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How to Drive a Positive Culture in Your Agency

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Culture is all about HOW you do things in your agency.  It can touch every aspect of your business, from operations and customer care to managerial style.  When something goes wrong, it can be difficult to spot the signs and know how to change.  Here are some common cultural challenges with tips on how to identify and resolve them.

Culture Problem #1

The Symptoms: High Employee Absence and Turnover

When people fail to show up to work on a regular basis or hand in their notice at undesirable rates, you definitely have a culture problem.  Stress, bullying and poor leadership are major causes of absenteeism and they can all be traced back to expectations about behaviour.

The Remedy: Employee Surveys

To find out what’s causing absenteeism or turnover, you need to ask your employees.  Set up return to work interviews following absence.  This will set time aside for the relevant line manager to have a chat and find out why employees have taken time away from work.  Perhaps they have childcare issues and your agency lacks family-friendly policies or perhaps they are being bullied.

Exit interviews will perform the same function for employees who have left the business.  Make responses anonymous to provide a safe way for people to tell you their real reasons for leaving.

Review the themes that emerge and make the relevant people policy adjustments, implement training and monitor the results.

Culture Problem #2

The Symptom: Lack of Creativity

For agencies, a reduction in creativity is a massive problem.  It helps teams solve problems, makes your creative work stand out from the rest and ultimately attracts and retains your clients.  Inspiration die-off can be identified through client feedback, by checking the quality of creative work or taking time out to join creative meetings.  Employees in creative decline will lack spark, vigour and verve.

The Remedy: Release the Pressure and Mix Things Up

Keeping things fresh and maintaining pressure and stress at sensible levels will reinvigorate your teams.  Kevin Gibbons, Co-Founder and CEO at Blue Glass, recommends involving employees in “research and development, projects and pitches to provide interest outside of the day job”.  Apply this advice to all roles, not just those traditionally thought of as creative, and your entire agency will be firing on all cylinders again.

Culture Problem #3

The Symptom: Managers Simply Supervise

In today’s workplace, leaders are expected to do more than tell people what to do and when.  When managers fail to fulfil the whole of their role, critical agency success factors – like leadership, coaching and inspiration – go missing.  While employees might deliver the work required, the journey to get there won’t have been supported, enjoyable or a learning experience. Spot this through disengaged employees, lower quality work and high turnover.

The Remedy: Recruit the Right People and Support Them to Change

People are often promoted to line manager roles without training or support and expected to do the job. If you’re guilty of this in your agency, identify the support your managers need and deliver a training programme to help them. When recruiting for managerial roles externally, ensure you assess people on their leadership behaviours, as well as what they’ve delivered, to ensure a good fit.

Culture Problem #4

The Symptom: Et Tu, Brute? 

Everyone wants to get on in their career.  But there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it.  Naturally, people want to be involved in the most interesting projects and present great ideas.  But when they’re willing to trample their colleagues, present others’ ideas as their own or stab colleagues in the back to get what they want, you’ve got an issue.

CEO at Sagittarius Agency, Paul Stephen, says that delivery in his business relies on having people who are “willing to knuckle down and work together, each and every day, to get client campaigns created to a high standard and out on time. To do this they must be able to collaborate and help each other out”.

The Remedy: Build Bridges Not Walls

A cut-throat culture is unlikely to be perpetrated solely by employees.  Take an honest look at cultural norms: do managers set employees up against one another and encourage an overly-competitive environment? If so, address the problem head-on with honest conversations, and establish and demonstrate new behaviours to pave the way forward.  If you have a bonus scheme in place, link your new behaviours to payment to encourage adherence.

Culture Problem #5

The Symptom: Problems are IgnoredLet’s imagine for a moment that revenue per head isn’t going where you’d like it to.  You investigate and find productivity has dropped because a key piece of technology you rely on is causing more problems than it solves.

You could put this down to ageing technology and consider buying something new.  But this misses a fundamental question: why did no-one raise this issue with you sooner?

The Remedy: Dig Deep, Assess and Mend

There could be many reasons why problems aren’t being flagged.  Perhaps your employees are too busy fighting fires to deal with yet another problem.  So, they ignore difficulties and hope they’ll go away. Or maybe your people are so fed up of their suggestions being ignored that they keep their heads down and their mouths shut.

Take an honest look at your agency using real-time employee engagement tools to identify the issues.  Use your results to pull together a strategy to tackle the problems.  Communicate your plan and report on progress so people can see their feedback has resulted in change.

Wherever your agency is falling short, your problems can often be traced back to cultural challenges.  Complement operational figures with regular cultural reporting to provide a rounded view of your agency’s performance and how you’ve achieved it.