I’ve worked in a myriad of places and consulted for even more. Every shop, agency, firm, garage, corporation and crystal castle has their own rhythm, face, pace, chase and culture. Constructing a kick ass culture should come at the top of the priority list when starting, rebranding or reinventing who you are as a company. Let me also say that there’s no perfect solution for creating and maintaining culture, but perhaps you can integrate something into your mix as you strive for perfection.
I humbly submit the following opinions:
1. Who’s on first? – First and foremost, decide if there will be a hierarchical structure to the company. If so, insist that your upper positions have a humble hand and be as active as possible in the lower org chart. Less meetings complaining about things you cannot change, and more asking the people that can give you the ideas to make change. If you go the ‘earthy crunchy’ route and have a flat hierarchal don’t play “Animal Farm.” If you do, you’ll be knee deep in dissent before you can hit the exit. Last, stick to your guns, don’t flip flop to “see what works” best –man up and plant a flag!
2. Are you a good witch or a bad witch? – If you’re going to lead as a hard-ass just tell your staff that’s the way it’s going to be. If you’re going to be a ‘buddy boss’ with zero tolerance on deadlines, tell them that. Don’t flounder. People/cultures just want the truth. I once had a superior tell that he had constructed an ‘asshole free environment’ but what he left out is that he was. People wants consistency, if there are free sodas in the fridge make sure they’re always there. If performance is being evaluated by a specific criteria don’t add on to it without their knowledge. Any real professional can have a very happy existence even with a tough boss IF they know what to expect.
3. No Fear – Everyone from the janitorial to the Commander in Chief should be able to respectfully speak their mind and challenge any idea at anytime. Cultures cannot thrive in a cesspool of fear. Fear that if I say something different I will look stupid. Fear that if I challenge someone above me that I will be reprimanded, or worse –fired. Firing is done with performance notifications, not because someone stepped on your ego. With that said, once it becomes a decision the same should be said for respecting its engagement and not griping about if it didn’t go your way. There are a million ways to make good and bad ideas, do them together and be fearless pitching your creations.
4. LMAO – Laughter is the best medicine and it’s also one of the best creative catalysts in the world. RED FLAG – During the development of your culture it is good practice to stay clear from areas of sensitivity such as religion, sexuality, political stance, etc. After which time you can push the insanity to the limit in creative conceptual meetings and within the confines of the physical space in which you work. Remember that wit and humor and not simply ways to keep things positive, they also exercise a cultures mind to think on their feet and be nimble.
5. Romper Room – The space in which you work says as much, if not more than the people that fill it, especially upon the first visit from a new business prospect. It’s important that your culture not only exude “play” but the open invitation to be involved in its creation. Even if a client chooses not to play, they’ll be happier knowing that they were invited. Choose colors to reflect different disciplines throughout the office. It is important to have a ‘professional’ conference room and a ‘war room’. There’s a difference. A conference room is a place to impress, sign deals and talk about golf scores. A war room is an area reserved for people to foster creativity. A war room has dry-erase boards, paper, pens, Razor scooters, couches, a cork board for mind mapping, toys, Legos, a gaming system, and a massive library of media that can be referenced for ideas.
Your staff’s space should be there own. Empower them to create something unique even if it’s simply within their cubicle. A great exercise is to let them build their own office furniture out of whatever “X” number of dollars will get them; support the effort blindly. You’ll be surprised how much culture is created from this inner-office freedom.
6. Humble Pie – Consume media. Create a massive shared music repository on your network. Subscribe to every art, media, video, photography, advertising, trend, fashion and business magazine you can find. Make sure European, South American and Asian design influences are inclusive to your library. It’s important that everyone feed off other creative thinkers. The moment your crew thinks they’re the best you might as well close the doors. Lastly, your culture should be expected to digest and be prepared to discuss their industry at any given time. Deliberate on at least one new television show, movie, print campaign and website each week. This preparation makes for better networking, social preparedness and knowledge of industry trends.
7. I’m Hot For Teacher – Everyone should train everyone else. Let’s face it, you’re developers are never going to get your PR staff to understand an AJAX database. However your developers can put together a PowerPoint that speak in laymen's terms about what they do, how they do it and the changes in their industry. Start to think about how many topics go into your role. Each of those topics you could put together twenty slides against, compounded by how many departments? Even if you slated a thirty minute presentation a week, you’d probably never watch the same thing twice. These presentations also increase your staff’s ability to speak in front of groups.
8. Mixing Pot – When’s the last time you had a junior account executive in a concept meeting? How about emailing the whole office when you’re pitching a new client to see if someone has a background with the prospect? People are far greater than their title. A receptionist might have the next killer hook to a campaign that you just can’t get over the top.
Every time you start a developing a new business list ask what clients your staff would like to acquire. Make all departments part of this process. Concept meetings should have creatives of course, but should also have at least one representative from each of your firms disciplines present.
Lastly diversify your conceptual scope. Create a concept from the clients feedback, create a safe concept, create something edgy and something completely fiscally impractical. From there find the overlap.
9. In The Trenches – Every great culture is fostered by the simply fact that you all stick together, like links in a chain. As Martin Lawrence told Will Smith in Bad Boys II,“We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life.” Now we all have lives, children get sick, in-laws visit and jury duty comes around any great culture understands this, that being said deadlines are to be met or even exceeded dependent upon the desire of the culture that meets them. Leaders – you too must fight side by side with your staff. Don’t be a transparent figure that shows up from time to time, throws candy in a cube and calls your staff by the wrong name. Yes, leaders have meetings. Yes, leaders have other responsibilities that are unnecessary for your culture to be burdened by. Nevertheless in the end any culture is lead by someone that not only knows what they’re talking about but can bleed to get there.
10. Here Comes The Circus – We’ve talked about “play” and its importance. There are some that will read this and think that nothing could possibly get done in an environment like this. These are the very same people that have never tried nor worked in an environment like this. Culture and loyalty come from ones self-prescribed ownership and belief in it. Culture needs to change constantly, it needs to be organic, humble and be willing fail. Play Call Of Duty and slow down the network, create themed days, buy lunch, sing in the hallways, put up a blackboard with random questions for your office, watch movies in the break room, pass more email than a hormonal teenager can text, and most important laugh. This is THE ‘power-source’ of any great culture.