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Digital digest: Building company culture

Our regular wrap up of trending topics in digital agency culture, operations and growth

Kim Fraser, Unsplash

Welcome to the Digital Digest – our regular wrap up of the issues, trends and themes impacting culture, operations and growth in digital industries. This issue, we’re discussing company culture.

For months now, I’ve been absorbing many articles on how to reinforce your company culture through a pandemic.  When you ask your entire workforce to head home and carry on remotely, without an end in sight,  you do worry that you might have to be doing more to keep the spirit alive.  Nothing I have read has hit a nerve with me particularly, and any recommendations offered up seemed obvious. I’m moved from, “How do we keep the culture intact?” to, “Gosh, don’t companies have this dialled in already…?”.

I’m almost at my four year anniversary with 383 now and when I think about the evolution of our culture in that time – what we’ve managed to introduce, iterate and make a part of the furniture – the business is almost unrecognizable.  It’s not a surprise to me that we have survived and thrived in a pivot to the virtual world; we’re all too physically invested in 383 for it not to.

Starter for ten

Wherever your work environment is right now, whether you’re in the office or existing with your team virtually, take a look around you and ask yourself about what it means to be a member of your business.

  • What is the culture?
  • Who’s driving it?
  • What pillars are in place that reinforce it?
  • What pillars are important to you, and how would you feel if they were taken away?
  • What impact do you think their removal would have on the business?

I’m going to lean on one of my all time favourite quotes here. It’s one I use in person a lot, and have referenced in previous posts I’ve published, but it’s important in lieu of the subject:

"Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."

Thomas Edison

Now let’s map this to business culture and the questions we asked above. Regardless of your role in the company, how did you respond? Was it overwhelmingly positive? Do you have a recognisable culture, a way of being, and clear cornerstones that make your workplace distinct to you and, dare I say it, probably very awesome?

Cultural cornerstones

Let’s focus on those cornerstones. I’m talking about the midweek pastry deliveries, the after-work cinema club, the personal development library, the recognition awards, the showcases of new product launches, the champagne celebrations that accompany a large sales win, the senior managers who sit in the open plan space rather than a private office, the corporate values, the learning opportunities, the commitment to deliver excellence for clients and product users alike, the commerciality, the approach to work, the monthly bowling nights… I could go on and on. I expect at least one of these looks very familiar to you, and there are many more areas you see and experience that are native to your business.

Let’s pause here and take stock. Behind every single one of those cornerstones is inspiration. Inspiration to add something new into the business that changes its perception in the eyes of its people.

That’s our 1 percent of genius.

Everyone has ideas about what our businesses should be doing for their people to develop the culture further. But often, that’s all it is – an idea.

"It's easy to identify a culture you would like to have, but it's another thing to practice and implement it daily. Cultures that thrive have leadership support, champions throughout the organisation, and people who believe in what is trying to be accomplished. Without the buy-in from those levels, it will flop."

LaKisha Greenwade, Lucki Fit LLC

You do not simply plug in and press play on culture. As a very busy senior leader, believe me, somedays I wish we could. The inspiration for culture is comes from the constant stream of ideas being dreamed up across your business.

To develop an idea, take it to launch, and most importantly maintain it, takes perspiration – around the clock.

This is our 99 percent of genius.

And to the naked eye, it mostly looks effortless. Take a sideways look at those cornerstones around you and come back to the question we asked at the start of this post – who’s driving it? Because there will be a driver – a guardian who is devoted to making sure that cornerstone exists and thrives.

"You do not simply plug in and press play on culture."

Company culture is created through perspiration, with a product development and management approach applied from idea right the way through to launch. That goes for everything from developing an internal way of thinking or operating through to ceremonies like your annual end of year awards.

It takes graft to launch a digital product right? It’s absolutely the same gig with a business culture – especially a culture you love.

The next time you have a great idea to reinforce your culture, pause and think deeper. How do I get this out there? Who can help me? What does my maintenance strategy look like? How will our people respond if it’s taken offline?

Taking ownership

If you are working in the midst of a workplace culture you love, bravo! I salute you. Embrace it and appreciate it, and know that the dedication you give to your line of work is reciprocated by someone elsewhere wanting to make that culture consistently great for you.

But what if you felt a sense of absence, or even loss to the questions we posed at the start? You might be fostering a tonne of ideas and raring to go, or you might be daunted because you hoped that with a few quick wins you could point to something resembling an investment in business culture and tick the necessary boxes… Either way, do not despair.

Business culture can be built, and it doesn’t have to be someone’s else’s responsibility. Whether you are a senior leader, or on a graduate scheme, you have the power to deliver a positive change in your business that people will respond to. Just remember that it takes a lot of perspiration and you’ve got to own it, or find an absolute rockstar in your business who will love and care for that change as if it was their own.

And be patient. All good things take time. I’ve been extremely lucky in my professional life to work in a few businesses that developed a great culture over time. Thankfully I’m in one right now, and I’ve seen what it takes to get, and keep, us there. It’s perspiration every step of the way.

Read next

Creativity, Inc. : Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull (2014)

For a perspective on building a company and a culture to mass scale, and not being afraid to pause and reconnect with that culture when your company gets bigger than you ever dreamed.

A Book About Innocent: Our story and some things we’ve learned, Innocent (2009)

How to keep your ethics and values at your core and never lose sight of them.

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, Patty McCord (2018)

Taking responsibility for the culture at Netflix, this is pretty much the gospel when it comes to company culture.

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