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4 minutes

Strategies for Building a Successful Company With Strong Values

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Work­ing with the gov­ern­ment requires a par­tic­u­lar type of vision and patience, and Kendall Hol­brook, CEO at Dev Tech­nol­o­gy Group, has been help­ing lead Dev in becom­ing a dif­fer­ent type of gov­ern­ment con­trac­tor. She recent­ly stopped by The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture and talked about grow­ing from 40 to 250 team mem­bers since she arrived, as well as how she and the team wrote their com­pa­ny val­ues togeth­er and use them every day.

Dev offers mis­sion-crit­i­cal appli­ca­tions and sys­tems that pro­tect and serve Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. Its client list includes the depart­ments of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, State, Defense and the Nation­al Guard. It spe­cial­izes in full-stack appli­ca­tion devel­op­ment, bio­met­rics and iden­ti­ty man­age­ment, cloud and infra­struc­ture opti­miza­tion, IT and lega­cy mod­ern­iza­tion and data management.

Kendall didn’t start her 13-year tenure at Dev at the top. She start­ed as a VP of Busi­ness Devel­op­ment and worked her way up. In fact, right before being hired at Dev she had start­ed her own busi­ness, con­fi­dent that after leav­ing her last posi­tion at a large orga­ni­za­tion she want­ed to build a com­pa­ny. But Dev offered her a chance to build a com­pa­ny, but on a larg­er scale. Dev was open to her con­tin­u­ing to run her own busi­ness at the same time but, as time went on, both par­ties real­ized they were doing great work togeth­er and Kendall ful­ly com­mit­ted to her work at Dev.

A Different Kind of Government Contractor

It was a big change at first. Kendall had come from a pub­licly-trad­ed cor­po­ra­tion with lots of help for projects and now she was rolling her sleeves up with oth­er team mem­bers, doing every­thing with lim­it­ed resources. But that envi­ron­ment also drove home a small-busi­ness les­son for her:

“At pub­licly-trad­ed orga­ni­za­tions, a lot of lead­er­ship deci­sions are made based on what every­one from the out­side thinks, what Wall Street thinks, about the orga­ni­za­tion. But in a small, pri­vate­ly-held busi­ness, you get to make the right deci­sions for the clients, for the employees.”

One of those ear­ly deci­sions was to become a prime con­trac­tor. Prime con­trac­tors work direct­ly with the gov­ern­ment and man­age sub­con­trac­tors direct­ly. Ulti­mate respon­si­bil­i­ty for projects falls on them.

By being a prime con­trac­tor, Dev cre­at­ed a more sta­ble envi­ron­ment for its team mem­bers, an envi­ron­ment that would allow them to progress and grow with the com­pa­ny. Dev smashed through its tar­get of 50% of its own prime work and 50% sub­con­trac­tor work in the first year, and then grew to 80% prime work. That growth allowed it to have con­trol of its con­tracts, talk direct­ly with clients and devel­op the team properly.

Kendall not­ed that gov­ern­ment work is dis­trib­uted among a pret­ty small pool and if you’re not doing a good job, word spreads and, before too long, you’re not get­ting any more con­tracts. On the oth­er hand, if you do well, the gov­ern­ment will keep you around. Dev had the plan to grow slow­ly, not tak­ing a swing at things it didn’t have expe­ri­ence with but instead stick­ing to what it knew well.

Company Values

This growth even­tu­al­ly led to Kendall’s pro­mo­tion to CEO in 2018 and with that pro­mo­tion came a reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the busi­ness. One of the aspects of that reor­ga­ni­za­tion was writ­ing down the com­pa­ny val­ues, as Dev was mov­ing from a founder-run com­pa­ny to a larg­er, grow­ing business.

Kendall used this oppor­tu­ni­ty to get input from the entire com­pa­ny. An employ­ee sur­vey col­lect­ed a num­ber of words that employ­ees iden­ti­fied with the com­pa­ny, and the lead­er­ship team wrote down their own words with­out ref­er­ence to those from the sur­vey. Once all the words were brought togeth­er, they pri­or­i­tized and vot­ed and wrote def­i­n­i­tions. Here’s what they came up with:

- Integri­ty: Trust­ed to always do the right thing.

- Respect: Treat indi­vid­u­als with respect and compassion.

- Col­lab­o­ra­tion: Work­ing togeth­er we accom­plish more and make bet­ter decisions.

- Inno­va­tion: Tack­ling every chal­lenge with pas­sion, an open mind and a will­ing­ness to learn from every suc­cess and failure.

- Resilience: Show­ing deter­mi­na­tion, agili­ty and com­mit­ment in every situation.

- Com­mu­ni­ty: Feel­ing con­nect­ed to each oth­er, our clients’ mis­sion and the com­mu­ni­ties where we live.

Kendall sees these val­ues used every day in the busi­ness and par­tic­u­lar­ly in the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic. A week before any gov­ern­ment restric­tions came into effect, Dev had sent its team home and start­ed the process of nego­ti­at­ing for off-site work with all the clients. Kendall saw this move as lever­ag­ing the company’s respect and integrity.

Some­thing else that Dev did proac­tive­ly was to buy a bunch of Covid tests and ship them to team mem­bers. It want­ed to make sure staff didn’t have to scram­ble to get one and, sure enough, there were short­ages, but not for the well-pre­pared Dev team. Here were its val­ues of resilience and com­mu­ni­ty in action.

Now, after the pan­dem­ic, as the com­pa­ny works in a hybrid mod­el, it is putting its val­ues of col­lab­o­ra­tion and inno­va­tion to work, fig­ur­ing out what the strat­e­gy will be in the future.

Kendall likes to think that part of her job as CEO is to think about what the com­pa­ny needs to do to per­form 12 – 18 months in the future. Part of that is pre­dict­ing what the world of work will look like for the com­pa­ny and its indus­try. Kendall doesn’t pre­tend to know exact­ly how that will shake out, but she is con­fi­dent that by lis­ten­ing to her team and fol­low­ing the com­pa­ny val­ues they cre­at­ed togeth­er, they have a bright future ahead.

Check Out the Full Episode

If you’d like to learn more about Dev and Kendal­l’s jour­ney to CEO, lis­ten to our full inter­view on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

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