CHRIS HUTCHINSON heads up Trebuchet Group here in Fort Collins.  They deliver extraordinarily powerful consulting for their clients, particularly around leadership development and organizational change.

Chris Diana HutchinsonI had the opportunity speak with Chris (CEO) and his wife Diana (COO) this week.  I’ve been wanting to have this conversation for awhile, because I’ve been following the company for four years now and have been impressed with the distinct character that they’ve built.

It doesn’t hurt that they always have almonds on the conference table.  I’m addicted to those darn things.

Chris founded Trebuchet Group in 2002, with a strong desire to create a company of integrity, collaboration, and compassion.  You’ll find those words in the “Company Playbook” that they shared with me, which describes the core principles and foundation of this business.

For instance, they’ve written:

Why do we exist?  People deserve to be able to use their strengths fully in creating greater success with others at work.

Chris told me that “this sounds fluffy, but it’s not.”  And I agree – I’ve had opportunities to see how this is indeed a driving force behind what they do.  They actually DO deliver this kind of collaboration for themselves and their clients.  They structure every engagement so they’re using their individual and collective strengths.

I’m sure that you, like me, have tired of those fancy mission statements that go…

We exist to serve our customers with compelling value via creative solutions to their blah blah blah….

In far too many companies, you see that the real behavior doesn’t at all line up with doing this.  Compelling value?  No, we wish it was, but in fact our customers primarily choose us because we’re 1% better on a few dimensions.  Creative solutions?  Well, we position ourselves as creative, but everyone else does too.  Our big decisions are made on hard-nosed ROI calculations, and creativity tends to be expensive.

So I look for companies which are actually living their values, to whom their words actually drive the major decisions every day.

But let’s be realistic here – Trebuchet Group is a for-profit company.  And they’ve experienced some pretty tough times.  The most recent recession hit them pretty hard, and they’ve had to periodically reinvent the company over the last 11 years.  Having high-minded ideals and passion doesn’t mean that customers will line up to give you their money.

A key question around reinvention, then, is how it affects your business goals and priorities.  It’s quite obvious that Chris has not sacrificed one iota of his passion to build a collaborative organization, because that comes out at the top every time he has to restart.

By the way, it turns out that this kind of business model attracts people who are really creative and value flexibility.  I know several people who have worked with the group, and they all attest to how this can be an invigorating atmosphere.  Which of course comes across to their customers, because this is such a transparent culture.

I always ask people about their challenges looking forward, and this group has an interesting one:  How much of the culture is dependent on Chris’ personal passion and leadership, versus being ingrained into the way the company fundamentally thinks?  Certainly I’ve seen it migrate more toward the latter in recent years, but it’s still a challenge that the company will face.

Think about the wrenching culture shift which has happened with the departure of strong personal forces such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  Even large companies may have to worry about this, and it’s magnified in a small business.

To begin addressing this challenge, Chris will be publishing a book soon which attempts to capture part of this philosophy.  Follow their blog, and you may find out when that comes out.  And you’ll learn interesting stuff along the way.