The InterWorks Mantra: Do the Best Work for the Best Clients with the Best People


The InterWorks Mantra: Do the Best Work for the Best Clients with the Best People

I’ve always found it hard to attach labels and definitions to things, especially InterWorks, for a lot of reasons. In a recent blog post, I detailed how and why InterWorks came to be. When I started InterWorks, we didn’t have a super defined mantra, mission statement or 10-year plan – it was simply about having fun doing work that we enjoy. That was my response anytime someone asked me what we were trying to do with InterWorks, and people loved that answer for a long time.

As the years went on, we kept experiencing tremendous success. Opportunity kept leading to more opportunity, and this implied idea of chasing whatever work we found fun seemed like it could stretch on forever. But people kept asking the same question: “What exactly is InterWorks trying to do?”

We realized at some point that if we didn’t put guardrails on our business, we might keep growing into infinity and potentially wind up in a place we never intended to be. The question loomed on, and it honestly took a few years of conversation and reflection to finally emerge with a guiding mantra that felt fitting: “Do the best work for the best clients with the best people.”

Do the best work for the best clients with the best people

At a glance, it looks pretty simple. It’s easy to gloss over the fact that it took a long time to get to a point where we could talk about this comfortably and really summarize what InterWorks is all about in one statement. For me, if those three conditions are true, then I’m happy with what we’re doing and where we’re headed. Of course, even after sharing that, people still ask me on a regular basis, “Where will you be in three years? Five years? What will you be doing?” For me, the answer to all those questions is, “Doing the best work for the best clients with the best people.” That’s the goal irrespective of time and circumstance.

All that said, I think there’s still a need at times to break down what such a simple statement actually means in practice. We can start with the things that it’s not. It’s not about a specific technology. It’s not about size. It’s not about revenue targets or growth targets. The only thing it’s really about is finding the balance between three points. We’ll zoom in on Best Work first.

Best Work

Best work can qualify as a lot of different things. Maybe it’s the ability to truly listen to and understand a client’s needs, or maybe it’s the ability to collaborate really well, or perhaps it’s just executing at a really high level. Best Work can be all those things and a whole lot more. Here’s another way of expressing it. Take a look at the pictures below of some server racks:

Bad server Good server

I think even if you don’t really know what you’re looking at here, you’d likely agree that what we have on the left is sloppy work. Now, look on the right. You’d probably agree that this looks like much better work. Sometimes, you just know Best Work when you see it.

To take the server rack example a little further, when we built our corporate headquarters in Stillwater, Oklahoma, we obviously wanted to plan where our server racks would live and how they would be arranged. Even though InterWorks doesn’t run cable like we used to, I went to the team and said, “Let’s just take care of running the cables ourselves.” For old time’s sake, I was involved in the project, which was really just me marking the spots where I thought we needed cables. Beyond that, the team did the rest. They came back with something that looked like this:

InterWorks server closet InterWorks server lights

This is what I would consider Best Work. Here’s what I love about this: The picture on the left is within a closet that no one will ever see, but the team still went through the extra effort of color-coding the cables, making sure we had nice face plates on everything, getting our logo etched on a piece of metal and even putting lights on top of the rack. Keep in mind that no one ever goes into the closet to look at this. These alterations may have altered the budget and time spent on this rack by, like, 5%, but it was those extra inches that made this memorable work. Best Work is all about doing your best work at all times, even if nobody ever sees it. Whether it’s a network rack, a database schema, putting data into a CRM, a data visualization or whatever, this philosophy should be applied to every single thing we do across every aspect of the business.

Best Clients

So, we’ve established the first part of our triad, which is Best Work, but what does it mean to do Best Work for the Best Clients? Who or what qualifies as Best Clients in the first place? I could talk about our clients who happen to be household names – massive brands with tons of prestige and name recognition – and it’s true that many of those names qualify as Best Clients, but it’s really not about the name or the logo that makes them so great. Instead of focusing on names that sound prestigious, I always like to talk about a client of ours that, unless you’re from North Central Oklahoma, you’re probably unfamiliar with. This client is a small, Stillwater-based optometry office called Cockrell Eyecare Center. If we could find a hundred more clients like Cockrell, we’d take them in a second. So, what makes them so great?

Number one, we have a real and meaningful relationship with them that goes all the way back to 1997. In fact, I have Dr. David’s cell phone number and he has mine. If he needs to call me on a Sunday night, he can. If I need to call him on a Sunday night, I can. He doesn’t have an unlimited budget for everything, but if we call him and say, “Hey you need this piece of technology and it’s going to cost $50,000,” he might ask a couple of questions, but he ultimately trusts our judgment. He trusts InterWorks to make sure his technology’s working for him. We understand his parameters and how he wants his business to run. It is 100% a partnership. We are not a vendor to him; we are a partner to him. He pays his bills on time, he doesn’t nitpick at them and, in turn, we don’t nickel and dime him. It is a two-way relationship that leaves us both happy, and that is what makes a Best Client.

Cockrell Eyecare Center

Now, the next question is what happens when we don’t have that kind of relationship? At least in the early years of InterWorks, we didn’t always have the luxury of being overly particular about the clients we worked with, but as we got more established, we began asking ourselves what type of work we truly enjoy doing and with whom. Some years back, we developed a sort of grading system. The first time we started applying this system to our client relationships, we ended up letting about 70 clients go because they didn’t meet our threshold for Best Clients. The clients we let go fell into one of two buckets:

  1. Those we simply did not enjoy working with
  2. Those we enjoyed working with, but the work wasn’t the type of work we wanted

Here’s an example of a high-profile client that did not personify Best Clients in the end. I won’t say names for this one, so we’ll just say that this is a massive technology company based in the Bay Area that virtually everyone knows. When we first started working for them, we were doing some really cool work. We were responsible for standing up Tableau, rolling it out across the entire organization, along with some very high-level data architecture and data engineering work. So, we rolled everything out and before long, they had reached a more mature phase in their analytics lifecycle where they simply needed some talented people to keep things running with their Tableau environment. We had a lot of senior resources on this account, and our work evolved into something more focused on staffing. We were no longer consulting as we knew it – it was straight-up staffing.

So, we approached them, told them that we loved working with them, but we expressed that this wasn’t the type of work we wanted to be doing. They agreed and promised to change our work dynamic. Unfortunately, that never materialized. After a few more iterations of this conversation, we came back to the entire company and asked if anyone at InterWorks wanted to keep doing this type of staffing work for the client. The opportunity was there, but nobody wanted to do it. Even though they were a great client in a lot of other ways, we told them that this wasn’t the type of work we wanted to be doing and that they had 60 days to find someone new. Mind you, this client was 100% utilization, had no problem paying their bills and the prestige of working there was something really cool to everyone at InterWorks. But, at the end of the day, those things didn’t outweigh our need to do meaningful work that matters to us.

Best People

The last, and perhaps most important, ingredient of this entire equation is Best People. Much like our definitions for Best Work and Best Clients, the way we determine what “best” really means goes far beyond what’s on paper. Best People to us doesn’t always mean people with a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience. Those things are certainly useful and can contribute to Best People, but there are plenty of brilliant people out there who just don’t have it together in other ways that are important to us. So, what are those things?

In the companion post to this, “An InterWorks History,” I shared a lot of pictures of friends and family who, over the years, have joined InterWorks. The reason I shared those examples wasn’t to say that someone has to be one of my best friends to work here. It’s because, somewhere along the way, I realized that there’s a particular kind of person that I want here who I enjoy working with. I’m totally content to sit in a room by myself and work alone, but I would rather collaborate with likeminded people. As such, the first aspect of Best People is bringing together individuals who share the same mission and vision as I do.

InterWorks Summit

Above: The InterWorks Summit circa 2018

Beyond that, we look for people who are adept at building strong relationships and genuinely take care of each other. We hear a lot of comments about how this feels like an extended family. There are real relationships built here that go well beyond the walls of InterWorks. People here know and care about others’ personalities, passions and hobbies, so that ability to connect on a much deeper level and be not only a great teammate but also a good friend is key.

Another essential quality of Best People is the drive to go above and beyond what is asked of them. Sometimes, this is doing their work with such excellence and care that it blows people away, but just as often, it’s doing work or tasks that nobody asked them to do. One of my favorite examples of this over the years features InterWorks IT Lead Keith Johnson. Keith has worked here for some time and works out of our Stillwater headquarters. One day, we had some sort of event that generated a lot of trash, and our trash cans were full to the brim. We have a janitorial service that comes regularly, but Keith took it upon himself to empty out trash cans immediately without anyone asking him. He did it simply because it needed to be done. That might seem trivial, but it’s those little examples of extra effort and initiative that add up. If Keith is willing to go above and beyond for something like emptying the trash, imagine how that mentality manifests in his actual work.

Finally, and bringing this full circle to the spirit that InterWorks was founded upon, we want people who play as hard as they work. Fun is a major part of InterWorks. Yes, we want to complete our work responsibly and in a manner befitting the highest quality, but life is too short not to enjoy yourself while you’re at it. That type of joy is contagious. When you have a bunch of people who don’t take themselves too seriously, are able to keep things in perspective and are just generally a joy to be around, then work doesn’t really feel like work at the end of the day.

Above: A recent InterWorks gathering in OKC

Putting It All Together

Trying to pin down all of these things is still inherently a challenge for me. There are so many representations of what Best Work, Best Clients, Best People can be, so it’s almost impossible to include every iteration here. Hopefully, you now understand the essence of each and how they drive everything we do at InterWorks. Focusing on any one of these tenets is a worthwhile endeavor, but it’s when these three things are brought together that the real magic happens. Are we always perfect in each regard? No, but simply striving towards these ideals has put us in place that I and others at InterWorks are proud of. My hope is that it shows.

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Behfar Jahanshahi

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