Let me regale you.
Imagine 90,000 people clad in purple, red, green or yellow chanting so loudly in unison that their reverberating voices are louder than a jackhammer, live rock music, or a sonic boom – a 112-decibel expression of the complete and absolute devotion to an institution shared so passionately by tens of thousands of comrades.
Now imagine those 90,000 pairs of eyes, with thousands more watching from home, focused entirely on you with the expectation that you perform an athletic task deemed so repeatable and seemingly effortless that only perfection is acceptable. Imagine not only the inescapable pressure you would feel, but the pure exhilaration.
I would argue that this is adrenaline in its most visceral and natural form, and I experienced it every fall weekend just a handful of years ago.
Contrary to what you’re thinking, I was not shooting free throws for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals to topple the mighty Golden State Warriors and bring back the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time since 1964. Rather, I’m referring to the time I spent as a kicker for the Northwestern Wildcats during the 2017 college football season (Go ‘Cats).
Thankfully, I was the kickoff specialist rather than the field goal specialist, because I could barely keep the ball within a target 53 1/3 yards wide (the width of a football field), let alone between two field goal posts. Despite not holding the magnitude of the responsibility held by the quarterback, running backs, receivers or linebackers, I was nevertheless exposed to and molded by the same values to which nearly every current and former student-athlete is accustomed: diligence and a strong work ethic, personal and team accountability, and the drive to take initiative without being prompted.
Naturally, upon graduation, I strove to find an employer that shared these values. It is no coincidence I found Kenway Consulting.
A company of 51 employees, Kenway is home to nine former collegiate athletes – six football players, one baseball player, one track and field athlete, and one rower – and several current marathoners. The environment Kenway has cultivated is ideal for current and former student-athletes, as well as the broader population of motivated self-starters.
How, you ask? Great question. Let’s explore how three of the six themes of our Guiding Principles – Entrepreneurial Spirit & Tenacity, Value & Quality, and Means Over Outcomes – have helped foster this environment.
Entrepreneurial Spirit & Tenacity
Competition is unforgiving. It is generally accepted that the most successful players in a given sport are those who possess the humility to acknowledge weaknesses and the drive to strengthen them without being prompted by a coach, teammate or other external force. This internal motivation to proactively identify and capitalize on opportunities for growth is crucial to the success of one’s athletic career, and the same is true for one’s professional career.
There are few qualities valued more deeply by organizations than the ability of an employee to proactively identify, debate and implement solutions to address the needs of the market, clients or internal stakeholders. This quality is comprised of two key components:
- The foresight to identify risks, opportunities for improvement, and a path forward
- The drive to take action without being prompted
I cannot emphasize enough how profoundly corporations – Kenway included – depend on this quality to maintain and build competitive advantages and, therefore, how imperative it is for employees to hone this skill if they are to maximize the value of their careers. Unfortunately, this quality is rare, which is why Kenway has invested significant time, effort and energy into recruiting employees who possess this skill, while also cultivating an environment internally in which employees can build it organically.
Recognizing that Kenway is a small firm, each employee is accountable for a greater share of the company’s success or failure relative to a larger firm. It is, therefore, expected that each Kenway employee is consistently looking to the future to identify ways to improve the company. Generally speaking, this is the essence of entrepreneurship, and the following Guiding Principles capture Kenway’s sentiment toward this theme:
- “To never rest on our laurels, always looking to the future to identify necessary changes to maintain and improve Kenway’s strategic advantages.”
- “To engage employees to help build Kenway via involvement in internal operations.”
The concept of never resting on one’s laurels is evident throughout Kenway’s history. Kenway’s Salesforce partnership, custom application development service, and upcoming website relaunch are examples of an employee identifying an opportunity to improve and/or grow, and subsequently investing the time, effort and energy required to implement the change they saw necessary.
In fact, the creation of Kenway itself is a result of this concept. Demand was identified in the market for premium consulting services provided by a company focused on being good, being truthful, and always, under all circumstances and all economic conditions, doing the right thing. Brave, like-minded individuals have since elected to join Kenway and contribute to its mission by taking ownership of the company’s successes and failures, always looking to the future for improvement and never resting on one’s laurels.
Value & Quality
Arguably the most familiar concept to student-athletes is the act of being rewarded based on performance rather than seniority or status – a concept to which I can relate personally, as I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. Starting as a freshman and being benched as a senior are equally humbling, and quickly make one appreciate the concept of merit-based rewards.
Let me share with you two of our Guiding Principles that align with this appreciation:
- “To reward all parties with whom we come into contact based on quality, effort and integrity.”
- “To utilize a value-minus-cost approach to assess each employee’s performance.”
Tightly intertwined, the former Guiding Principle serves primarily as a guiding force in our decision-making, while the latter serves as a tactical implementation of the former. Together, the two manifest in a performance evaluation process and compensation model unlike any other.
Throughout the year, Kenway tracks performance across 18 dimensions ranging from learning agility and structured problem resolution, to alignment and adherence to our Guiding Principles. Scores in each of these categories are used, among other factors, to calculate the value consultants add to Kenway and our clients. Our individual costs, which are primarily comprised of our salaries and overhead, are subtracted from our value, and the difference is used to make subsequent compensation decisions.
In this model, employees with higher salaries inherently have higher costs and are, therefore, required to generate value in greater magnitudes if they are to grow their value-minus-cost delta outlined above. No direct considerations of age, status or tenure are made when making compensation decisions. Not only is this compensation model a balance of art and science in an attempt to make it as objective as possible, it is a conscious effort by Kenway to reward employees based on quality, effort and integrity. As a result, employees are compensated in a fair, just and merit-based manner – something I believe many former student-athletes can appreciate.
Means Over Outcomes
Despite having 23 Guiding Principles, there is one Principle that could be considered the basis for all others and the metaphoric heart of Kenway. It is the Principle that is so deeply ingrained in every Kenway employee’s thoughts, actions and beliefs that we broadly equate it with how Kenway operates.
It reads as follows:
“To focus on the means and not the outcomes, always in line with our Guiding Principles and always with integrity as our cornerstone.”
The concept of focusing on means over outcomes is so central to Kenway’s identity as a company that it is written on our walls, assimilated into the lives of our employees, and shared with each client and prospect with whom we interact.
It mandates that the outcome of any endeavor is acceptable, so long as the means were sound. This emphasis on always acting with integrity is directly related to the discipline, personal accountability, and team accountability required by student-athletes to avoid becoming complacent. The concept of holding oneself and one’s teammates accountable is far from foreign to student-athletes, and the same is true for Kenway’s employees.
For example, Kenway was recently honored with designations on the following lists:
- Inc. magazine’s “Inc. 5000” list, an annual ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies
- Vault.com’s lists of the best consulting firms to work for in North America, the “Vault Consulting 50” and “Best Boutique Consulting Firms”
- Crain’s Chicago Business’ list of “Best Places to Work in Chicago”
- The National Association for Business Resources’ (NABR) lists of “Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation®” and “Chicago’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For®”
Although we have celebrated these honors and recognitions, they are ultimately outcomes that remind us of the sound means we employed throughout the previous year. Rather than fueling complacency, these awards have amplified our focus on practicing the right means.
Since receiving these acknowledgments, we have introduced new internal teams, developed a comprehensive growth strategy, and enhanced our business intelligence capabilities to track company and employee performance with tremendous insight. Each of these initiatives is intended to improve employees’ abilities to hold each other accountable and focus on means over outcomes, both of which are initiatives to which I am sure most student-athletes can relate.
As mentioned before, it is no coincidence that Kenway is home to a variety of current and former athletes. The invigorating work environment Kenway has created is the product of years of investment in the Guiding Principles discussed above, which align with many of the qualities cultivated by collegiate athletics.
However, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention one last Guiding Principle that underscores the premise of this article:
“To avoid collectivist thoughts, words and actions.”
Intuitive, yet powerful, this Guiding Principle articulates Kenway’s mission to avoid making broad, sweeping claims and classifying individuals based on stereotypes. As such, I would hope that you have been reading this article with skepticism, as none of the values we’ve explored together are unique to student-athletes (nor does every student-athlete embody these values).
You and I both know countless friends, family members and coworkers without athletic backgrounds who possess entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity; value quality, effort and integrity over age, status and tenure; and hold themselves and their teammates accountable to focusing on means and not outcomes. And my hunch is that if you’ve read this far, you possess many of these qualities as well.
If this is the case, and something feels “right” about Kenway, I encourage you to reach out. Whether you’re pondering your next career move, searching for a new consulting partnership, or are generally interested in learning more about Kenway, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you.