Our Global MD, Sharon Richey, shares her top tips on how to build a company culture that will attract and retain top talent.
Creating a winning culture is not easy, anything which truly matters in life rarely is. It takes shaping and guiding every day, and there are zero shortcuts. It also can’t be forced, if you are not actually ‘walking your own talk’ well beyond the Welcome Guide, then you’re going nowhere slowly.
I’m immensely proud of the culture we have at Because, and I often tended to liken it to that of a Rainbow Cake – great to look at, great to taste, easy enough to bake, but it requires time and effort.
Continuing with the Rainbow theme, in more recent years I’ve also now added another layer to our culture cake. We have a growing team on the ground in Cape Town these days, in a country which often refers to its people as the rainbow nation due to the unity of various cultural, racial, or ethnic groups seen in the country in the post-apartheid era. As an agency we genuinely work without borders, so I like to fondly think of our team as a global rainbow.
Naturally in recent years, agency life has changed. Maintaining a culture when everyone was working under just the one roof and the frequented ‘local’ was just out the door to the left…was in hindsight quite a doddle. It’s another thing altogether when your team is dispersed across the globe as ours is these days (and are seldom face-to-face without a screen between them).
Fortunately, I’ve got close to 30 years of learnings under my belt, and as such, a bank of tips to share with you. So, here goes…
Define your culture. Have a good, hard think about what genuinely matters to you most. Using a bit of creative flair, write your culture down. I favour the simple so I suggest you define your culture into a few select words. Ours is: At Because I feel respected, challenged, empowered, supported, responsible, informed and valued. We have a heap of initiatives which brings this statement to life.
Don’t copy another’s culture. Culture is like DNA. If you want your culture to stick, it can’t be a forced behaviour, otherwise it won’t happen, as eventually you’ll let your guard slip. For example, good manners matter to me. I must have heard ‘manners maketh the man’ about a trillion times from my mum growing up (now I hear myself saying it to my own kids). So, at Because saying ‘thank you’ happens a lot, it’s ingrained in all from day dot, and it makes our team feel appreciated.
Leadership is an attitude. Be a strong leader and call others out when you see a behaviour you believe to be counterculture. When someone is being ghosted by their peers as others are ‘busy’, I tell our guys that it’s disrespectful and ask them to please take a nano second to respond. I then practice what I preach and always ping a response to my mails, even if it’s simply to say, ‘noted, will get back to you by XX date’ (and then I diarise to do just that).
Choose words to describe management styles. Ask your key people to choose a few words to define their own leadership or managerial approach – my words are fair, firm and fun (words which align with point 1 above). And going back to my point above, be clear on who you are as a leader and what sort of culture you want to create. Because business is personal. Be comfortable with who you are. Also know you won’t always get it right, so man up and say sorry when you make a mistake.
Your people must care. Speaking plainly, I can only work with people who genuinely give a shit. We all invest a lot of time and energy into our work lives, and it doesn’t feel fair, nor good, to work with someone who doesn’t care. So, at Because we hire fast and we fire faster (with fair chance and trial of course). Because you can’t truly test values when you interview, its only when you work together that you’ll know if someone cares. For me attitude is more important than aptitude.
Be generous with your time. I make the time to share my learnings openly – the good, the bad and the ugly. Of course we have a hierarchy, but we try not to be hierarchical in outlook. Everyone mucks in when required and knowledge sharing happens in several ways, in particular without fail every Friday we have the Friday 15 where everyone takes a turn at sharing something of relevance to the whole agency.
Establish rituals. Get some rhythms and rituals into your business. We have a ‘run of the week, month and year’…and no matter how busy we are, most happen like clockwork. This is especially key when some of the team are in the office, some are at home and, like Because, some are spread across the globe. We also use the term one team a lot, this is to reinforce that whilst we are made up of several teams, these teams are not bound by geography.
Don’t overcook the goose. And finally, time is scarce when you run an agency, so with the point of diminishing return in mind, if the Rainbow Cake looks and tastes fabulous with 7 layers, don’t bake 9.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And my ‘pudding’ is something we have fondly, over the years, termed the Because Boomerangs. You see the family member who fly the nest, very often return to the Because fold, whether that be to the same agency, or one across the globe, and we’re always happy to have them back. That, right there, is how I know all that time and effort building the Because Rainbow-Cake culture has paid off.
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