pushing the edges is a lot harder.
The flip side is making sure that calculated risk-taking is possible, and you can only do that in a safe environment where you feel secure in taking risks. You won’t get fired for taking a risk unless it’s far outside the boundaries of what’s professionally acceptable because you have a team to help pull things back before it goes to the client. You won’t harm your career or your professional relationships in the agency by coming up with crazy, ballsy ideas during a brainstorm or a campaign – in fact, the wilder and crazier the ideas are in the initial stages of a project, the better. We can always refine them and tune them down the road.
The irony is that being ballsy is the best way to play it safe for your career!
Catherine H. Allen
Executive Vice President