People make a company. In the agency world in particular, where there don’t tend to be many physical assets, people are the most important asset. Their smarts, their passion, their personality – all are key drivers to the success of a company. And when people come together as a group, a culture is established as part of everyday work life.

Over the last two decades I have had the opportunity to experience various versions of company culture across a few organisations, offices, industries and countries. In some cases it was palpable as soon as I walked through the door, and in other cases it was subtler and took a bit more time to figure out.

What I learned from these experiences is that while every workplace is different, there are a few recurring factors that are key to the success of a company culture. Here are four of them:

Relevance

If it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.

The culture of a company should reflect the values of the people within and provide a vision for everyone. The values should be something the employees have in common in real life, and not just management slogans for presentations.

Too often the culture with its vision and values are an emotionally distant, global construct that people find it difficult to identify with. Culture and values are something you see and feel in your immediate environment, which means that they need to be not only locally relevant, but locally inspired.

Engagement

Let it become part of everyday life, but don’t force it.

For a company culture to be successful it needs to be weaved into everyday life. If it’s relevant then this shouldn’t be difficult. Introducing initiatives reflective of the vision and values, and giving the team the incentive to participate will go a long way. It’s about living the culture every day and not about dusting it off once a year for the AGM or a staff performance review. This engagement should be an ongoing effort, not just a flash in the pan.

Co-ownership

Not everyone wants to be a pilot, but nobody should be a passenger.

It’s a misconception that there needs to be a sole owner of a culture and its values. Every member of the team is responsible for living and breathing the values. The leadership team can drive the process of defining a culture with input from their team, or they can create an environment in which culture can flourish and where people can be themselves, but in the end it comes down to everyone living and breathing the values and contributing in their own way. It’s a collaborative effort.

Flexibility

The playing field changes over time, and so does culture.

People change, churn happens, staff numbers grow, the company’s product offering evolves, technology advances – all of these things can have an impact on an organisation’s culture. While it’s important to retain certain core values and a long-term vision, your culture needs to flex to adjust to these changes and remain a living reflection of the company and its staff.

Monitor staff engagement over time, do regular check-ins and revisit your mission statement, vision and values every now and again to make sure they remain relevant.

 

Following these principles isn’t a guarantee for success, but without them it’ll be a tough process to instil a high-satisfaction, high-performance culture. At iProspect we’ve just embarked on this very journey for ourselves, and have relaunched our culture. The first signs are promising: the team is engaged in the initiatives at all levels, and we’re excited about the future we’re shaping together.

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Patrick Heyer

Patrick Heyer is the General Manager of iProspect Melbourne. He is responsible for the overall direction, strategy and performance of the business as well as leading and developing a team of some of the industry's best digital experts.