Steyer’s Real Mission

Jan 5, 2022
Kate Walton
Newsletter

 

Hello from my desk on Bainbridge Island, which, thanks to my husband, now sports a special light that automatically flashes red when I’m in a virtual meeting. The hope, now that Steyer has given up its offices and committed to being 100% remote, is that this magical light will stave off untimely interruptions from our kids. The jury’s still out, but I’ll keep you posted.

Today’s topic is: Why? Why, as Steyer enters its 27th year, is our merry little band still working so hard at the task of building this business? (I would say “tirelessly” but truth be told: by day’s end, we’re all pretty fracking tired.)

When I bought Steyer in 2017, we changed our name from Steyer Associates to Steyer Content. Like so many corporate moves, the purpose and impact of this tweak was largely internal: it signaled that our days of only supplying talent—or “associates”—to clients were over.

From that year on, we began to invest heavily in so-called “managed work”: rather than simply augment a client’s team with a contractor, we began asking our clients what content they needed. We then assembled a project team of our own, and we delivered that content, done and dusted.

At about this same time, we also stopped identifying solely with technical communications. Instead, we began defining our mission more broadly. We told anyone who’d listen that our real skill is “making meaningful connections between people and information,” and we happily—and I think ably—began tackling a far fuller range of content engagements: marketing writing in addition to technical writing. Instructional design. Graphic design. Video production. The whole content kit and caboodle!

Attaching the word “mission” to this expanded scope never felt quite right though. Speaking only for myself for a moment: I enjoy nailing a content engagement in much the same way that I enjoy cracking a crossword puzzle. It’s intellectually satisfying. By virtue of being just the right amount of challenging and doable, it throws off a whole lot of what the late Dr. Csikszentmihalyi called “flow,” to which I am happily addicted.

But “mission”? “Mission” always felt too lofty a word for the fun but unquestionably pedestrian activity that is: creating content in response to a client brief.

In 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, when we found ourselves focused not on our financial goals but on the true essentials—health, family, community—we discovered what really motivates us, what our real mission is: good jobs.

Good jobs! That’s it, in all its dull glory. In this world, where so much is wrong and it’s easy to feel powerless, we realized that one meaningful thing we could do is to create and nurture as many good jobs for creative professionals as possible. We acknowledged, especially those of us who were taking Desiree Adaway’s Freedom School, that we were doing so within the context of a deeply flawed system, and we resolved to proceed eyes open and hungry to learn. But in 2021 we formally made “Good Jobs” our new north star, and we began the painstaking process of defining exactly what that means. Our working definition currently includes these components:

  • Total number of jobs
  • Number of salaried, back-office team members vs. COB (Consultants on Billing)
  • Number of COB W-2s vs. COB 1099s
  • Average pay per hour
  • Full-time vs. part-time
  • Percent of total team using Steyer’s healthcare benefits
  • The portion of each person’s total desired work hours provided by Steyer (so different from “full-time vs. part-time,” this stat would look at how much work each person wants to have from us)
  • Some measure that captures a sense of professional contentment and belonging
  • Some measure that captures a sense of professional growth

This year, 2022, we plan to roll out, at least twice a year starting in June, an Edward Tufte-inspired graphic that shows exactly where we are on these dimensions, so that we—and you!—can visualize our progress (and/or setbacks).

If you’re willing to engage with me, here’s what I’d love to know:

  • What components of what *you* would define as a “good job” are currently missing from our working definition? What have we listed that in your view doesn’t matter at all?
  • Also, how crazy am I to consider releasing all of this info? To hold ourselves accountable, it seems important to do so—but I have a habit of making our lawyers nervous, so I’d welcome any hard-won wisdom on the subject of transparency that any of you would care to share!

As always, I can be reached via email at kwalton@steyer.net.

Thanks for reading,
Kate