Seven Signs Your Agency Culture Is Thriving

Culture is a much touted factor in building a great creative ad agency or marketing firm. Agency principals devote much time and effort into figuring out what their culture is, then trying to keep that culture healthy to support great work. That can be a difficult balancing act to maintain over time; small influences can cause substantial wobbles in your culture, and the effects can cascade into all areas of the business.

So how do you take the measure of your culture? Use these seven checkpoints.

Agency principals are leaders, not managers – In a smaller agency, it’s natural to give employees some autonomy to make decisions and get things done. But as an agency grows, principals may feel greater need to manage employees. The less you work in your business, the more you can work on your business. To do that, employees must become your managers, freeing principals to focus on big-picture duties and step in to troubleshoot only if absolutely necessary. Leaders should look toward inspiring and motivating employees to do more. Having guidelines, not rules, allows employees collectively to improve systems and practices.

You keep great employees and attract new people – Employee retention is easy at your agency. People love their jobs, feel vested in agency success, and work hard to help clients succeed. They support each other and know leaders have their backs, too. And it’s relatively easy to find and recruit new employees, who see your great work, hear about you in media and news, and follow you in social media. In fact, they have a pretty good sense of your culture before they ever shake hands and say, “I’d really love to work here.”

Mentoring is embedded, employees feel valued – Leaders mentor managers, managers mentor those they supervise, and co-workers share knowledge. This all-for-one and one-for-all vibe means mentoring is deeply embedded in your cultural style. It also means that you have one of the smartest, most informed and highly skilled teams in your market. Your clients also recognize this info-sharing as a benefit to their businesses. More important, employees know they are valued and trusted, and mentoring reinforces that cultural belief.

Upbeat, high energy, good communication – People are positive and supportive of each other, foster each others’ ideas, and recognize that great creative can come from anyone in the agency—even from clients! Communication is transparent, frequent and across all sectors of the business, enhancing trust and making the culture even more vibrant. You laugh a lot, enjoy each other’s company out-of-office, and you have very little friction and few personality clashes.

Team attitude, with clients as team members – Employees enjoy working collectively to solve client problems or resolve operational issues. Collaboration is a best practice—but there is room for individual creativity, too. And clients are included in collaboration, as employees recognize their input as valuable and essential to success. (Alone, I am good; together, we are great.)

Focus on objectives and results – People worry more about achieving objectives than logging hours. From client input through post-measurement, everyone understands the goals and works hard to achieve or exceed expected results. Systems are in place to assist, not impede results-focused work. Employees are rewarded based on success, and should you miss objectives, leaders focus on lessons to apply to the next effort, not on blame. Internally, leaders evaluate employees based on what they accomplish, not on their punching the clock or obeying the rules.

Growing as fast as we want to – Leaders are free to focus on financial health and growth. New business efforts are regular and targeted, and a steady stream of new business from clients and prospects ensures the agency has opportunities to grow each year. Managers keep an eye on costs, expenses, and other measures of financial health to ensure the agency is profitable and growing. Leaders review and frequently update business and new business plans, and look far enough ahead to anticipate future needs and reinvest in the business.

Keep in mind that culture is not something you create consciously—often, culture already exists before you give it serious thought. But you can tweak and refine practices to steer your culture to a healthier, happier place. Evaluate your agency culture against these seven measuring sticks, and then take whatever steps are necessary to shift your culture in a more positive direction.