November 23, 2014

Training is Key to Productivity at BGT Partners in Miami

Extensive training means fewer billable hours at the marketing agency, but more productivity in the long run.

• BGT Partners
Miami - No. 6 / Midsized Company - Marketing

BGT Partners
BGT's new offices have room for as many as 100 additional employees, but the company doesn't think that growth will change its culture. "When it was a lot smaller, there was a very specific culture, and as big as it's gotten, that culture remains," says Kristy Lizarraga, BGT's director of analytics technology. That culture includes a full week of employee recognition (called BGT Palooza) and Art Expo Fridays, where employees share their paintings, musical skills, poetry and more. [Photo: Jeffrey Salter]

When employees at BGT Partners said they wanted to learn Spanish, the company brought in an instructor each week and paid for all of the books and materials. It was hardly an out-of-character move for the company, which provides each employee with an average of 200 hours of training a year.

David Clarke
Extensive training allows workers to adapt to changes quickly, says co-founder and managing partner David Clarke. Employees average about 200 hours of training a year. [Photo: Jeffrey Salter]
At the Miami interactive marketing agency, training includes in-house classes, conferences, management training, cross-training with other departments and mentoring. Employees at every level lead training for others, and new recruits spend two or three months training, including weeks spent shadowing others.

"It's not just technical things I'm learning. I'm getting so much better at dealing with people (and) I'm able to gather best practices almost like osmosis," says Danielle Menendez, a project manager who joined BGT eight months ago. "I feel like I'm growing personally." That is by design, explains Greg DeGorsky, the company's director of professional services. "It's not just training in tech or skill sets, but we're also very much investing in improving the person," he says.

All those hours in training mean BGT's employees only spend about 80% of their work hours on billable projects. But the investment gives BGT a leg up on its often-larger competitors, while keeping employees engaged and making it easy to shift them to new departments as work ebbs and flows, says David Clarke, the company's co-founder and managing partner. It also imparts to new employees the sense of history and culture that veterans already have.

With so much training under their belt, new team members are better able to take on new work. The effort to instill a shared culture and history eliminates a lot of hurdles to integrating a new team member, says George Stanger, the company's vice president of analytics. "That allows us to be 10 times more productive," he says.

There is no standard training plan for making that happen, though. "We've never told someone, 'This is the training path you have to take.' It's more of a long path of what they want to do," says Kristy Lizarraga, BGT's director of analytics technology. "When someone first comes in, there is a lot of working with them to figure out what they want to do."

That was certainly the case for data analyst Eric Hennis. In hindsight, he says, he can see that managers spent a lot of time looking at his skills and helping set a direction for him in his first few months. But after just a year and a half with the company, he says, "I'm training other people."

During the past year, BGT has paid more attention than ever to training, particularly of the non-technical variety. "As of the last 12 months, it's become extremely deliberate because we're kind of looking back at what we've done in the past," Clarke says. "That management training has become critical for our success." He believes it's also critical for the company's future and in maintaining its near-zero voluntary turnover. "More so than money and bonuses and promotions, what (people) really want is to always be challenged," Clarke says.

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