Managing director, Proximity London
For me, workplace culture is a microcosm of society’s culture. Since ancient Greece, it’s always been democracy that’s served as the bedrock of a vibrant culture. So for culture to thrive, we need everyone to feel empowered, inspired and excited about the direction of travel. For too long, agency land has treated "culture" with table football – not an actual seat at the table. When every single member of the agency knows they have a voice, a role and a stake in the outcome, then the culture will thrive. And the evidence? Mass participation, proactive ideas and a deep-rooted advocacy.
Chief creative officer, Publicis Groupe UK
"Workplace culture" should be tautology when it’s working. You can’t have culture without the work.
Culture is literally "a culture", breeding around the work, its warm favourable conditions, a symbiotic, invisible invertebrate. Because great work is the spine of culture. Work makes club. There could be a name in there somewhere…
The best cultures I’ve seen, especially the ridiculous early-century Mother I remember, was relentlessly driven forward by the work, by getting away with bigger and bigger ideas, and the collective trousers that everyone’s now wearing.
That feeling when somehow you get away with an idea when you have no logical right to? That pushes the chest of agency culture out to bursting point.
When there’s pride in what you’ve done, blended with the professional jealousy of what your mates across the table are about to do, then culture arrives like you’ve left the gas on.
Like a really cheery version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You are in no doubt as to why you’re there and everyone around you is on a similar mission.
That shared mission is everything. Whether you’re a two-year-old independent in Clerkenwell, a 23-year-old independent in Shoreditch or a global network (ideally one handily connected by AI for a more diverse hive-mind), culture can’t help springing from good ideas made good.
Chief executive, Digital Cinema Media
Across my 30-year career in the media industry, Emap stands out as the place I remember most for its culture. It wasn’t down to a fixture or fitting – no playground slides, football tables, free food or massages – and it certainly wasn’t the pay, but the culture was so tangible. There was a lot of freedom – freedom of thoughts, transparency and listening. Teams were backed and risks were encouraged, and it felt like a meritocracy. Of course, there were disagreements, but that was OK too. There was always a sense that you had support if your ideas were good.
There was also a culture of "you can always learn". Many a time I saw and witnessed either [former chief executives] Tom Moloney or Robin Miller sitting at someone’s desk trying to understand what that individual did. It was never to catch them out but always driven by a genuine curiosity. This skill of questioning is something I have tried to hold on to.
And success was celebrated in a big way. You don’t get the name "Every Meeting A Party" by chance! When things were going well, you felt the positivity. And when things went less well, you felt very accountable but never blamed. The culture was definitely about how we can make people feel – and when you were winning that feeling was just so, so good, which made everyone want it more.
Throughout my career, and certainly since arriving at DCM, I have found that most answers to business challenges can be found from within. I’ve found that your people always know what to do – you just need to give them a voice and the ability to be heard and valued.
Co-founder, Adam & Eve/DDB
It would be self-serving to talk about Adam & Eve/DDB here, but the best evidence of workplace culture I’ve experienced certainly shaped thinking that shaped that agency.
When I joined Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe (now VMLY&R), it was a start-up of about a dozen people. The four founders instinctively created a culture with a hugely positive energy, where we all came to the agency every day feeling like you could make a difference. Unlike so many agencies that were paralysed by old-school macho egos and hierarchical processes, RKCR’s open, democratic and debating culture made it a hugely enjoyable and hugely successful place to be.
Global chief executive, Havas Creative; author; ‘No Bullsh*t Leadership: Why The World Needs More Everyday Leaders And Why That Leader Is You’
Leaders lead people and the complexities of leadership arise mostly because all of us are complicated. The leader’s skill is to get the people she leads to outperform their competitors – to achieve things they would not otherwise have managed without her. Culture is the environment the leader creates for that happen. That’s it.
It’s the ultimate team superpower.