20/01/2014

BLOG: What's Your Company Culture

‘Company culture’ sounds like one of those overblown media buzz phrases. The thing is, nearly every company has one whether they’re aware of it or not.

As someone who works with brands, I was very conscious that having a set of values, the right atmosphere and a working practice which defined who we were, could make a big difference to Reach when we started. What I was less certain about was how to make that happen.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what sort of culture our company should develop and wondered if our values should be set in concrete from day one or allowed to manifest over time. I discovered that it’s very hard to impose a culture on a company. It has to radiate from the people working inside it and the best place to start is from the principles of the founders.

I began by asking why we needed to impose a cultural identify. Firstly, I wanted the staff to know what we stood for and what we wanted to achieve. However, having a tangible culture in place seemed even more vital from a client perspective. Without it, how could our company differentiate itself from any other agency? Instead of just relying on our portfolio, having a recognisable company culture gave potential clients a greater sense of who they would be working with.

My partner came from a creative design background and I from an account management one. Our separate backgrounds gave Reach a natural democracy between creative and business, and so part of our culture became placing equal importance on both.

While it is easy to talk about the concepts of our company culture, unless it was tangible, the chances were that our employees would never be able to adopt it. We found that the company needed both over-arching values and the nitty-gritty rules of how they should be applied in daily working life. That means actually documenting the company’s values and working practices, then making sure they were read and understood. By doing this we avoided so much of the day-to-day micro-management, Employees simply knew what we stood for and how they should go about business.

It was only once our culture could be applied in everyday business that it really started to add value. For instance, one of our core cultures was’ collaboration’ and we interpreted that on a daily level as not being arrogant to clients and accepting that they have a wealth of knowledge to offer. Today it means we sit down with clients at every stage to discuss ideas – hence our values have determined our procedures.

There’s a danger, of course, that having values can restrict progress, so a company culture should be given room to evolve and shift with time. Our first core values – collaboration, democracy, clear wording – were quite nice and quite soft, we were known as a ‘nice’ agency to work with. After a time, however, we wanted to become more strategic and adopt more challenging behaviour with clients. We wanted to question their motives to develop better briefs, but I didn’t think we could do that within our existing values. In fact some staff left because they’d originally joined a softer, nicer culture but we wanted to become harder – and that wasn’t for them.

During that period our culture required careful handling, but because of that our new philosophy is engrained in the business and we have been able to change and work in a new way. By being clear with our values, staff knew where they stood, which cut down a lot of uncertainty, and moaning.

A properly implemented company culture should help companies develop a well-defined market position. Our values have built the idea of ‘co-creation’ between us, client and customer – and in effect given Reach its USP. Having that clearly-defined culture has made recruitment and training much easier, it has given us a recognised position within our industry and allowed us to change the whole nature of our business while remaining one and the same.

In short, it has opened up new markets and allowed us to keep pace with our competitors. Overall, introducing values has been very beneficial for us – it’s certainly not just media hype; but you do need to be aware of what culture you are instilling. The impact can be far reaching.


REACH

Brand agency Reach has drawn on its director’s diverse backgrounds to develop closer ways of working with – and not just for – their clients; who include New Covent Garden Soups and Air Wick.

Illustrated by Little Whale Studio

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