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Thoughts from Our CEO: Supporting Schools through Donors Choose

Posted by Brook White on Mon, Dec 07, 2015 @ 09:45 AM

Laura Helms ReeceRuss HelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. share the importance of public education to NC businesses.

Rho is our chance to make the world a better place. We do that in big, sweeping ways – healing the sick. We do it in smaller, more personal ways like how we build this business. One way is to make our community better. Rho isn't in a bubble—we are firmly settled right here in the Triangle.

education.jpgWe believe strongly that a strong public education system makes NC's business community stronger. It makes Rho stronger. That's why we've supported the NC Science Fair for several years and it's why we wrote this editorial for the N&O.

The General Assembly hasn’t listened to what we and other business leaders have said. We decided talk is cheap and we're going to put our money where our mouths are. Donors Choose is an organization where teachers advertise unfunded or underfunded projects and ask for donations. In September, Rho funded every science & math project at high poverty schools in Wake, Durham, and Orange counties for a total of $18,500 and 20 projects. Additionally, we gave each employee a $25 Donors Choose gift card to spend on the school or project of their choice for an additional contribution of $9,500 and a total donation of $28,000 for NC public schools.

The thank you notes we’ve received from teachers have touched us. This is one we found particularly moving:

Just today I had a student express to me that he loves coming to my class because he feels "like a real scientist". My response was, of course, to reinforce that he IS a real scientist, and to tell him that his joy in his scientific achievement means the world to me. Thank you for being part of my team! Your donations are the fuel for the learning and growth that happens in my classroom. We accomplish so much more through your generosity.

Public schools face budget shortages each year, shortages that are frequently made up by teachers paying for needed supplies out of their own pockets.  Funding gaps in our schools contribute to the weakening of public education, which creates huge risks to the business climate in North Carolina.  Our donation funded math and science programs such as:

  • Materials for middle school students to create and organize engineering notebooks
  • DynaMath magazine subscriptions and real world math problem solving kits
  • Hands-on science and STEM activities such as building and sustaining a classroom river tank ecosystem
This is just one way we make our community better.  We are challenging other businesses across the state and the country to support students and teachers in the public school education system.

Rho’s Book Club: The Happiness Advantage

Posted by Brook White on Tue, Jul 14, 2015 @ 09:34 AM
Rho CEO Laura Helms ReeceRho CEO Russ HelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. have started a book club for Rho featuring books that help employees grow personally and professionally and that support Rho’s company culture.  The book club was recently featured in the Triangle Business Journal.

Late last year, we decided to form a company book club as one of the latest additions to the programs we offer to maintain high employee engagement. Our goals are to select books that help our employees to grow both personally and professionally and books that help reinforce our values and company culture. We hope our employees will gain a fresh perspective on their job at Rho, their relationships with co-workers, and their relationships with clients. The discussion part of the book club gives employees an opportunity to share their ideas with co-workers and to hear from us about why we think the book is important.

For our most recent book, we chose The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (you can get a sneak peek of the book by watching his TedTalk). Why did we choose it? We want happy employees! Not only do we think generally happy employees are part of the corporate excellence we strive for, but we think happy employees make for happier customers, and that’s good for business. In this book, Shawn Achor presents evidence that happiness leads to success—not the other way around. It’s a virtuous cycle. If we work at it, we can make ourselves happier and more successful. It takes practice, but it’s worth the effort. In addition to providing support for this view, the book provides actionable steps for making ourselves happier. What’s not to love?
Here we will summarize some key points from the book and some key take-away messages from the book club discussion. The book covers a lot of ground, so this article will focus on a few of the most important messages and those that have the most direct application to our workplace and workforce.

Happiness Leads to Success, Not the Other Way Around

happiness leads to successThe book begins by helping us to understand what happiness is, providing support for the book’s main assertion—happiness leads to success, not the other way around—and demonstrating that this stuff actually works. Happiness can be hard to define, but we’re taking it to mean a positive mood now and a positive outlook. Ten common adjectives associated with happiness are joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Three measurable components of happiness are pleasure, engagement, and meaning. The measurement part is important because the basis of the book is not speculation, but rather grounded in scientific study.
Happiness is not just a mood, it is a work ethic. Little doses of positivity can gradually move our “set point” (how we usually feel) higher over time. Some activities that have been proven to work for some individuals are meditation, anticipating something happy, conscious acts of kindness, a more positive environment, exercise, spending money on experiences and other people, and utilizing a personal strength. But perhaps the most valuable intervention is practicing gratitude. Throughout the book, Achor presents a number of specific ways people can practice gratitude. For instance, one method that has been repeatedly linked to a higher level of happiness is keeping a daily gratitude journal.
Leaders, in particular, can improve the happiness of others—and practice gratitude—by providing frequent recognition and encouragement. This works best when the encouragement or recognition are specific and deliberately delivered. Some options for doing this include sending a complimentary email, stopping by to say thanks, making time in meetings to talk about one person who deserves recognition, and asking other leaders or executives to contact an employee who deserves recognition. As a result of this book club, our Leadership Team is experimenting with an idea from the book: dedicating a portion of certain routine meetings to describe employee performances we’ve observed that make us grateful, and picking someone to go say an extra “thank you.”

The Fulcrum and the Lever

The fulcrum and the lever is a metaphor used to describe changing your mindset to increase your happiness. The lever is how much potential we think we have and the fulcrum is the mindset we use to generate change power. Moving the fulcrum towards a negative mindset creates more negativity by enhancing your ability to experience unhappiness. Moving the fulcrum towards a positive mindset does the opposite—it enhances your ability to experience happiness, and makes it easier to be aware of all the reasons to be happy.
balance-fulcrum and leverOne example used to illustrate this principle was a week-long experiment on a group of 75 year old men. The men went on a retreat where they were told to pretend that it was 1959. They were supposed to dress and act as they did at the time, had ID pictures of themselves at that time, and talked about events that occurred in 1959. An amazing thing occurred—their mental construction of their age changed their physiological age. Prior to the retreat, the men were measured on aspects we assume deteriorate with age—physical strength, posture, perception, cognition, and short-term memory. By the end of the retreat, the men had improved in every aspect.
An important conversation we had during the book club session was about our mindset about our work. We discussed job crafting—changing your mindset to make your job a calling. We talked about what potential meaning and pleasure exist in our jobs. Our core purpose—to improve health, extend life, and improve the quality of life via corporate and research excellence—makes it easy for many of our employees to find meaning in our work. Many also find meaning in more specific ways—providing excellent service to our clients, helping make a co-workers day better, or achieving a project milestone with their team. Recognizing the meaning and sources of pleasure in our jobs can make us happier at work.

The Tetris Effect

tetris effectThe Tetris Effect is based on a study where students were paid to play Tetris for hours each day. Following study, some students couldn’t stop dreaming about shapes falling from the sky while some students saw Tetris shapes everywhere they went. This is now used to more broadly describe someone who is stuck in a pattern of thinking or behaving. This can have positive or negative implications depending on what patterns of thinking or behaving you train your brain to follow. The key point is that whatever you practice, you experience everywhere, even in very different contexts.
In the example of playing Tetris each day, it can be negative. There are few practical implications to seeing shapes falling from the sky everywhere you go. This is also true for grumpy people. People who practice spotting things to complain about will find things to complain about everywhere and all the time.
On the other hand, people who practice spotting positive things—say, things that provoke gratitude—will find reasons to experience gratitude everywhere and all the time. Train your brain to look for the positive and you will see more opportunities for growth and more chances to help others grow. Our minds respond strongly to training and practice. One way to make this a practice is to start each day by making a list of three blessings (one form of a gratitude journal). Alternatively, you can make a short journal entry each day about a great experience you’ve had. Make these a habit and you increase your chances to seize on positive opportunities.
Achor reminds us that we can’t ignore reality—we shouldn’t ignore real risks; but, at the same time, we can give more priority, weight, and attention to the positive, and thus experience more of the positive.

Falling Up

falling upThe key to Falling Up is learning to use adversity and failure to get ahead. Those who see failure as horrible are traumatized by it. Those who see it as a chance to learn, grow. Whether an experience has a positive outcome isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond. That’s why we discourage blame here at Rho and encourage lessons. 
One way to make this happen is to adopt a positive explanatory style. What does that mean? Look at adversity as something that is temporary and local. Compare your outcome to possible outcomes that are worse. Changing both your inward and outward dialogue about failure and adversity can change how you actually feel about it.

Social Investment

communications-networkWhen we encounter an unexpected challenge, the best way to save ourselves is to hold tight to the folks around us. Things get tough for all of us from time to time, yet people tend to respond in one of two distinct ways. One way is to close people out. Final exams are coming, so you lock yourself in a study carrel for weeks without outside contact. Or, you reach out and connect. You intentionally set aside time to go out and have fun with your friends. The group that takes the second direction consistently performs better and is happier. This applies to work settings too.
This principle should change how we as leaders spend our time. Time spent building and reinforcing relationships is almost always time well spent. Make eye contact. Ask interested questions. Schedule face-to-face meetings. Initiate conversations that aren’t always task oriented. When good things happen, actively respond.
This is an important part of why we at Rho emphasize relationships and a team culture. A team culture has always been a Core Value of ours: what we do is mentally demanding and difficult, and we’ve always found we do it better when we enjoy the support of our teammates. As part of that, we have long emphasized that a key expectation of all employees at Rho is to foster good relationships. Results are great, but we expect our employees to create their results in a way that builds relationships. We’ve found that’s good for business—it’s nice to learn that it’s a contributor to happiness, too!

Up Next

For our next book club session we will be reading and discussing Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
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Rho’s Book Club: Brain Rules

Posted by Brook White on Thu, Mar 19, 2015 @ 03:06 PM
Rho CEO Laura Helms ReeceRho CEO Russ HelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. have started a book club for Rho featuring books that help employees grow personally and professionally and that support Rho’s company culture.  The book club was recently featured in the Triangle Business Journal.
Late last year, we decided to form a company book club as one of the latest additions to the programs we offer to maintain high employee engagement. Our goals are to select books that help our employees to grow both personally and professionally and books that help reinforce our values and company culture. We hope our employees will gain a fresh perspective on their job at Rho, their relationships with co-workers, and their relationships with clients. The discussion part of the book club gives employees an opportunity to share their ideas with co-workers and to hear from us about why we think the book is important.

knowledge-shareFor our first book, we chose Brain Rules by John Medina. Why did we choose it? We make our living with our brains, so it’s valuable to understand how they work and how to optimize their performance. This book makes learning about such a complex topic relatively easy and accessible, even for people with a limited background in biology or neuroscience.

Here we will summarize some key points from the book and wrap-up with some key take-away messages from the book club discussion. The book covers a lot of ground, so this article will focus on a few of the most important messages and those that have the most direct application to our workplace and workforce.


Over the course of the vast majority of human evolution, we moved—a lot. Pre-civilization, people walked up to twelve miles a day. Now, we don’t. Many of us spend hours a day sitting or relatively sedentary, despite scientific demonstration of the many benefits of exercise and physical activity. In particular, the brain benefits from high levels of physical activity. Exercise has been shown to help with cognitive exercisefunction, executive function, long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, and fluid-intelligence tasks. Students who spend more time on exercise and less time on academics do better academically.

The lesson here is that if we want to do better work, we need to move more. We’ve already started making some changes at Rho. We make treadmill desks available, employees have the option of standing desks, and we’ve had walking paths set up near our building to encourage walking breaks and walking meetings.

Not everyone is going to be, or should try to be, a triathlete, but unless you are already exercising more than ten hours a week, we encourage all our employees to be a little more active.


There are several important lessons when it comes to attention, all of which have direct bearing on how we work. The first is that we don’t pay attention to things that are boring. In the work place, that means if we want people to pay attention to our message, whether in a presentation, an email, or a meeting, it can’t be boring. Emotions do get our attention, so making an emotional connection can help us gain and keep attention.

Another important concept is that meaning needs to come before details. Making connections between ideas is necessary if we need to pay attention to the associated details. One suggestion that comes out of these concepts is a suggestion for structuring presentations. Structuring talks in 10 minute chunks that start with an engaging story and then dive into the details will help your audience pay attention.

Finally, our brains don’t multi-task. The end result when we multi-task is that tasks take longer and result in more errors. We can increase productivity by limiting our interruptions and setting aside dedicated time for important tasks.

Sleep Well, Think Well

sleep-brainSleep—getting enough of it, getting the right kind of it, and getting it at the right times—is critical to the performance of our brains. Lack of sleep hurts attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, and general math knowledge. Some of us are larks (get up early and go to sleep early), some of us are owls (get up late, stay up late), and some of us are hummingbirds (somewhere in between larks and owls). Moving away from these natural rhythms is very difficult for most people and can lead to decreased performance. This is one of the reasons we try to give people a fair amount of flexibility in when they work, as long as the work is getting done and they are meeting the needs of their customers and teammates. We’ve noticed that introducing this language (owls, larks, hummingbirds) has already changed the way we negotiate meeting times—we’re able to schedule things so everybody is alert.

We also encourage employees to think about how sleep impacts their work productivity. Staying up late and working may actually decrease your productivity rather than getting a healthy amount of sleep and coming to work focused and energized. This is something we are dealing with primarily by educating and encouraging our employees. We also believe in respecting our employees’ autonomy and privacy, so actively managing employee sleep patterns is not something we are interested in doing.

The evidence is clear: short naps in the afternoon can have a very positive impact on performance. We are still mulling this one over. Despite the scientific evidence of the value of naps, there are difficult issues associated with encouraging naps in the workplace—issues of hygiene, culture, propriety, and management. Though the discussion about nap rooms sparked a lively conversation, we haven’t dedicated any square footage to them yet.

Use More of Your Senses, Especially Sight

transparentWhen we deliver information using multiple senses, it makes more of an impact and is easier to remember. Presentations with pictures and words are far better for teaching than words alone. Additionally, text and pictures presented at the same time and in close proximity are better. Animation with narration is superior to animation with text. In general, the more senses that can be integrated the better. Even associating smells with certain ideas or information can help remember that information later. That said, all senses are not equal. The brain spends up to half of its energy processing images, and there is evidence that the brain will ignore other senses when what you see doesn’t line up with what you smell, taste, hear, etc. For example, expert wine tasters can be fooled into believing white wine is red wine by changing the appearance.

How are we using this? It has changed the way we present. When we do use PowerPoint, we are moving to rely more on images rather than slide after slide of text. In our sales presentations, we are moving away from PowerPoint entirely in exchange for white board presentations.

Top 3 Lessons

Our discussions covered many topics and it seems that each participant took away something different.  There are three lessons, however, that we feel are key for improving performance as individuals and as a company:

  • Get more exercise
  • Don't multi-task
  • Images trump text

Up Next

For our next book club session we will be reading and discussing Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage.  You can get a sneak peek of the topic by watching this TedTalk.  

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Why NC Public Education Matters: A Business Perspective

Posted by Brook White on Wed, Dec 03, 2014 @ 02:43 PM

CEO Laura Helms ReeceRussHelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. share their perspectives on the impact of NC public education on business.

For many years, public education has been a bipartisan priority in North Carolina. Members of both parties saw value in our K-12 public schools, the community college system, and the UNC system. NC public policy has reflected that point of view. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a major change, and, as business leaders, we’re very concerned.

Weakening public education creates two huge risks to our business. We are headquartered in NC and more than 90% of our employees are based here. Our business model requires that we attract, hire, and retain the best and brightest. For years, we’ve been able to rely on local universities (primarily UNC and NC State) to provide them. While we do recruit from out of state, a substantial amount of recruiting needs to happen locally for NC to be a viable headquarters location.

We both attended NC public schools and went on to complete both undergraduate and graduate degrees at UNC. 58% of our employees hold undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, or both from a UNC system school. We understand the quality of the education students at these schools receive, and have taken advantage of this incredible talent pool for the 30 years we’ve been in business. For our next 30 years to be equally successful (and hopefully more so), we need to maintain and grow this talent pool.
Our second major risk is related to recruiting from outside of NC. While our preference is to hire locally and grow talent internally, many senior positions require recruiting outside our local area. Our competition for talent comes from the northeast (primarily Boston) and California. People considering relocating from those locations want to know they are coming to a progressive place with good schools. Our recent appearances in the national media certainly don’t paint that picture (and rightfully so).

Reasonable tax rates are important, but having the lowest tax rate at the expense of our schools is not. Businesses that need a highly educated workforce and whose success relies on attracting and retaining top talent will go elsewhere. And when they go, the jobs they provide will go with them. The types of jobs we provide are the types of jobs NC needs—high paying with good benefits and lots of stability. We’ve never had lay-offs and don’t plan on it, and we continued to hire throughout the recession.

As business leaders and citizens of this state, we strongly urge our government officials to change course and regain North Carolina’s status as a leader in public education. Support our schools, support our community colleges, and support our universities.

Celebrating Our 29th Year

Posted by Brook White on Tue, Dec 03, 2013 @ 05:25 PM

End of year celebrationWe recently celebrated the end of our 29th year with an employee party at our main office, which included food trucks, ice cream, Rho-branded hoodies, and profit-sharing bonus checks. Co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece and Russ Helms shared some thoughts about important events of the past year and about our future.  What follows is a summary of their remarks, minus some confidential information.

From Laura:

I get to to share some of the amazing stories of the last year. I want to start with the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. This year, Rho nominated Russ and me for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Rho nominates us for awards from time to time and usually nothing comes of it. So, I wasn’t expecting much from this time either. Still, Brook White wrote a beautiful nomination and Russ and I dressed up for the local interview.

It was actually a really fun interview. We got to talk about the things at Rho that make us the most proud. We talked about what happens when smart, talented people care about the important work they do. We talked about getting the culture right. We talked about keeping the culture right. We talked about our cultural fit interviews, new hire lunches with the CEOs, and Breakfast with the Board. We talked about our flexible workplace that allows all of us to balance our jobs and our other responsibilities. We talked about project-centered teams producing amazing results for our clients and giving people opportunities to try to master new things. We talked about Rho24 and Innovation Showcases [Rho24 is a day we set aside twice a year for the entire company to focus on innovation]. We talked about our theme for this year, “Know your project”.

At one point, one of the interviewers asked how we manage all the maternity leaves. I laughed at that one. You have no idea how much management time is spent on coordinating maternity leave around here. I explained about people pulling together and stepping up to the plate. Then he asked, “What percentage of women come back to work?” I must have looked stunned. We’ve never thought to measure that. After all, we’re not exactly managing to it. I thought about it and said, truthfully, “We’ve never really spent time on that metric. Maybe one woman a year doesn’t come back. Maybe it’s one woman every two years.” The panel looked stunned and scribbled notes as fast as they could.

Much to Russ’ and my surprise, we made the next round. We were finalists! Of course, based on our previous experience, I assumed everyone was a finalist. None the less, we put our suits back on and headed to Charlotte. And yes, Russ wore dress shoes. Tara [Gladwell] made me promise I’d check.

The Charlotte interview was tougher. My first hint of that came at lunch. First of all, there were only 2 female finalists in Charlotte. At Rho, that’s not my day-to-day experience. But the real give away came when we discussed the awards gala. You see, Ernst and Young throws a very fancy awards gala for all the finalists. Originally, Russ and I had a deal: I’d handle the gala. Unfortunately for Russ, the gala was the same night as Elle’s [Laura’s oldest child] preschool graduation. So, Russ had to represent us at the gala. Come on! My girl learned songs. There was a cap and a gown. There was a cute diploma. I wasn’t going to miss that!

This was a shock to the folks in Charlotte. Couldn’t my husband attend the graduation? This was my first serious clue that this was not my tribe.

After lunch, we did the interviews. These interviewers were more assertive and used more business jargon. Since Russ and I took over as CEOs, our revenues had increased dramatically and costs hadn’t. What did we do? So Russ and I talked about what we always talk about: smart, talented people who care about the work they do. We talked about mastery. We talked about work that matters. We talked about a supportive environment. We talked about a flat organizational structure that shrunk our overhead costs. We talked about moving a project rock star into a sales leadership position. Honestly, I think we shared every last secret.

Finally, one of the interviewers interrupted us: “We’ve heard enough about your great people. What processes and systems did you change?” He wanted a secret sauce. Our employees are our secret sauce. That’s what we’ve got.

It turned out that less than 5% of the applicants became finalists. And the list of finalists was humbling for me. We didn’t win. Our secret sauce did pretty well though.

At the start of the fiscal year, we had 328 employees. We now have 340. In case you were wondering, we’ve had 26 babies this year. That’s 1 baby for every 13 employees. And while that’s a management challenge, it’s a wonderful challenge to have. We’re fortunate to have those challenges. (By the way, 2014 is shaping up to be a baby-filled year, too.) We jump in and help out and work around employee needs. I’m thrilled for every new baby. I’m sad with every sick parent. But with all the human stuff we struggle with, we struggle together. And I am so proud to be part of this team.

So other than babies, how did we do? We’ve done some really cool work this year. From NDAs for drugs that fulfill an unmet medical need to trials on biologics with the potential to save lives, the work we do matters. It saves lives and changes lives for the better. We can all be proud of the work we do.

From Russ:

This has been a pretty good year. Looking forward, we think next year is likely to be a bit better, but the promise is not without risk or without challenges. Right now, because of an improving economy in our industry and some great work by our commercial business development professionals, we have extremely strong commercial sales. That's led to the strongest commercial backlog we've ever had (backlog means work we've sold but haven't done yet).

One of our challenges is that there's a lot of work to be done. As you've probably noticed, that growth in sales has led to some growth in headcount. There are a number of new faces at Rho, and we're not done expanding. Maintaining our excellence, maintaining a customer experience of unrivalled quality, and maintaining our culture of caring are all challenges in the face of growth.

As part of our stability strategy, we like to keep our work in the federal and commercial markets balanced, so one of our challenges is increasing federal wins to keep pace. We're going to do that despite a challenging funding environment, which means taking away work from competitors. Our competitors are pretty good, but they don't provide a customer experience to rival our quality.

These are tough challenges. These are the kind of challenges that come from success, and they’re the kind of challenges we want to face. It's because you are so talented and because you work so well in a team culture that we've had the successes. And for those same reasons we're highly confident that we can meet the challenges we see.

But I hope you're sitting there asking yourself, “Great, what can I do to help?”

Here's what you can do:

  • Keep creating results

  • Keep building relationships

  • Keep having a positive impact

Build Results

  • Delight your customers! 

  • Make steady, daily progress

  • Publish 

  • Know your projects-

    *Your results will be better if you know the science on all your projects
    *Your results will be better if know the finances on all your projects
    *Your results will be better if you can help out in areas outside your expertise 

Improve relationships

  • Improve your relationships with your teammates: Understand their contribution, help them out, and smooth out the handoffs.

  • Improve your relationships with your clients: The more you know about what your clients want, the better you can help them reach their goals.

  • Improve your relationships with your colleagues: Catch them doing something right, and reinforce it. Welcome the new faces, and show them the Rho Way.

Increase your impact

The last major thing you can do is to improve your impact.  On your projects, you're doing it by knowing your project.  Take initiative, and collaborate.  Do that beyond your projects, too.  When you have ideas, write them down and try them out in Rho24 days.  If you didn't write them down, participate in the Rho24 days to help with someone else's idea, there are plenty of ways to contribute!  Go to the innovation showcases, and figure out ways to apply what you see.  There are lots of little things you can do to improve your impact.  

As always, what you can do boils down to results, relationships, and impact.  

Let me finish up with a reminder of why I think this is all worth doing. Earlier this year, I went to a steering committee meeting. There I met a patient from one of our trials. This young lady had a kidney transplant as a teenager. The drugs she got along with that new kidney suppressed her immune system. By the time she was in college, she was in a wheelchair, because her feet and leg were so covered with sores. Her transplant gave her life, but took away her ability to walk. She entered one of our studies, she got off those immunosuppressive drugs, she got out of her wheelchair, she started running, and now she runs marathons.

That's what we do, folks. Sometimes it works. Sometimes we give people their lives back.

Choose Rho as Your Clinical Research Provider

Reflections on the CEO Sleep Out

Posted by Brook White on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 @ 01:34 PM

Rho CEO Laura Helms ReeceThe following article comes from Rho CEO Laura Helms Reece who would like to share her thoughts on participating in the recent CEO Sleep Out hosted by the Triangle United Way.

Two weeks ago my friend Josh told me about the CEO Sleep Out: a United Way event designed to raise money for and bring attention to the issue of homelessness in our community. I looked at Josh and laughed. “I don’t camp out for fun! That’s crazy.” The next day, I read about people near Moore Square who were threatened with arrest if they continued to hand out biscuits to the hungry. I realized I hadn’t spent much time lately considering the hungry and the homeless in our area.

Despite North Carolina’s recent economic recovery, over the last decade our state has moved from 26th to 12th in the country in terms of the percentage of people living in poverty. In Durham, twenty-six percent of children go to bed hungry regularly. I’m not forced to look at that very often. I turn my gaze away.

I decided that it was time to look carefully and to see.

Laura at the CEO sleep outLast Thursday, I joined 36 other executives at the CEO Sleep Out in downtown Durham. We had a discussion on shelters, transitional housing, and behavior changes needed to help marginalized people transition into mainstream society. We talked Friday morning about economic inequality and why we’re losing the battle against poverty in North Carolina. The most powerful discussion was a 2 hour panel of young people who spent their teenage years in foster care. I’d never given much thought to what happens when a child is transitioned out of foster care at 18 years of age. One of these poised, articulate, successful young women had been in 20 placements between 8 and 18. How did she ever manage to learn anything at school? I was so impressed by these panelists.

describe the imageThe United Way encouraged the participants in the CEO Sleep Out to raise money from our friends and family to support the most vulnerable members of our community. The fundraiser also allowed the participants to gain “luxury” items to enhance their overnight experience based on the dollar amount of the contributions they garnered. My friends and family raised enough money to provide me with a refrigerator box, a pillow, and a sleeping bag. The box was big enough for me to fit into, and along with the pillow and the sleeping bag, it was surprisingly cozy.

I knew we were safe. We had a security guard keeping watch. I didn’t keep any valuables with me and I was tucked away in my box. Still, sleep was difficult. I was surrounded by other people I really didn’t know. There were strange noises. The stadium lights at the nearby Durham Bulls Athletic Park didn’t get turned off until sometime after 1 in the morning. The occasional post-baseball game drunk continued to wander by until a little after 2. A train roared along the train tracks, complete with safety whistle, next to our sleeping spot at about 2:30. At best, I was able to sleep in one hour stretches. I can’t imagine how someone pulls it together after multiple nights like that. I don’t see how sleeping in your car is any better – it’s more cramped and less comfortable.

The CEO Sleep Out was a powerful experience. Through it I walked a few steps in someone else’s shoes. I turned my gaze back to some of the most vulnerable members of our community and took the time to actually see them. The Sleep Out reminded me how blessed I am. It reignited my commitment to make our community better. I am grateful for the experience and I am thankful to everyone who supported me.

Thoughts from Rho’s CEO: Behaviors I Expect from Each Employee

Posted by Brook White on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 @ 10:11 AM

CEO Russ Helms

The following article comes from Rho’s CEO Russ Helms who would like to share some thoughts on topics that he sees as important to Rho and our business.

Previously, I have written about Rho’s core values and how we evaluate employee performance.  These two concepts come together to create a set of behaviors I expect from every employee at Rho.  


  • Do not gossip or speak ill of those who are not present.
  • Catch people doing things right and tell them so.
  • Be accountable for your own work; no blaming or complaining.
  • Always tell the whole truth as fast as you can.
  • Talk straight: express yourself without laying blame. Fulfill your commitments. Be on time to work and to meetings.

Agility and Adaptability

  • Be willing to tackle any reasonable request or challenge.
  • Understand that there is always something you can do better. If experiencing difficulties or conflicts, focus first on yourself.
  • Continuously develop a comfort level and skill with switching between the high level and strategic to the tactical and operational.


  • Be aware of and responsible for the financial implications of everything you do.
  • Work to eradicate costly mistakes and rework from your work.
  • Ask yourself frequently how your role(s) can contribute to the ongoing financial success of Rho.


  • Focus on quality and accuracy in all that you do.
  • Plan ahead to avoid fires and crises.
  • Keep track of your own work and deadlines.
  • Keep your calendar up to date.
  • Respond to email, voicemail, and calendar requests in a timely manner.
  • Be 100% accountable to both the results of your work and its impact on others.
  • Never use criticism of others to deflect feedback on how you can improve.


  • Think about better ways to do things; don't cling to past practice.
  • Listen openly and actively to those with different opinions. You may learn something new and important.
  • Consider whether there is a better way of handling a situation.
  • Never let "But this is how we've always done it" be an excuse for not embracing change.


  • Get the work done on time and under budget.
  • Treat both internal and external customers with respect. Repeat customers are good for business.
  • Strategically plan your work and resources to allow for smooth transitions and business continuity.
  • Do not say it is not your problem. If it is happening here, it's everyone's problem. Look for a solution.

To Think Critically and Creatively

  • Be positive towards new challenges.
  • Offer solutions when pointing out problems.
  • Be supportive of new ideas, even if you don't agree with them.
  • When evaluating a new situation or problem, seek to understand what success will look like and what it will require.
  • Be fully ready for past solutions not to work for new situations.
  • Force yourself to look at things in new ways.
  • Evaluate ideas on their merits, regardless of the source.

Great People

  • Celebrate your own and others' successes; share the credit.
  • Assume the best from your team mates.
  • Do not impugn the motives of colleagues. Assume their motives are in the best interest of Rho.
  • Respect your co-workers. This means that you do not pound on the table, raise your voice, or roll your eyes.
  • Even when using persuasion by reason and facts, be careful that you are not bullying or manipulating.
  • Be kind and polite to everyone, all the time.
  • Be coachable; accept feedback on its merits even if you don't necessarily agree with it.
  • Be careful with jokes and swear words. What is ok with you may not be so with others.

A Team Culture

  • Be kind and polite to colleagues. Listen openly to those with different opinions.
  • Help each other out; offer help and ask for help when needed.
  • Contribute your strengths while continuing to improve on your known weaknesses.
  • Work with peers and teammates to solve problems in a collaborative manner.
  • Exhaust all solutions at the peer level before escalating issues.
  • Advocate for something, not against something.
  • Remember that you have to do it, but you don't have to do it alone.
  • Encourage people to engage with you and disagree with you.
  • Be aware of positional differences and perceptions when working with others. Make an effort to put people at ease.
  • Frequently express appreciation for specific actions.
  • Praise in public, criticize only in private.
Not only are these behaviors critical to our success as a business, they also are a critical component helping make Rho a great place to work.  


Thoughts from Rho's CEO: Results, Relationships, and Impact

Posted by Brook White on Thu, Aug 08, 2013 @ 10:39 AM

Russ Helms, Rho CEOThe following article comes from Rho’s CEO Russ Helms who would like to share some thoughts on topics that he sees as important to Rho and our business.

At Rho, we use the phrase “Results, Relationships, and Impact” to describe the essence of our expectations for all Rho employees.  We expect positive Results, Relationships, and Impact from all of our employees, regardless of their role, title, or where they work in the company.   We use these expectations as the basis for evaluating and rewarding employees. 


Each of our employees is responsible for producing results.  This is true in many companies. What sets Rho apart is that how we do it matters.  


Each of us is responsible for developing positive relationships.   We are each expected to build solid, professional relationships with our colleagues.  We are all expected to build professional relationships with our clients.  We are all expected to build relationships with others in our industry and with the community.


Each of us is responsible for having a positive impact.  We are expected to have a positive impact on the people around us—teammates and colleagues—making each other’s jobs and lives better.  We are expected to have a positive impact on our clients, uplifting them with most interactions.  And we are each expected to have a positive impact on the industry and community.

So where did Results, Relationship, Impact come from? Many people are familiar with Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). The gist of ROWE is that it doesn’t matter how you do your work, when you do your work, or where you do your work, just that you produce results. There’s a lot to like in the concept, and I find myself drawn to it. But it doesn’t quite capture what’s important at Rho.

At its core, this concept helps us be less concerned about the typical trappings of corporate life and more concerned that each employee produces results that further Rho’s Core Purpose: to improve health, extend life, and enhance the quality of life via corporate and research excellence. It reminds us that regardless of where or when an employee completes her work, producing results that are valuable to Rho as a company, to our customers, and to her co-workers is important. Because it is results that matter, decisions about alternative work schedules and telecommuting are up to the individual employee in coordination with her project leaders and teammates based on the requirements of the job and the demands of the projects. It is not a one-size fits all approach.

What this concept lacks, however, is the understanding that there are some aspects of how work gets done that matter a great deal at Rho. We care how employees treat our customers. We care how co-workers treat each other. We care about performing quality work in an ethical way. Results-only cannot mean results at any cost. That would be in clear violation of the core ideology that drives our work. That is where relationships and impact come in. Results matter, but we do not tolerate behavior that generates results at the expense of building relationships and having a positive impact.

Central to the expectations of Relationships and Impact is a commitment to building a civilized work place. We do not tolerate jerks, bullies, or Eeyores. We avoid hiring individuals that exhibit this behavior, we do not reward those who produce results through this behavior and, in extreme cases, we dismiss employees who choose to continue this behavior.

We want to empower each of our employees to handle this behavior. My co-CEO and I meet with every new hire during the first month and describe these expectations, emphasizing that it is OK and expected that everyone confront colleagues about behavior that is hurtful or negative. We have recently conducted peer-to-peer feedback training for all employees to provide them with tools to help them engage co-workers in constructive conversations about their behavior. That can be hard, so when issues can’t be resolved between co-workers, all leaders within the company are expected to provide the support needed to resolve these problems.

It has been about three years since we began communicating these expectations to our employees and nearly four years since we began talking about and using these expectations at the senior leadership level. I have been pleased with the results I have seen so far in making Rho a better and happier company for our employees, our clients, and our community.

Thoughts from Rho's CEO: What Makes Us Who We Are

Posted by Brook White on Thu, Aug 01, 2013 @ 09:56 AM

CEO Russ HelmsThe following article comes from Rho’s CEO Russ Helms who would like to share some thoughts on topics that he sees as important to Rho and our business.

The clinical research business is a crowded space.  There are hundreds of contract research organizations (CROs) competing to differentiate themselves.  So, what makes us different?  What makes Rho, Rho?  I could talk about the depth of our experience, our expertise in various therapeutic areas, or the outstanding customer experience we consistently deliver.  All of these things are important.  That said, I believe it is our core ideology—our core purpose and core values—that truly make us who we are.

Rho’s Core Purpose

To improve health, extend life, and enhance quality of life through corporate and research excellence.

Rho's Core Values


Strict adherence to a very high moral and ethical code is the keystone in Rho's strong arch of core values. We demonstrate our integrity in relationships within Rho, beyond Rho, and in the manner in which we conduct scientific research and business. We behave honorably and honestly, take responsibility for our actions, forgive the honest mistakes of others, and treat others as we wish to be treated. 

Agility and Adaptability

Rho values the ability to change quickly. We eagerly anticipate, respond to, and take advantage of changes in our environment. Change is not without risk. We embrace risk, but manage it with planning, accepting and learning from both failures and successes. The opportunity to adapt and evolve energizes us.


Rho pursues profit because profitability enables us to achieve our other aims.


A high quality customer experience matched with high quality science has always been Rho's passion. We satisfy internal and external customers time and again by listening carefully, thoroughly understanding, and then tailoring a solution to meet their needs. By caring, we create quality.


Innovation is creativity in action, the integration of thinking and doing. We are committed to relentlessly improving our processes and products to increase quality and productivity and to decrease costs. Innovation brings valuable new products and services to our customers. 


Stability-financial, workforce, and corporate-is the foundation of our quality customer experience and our quality culture. Maintaining stability requires rejection of individuals who consistently clash with our core ideology or who lack competence. Most importantly, stability creates a safe environment for Rho employees to take risks, innovate, learn, and develop over a long and rewarding career.

To Think Critically and Creatively

Rho values thinking. We think both critically and creatively, drawing on our native ingenuity, sharpened and enhanced by our intellect, training, and experience. We evaluate situations and opportunities objectively and incisively; we then craft novel, practical solutions.

Great People

Rho employs smart, talented, positive people with sound judgment, a can-do attitude, and a zeal for teamwork.

A Team Culture

Rho values a strong team spirit highlighted by loyalty, accountability, and mutual trust and respect across the entire organization. We work smart together, we work hard together, and we laugh together.

Our principles have helped us make the best decisions, not just the easy ones. Whenever we make decisions at any level, we use this core ideology to guide us.  Our purpose motivates us and guides us, supporting us through the harder days and decisions, reminding us why we’re here, and providing clarity as we set the long run corporate vision and direction.  Our values guide our daily decisions, large and small.  From the smallest behavior to the giant strategic decisions, we refer to these values explicitly and frequently. Importantly, we hire based on these values.  We set expectations of each other based on these values.  And we succeed, as a company and as individuals, because of these values.

Thoughts from Rho’s CEO: Fostering Innovation in a Clinical Research Organization

Posted by Brook White on Mon, Feb 11, 2013 @ 02:58 PM

CEO Russ HelmsThe following article comes from Rho’s CEO Russ Helms who would like to share some thoughts on topics that he sees as important to Rho and our business.

Each year at Rho, we select a company goal intended to further Rho’s core purpose: to improve health, extend life and enhance the quality of life via corporate and research excellence. During 2012, we elected to pursue customer service through innovation as the goal.

Some people have asked, “Can a CRO be innovative?” We can! We’re committed to customer service, and we think one of the best ways to ensure the best possible customer experiences is to make sure our people are constantly innovating. Innovation helps us deliver what our customers need faster and better. We’re also committed to being a good place to work, and we think innovation can help our employees by reducing the mundane aspects of their work and making work more fun. And, of course, innovation helps the bottom line through increased efficiency and cost effectiveness. Maybe we’re unusual for a CRO, but we’re committed to innovation.

I want to share some of the programs we have put in place to foster innovation and to share a few of our successes. The first program we implemented was a series of innovation showcases. We employ smart, talented people, and we wanted the fantastic innovations they were creating to be more visible across the entire company. We created the showcase series to give employees an opportunity to share these existing innovations. The showcases gave employees exposure to innovations they might be able to use and, in some cases, sparked ideas of similar innovations they could implement in their own work. Some of our showcases included presentations on graphic visualization by Agustin Calatroni and a better system for managing documents and communications for data safety monitoring boards (DSMBs) led by Project Director Brandy Lind and business analyst Lee Ann Armstrong.

View "Visualizing Multivariate Data" Video

Our next program for fostering innovation is one we have dubbed “Rho24” modeled on Atlassian’s ShipIt days. The concept is that employees are invited to take a break from their everyday jobs and innovate for one 24 hour period. For 24 hours (10 AM on Thursday to 10 AM on Friday), employees work on any innovation of their choice with the goal of delivering something usable by the end. It doesn’t have to be directly related to their job, only something that is of potential benefit to Rho. We have had two of these events so far, and we’ve been blown away by the number of great ideas delivered and by the tremendous energy the events generated. Fun and useful—a double win! About half of our employees participated in at least one of the events and many innovations that came out of these events are already making a difference in our work. Some examples include:

  • An iOS app to report asthma outcomes
  • Improved reporting for our randomization system
  • A program that pushes out company announcements to the screens of our internal desk phones
  • Tools to facilitate our use of Medidata Rave
  • Converting common on the job training topics into reusable e-learning modules

Some people didn’t complete a project, but were able to do the research or create a prototype necessary to get a larger project started. One example is an iOS app to help clinical study sites determine enrollment eligibility.

We are now piloting the final program, modeled off of Google’s 20% time. This program allows select employees to spend up to 20% of their time working on innovations not directly related to their day to day work. Initially, we selected 14 employees to participate, but we may expand the program depending on the level of success. Our pilot program includes several different models that offer varying levels of oversight and support. This allows us to experiment with several approaches and determine what works best before expanding to a larger group where the costs of failure would be higher. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this pilot in the coming months.

The 2012 annual goal has been a clear success. We are doing a better job of sharing innovation throughout the company, more of our great staff are engaged in innovation (and they are excited about it!), and we are going to keep doing it. I continue to be interested in how other companies engage employees in innovation. If your company is doing something to encourage innovation, I would love to hear about it. I am also curious about experiments in innovation that haven’t worked out and what you learned along the way, so please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.