Feb 11

Happy birthday to our social contract

Sabo PR Social Contract CakeHow do you celebrate the anniversary of your social contract?

With cake, of course.

Today, we celebrate that important milestone at our Monday morning team meeting with cake – and conversation. Unlike some big-picture documents that linger under dust once completed (mission-vision-values-crisis plans, we’re looking at you), our social contract gets talked about a lot.

Today, it is being celebrated.

Our team formalized our social contract during our January 2018 strategic planning session under the guidance of Warner Norcross + Judd labor attorneys Lou Rabaut and Kelsey Dame. As Lou points out, every ongoing relationship, be it a marriage or a business, abides under a set of rules, whether spoken or implied. In business, these rules guide how a team operates – and how it interacts with clients and community.

I must admit, having sat through countless sessions with clients trying to distill their mission-vision-values, I was a bit skeptical when Lou started talking about a social contract. “Do we really need this?” I wondered. “Is it going to be a waste of time?”

With a year under our belts, I can confidently say that developing our social contract was one of the best things we did last year. I’m such a believer in the process, I’ve referred Lou and Kelsey to multiple clients – and they have worked their social contract magic for one of our nonprofits and one of our municipalities, with a second municipality slated to go through the process later this week.

The benefits have been many – and a few have been surprising:

  • Ah-ha moments for the current team: During that first session, as we whittled down the 15 or so principles into a more manageable 10, I saw light bulbs come on around the table. One team member confided afterward of being unaware of how actions impacted the team as a whole – and wound up making improvements.
  • Recruiting tool: Lou recommended we interview against our social contract, letting prospective employees know this is who we are and how we operate. It’s been great advice – we’ve used it in each new hiring situation to set expectations. In fact, when candidates are doing their online due diligence, our social contracts gets highlighted – a lot.
  • Yardstick for tough conversations: If we all agree to abide by the social contract, it can – and should – be brought out when a teammate’s behavior falls below the agreement. It can take some of the difficulty out of the inevitable tough conversations, either teammate to teammate or employer to employee.
  • Transparency for clients: When we’re pitching new business, we share our social contract with clients. It gives them an important peek behind the curtains of our agency. Cultural fit with a prospective client is just as important as it is with a new team member.

We refer to our social contract almost daily, most typically with jokes about roller skates – or ice skates, as one of our team quipped during the last two weeks of frigid weather. It also comes up as the final question of most days: What can I do to help you get out of here? It’s become an organic ritual that punctuates the closure of most every work day – and never fails to make me smile.

We’re in process of getting quotes to have our social contract stenciled on a conference room wall in our new office. It was a topic of discussion at Friday’s agency tour as we greeted eight up-and-coming PR professionals from Grand Valley State University. I made sure to take a copy with me on Sunday when I met a potential job candidate for coffee.

And today, as a team, we’ll celebrate the first anniversary of our social contract with conversation – and a little cake.


2 thoughts on “Happy birthday to our social contract”

  1. Mary Helmic says:

    This is very inspiring. Yay team Sabo PR! A social contract sounds like it’s worth its weight in gold!

    1. Brian Jon Greenleaf says:

      Thanks, Mary — we’re huge advocates of social contracts (and cake).

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