Culture is a popular topic, not only in the agency world but in the brand world as well. There’s a vibrant consulting industry developing around this trend alone. Culture isn’t just internal anymore; it’s a marketable asset that can drive customer loyalty. Everyone wants a cool and magnetic culture, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes intention and commitment, and you have to know where to start.
Nearly all of our clients, regardless of their industry, want to know how to weave their outward strategy, creative and marketing work into their culture, then back out again. It’s actually quite cyclical. This is an element that has become second nature to include in all of our work. The ever-important B2E rollout plan (business-to-employee) is an essential part of building and maintaining a thriving culture.
Because we provide this kind of work to our clients, I believe it’s paramount that we practice it ourselves. Through this practice on our own culture, I’ve found there are three rules to get a company’s culture on tap and flowing.
1. Start with your purpose.
A company’s culture comes from its purpose, its reason for being. This isn’t what a company does but why — what it believes in. Surface-level things like snack options in the kitchen, unlimited PTO and dog-friendly offices are not the things that great cultures are made from. Your purpose gives your employees, and ultimately your customers, something to get behind, beyond what your product or service offering is.
Your purpose should be unique, specific and enduring. Companies that clearly articulate what they believe in seem to have the best cultures. Why? Because it gives a reason for everything they do.
For example, our purpose statement is “to reveal a world that works better together.” This statement has indoctrinated a specific way of how we do things. It informs the way we serve our clients with intimacy and person-to-person partnership. Creative is a people product and people connect on an emotional level. So, you see, it’s impossible to produce creative that people can connect with if you don’t embark on that creative journey together. Our purpose also provides a foundation for how we treat each other within the agency — wherever the agency goes, we go together. We celebrate together and we learn from failures together. No one goes it alone.
It has to start with your purpose. I believe this is the only way to truly begin to build a lasting culture.
2. Be intentional.
After you establish your purpose, you must communicate it often. You should be transparent, persistent and get everyone on your staff on board. This isn’t a “set it and forget it,” one-time effort. Your culture, informed by your purpose, needs constant cultivating and tweaking. Put a process in place for a feedback loop and create accountability structures like a “culture club” to find out what’s working organically and what feels forced. This will strengthen your culture’s core so you can let go of what isn’t working. Give your staff ownership over parts of your culture they’re passionate about. This will give them skin in the game and a vested interest in the success and health of the culture, which is a major contributor to its overall success.
I’ve found our internal culture group to be very effective. We have subcommittees based on different aspects of our culture that report periodically during our Monday morning status meetings to share any relevant activities they have coming up, and ways others can engage. These intentional habits create a level of activity that feels unique and organic to who we are and what we stand for.
One other very simple habit that has delivered volumes of value is monthly one-to-ones. I take each employee to lunch or coffee each month. There’s no set structure, topic or guardrails; we can talk about anything they’d like. Sometimes we talk through a hurdle they’re facing, sometimes we just talk about their weekend plans. Regardless, it provides a safe and open environment for honest feedback. Plus, there’s an added bonus for me: I use this time as a reverse mentor session. There’s a lot I can learn, too, from just listening.
3. Let your people do the talking.
B2E (aka your employed media) is one of the most underutilized resources at many companies. Now that your employees believe, give them the tools and encourage them to share what they love about your company. Give them a talk track and empower them to engage using easy tools like social media, blogs, podcasts and industry events to organically spread the word about who your company is and what it stands for.
It’s important to note that leadership should demonstrate this behavior as well. This should radiate vertically and horizontally throughout your organization — from leadership to customer service, and sales to operations. If it’s only impressed upon mid-level and below, then it will be not be perceived as a priority.
One way we empower our people to spread the word is through a social media series called “What’s Up WITH _____” that features a given employee each episode. This gives them the opportunity to be an ambassador for what they’re excited about and the cool things they’re seeing out there.
Your company’s culture is a living, breathing, growing thing. It’s not made up of whats; it’s made up of whys. It’s the whys in life that excite and motivate people. If you ground your culture in purpose and cultivate it intentionally, it will market itself organically.