Arrogance. Ego. Too much emphasis on profit. All of these can lead to the death of culture in a creative agency.
In two days one week I had meetings with three management level people that have seen the cultures of their employers, creative agencies in town, shift dramatically away from employees and toward the bottom line and/or a founder(s) arrogant vision.
This is an all too common mistake that companies make. With many local agencies being founder-based it can set up challenging dynamics when it comes to establishing and growing culture. It takes a healthy ego to start a company. As your company grows, at some point it becomes your employees that are growing and sustaining the company, not the founder(s). This is a realization that many either do not make, or do not believe. To successfully grow and maintain growth founders need to empower their staff and maintain a positive employee-driven culture.
Ego’s can often get in the way of this because, after all, the company grew around the founder(s) so they are always the key component. Not true once a level of growth has been obtained.
Too much emphasis on the bottom line can kill culture. Employees want and need to know that the company is making money and they will get paid, but it generally is not what motivates them daily. What motivates the typical person in the creative industry is whether they made a difference through good work, good creative, good service to clients and co-workers, not that they brought a project in under budget and made the company some extra bucks. That’s for management to worry about and for management to monitor and communicate in a strategic way. Staff communication should never focus on the bottom line. It has to be addressed of course, but cannot be the focus of every message. If it is, it is just a matter of time before employees begin to think of themselves as just another cog in the wheel, a step on the assembly line.
Once this occurs, your culture is gone. Employees will begin to look for other opportunities that will enrich them. Quality of work will begin to suffer: why put in that extra effort when you are just another cog? And once the quality begins to suffer, you run the risk of losing clients. If that happens, things start to spiral out of control quickly.
Building the company back up, changing perception in the recruiting landscape, and patching the culture are now the biggest challenges. When really, it would have been much easier and more sustainable to have paid more attention to the care and feeding of the culture to begin with. Because a funny thing happens when the culture is healthy people perform better, feel empowered, and produce strong results. Which, not coincidentally improves the bottom line.