Jennifer and Ken’s Story

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community . . . This month we are putting a spotlight on Jennifer Johnson, co-founder of Current Designs, and Ken Stern, founding partner of Stern & Curray.

Jennifer and Ken’s Story

Progressive employers have learned a commitment to a flexible workplace is key to finding and keeping excellent workers. They’ve also learned when employees have time and energy to live full lives, it improves the work they do. Jennifer Johnson, co-founder of Current Designs, and Ken Stern, founding partner of Stern & Curray, are both leaders who have put these ideas into practice.

Not surprisingly, both of these leaders started off by wanting balance in their own lives. Today they have created unique organizations that support everyone to flex work in ways that are good for the business and good for employees.

Ken Stern, founding partner Stern & Curray

Ken started off his career in litigation in a firm that offered very little time for life outside of work. When Ken had children, he wanted to create a more balanced life that would include time for family and other life interests. To do this, Ken decided to launch his own firm built around his work/life balance philosophies. But to do this well, Ken was also quick to learn that different jobs required different types of flexibility. For example, although his administrative staff couldn’t work remotely, he was happy to have them flex in other ways. In contrast, the paralegals have a lot of flexibility around when and where they work, so long as they get their expected hours completed within the 2 week pay period. He also encourages everyone to turn off work while on vacation, which came as a big surprise to a lawyer who had spent her career working in a less supportive workplace.

Ken could see how all of this fostered a team approach where people where happy to cover for each other as needed. They even learned the value of creating quiet focused work time for people working in the office, and they implemented a red/green flag system to signal when it was OK, or not OK, to be interrupted.

Jennifer Johnson, co-founder Current Designs

When Jennifer and her husband were raising their children, not only did they share in the care of their twin boys, they also launched a new business developing highly detailed optical research instruments. Fast-forward a few years, the couple decided to expand the business, move it outside their home and hire more people. While doing this they learned they still needed flexibility themselves, but they also learned their employees and business benefited from flexibility as well.

For instance, Jennifer was quick to realize hiring very creative people (artist and musicians), meant she also would be able to count on having employees who excelled at the extremely detailed work that was required. And by offering these artists a 4-day schedule with full benefits, the employees could then use the other 3 days to work on their own creative pursuits. This is a critical way Jennifer has been able to create an enjoyable work environment that fosters openness, flexibility and high quality work. Jennifer notes the low-stress workplace also translates to improved customer service.

Over the years both leaders have experienced some challenges – especially for Ken who works in an industry that too often holds very different values. Nevertheless, Ken and Jennifer have a long list of benefits and lessons learned.  These include:

  • Having the right mindset is key to creating and maintaining a flexible workplace
  • Not every solution is good for every job; creating flexibility for different jobs requires creativity and a willingness to listen
  • Flexible solutions are not stagnant; they evolve with the people, the work required, and outside influences
  • By being a flexible workplace, they have reduced turnover and created a friendly, mutually supportive workplace

In short, Ken and Jennifer both talked about enjoying a full life with diverse interests. Ken summarized it this way, “work is important, it needs to be done well and in service to the client, it also needs to be profitable, but it doesn’t need to be done at the expense of everything else in life.” Today, Jennifer and Ken are understandably proud to be able to offer the opportunities they wanted for themselves to their employees.