Building a Culture and Teams for the Long Haul
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The marketing industry that we work in has lately been plagued by high turnover, layoffs and politics. Some offices are suffering from toxic work environments. Then there's the pervasive message that employees are only as good as their last -- win and that was yesterday.
Having worked inside large organizations and having fallen prey to those inevitable “if only I were in charge” thoughts, we were clear from Day 1 that in starting our own company Grow Marketing, we wanted to build a culture where people, its most important asset, are valued. Here are a couple of pages from our playbook on how to create a culture that attracts the best to come to play and stay.
1. Leave the politics to Colbert. Politicized work environments are not motivating. They are passion killers. Creating a boiler-room culture attracts individuals who are in it only for themselves and who hardly ever make great team members and rarely serve clients well.
Such environments are amazingly effective at driving away talented team members.
Conversely, the lack of output by those employees whose goal is to stay in the background, shuffle papers and do the least work possible is disheartening to those left picking up the slack.
All this results in a lot of time and energy spent on keeping the peace that could be devoted to creating and delivering great work to clients.
Set up your shop to keep hierarchy to a minimum and actively foster teamwork and transparency -- two of the best politics killers. Be thoughtful about new hires. Use cultural fit as the No. 1 lens so that everyone is on the same page.
Select natural-born doers who bring their best self to any task, look out for colleagues, are excited to try new things and are eager to grow.
2. Reward and foster growth. The story is often told: A certain agency has a great performer who was hired young, trained to know every nuance of the business and beloved by clients. This person is now ready for the next career step but the higher-ups can’t get past the fact this is his or her “first job,” even though five years have passed.
But guess what? Another agency sees in this individual a motivated professional who's ready for the next step.
The financial costs of replacing a good employee have been well documented. Plus, the intangible costs are hard to quantify, such as the impact on client relationships and team morale.
Keep in mind that each person's trajectory conveys a message to the rest of the team. If someone is highly motivated and learns and grows quickly that's something to be celebrated and rewarded, not avoided and delayed. Paramount to this system's viability is clarity about the expectations for every role and proactive goal setting and feedback.
The feedback should be done annually at a minimum but as frequently as a team member requests it. The ideal setup is that everyone at a company knows how he or she is doing, what's needed to reach the next step and feels empowered to get there at his or her own timing.
3. Create an inspiring environment. As experiential marketers, we believe in the power of a thoughtfully curated space to set the right tone. Last year we invested in buying a building and transformed it to be filled with natural light. We selected curated yet functional furnishings and interesting fabrics and lighting fixtures to reflect our unique and decidedly feminine aesthetic. Within our bustling open-floor plan, teams sit together so that there is energy and collaboration.
A work environment fostering creativity and collaboration is vital. An open floor plan sends a message to the team and clients that their input and collaboration are valued.
Sometimes it's important to dig in, though. Provide comfortable nooks and crannies offering a little solitude and room to create. Fill an office with well-curated art and design books, not only for the warmth they bring but because they are an easy, hands-on creativity igniter.
4. Keep an open door. As a business grows, it's important to ensure that the leadership remains connected to the teams and the work we produce.
At some agencies, the founders names end up being just plaques on the door. Or the founders are figureheads who show up for select meetings. Ideally leaders should be present working shoulder to shoulder with everyone. Team members at all levels should be invited and encouraged to contribute and throw out their ideas, whether the discussion involves brainstorming for a new client program, a system to streamline things internally or a staff expansion. The next great idea can come from anywhere. Keep an open ear to hear those voices.