A culture of workplace flexibility has helped Ingenuity Marketing Group, a small professional-services marketing firm in St. Paul, earn a top-10 ranking among more than 300 employers recognized nationally as “sustainable workplaces.”

The firm’s sixth-place ranking reflects the philosophy of owners and principals Wendy Nemitz and Dawn Wagenaar, who say that a flexible workplace is integral to their company’s identity and key to attracting and retaining employees.

They focus on and expect employees to focus on what Nemitz terms “the next most important thing.” That might mean coming in late because a car is in the shop, leaving early because of a sick child or doing project work or answering client or colleague e-mails from home at night or on a weekend.

“It’s who we are; it’s not a ­benefit,” Nemitz said of her commitment to working “fluidly.” “Sometimes the next most important thing to do is to go home and take a nap. That’s how we run our lives, so we don’t think it’s at all upsetting that [employees] would do that. We think people are weird when they hang around when their work is done.”

The company learned of its high ranking in the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility in October. The news came on the heels of headlines about Best Buy doing away with its homegrown Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), in which employees worked when and where they wanted to, provided they got their work done, and Yahoo putting an end to telecommuting for its employees.

“I really applaud Best Buy for trying,” Nemitz said. “What happened is they didn’t try and fail, they tried and they didn’t get as far as they were hoping to get, but they got somewhere.”

Nemitz acknowledged that flexible work arrangements are easier for smaller companies like hers, which has 12 employees, but said the big ones could learn from their example. Dropping flexibility policies seems counterintuitive to Wagenaar. “We actually find that employees are more engaged, not less, by the ability to work from home and work on their own schedules,” Wagenaar said.

The Sloan Awards “highlight how effective and flexible workplaces can yield positive results and help employees succeed at work and at home,” according to the program’s organizer, When Work Works, a partnership of the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. Top 10 employers offer everything from telecommuting to compressed workweeks and unlimited time off. To win an award, a company must complete a rigorous process that includes an employee survey, which accounts for two-thirds of the total score, and a comprehensive assessment of its workplace practices.

Having bright, talented employees is critical to Ingenuity Marketing Group’s business, Nemitz said, because the agency works only with accounting, law, engineering, financial services, architecture and other professional services firms.

‘Average doesn’t work’

“You’re working with really smart people,” Wagenaar said. “[Employees] who are average don’t work well with managing partners of law firms.”

Ingenuity Marketing Group was formed in 2005 when Nemitz took on Wagenaar as a partner in what had been a solo practice that Nemitz started in 1992. Wagenaar and Nemitz are using a new lead generation system to drive growth, and hope to expand to 15 full-time employees and triple their revenue in the next few years.

John Edson, shareholder at BPKZ, a certified public accounting firm in Minneapolis, said he appreciated the national perspective on trends in professional services marketing that Nemitz and Wagenaar gain through their travels.

“We’re a lot different than a consumer-driven company,” Edson said. “There are some unique things about marketing to bring in new clients and to building your brand, and they understand all those things. … They keep us in the forefront, keep us thinking about new alternatives.’’

The expert says: Mike Porter, director of the master of business communication program at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, said Ingenuity’s workplace flexibility, Sloan award and national profile all should help bolster its growth.

“They’re positioned well to take advantage particularly of salespeople, account executive kinds of folks” in other metro areas, Porter said. “They can say, ‘You don’t have to move here but you have the network to take us to the next level.’ Their ability to find people who fit the nature of their ­business is going to be improved.”

Clients stand to benefit when they work with agencies that have chosen a niche and get good at it, Porter said. “If that’s where [the agency’s] passion lies, then they’re going to do a better job. It’s going to enhance the ­deliverable,” he said.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.